Sick Leave Abuse?

Okay, as I sit here on sick leave, I promised I would write some more about where I work. Call it therapy.

Everyone (who doesn’t work there) thinks that everyone at Delphi just goes out on sick leave anytime they want. I worked for 25 years before I ever used sick leave and when I didn’t use it, I got screwed.

As a lot of the new hires that threw their badges in the garbage and walked out this summer found out, it’s not a pleasant place to work. The environment within the plant can vary from extreme to extreme. It’s a place that uses a lot of heat to make their product and heat dries out the air. It’s also dusty and dusty air in dried out sinuses is not a good thing either.

Over the course of my employment there, I’ve caught bronchitis several times. Never serious, but enough to go to the doctor and get treatment. I always chalked it up to that harsh environment.

Roughly five years ago, it happened again. By then I was in the trades and could end up anywhere in the plant at any time. I could be working on an oven, soaked in sweat one minute and be sent to work next on a door that wouldn’t close to keep a blizzard out. It happened that at this time, my work area, where I took my breaks and kept my tools sat in a cool area under a high-bay where several windows were kept open and cold air (and snow) would blow in.

The inevitable happened, I caught a cold, went to the Doctor, he called it “Walking Pneumonia” and told me to take some time off work to recover. Well, Bronchitis, I was used to, but “Walking Pneumonia” sounded one step more serious and I agreed. He offered to fill out sick leave papers.

Now to go on sick leave, you have to be really sick, right? First of all, you get nothing the first week, unless you are admitted to the hospital overnight (at least one day) So you will be out a weeks pay. That ought weed out the frivolous claims.

Well, no hospital was involved and the Doctor only wanted me to take a week. Why go on sick leave and lose a weeks pay? I have sick days. In fact being early in the year, I had all 5, a weeks worth. So I did the “right” thing and saved the company from a sick leave claim. I used all my sick days up.

Did they thank me for my kindness? NO. Right about this time they instituted a new absentee policy. Zero tolerance. No excuses. It would be administered by personnel and the floor-level supervisor would have no say in it.

Well, that wouldn’t bother me. I was a good employee, never abused the system. This new program was for those who “played” the system and gave us “good” employees a bad name. Besides, there was always the Family Medical Leave Act to protect us, if we really needed.

That’s what my Union reps told me. I believed them. That was a mistake.

Over the course of a year, for “normal” day-here, day-there, absences, I used up any other days I had to cover with. My sick days were gone. So, I got a few employee memos for it. No big deal I had them before and all I needed to do was let them expire and I was back to square one in a few months.

I always worked weekends and overtime and my boss always seemed to be able to cover for me in the past. I assumed he would still do that. That was a mistake too.

So, to keep the story short, somewhere along the way, I fell into the “Absentee Program.” I’ll admit it. I got my nose out of joint and probably took it personally that they insinuated I was a problem case. After all, I spared them that week of sick leave, didn’t I?

And even an understanding supervisor, who knew the long hours you worked and used to be able to bend a rule now and then, could no longer help because it was taken out of their hands and run by someone in personnel.

Rather than continue to rant about the “program” – I’ll save that for another time. Just let me sum it up by saying there is no way to get out of it. Zero. I’ve told them flat out that I can’t meet their requirements and will be in it until the day I leave the company, whether they fire me or I retire. I also told them that until I could have a reasonable way to take a needed day off on an unforeseen basis, I could no longer afford the luxury of working overtime or weekends. I need that time of to recuperate from the work week. Other than occasional fits of greed (translation: I needed the money) I’ve stuck to that. And that will be the topic of another future post here.

So, you can see, by avoiding filing for sick leave I was placed in a program we were told was for those who abuse the system and would not affect us “good employees.” I’ve never missed a chance since to use sick leave since, in fact, I’ve had to file for as little as ONE DAY of sick leave (They don’t give it for less than a week. It gets turned down automatically, but I have to file the papers.) in order to protect myself from this draconian “Absentee System.”

In addition, because I can no longer get a day off – FOR ANY REASON – without prior approval, I have no way to recover from just plain getting tired out, burnt out, working their overtime. I have to take weekends off, because they are the only days I can take off, despite the financial loss to me and my family. I have no way to prove it, but I am very likely the lowest paid Electrician at Delphi when you factor in that loss of overtime.

All because I was a “Good employee” and did them a favor and chose NOT to take sick leave when I was sick.

Posted in Rants, Work

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