Calling in Sick (when by "sick" you mean "I love tequila!")

I rarely do it. Call in sick, that is. Others do it a lot, I guess, according to the MSN Careers Site.  I've maybe taken one or two sick days since I started at Microsoft almost 7 years ago. Yeah, just healthy living and a major decrease in allergy symptom since I moved here (something to do with the air and the fact that there's some winter humidity). Anyway, this article reminded me of something I've discussed with a nameless friend a few times and we simply don't agree. The topic? Is it OK to call in sick if you have a hangover. I won't tell you my position up front but for you math whizzes out there, I can tell you that I have had more than one or two hangovers in the last seven years. Yeah, I'm sure my family is so proud.

What do you think? OK to call in with a hangover or not?

OK, to post anonymously if you must share your personal hangover stories ; )

Comments (37)

  1. anon says:

    There is a lot of variation across organizations and industries and age.  It may be more okay for young, single people than for older people who make it a way of life.   The line between youthful fun and dangerous way-of-life is often not distinguishable.

    Some people really get sick for reasons beyond control.  When this happens, it is not great if the person has already used sick days for controllable things (drinking alcohol).

  2. Dean Harding says:

    I remember at an old job of mine, our suppliers had their Christmas party on a Tuesday night. I think the next day, pretty much everyone called in sick (or at the very least, didn’t make it in until after midday).

    But at the same time, I believe Friday and Saturday night exist for a reason – because you don’t have to go to work on Saturday or Sunday morning. And let’s face it, if two nights a week arean’t enough for you to get rip-roaring drunk, then you’ve probably got bigger problems than just calling in sick the next day.

    So in summary, I’d say the odd special occasion would be nothing to get fired over, but you shouldn’t be making a habit of it. (Of course, you shouldn’t make a habit of calling in sick all the time anyway, but anyway…)

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ooh, Anon, I think I have trouble with the idea that calling in sick if you are young and hungover is OK, but if you are older and hungover, it’s not. It might be more socially acceptable to get drunk when you are younger but from a benefits administration standpoint, you can’t really differentiate, you know? And I’m not THAT old (hee!)

    Dean-in that circumstance, the company maybe should have had their holiday party on Friday or Saturday. Though I think those that were prepared to tie one on could have scheduled a vacation day for the next day. Now that’s called planning ahead. : ) I guess I’m not even saying don’t go out an drink during the week (necessarily) but that if you do, do you have to suck it up and go into the office even if you feel horrible?

  4. Dean Harding says:

    Well, see, the thing I think is coming in to work at 50% capacity is just as bad as not coming it all. Maybe if you’re feeling particularly hungover, you could coming in at midday and be 90% productive for half a day, but if you came in at 9am still feeling like crap, then you’re not going to be feeling much better at the end of the day (because you’re not resting) and you might only be 40% productive for the whole day. So then is it better to be 90% productive for half a day, or 40% productive for a whole day?

    Now, I do agree that the supplier should have had their party on a Friday or something. But I would hesitate to agree that the next day should have been taken as a vacation day. I mean, a hangover is still TECHNICALLY being sick – you wouldn’t expect people to come in if they’d got food poisoning from some bad sushi at the party. Though I guess the alcohol->hangover outcome is more likely than the sushi->food poisoning outcome, so you’d be expecting the hangover more than the food poisoning.

    I guess I’m just trying to say that I would expect a little bit of leeway if it was a once-a-year type problem compared to if it was a once-a-week type problem.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    See, this is where it gets interesting because what you explained is just looking at it from a straight productivity standpoint, but if workers think they can call in sick when hungover with no repercussions, wouldn’t that cause them to do it more and cause less productivity overall? Isn’t the sacrificing of a vacation day, at least, a deterrent?

    I think some people will still drink even thought they know the alcohol’s effect on them and that is their choice (so much for not exposing my opinion), but the people eating bad sushi don’t know it’s bad bc if they did they wouldn’t eat it. But the drinkers know what x number of beers can/will do to them and drink anyway. That’s a choice, not an illness.

    See what kind of debate I get into with friends over beers? On a Friday, of course.

  6. MattPedigo says:

    I believe that if you stick to the true definition of "Sick Days" then no it is not right to call in sick after a fun filled night.  A lot of companies that I have worked for have "Personal Days" and "Sick Days". Personal Days are for tending to the tasks that a person working the day shift may not be able to take care of after work. Or those fun, mid-morning, grade school, spring-fling musicals that Mommy has been such a trooper attending while you promise that you will get to one of them before the child reaches graduation. Sick Days are for the "unforeseen" illness that rips your chest open and climbs inside during the sleeping hours, lying in wait, silently, until you open your eyes at daybreak.  The keyword here is "unforeseen".  I have had some of those mornings where I wished I would have foreseen the hangover. But hey when you’re having fun, you’re having fun! And experience and no one else can tell you otherwise.

    To the point, Sick Days are for taking the necessary steps to ensure that you rid yourself of "unexpected" sickness and not transport such into the work environment, infecting the whole company. Can anyone really classify a hangover as "unforeseen”?

  7. anon says:

    "from a benefits administration standpoint, you can’t really differentiate, you know? And I’m not THAT old (hee!) "

    From a parent’s or friend’s perspective, I might distinguish between youthful indiscretion vs. a repeated pattern of addiction.

    And I have to think employer’s should be concerned about people with substance abuse problems.  Addiction to alcohol is not necessarily directly related to age.  But old people who have to get drunk all the time may be more likely to have a problem than a young person who stayed out too late and had one too many drinks.

    Hey, I drank too much Tequila.  But that was my freshman year in college.   I slept until noon the next day and did not remember much from the night before.

  8. leppie says:

    I get 3 day hangovers where I am totally unproductive, depressed and antisocial. I tend to limit drinking to Fridays only and pray if it comes, that its gone by Monday.

    I would rather just take sick days if necesarry, as in my case I am clearly wasting my employers time being hungover.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Mat-I agree with you.

    anon-an employer is different than a parent though. I’m talking about what’s OK at work, not personal interventions. Indiscretion is indiscretion regardless of age. Someone who drinks too much at a young age is indiscrete and someone older that drinks the same has a substance abuse problem? That doesn’t work for me. What if the "youthful indiscretion" is a repeated pattern? Let’s put it this way, two people have the same drinking habits but one of them is 20 years older than the other. Is it Ok for the younger person to call in sick and not for the older person? Both are expected at work. You can personally excuse them in your mind, but professionally, they both have the same job and should be held to the same standards. Isn’t looking the other way ("youthful indistretion!") for the young person a form of age discrimination? Hey, I could say that physically the younger person has more energy and should be able to come to work with the hangover. Right? Work attendance standards don’t vary by age in itself. I’m talking about what’s appropriate in the workplace.

  10. Matt says:

    How about not getting a hangover?  Drinking a lot of water will counteract the diuretic effect of alcohol.  Also, replenish whatever salts and other electrolytes by eating something salty, or heck, just eat SOMETHING.  I’ve never had a hangover yet, of course, I don’t drink all that much that often.  

  11. Tim says:

    That’s a really difficult question to answer, Heather (as you see by the variety of replies). I don’t personally chastise someone for not coming in hungover, as long as it doesn’t happen too much. And, yes, we all expect it from younger people. I hope they don’t blame me when I have to watch a sick kid at home (which happens more than I’d like). It actually scares me to think of what life is like for those people who work in a factory and work hourly. No work = no pay. My company doesn’t have a sick policy, so as long as you’re not taking too much time off, you’re okay. I think as long as you work hard and aren’t putting everyone else in a crunch by your hangovers, go right ahead.

  12. Anil says:

    I agree with Dean and Matt. Come on, you HR folks, take it a bit easy. As long as you don’t make a habit of calling in sick because of a hangover, it is ok. In any case, how many people would confess to be being sick because of a hangover? And, it is better not to be in the office when you have a hangover because you would not be able to work anyway.

    Here’s an analogy. I may take Personal Time Off or a vacation day to attend a job interview, but I would not tell my boss about my plans.

    Certain things are personal, and a company has no business knowing about it as long as it does not affect productivity, output and the work environment.

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Anil-people can use their vacation says any way they want and there’s no need to disclose what they are doing. They are days to use however you wish. Sick days are a benefit that the company pays for on your behalf *when you are sick*. They are not days to use however you want.


    Calling in sick with a hangover doesn’t affect productivity? Seriously? You mean not being at work because you decided to have too much fun last night…that doesn’t affect productivity? Hmm, see ya, I’m going shopping!

    I don’t think there are any “HR folks” here by the way. Just me and I’ve never worked in an “HR” capacity other than staffing.

  14. KatieB says:

    I’ve only had a few hangovers, but they definitely crossed over into the "very sick" category–no details required, I hope.  I couldn’t have gone to work if someone had dangled a bonus in front of me.   Why don’t workplaces all adopt the "Paid Time Off" plan where you get a number of days per year, and you can use them for whatever you want–holidays, personal days, sick days.  Once they’re used up, they’re gone, but while you have them they’re yours to take advantage of for whatever reason you choose…including no reason at all!

  15. Anil says:

    Well, Heather, using your argument about sick days affecting productivity, it can be said that even vacation and personal time off affect productivity. Here, I am talking about the *overall effect of absence on productivity in a particular year, not just one measly day*.

    Even vacation days cost companies money. Unused vacation can be encashed. Just as there is a limit to any benefit, sick days also have limits. Beyond such limits, one can say that productivity is *visibly* affected. I believe that most companies (specially service businesses) factor in vacation days, personal time off and sick days when forecasting output.

    Most large companies offer short-term or long-term disability benefits. Obviously, you cannot use *hangover* or *alcoholism* as reasons for availing the benefits.

    If a company offers the sick days benefit, I have seen most people take it. They can just call in or e-mail and say, "I am calling in sick today," without even disclosing what the nature of sickness is (I could just be plain tired and need some rest). Most bosses I know are ok with it.

  16. Dan Hill says:

    Acceptable = no

    Firing offence = not typically

    When it comes to the stage that you’ve got a hangover and should be at work in the next 15 minutes, yes, pick up the phone and call in until you have your right mind on you.

    If you’re not able to concentrate on the job you are bound to mess up and make more work for yourself and possibly your colleagues.

    However, in most cases you should expect a thorough kickin’ from your boss when you waltz through the door for drinking heavily on a school night.

  17. Bill says:

    This is an interesting question with possibly no one correct answer. It points to some of the reasoning that some companies are moving toward having one bucket of time off, and employees can use it however they want, for sick, for vacation, etc.

    It is probably a personal judgment thing, determining what to call a hangover day.

    From a pragmatic standpoint, this is rule that most companies are okay with not defining, because it is difficult and labor intensive to enforce.


    an "HR folk"

  18. Rex says:

    how about people not drinking so much as to get blind maggot, and expect others to fill in for them in their abscence due to their selfishness.

    you have a job – you have a moral obligation (amongst other things) to attend your job on time and in a capable state of being productive. If you cant do that, then (as an employer) i would tell you to think about whether you want to work here – you’re not committed to OUR team which is trying to achieve something, and only holding us back for your personal benefit.

    Do whatever you want on friday night – just be clean and sober by 9am Monday morning.

    Thats just my take on the whole hangover thing 🙂

  19. C. DiNardo says:

    To understand if a hangover is justifiable as a sick day, we need to understand the purpose of having sick days:

    1) Is it because the individual’s capacity for work will suffer greatly, therefore they best take it off? An act of goodwill shown by the company?

    2) Is it for the group, so that they don’t get sick as well, or their own work is effected by being exposed to someone who looks and acts miserable?

    3) Is it to shorten individual’s recovery time, so that they get back to normal performance sooner, thereby increasing their performance in the long run?

    I believe the last two are justified reasons for taking a sick day. In the first case, they are still producing, although not as efficiently, so it is wise to keep them working if such work doesn’t increase the time it takes to recover and doesn’t make the individual feel anything negative about the company.  

    Now let’s throw the effects of hangovers into the mix. Hangovers effect performance (#1) and they effect the work environment/appearance (#2). So there is your justification for hangovers being an excuse to take a sick day.

    But there is more to consider… a sick day is an unscheduled day off from work: unplanned and unavoidable. Hangovers are easily avoidable, which means they shouldn’t qualify as a sick day. Then again, lots of legitimate sicknesses are avoidable. Do you force an employee to come to work because he or she was wearing summer clothes in the middle of winter, thereby bringing on their sickness?

    Do you assign a weighting to such situations? “If you have on at least medium warmth clothes and catch a cold, you can take it off as a sick day” or “If you drink 6 glasses of wine and get a hangover when it usually takes 8 glasses, you take off as a sick day”

    In the end, there are so many factors that need to be considered, it is easier to make a generalized rule, even though it is not going to be the right in every case. It is easier to give employees the benefit of the doubt, which gives some goodwill to them. Therefore I believe hangovers should be a legitimate sick day. The company just has to hope that its goodwill isn’t abused.

  20. HeatherLeigh says:

    Katie-very reasonable idea!

    Anil-I am not going to go around in circles on that one. I don’t know any boss that wants to have someone call in “sick” when they aren’t but if you do, that’s OK. I don’t thikn you are suggesting taking away vacation day benefits are you?

    Dan Hill-agreed and also maybe they should get a warning not to do it again. If you let it slide once, people might be more tempted to do it again. Man, discipline sucks.

    Bill-thanks for the “HR folk” perspective! Good points.

    Rex- hee! That’s pretty much how I think. Kind of sounds like the voice in my brain too!

    C. DiNardo-now there’s a well thought out argument!

  21. anon-squared says:

    I once worked for a startup, where boozing was very much part of the culture. People would hold impromptu happy hours any day of the week and charge it to the company. One time we went to a baseball game, stayed out til 6 am, and had a mandatory staff meeting at 10 am. Needless to say people rolled in wearing baseball hats, and sunglasses. Wasnt a productive meeting. Some called in sick feeling too hungover. Looking back I think this was a poor management decsion to allow such behavior.

  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    anon-squared, I bet that once you allow or condone (or sponsor) something like that, it’s hard to call for general workplace decorum. I wonder how many three martini lunches took place after that?

  23. anon-squared says:

    Every friday a group of us had lunch club. Lunch club took place at a different bar/restaurant each week.  Sometimes we would make it back to the office, and sometimes we wouldnt. I must add that this was at the height of the .com boom, and was much needed to deal with the stress and crazy hours in this marketplace.

  24. HeatherLeigh says:

    anon-squared…don’t you remember the first rule of lunch club? You don’t talk about lunch club.

    : )

  25. Kristen says:

    I have a bit of a different view on this.  I own my own company.  I pay all the bills, salaries and bonus’.  

    When an employee calls in sick it hurts the bottom line for the company but that is acceptable cost of doing business.  When an employee calls in sick because they are hung over that is taking advantage of my company.

    Fine if you are unable to do the job call in but you better be calling in to take a vacation day.  I would rather see you pay for your having too much to drink instead of me.

  26. anon says:

    "Both are expected at work. You can personally excuse them in your mind, but professionally, they both have the same job and should be held to the same standards. Isn’t looking the other way ("youthful indistretion!") for the young person a form of age discrimination? Hey, I could say that physically the younger person has more energy and should be able to come to work with the hangover. Right? Work attendance standards don’t vary by age in itself. I’m talking about what’s appropriate in the workplace. "

    Okay, you make some great points.  I agree that a sick day is a sick day, and an employer should not sit around and wonder why an employee used the sick day.  Employers should trust employees.

    Employers do care about substance abuse problems.  Drunkenness for older people may be more dangerous due to the cumulative effect of excess drinking – liver damage, etc.  Some people do become addicted over time.  This may be somewhat preventable.  It is somewhat like playing with fire.  

    Shift perspectives for a moment: how do you think missing work for a hangover (at any age) appears to someone who would like to work but can not due to cancer, disabilities, discrimination or some other non-controllable factor?  

    So I lean toward not skipping work for a hangover at any age, and being very upset with myself if this happened and taking steps to prevent a recurrence in the future.  Yes, a young person should make it to work the next day.    

  27. anon-squared says:

    Its ok. I jettisoned myself from it a long time ago. The statute of limitations has expired. Just dont send Brad Pitt to kick my butt. 🙂

  28. HeatherLeigh says:

    Kristen- i’m with you. great to hear it from the perspective of a company owner.

    anon- agreed!

    anon-squared…he might get Angelina to do it!

  29. I’m 23 and definately party hardy on the weekends and have been thoroughly hung over into Monday on occasion.  For me, it is a matter of what needs to be done.  If I’m busy at work and it is my responsibility to get something done, it gets done.   If work is extremely slow I may call in and say "I partied hard last night and am not up to par this morning, call me if you need me to come in for any reason at all"

    I’m not sure if this is hitting the nail on the head but a general rule of thumb for me is if there is work to be done I will be at work until the doctor tells me I can’t do it anymore.  If there is no work to be done I may slide in late or take the day off but will still let them know I’m on call.

    Hungover = Vacation day..

    Hungover != Sick day ..  I have to save my sick days for the yearly flu or whatever else decides to wipe me out for a week+.

  30. HeatherLeigh says:

    Josh-interesting. I’ve never had a job where I wasn’t responsible for getting something done every day. I guess my thought was that if I was getting paid for the day, then even if things were slow, I was responsible for getting stuff done. But I guess there could be jobs where you have days where you don’t have anything to do. I don’t want one of those jobs, but I guess they exist ; )

  31. I’ve never called in sick because I was hung over… but I’ve thought about it.  

    On a similar topic… how about using sick days for "solar flu" (on the rare occasion that the sun comes out in the winter here in Seattle).  Or powder flu on the days when Crystal Mt get 2 feet of new powder overnight.  Or even a "mental health" day, after a particularly stressful period at work.

  32. This is the only semi-interesting hung-over-but-still-at-work story.

    The summer of my internship, one of my friends got married.  We decided to have his bachelor’s party in Vancouver BC on a Tuesday night.  After work on Tuesday, we all drove up to Canada… did the bachelor party stuff…  but I didn’t have any vacation or sick days, so I had to be back to work on Wednesday.  We left Vancouver and got back to Seattle about noon.  I wandered into work about 1PM, still wearing the clothes I had been wearing the night before.

    I was scared, because I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to me coming in so haggered looking.  Luckily, being in IT, nobody cares what I look like.  And, my fears were quickly quelled as soon as the first 2-kids,-a-spouse,-and-a-heinous-seattle-mortgage DBA walked over to my desk, and asked me to recount everything I could remember of the night.

    I worked until 9PM (rather productively, I might add) and went home and slept for 12 hours.

    Now, as a full employee, I could just work from home.

  33. HeatherLeigh says:

    Adam- I think vacation days are for all those things. I watch the weather reports to know when those things are coming (the "solar days" at least) and plan the approriare vacation time. I’m a big fan of using vacation days to hang out at home (this year, I am up to 4 weeks vacation and it’s hard for me to take more than 2 weeks a year tops).

    Now if you have flexible work time like that, I say use it how yuo want as long as you are coming in and getting the work done. When my insomnia is causing problems, I’ll go in late and stay later and it works out great.

    I’m not going to say anything about the same clothes thing ; )

  34. Bruce says:

    I used to never get sick, until I got a family and kids.  Now being sick (or needing to be home because someone else is sick) is a pretty common occurrence.

  35. Linda says:

    I would "save" my sick time for when I really need it.

  36. Jenny says:

    I would say if you are going to call in sick for a hangover, to do it in the morning and not come in.  We had a girl come in with a violent hangover and leave halfway through the day.  Needless to say, she was written up.

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