A few weeks ago, my girlfriend was really sick, like, struggling to breathe and shivering uncontrollably sick. The sort of sick that renders a normally autonomous human adult completely unable to take care of themselves. She had come down with the flu — the real flu, that nasty one that turns your entire body against you and leaves you wondering whether it might be better to die than fight on.
Making matters worse is that she fell ill on a Wednesday, which meant that I was faced with an uncomfortable decision: Do I get her some juice, give her some over-the-counter flu medication, a kiss on the forehead and wish her to “get better,” before abandoning her in favor of my corporate responsibilities? Or, do I use one of my sick days to stay home and make sure she doesn’t get worse?
The predicament I was in is a fairly common one. One redditor writes about a similar situation that ended badly for him when he left his girlfriend on a Monday morning to go to work while she was still sick with mono. “We basically argued and I left,” he writes. “I don’t think I’m the asshole, but I see her point. She’s barely able to move and has basically just been in bed crying. And when I strained my back, she took three days off to help me around the house because I could barely walk. But like… I have a job. I can’t spend all my sick days on her.”
His point is a fair one: Most of us, if we’re lucky, are allotted only a certain number of sick days, which means using them to take care of your significant other could backfire. To that end, another woman wrote into a baby blog to air out her frustration over her significant other’s attitude toward having to stay home to take care of her. “He stayed home, but all day long he was was just… really grumpy and mean.” Which, if you’re going to stay home, guilting your significant other while they’re sick is probably the worst way to go about it.
Complicating matters further, according to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, there isn’t a universal rule to determine whether you can stay home to care for a sick partner, so you’ll need to consider your company policy and use your best judgment. “If your company offers paid sick time to its employees, refer to your employee handbook to find out the details of your policy,” she says. “Some policies allow its workers to use paid sick time for various reasons, from caring for a sick family member, to attending routine doctor or medical appointments. If you’re new to the office, be sure to familiarize yourself with the official policies and gather insights from your colleagues, and even your boss, as to what is considered an acceptable use of your sick leave.”
For example, Augustine says that if your company is okay with you using sick leave to care for your partner, ask yourself a few questions to determine whether it makes sense for you to take the time off. “How sick is your spouse?” she asks. “If you left them alone while you go to work, would you be concerned for their well-being? For instance, are they unable to get in and out of bed on their own? Can they safely get to the bathroom if necessary?”
Augustine does tell me that it would be hard to justify staying home if your spouse has the common cold. “But if a stomach virus is wreaking havoc on your family, you may be better off containing the germs and caring for your loved one,” she says. “Remember, your office doesn’t want you bringing those germs into the workplace, either.”
Another alternative, per Augustine, is using your paid time off instead of your sick days, if your company frowns upon using sick leave to take care of your partner. “At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your family.” Why? Because employment, in this capitalist system, is temporary, but the wrath of your loved one suffering through Swine flu could sink your relationship forever.