Merrill slashes employee sick day allowance

Financial services company shrinks its bloated policy that had allowed employees up to 40 consequence-free sick days per year.

NEW YORK ( -- Merrill Lynch has shortened the number of consequence-free sick days its employees can take each year to three days from 40.

Previously, Merrill allowed employees to be absent on 10 instances for up to four days each - potentially 40 days a year.

"We amended the policy to be in line with our competitors," Merrill Lynch (Charts, Fortune 500) spokeswoman Selena Morris told CNNMoney.

Under the new guidelines employees are allowed a total of up to three days of absence per year.

On the fourth day, managers are encouraged to talk to the employee about the impact of his or her absence on performance and potentially to begin docking pay.

After the seventh day of absence over the course of the year, the guidelines say that "nonpayment should result."

Upon the ninth day, firing is recommended.

The new policies, which took effect May 14, are guidelines for managers and not steadfast rules, according to the company. Clarifying earlier reports, the company said these guidelines apply to the entire organization, not just administrative personnel.

The average American company offers employees 8.1 paid sick days a year, according to a study by Mercer Human Resources Consulting. The average worker takes about 5.2 sick days per year, the 2006 study said.

Merrill offers employees paid illness leave of up to six weeks. Illness leave requires a doctor's note and is for occasions when employees are going to be out for a week or more.

The paid illness leave and personal days are in addition to three weeks vacation time for employees who've worked at the firm less than 10 years and four weeks for those past the 10-year mark.

Merrill competes with Citigroup (Charts, Fortune 500), Morgan Stanley (Charts, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachs (Charts, Fortune 500). Top of page