If layoffs loom, are sick days fair game?

Dear Alana: I recently found out that the office I work in is closing and everyone who works here will be laid off as of December.

I have a lot of vacation days left, but I don't want to use them because I'll get paid for them when my office closes. But there's so much depression within this office, I need a vacation. Normally I'd feel guilty about faking an illness and using my sick days for a vacation.

But given the circumstances, is it allowed?

Summer in Santa Monica

Dear Summer: Your office is probably a dungeon of despair these days, and I can understand why you and your co-workers might be tempted to swipe pencils, printer cartridges and even the bathroom sink as a way to get back at your employer. But theft is theft, whether you're stealing toilet tissue or time off.

OK, you might get away with taking a "mental health" day or two. But stringing together a bunch of sick days for a lengthy vacation isn't advisable -- especially if you come back with a tan. If your boss busts you, you could get fired for misconduct, which means you might not qualify for the unemployment benefits you could have gotten if you stuck it out until December.

This may be tough to hear, but since your office is paying you to work, you should continue to work. If you need a vacation day, take one. And if you continue to feel really depressed, just remember: Those dungeon doors are going to open soon and you'll be out of there.


Adding vacation to a business trip

Dear Alana: I'm going to a conference in New York next month, which is where my daughter lives. The conference ends Thursday, but I am planning on staying the weekend to see her. Flights back on Sunday are substantially more expensive than flights that return Thursday. Do I repay my office for the difference or just chalk it up to a job perk?

Kerry in San Diego

Dear Kerry: A job perk is getting flown for free to a city where your daughter lives. Abusing said job perk would be taking extra time to boogie with your daughter at the 40/40 Club courtesy of your corporate AmEx.

Now, I know you expressed no intention of doing that. You probably just want to see your daughter so that you can point out the flaws of the Big Apple and remind her of the virtues of sunny California. But your employer might not be so sympathetic at a time when most companies are weeding through expenses as carefully as Martha Stewart tends her garden.

Go to your supervisor, tell her of your plans and offer to pay the difference. She'll probably eschew your offer anyway, and you'll score points for being honest. But even if she demands that you pay, it's better to cough up the cash than to pay with your job. Your daughter's worth the extra money. Isn't she?


If business partner never rests, can I?

Dear Alana: I co-own a small business. My business partner, who never takes vacations, has a chip on his shoulder and thinks he puts more time into our company than I do.

When I mentioned that my wife and I were thinking of going on a two-week trip, he got in a huff and suggested I wasn't as invested as he was in our company. How can I get some time off without ruining our relationship?

Matt in Hollywood

Dear Matt: This sounds like a giant brawl waiting to happen. I'd start bringing brass knuckles to work if I were you.

There's a lot you don't mention about your situation. Does your business partner indeed do more work than you do? Is your company too new for you to leave for a vacation? Have you discussed how much time off each of you can realistically expect each year?

Divvying up responsibility is one of the most difficult parts of running a business -- or a relationship. Think about all the times you've split dessert with your wife and each of you thinks the other one got the bigger piece of cheesecake. But for this partnership to succeed (your business, not your marriage), you're going to have to sit down with him and analyze how the workload is distributed. If it turns out he's right about your slacking ways, you two should agree to make some adjustments.

Now, if your partner is just a workaholic and that cheesecake is evenly split, this might be a good time to remind him that all work and no play can lead to a burnout. And that can't be good for the business.

Persuade him to take some time of his own, or even go on a two-man company yoga retreat. I hear Vermont is lovely this time of year.

And keep the brass knuckles nearby in case that doesn't work.



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