When I was in college, our student fellowship had a daily prayer meeting. One day a student, I’ll call her Amy, asked us to pray with her about some guidance she was seeking from God. “I’m trying to decide whether I should ‘sick out’ of my exam this week,” she told us.
To “sick out,” as we used to put it, was the only way students could delay taking an exam. Students could get extensions on papers, but not on tests. They simply had to go down to the student health services and explain they weren't feeling well enough to take the exam properly that day. Then, the doctor would sign a certificate allowing the student to take the test later.
But she was really supposed to be sick. We were a bit surprised by Amy’s prayer request since she looked perfectly healthy. She was relatively new to the Christian faith, and we recognized Amy was only considering something she'd seen everyone else around her do. So we asked her a bit about it.
“Are you sick?”
“No,” she replied.
“Then you can’t say you’re sick.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because that would be a lie.”
She thought about this for a moment and said, “Oh yeah.”
Before that moment, Amy had thought so little about the fact that this would be lying that she was comfortable bringing it up as a matter for guidance in a prayer meeting. Once we'd helped her think it through, though, she asked us to pray instead that she'd be able to study effectively in the days ahead and take the test with confidence.
In many workplaces, calling in sick is the accepted way to be excused from coming in to work, even when a person isn't really sick. Beyond the one or two "personal days" they are allotted each year, many employees feel they have no recourse but to use some of their "sick days" to meet personal obligations. Employers may suspect, quite correctly, that the employee isn't really sick, but they maintain the convenient fiction because it often works for them, too.
But isn't it a lie to say we're sick when we're not? One of God's basic expectations of his people is that they'll speak the truth. The Ten Commandments tell us not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16). In describing the ideal life among followers of Jesus, the apostle Paul writes, "do not lie to one another" (Colossians 3:9) and, "each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor" (Ephesians 4:25).
So might not God have some other way he'd like us to approach these situations? Maybe even one of these:
Explain the situation to an employer as completely as possible, and then ask for some time off to be made up by working extra hours later.
Request directly to use sick days to meet some personal responsibilities.
Simply asked to be excused for the day.
Every workplace is different, and some employers are more reasonable and open to appeal than others, but what would happen if an employee took a different approach when he needed to take time off from work? What would happen if he actually told the truth?
Questions for reflection and discussion
Is calling in sick accepted as a "convenient fiction" in your workplace? Is this what employees are expected to do when they need time off?
Have you, or has someone you know, ever tried to negotiate time off in your workplace without claiming a sick day? Why do you think they didn't just call in sick? What happened in the end?
What other ideas do you have for approaches a person might take, besides the ones suggested above, if they needed time off but couldn't truthfully say they were sick?
Image by Tim Miller. Post by Christopher R. Smith.