A Call Center’s Worst Nightmare…

…the dreaded sick employees.

Like me!

If you’ll recall, I mentioned having a sore throat Friday. Well, let’s just say that developed over the weekend into what has now become a rip-roaring good time, namely a full-blown upper respiratory infection and nasty ear infection. By Sunday evening, both ears were piercing me at will and upon any type of movement for the fun of it with zings of pain that made me cringe and cry out. By this morning, I was cowering in my bed, unable to gain any more restless slumber and barely able to speak in an audible voice without coughing or facing a piercingly sore throat.

I called in to work sick, which is no big deal for a call center like ours. Everyone has the sick line programmed into their phone so they can easily access it for things like bronchitis, laryngitis and other -itis sounding diseases that frequent the center. So to for things like colds and the flu; though in a center like ours, you rarely have people who call out for the flu or a cold. We don’t get enough sick days for people to justify calling in for a measly fever.

That might explain why so many people get sick in the first place, though.

Just thinking aloud here.

When you get only 40 hours, one week’s worth, of sick time, you tend to use it as sparingly as possible. FMLA (or Family Medical Leave Act to the uninitiated) time will only go so far and cover so much, and many people won’t purchase things like short term disability because, well, who wants to purchase something you may not need or use. Understandable, right?

I was lucky last year.

I hired in shortly after the new year and didn’t have to use much sick time until about mid-summer, and then I only took one day or a few short hours here and there. It wasn’t much, but I knew I had to be sparing. Then fall came, and winter was just around the corner.

The problem with me and winter? We don’t tend to get along. And winter tends to go for the low blow: my health. Sure enough, November came, and I got bronchitis. With me, bronchitis isn’t a nice, little cough. It’s a gut-wrenching, sob-inducing, lung-ripping coughing fit that sometimes seems to never end. It brought with it a small fever of 102.1 at the highest, which is the highest fever I’ve had that I can remember in the past five or ten years.

Naturally I would have called in sick for the several days around Thanksgiving (what a fortunate time of month to be sick!) I had the illness… had I not a) already used up some of my sick time earlier in the year, and b) been pro-rated on the sick time I was allotted when I hired in so that I wasn’t given a full 40 hours of sick time due to hiring in with less than a year to work.

No, I came in to work with no voice (easy to make calls out, that) and begged off the phones in my whisper tones, asking for something, anything, else to keep me busy because I didn’t have a voice. I hacked up a lung off and on throughout the day as I worked on invalidating addresses from returned mail, a simplistic job but one that we often do when we have no inbound calls to take.

It was miserable.

I had a fever, was coughing, and felt generally miserable. I had almost no vacation and very little sick time remaining that I could use. And what would have happened had I left anyway? Disciplinary action.

Makes sense to me.

Stay with a fever, potentially infect other employees, and do menial tasks with less than 100% efficiency because that shows dedication to the schedule adherence we believe in. Rather than leave when you’re sick and unable to perform and really not being efficient, productive, or useful in any capacity and maybe be able to come back to 100% efficiency faster because you rested and fought off the illness.

So now here I am, shortly into January with 40 hours sick time… or rather, 31 hours sick time available to me because I used 9 hours today. After going to the doctor’s office this afternoon, he told me I had the worst ear infection he’s ever seen in an adult and has recommended I not go back to work until Thursday, taking two more days off at my discretion.

Whatever the case, days off are always to be taken with a bit of imagination and discretion widely advised. I’ll be taking my time to recuperate and praying I don’t have another illness that knocks me off my feet anytime soon… at least not till next year.

–Β RaeNez

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