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Merrill Lynch: The Sick Day Policy Heard Around the World

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Investment banks like to make headlines by playing important roles in big deals. But publicity surely wasn’t what Merrill Lynch was after when it made headlines last week with it’s new sick-day policy. An internal memo announced that three sick days per year is acceptable but after that the company will start docking pay. More than eight is “unacceptable.” And nine days out is a firing offense. After it was reported on Gawker and DealBreaker, the memo quickly became a story on which the sun never set, showing up in the UK’s Guardian, the International Herald-Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Fort Wayne Herald Gazette, the Los Angeles Times. It even crossed the Pacific to appear in the Shanghai Daily.
Merrill’s flaks acted quickly to emphasize, well, anything other than the news that it has a policy of firing employees who are sick more than 2.4% of the year. Spokesfolks say the company permits three weeks of vacation time, four “personal days,” thirteen weeks of leave for hatching offspring (but only if you are the primary-care giver). Also, they say the policy is in keeping with policies offered by its rivals. (And, of course, none of the other banks are saying a word in connection with the story).
But there was no getting around the fact that the policy was a drastic change for Merrill employees, who were previously permitted to take as many as 40 sick days (provided they didn’t take more than 4 days in a row). Of course, 40 sick days is an awful lot but its not clear that Merrill’s employees were actually taking anywhere near that many. No doubt some employees abused the policy by “pulling a sicky”—as our Brit friends like to say. But in general, employees of US companies don’t use all the sick days they have available. “The average company offering the benefit provides 8.1 sick days a year. But workers on average only take 5.2, according to a survey by Mercer Human Resources Consulting,” Fort Wayne’s Herald Gazette reported.
So why the crackdown? As is usually the case with anything happening around Memorial Day, the summer beach share is to blame.
[After the jump, the implausible "the Hamptons made us do it" excuse.]

“Company officials said the new policy is meant to crack down on some workers abusing sick days to take sunny summer Fridays to go to the Hamptons,” according to the Herald Gazette.
We’re more than a bit skeptical about this rationale. And the reason for our skepticism is that the whole concept of the official “sick day” is really only applicable to lower-level employees on Wall Street. Many investment bankers clock in no official sick days at all, simply because when they are too ill or exhausted to come into the office they just call their immediate superior and note the absence. Assuming there is no deal work that is absolutely pressing—in which case no-one dares call in sick, regardless of their health—the superior just assigns the work to someone else or makes due for the absence.
So was Merrill really losing lots of work from its support staff, bank tellers, regional branch ladies and junior employees to Fridays in the Hamptons? Or is it more likely the bankers who are taking off slow Fridays to head out east?
In any case, we want to hear from you. How many sick days does your shop let you take? Do you take them? Do they get recorded on an official record or just with your boss? Do you buy the “we have too many tan employees” rationale? Leave a comment below or drop us an email at tips(at)dealbreaker(dot)com.