Taking a sickie

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone]

It’s time for another examination of disability and the dominant Australian culture! Previously we’ve had Ableism and the Aussie Battler, now to the idea of taking a sickie.

“Taking a sickie” refers to taking a sick day off from school or work though one isn’t really sick. This is called “bludging,” that is, doing things for one’s own enjoyment or benefit when one ought to be otherwise engaged.

As I touched on in Ableism and the Aussie Battler, performing paid work, working hard to support a family, carries a lot of weight in the determination of one’s being a good Australian. Nevertheless, there’s also a great emphasis on relaxing, having fun and hanging out with one’s mates. As such, taking the occasional sickie is considered a very Australian thing to do: working is valued, but slacking off is a part of Australian life, too.

So, let’s consider what all this means for disabled people. I for one don’t take sickies, because I don’t want to risk being known as a faker; if people around me think I’m faking my disability things could get quite dangerous for me. Indeed, in Australia, as in many parts of the world, disabled people are often understood as slackers anyway. Where even taking legitimate time off is for disabled people fraught with guilt and potential accusations of slackness and faking, there isn’t a lot of room for participating in the cultural tradition of taking a sickie.

If you’re from Australia, how does this aspect of Australian culture play out for you? If you’re from elsewhere, do you have anything similar where you’re from?

11 thoughts on “Taking a sickie

  1. I don’t recall if it’s been posted about before here or not (I vaguely recall yes?) but in the US we have “mental health days,” where people skip work to rejuvenate or slack off or what have you. However, for those of us with actual mental health conditions who sometimes have to take time off, taking a “mental health day” is pretty much impossible for the reasons you describe in not being able to take a “sickie.”

  2. In my experience, missing days due to sickness or disability (or the need to help a disabled family member) is very definitely frowned upon. On the other hand, I see tons of TABs at the sports bar or the local club watching March Madness in lieu of working Thursdays and Fridays – and they don’t ever seem to catch hell for it the way I would. Even if I had a legitimate excuse of being too sick to work! ARGH. It grates on my nerves, you betcha.

    (I’m from smack dab in the middle of the U.S., by the way. Haven’t lived outside of Kansas, so I have no idea what it’s like on the Coasts, up North, or down South. I’m curious to know, though.)

  3. I’m an American university student. We’ve got a similar concept: skipping classes to relax or do something fun, just because you can.

    This is something I *can’t* do, as a person with depression and anxiety. I can’t take a day off when I’m mentally well to just enjoy it, because it is very likely that I’ll need to use every day I’m allowed to miss class to cope with my illness. Most of my professors allow us to miss two or three days without needing explanation for minor illnesses/work conflict/accidents/etc. Which is plenty for your average TAB person, but I’ve already used one of those days in two of my classes and we haven’t even finished a month of school.

  4. When I worked at a well-known rebate processing company (before I got married and moved 2 hours’ drive away from it), we had a generous paid time off policy. Between paid holidays, paid vacation, and paid sick days, I had 4 weeks of PTO a year (and that was after I had been employed by them for 1 full year as a full-timer, not a temp). I never had to worry about taking time off “just because”, if I needed a day off, I asked for it and usually got it, no problem (I loved that job). That was the only job I ever had that I didn’t have to worry about taking time off “just because”, let alone when I was really sick. All the other jobs I had, forget it. If I was sick, I had better have a doctor’s excuse when I came back, even if I was just gone for a day (and don’t even think of taking a day off “just because”, not gonna happen).
    I worked for years with disabilities (depression, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and severe lower back pain), but I never told anyone about them and never took days off to deal with any of them. If I took a day off, it was because I had the flu and couldn’t stay out of the bathroom or had a cold so bad I was coughing up a lung. Everything else, I dealt with and worked through because I wanted to keep whatever job I had at the time and taking off work because I was in pain or too depressed to get out of bed and deal with people wasn’t an acceptable reason to not go to work according to my employers (funny how going to the sports bar to see a football or baseball game is an acceptable reason to not show up for work though, isn’t it).
    And all of my jobs were in Illinois and Minnesota, so I don’t know how the rest of the USA is, but I’m betting it’s pretty much the same.

  5. Interesting post, thanks.

    I hadn’t really thought about the ways that disability might complicate being/feeling OK with taking a sickie. However, I have thought about it in terms of employment privilege before: I don’t think I’ve ever taken a sickie (without actually being sick) – probably because I’ve pretty much only ever worked in casual jobs, so I’ve never really had the option of taking a day off and still getting paid.

  6. In the UK we generally say “pulling a sickie”. There has been a tendency (given that the government plans to cut disability benefits as part of its deficit-cutting efforts) to portray people on disability as scroungers or not really disabled, and there are quite frequent press stories about people claiming disability benefit and then working as a window cleaner or playing football.

    Also, there are prejudices against certain illnesses and a few years ago a famous “comedian” did a routine in which he said he’d seen someone collecting money for ME, and added “not MS, the crippling wasting disease, ME – that’s the one where – ‘don’t feel like going to work today'” followed by showing some guy using “ME” as an excuse not to go to work. I’m not sure he could get away with that now because the Lynn Gilderdale case earlier this year in the UK raised people’s awareness of how serious that illness could be, but there is still the perception that someone who isn’t very obviously disabled isn’t disabled at all, something that might be displayed when they use a blue parking badge or the like.

  7. I actually was just having a conversation that was related to this. It was about “perfect attendance” getting special recognition in high school.

    The argument was that it rewards dedication — i.e., students that don’t take “sickies.” My take on it, both when I was a high school student and currently, is that it rewards people for being healthy. There are plenty of other ways to reward someone for being dedicated without arbitrarily disincluding PWD or TABs who get the flu.

    If I didn’t have depression as a student, I’d have attended every single day, too. But since I couldn’t come to class a lot of the time, when I did come in and was a little sick, people accused me of faking it, as obviously I just wanted to look like I don’t take days off for my own amusement. So I see it too as kind of a double (triple?) bind; even coming to class or work when legitimately a little ill, I was seen as a faker. Between this and actually having to do work when sick with a bad cold, it was even more stressful, which made me need more legitimate days off because of my depression.

    And of course, the above applies to the work environment as well.

  8. Icca, that reminds me, when I was in middle school, there was a teacher who was trying to set some kind of record for most days in the classroom without being absent. I’m not sure if he was getting some kind of bonus from the district or something, but he was there, without fail, for something like ten years straight. He’d even come in when he was sick, to show how “dedicated” he was, and there were a bunch of times when he came in with a bad cold that turned out to be the flu or a sore throat that turned out to be strep, and a bunch of his students caught it from him. I remember my mother being furious about this, since my sister was in his class, and she had asthma, so getting something like the flu or even a bad cold would be much worse for her.

  9. Yeah, Icca, I had the same thought as Ruchama, that it’s not only rewarding people for being healthy–it’s rewarding them for coming to school while sick and exposing their classmates to illness.

    That’s why I hate the culture in America that says you have to go to work if it’s “just a cold.” Something that’s “just a cold” for one person might be something far more serious for, say, the immunocompromised. Personally I prefer to do what’s best for my body and REST when I’m sick, but that’s frowned upon as lazy or unproductive. There have been times when I’ve gone to work sick because I didn’t feel like facing my boss’s angry guilt trip if I said I couldn’t come in.

    Slight tangent related to the “perfect attendance” thing: A few years ago, I got physically sick with IBS at the same time as my mental health took a steep downturn. I kept going to work, though, because instead of taking a “mental health day” I would have had to take a “mental health several months.” (In retrospect maybe I should have tried for medical leave, but I thought I didn’t qualify as “sick enough.”) But because of my health issues and my depression, it was very hard to get out of bed in the morning, and that combined with my ADHD meant I was often late to work.

    Several months later they announced that there was a “perfect attendance award” that would have been given out, but then they qualified it with “but it doesn’t apply to employees who have come in late.” There was no reason for them to mention the award if nobody won it–they were specifically saying that I would have gotten it if I had been more able to get to work on time. In front of all of my coworkers. That pissed me off, but of course I couldn’t say or do anything about it. I depend on my job for (ironically) my health insurance.

  10. My workplace’s policy on personal time and vacation is pretty decent. Once, though, a manager tried to “do me a favor” by sitting me down during our monthly reviews and said, “Hey, I notice you’ve used a lot of personal time. Maybe you should back off so you have some over the summer to enjoy the sunny weather. You’ll miss that when you don’t have anymore time to use.”

    Sorry dude, but me missing a sunny day gets trumped by me missing feeling safe during a panic attack or me keeping myself whole on bad days. Still, even the slightest of guilt-tripping/ words handed down from authority works on me. After that talk, I tried to go to work even on my off days and on one memorable not-so-lucid day, had an epic rambling ragey flip out. To this day, there are a couple of coworkers that are afraid of me because of it. That’s a real shitty feeling.

    It took me a looooong time in college to realize most folks didn’t used the phrase “mental health day” like I did.

  11. If your employer gives paid sick time and/or vacation time, it’s my opinion that they have no right to tell you how to use it. My boss often questions whether or not I am “really” sick when I call in sick. I always wonder if it ever crosses her mind that there are ways you can be sick that don’t involve physical so much as mental health.

Comments are closed.