Houston owes workers a half-billion thanks to bonus sick days

Taxpayers owe Houston public employees nearly a half-billion dollars for unused time off.

That's roughly the amount the employees of Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have racked up, combined.

Houston's outsized liability for leave time is due in large part to the city's extraordinary sick day policy. The bottom line: If you show up for work almost every day, you don't have to show up for work every day, and you collect double time for the work you don't do.

That is, the city rewards employees for not taking time off by giving them bonus sick days to cash in, plus a few bonus personal days, that they can use to actually take time off.

Houston employees are allowed to pile up six months' worth of "compensatory sick leave," which is paid out on retirement or termination at the wage the employee is then earning, according to the city's comprehensive annual financial report, or CAFR.

Even though employees just get eight days of sick leave a year, the city makes it easy to rack up six months' worth with its incentives. For every hour of sick leave an employee doesn't use, the city will throw in a matching hour that can be cashed out, up to 65 hours per year.

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