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February 15, 2007

Morph of a Nerd CEO – Sick Days are Sick

Here you are with your own company.  You don’t get to write code any more (or you shouldn’t be writing code, anyway).  There’s a lot of petty stuff you have to deal with.  One of the worst is adjudicating sick days, personal days, niche holidays, compassionate leave etc. etc. There are always some people who abuse whatever scheme you set up.  There are always impossible requests like “I have to take a sick day because my son is sick and can’t go to school.”  There’s also the problem of having a policy more lenient than the policy of the employer of the spouse of one of your workers:  guess who stays home to wait for the cable guy?

We found a way around all this at ITXC and it seemed to work pretty well.  May not be legal in all states, though, so check before implementing.

We looked at all the things people got time off for: vacation was a function of years on the job; sick days, personal days, and compassionate leave a function of need; holidays the same for everybody; jury duty and reserve activation determined by external factors.  Then we decided to lump everything except jury, reserve duty, and legal holidays together.

The numbers before we made the change were something like this: ten days of vacation for every one with less than five years service (which was everyone), five days of sick leave and two personal days annually, complicated rules on how much compassionate leave you got for whom, three days which were not legal holidays when the office was shut (the network never closes).

We gave everyone twenty days annually which were theirs to do what they wanted with without any demeaning explanations or transparent lies.  No more separate sick leave, personal days, or compassionate leave.  Closed only on the seven legal holidays.  Want to take off the day after Thanksgiving? Use one of your days.  Want to celebrate the anniversary of the release of DOS?  Use one of your days.  What you don’t want to do is use up all of your days and then get sick because you won’t get paid until longterm disability (optional) kicks in.  This makes every employee the judge of his or her own needs.

Actual scheduling of time off (except when sick or in an emergency) required supervisor approval to assure that the company had adequate coverage at all times.  But the time belongs to the employee. 50% of unused time could be carried forward (that’s how you build a bank for a sabbatical).  Carried forward days could be cashed in at termination (watch the accounting on this) or, at the companies option, could be sold back at the end of each year (depended whether we were short of labor or cash).

People received this well at first.  I sold it as treating them as adults (which it was).  Most remained happy with it.  A few had a problem when they used all their days and then needed some more but I wasn’t sympathetic and didn’t grant exceptions because exceptions would make the whole plan fall part.

For people who were with us more than five years (eventually that happened), we added five days.

We continued to pay people who were called for jury duty or whose guard units were activated (minus whatever they were paid by the court or the armed forces).  Felt this was something people had no control over and that we should spread the monetary part of this civic burden.  Not sure what we would have done if we’d been very small or had many people called up for active duty; but we could afford this so we did it.

Other posts in this series:

First Sole Practitioner

The First Employees

The Power of Silence

Yuk, Selling

The Close

When Free is the Right Strategy

The Three Rules of Free

When Free is the Right Strategy (Cont)

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