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Is a Hangover Ever a Legitimate Reason for Calling in Sick?

And other questions you’d rather not ask your own HR Department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I never know what to do when I’m super hungover — use an unexpected sick day, which I’m not even sure is okay, or attempt to play hurt? This is an especially difficult decision when it follows an evening out with co-workers, which is the group I usually drink with the most. — Lawrence K., Phoenix, Arizona
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but hangovers come in all shapes and sizes — the pounding headache that can be quickly eliminated by Rapid Release Tylenol (my favorite), or the full-body agony that only time can cure. Depending on your constitution, each can be equally debilitating. And the cure for your hangover — from hair of the dog to Coke and weed — may make you just as unfit to work.

So, if you can’t get out of bed, use the sick day. Maybe you’ll start to feel better by the time you get to the office. Or maybe you’ll have to pull over by the side of the road and barf. Why chance it? When you wake up feeling like shit, whether hung over or with flu-like symptoms, give yourself (and everyone else) a break and call in sick. People are going to hound you if you come into work with a pasty complexion and commandeer the bathroom for half an hour. (Regarding the latter, you’ll piss off more people than you can imagine by hogging the toilets at work.)

Of course, it’s pretty stupid to get drunk on a work night in the first place — that’s what weekends are for.

Yesterday, my wife’s company gave everyone a half-day to do structured community projects. Some people beautified neighborhoods. Some worked at a women’s center. Some participated in a dog-walking program. In theory, this is a selfless, commendable program. But what if you don’t want to do it: Can you get out of it? Maybe, legally, the company can’t make you take part. But aren’t you going to seem like a selfish jerk if you don’t? — Robert P., Orange County
Because only one-third of employees are engaged at work (with 16 percent actively disengaged and the rest just picking up a paycheck), few organizations are doing such community projects to be altruistic. Instead, it’s a bottom-line issue: Highly engaged employees result in higher productivity, more innovation, better customer satisfaction and lower turnover. And across all generational demographics, employees say that corporate social responsibility, including corporate volunteerism, is important because it provides meaning and purpose.

Personally speaking, I was very proud of our team efforts when I was on assignment in London for a previous employer and we redesigned and rebuilt the backyard for a family with a severely disabled child. We dug up trees, installed rubber ground cover, built wheelchair-height planters and repaired the fences. A deep sense of satisfaction (and exhaustion) infused the team, and there were tears when the family shared a homemade feast and hugs.

So yes, you’re a curmudgeon if you’re not going to participate in the community project. First of all, it’s not about you; it’s about the people you’re helping, so get over yourself. Second, you may get to know your team members and find that they’re not only tolerable but also enjoyable to be around because you may see a side of them you don’t normally experience. Lastly, you may discover that volunteering is a worthwhile endeavor and just makes you feel very good.

And while the company can’t require you to participate, it can require you to be at work while everyone else is volunteering because you’re not participating in the paid community service day alongside your colleagues. More uncomfortable still, you can be sure everyone will know if you have a bullshit reason for not volunteering with them.

All the Trump/Comey news made me wonder: Let’s say I want to provide evidence that my boss or coworker is doing something awful. Maybe they’re using racist, sexist or homophobic language. Maybe they’re threatening me or a coworker. Or maybe they want me to do something unethical. If I secretly record them without their knowledge, is there any reason I could get sued later? What’s the legal position on that? — Phil T., Denver, Colorado
Yes and no. Federal law, 38 states (like your home state of Colorado) and the District of Columbia requires one-party consent, meaning the person who’s doing the recording doesn’t need to tell anyone. Twelve states require two-party consent. Of course, that creates a mess when someone in a one-party state records someone in a two-party state; check out the implications in the infamous Kanye West/Taylor Swift feud as a good example.

In the workplace, employers can typically record almost everything. The good news is that the federal and state wiretapping laws mentioned above do matter, so supposedly, your employer can’t monitor personal calls, even when you’re using the company phone. And any possible video cameras shouldn’t be peering into restrooms and locker rooms.

All of this collides when addressing the questions you raised about secretly recording events/people at work. As you might expect, there’s no definitive legal precedent. While there have been court victories where employees have secretly videotaped racist activities against them by their manager, other courts have found that even where allegations of discrimination were recorded, employees could be terminated for violating no-recording written company policies. Also mucking up the legality of company policies is a 2015 National Labor Relations Board ruling against Whole Foods. The NLRB determined that the upscale grocer’s policy, which required employees to get prior approval by their supervisor for recordings or have all parties consent to the recording, infringed on protected activity.

In the end, if you’re really convinced that discriminatory activity is occurring, you might want to risk the recording if you’re in an employee-friendly state — not so much if you’re not. Either way, go in with your eyes wide open knowing that you could get sued or lose your job. That said, if righteousness is your driver, do the right thing and hope for the best.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.