Sick Leave

Sick leave usage in the Air Traffic Division of the FAA was a completely different kettle of fish compared to sick leave in other divisions or frankly in any other kind of work. I was made aware of that difference very abruptly when I was talking to a fellow ham operator one day as we were out running respective errands. He was on a lunch break and had remarked what a beautiful day it was and how he’d like to be out doing something. I suggested he call in sick. He haughtily replied that he had never called in sick. I reflected on that.

I had never known someone who hadn’t called in sick. In the FAA it was a given—even recommended by supervisors when one was faced with a need for a random day off on short notice. You see, in the FAA’s ATC, minimum and maximum staffing were the same number. They scheduled an area for, say, 15 people for a shift, and that was determined to be the minimum number of controllers needed to meet the demand (which although relatively constant insofar as air carrier operations were concerned, was highly fluid when it came to military or general aviation ops, and could be highly dependant on weather). But for budgetary purposes, that 15 was also the maximum authorized complement for the area (or facility).

So, if I found that I needed a day off tomorrow to fix the pipe that broke this afternoon, there was a virtually 95% chance that if I asked for annual leave (vacation time) to get it fixed, I would be turned down and I would be out of options. You couldn’t be turned down for sick leave, however. So, faced with the prospect, you never asked for annual in those circumstances—you called in sick.

Now the odd, or FAA, part of this is they virtually never backfilled for a single or two or sometimes even three sick leaves. They might run the shift two or three short particularly if the weather was good. It seemed to never occur to them that if they could run a shift a man or two short because of sick leave they could have run it a man or two short due to annual leave.

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Last updated: 22 March 2009