What to Do When You Need to Take a Sick Day – and Still Make Rent

A woman lays on her couch while being sick.
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The runny nose. The scratchy throat. The general achiness. Yeah, it’s probably not just allergies.

In light of the ongoing spread of COVID-19, those symptoms might come with an additional dose of anxiety, topped with a little mass hysteria. No matter the nature of your affliction, you should stay home and practice good hygiene to avoid spreading it.

But a sizable chunk of American workers – and especially gig workers – can’t bring their work home and don’t have the luxury of paid sick leave.

Way back in February, Uber sent out a memo titled “A reminder about coronavirus” to its drivers, recommending they stay home if they feel ill and disinfect their vehicles regularly.

One ride-share driver tweeted an image of the memo and noted that “most of their drivers can’t afford to take even one day off.”

The problem goes beyond the gig economy. A study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that 64% of all private-sector workers receive paid sick leave. When looking at low-wage workers, that number plummets to 27%.

The reality is that a day of missed wages could mean skimping on groceries, medicine – or missing a bill entirely, according to the study. Here are some ways to plug the holes if you have to miss work.

5 Ways to Make Money While on Sick Leave

If you’re faced with the difficult decision of staying home from a job without paid sick leave, you do have some options. Here are several methods to make quick money that don’t require excessive manual labor, so you can hopefully get some rest on your day off and still make rent.

1. Complete Micro-Tasks on Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk, or Mturk, is an on-demand task platform and is the fastest way to make money with Amazon

Thousands of human intelligence tasks (HITs) are posted every day by those who want to outsource small chunks of work. Each task is different. One could be audio transcription – another, spreadsheet organizing. Quick surveys are popular as well. Michael Naab shared advice and what strategies he used to average $500 a month on Mturk.

To get started, create an Mturk worker account and await verification. (For me, it took one day. Some users reported on Reddit’s Mturk advice board that it could take up to a couple weeks.)

Beginning users earn about $10 to $20 a day doing light work and learning the ropes, while advanced users, like Naab, earn up to $15 an hour.

2. Sell Stuff Online

Being stuck at home may give you the sudden urge to declutter. As you’re sprucing up your digs, you’re bound to find some unused items that could earn you decent money if you find the right place to sell them.

Luckily, there are plenty of websites where you can sell your stuff online

Some sites, like Facebook Marketplace, require you to meet up with someone to make the sale. In that case, it’s best that you use your time to create a well-made listing with an informative description and high-quality photos. When you’re feeling better, then meet up for the transaction.

One solid exception – called Decluttr – requires no human contact. The website specializes in buying tech, especially laptops, cell phones, video games and Blu-rays. In many cases, you can use your smartphone to scan the barcodes of your items, get a quote instantly, then ship them off. After receiving your package, the company will direct deposit the money the next day.

3. User Test Websites

Websites should be very user-friendly. So easy, according to The User Is Drunk founder Richard Littauer, that an intoxicated person should be able to navigate it. That means you should be able to swing user-testing websites in your congested malaise.

Replicating Littauer’s entrepreneurial success definitely takes time. For quicker cash, try UserTesting and TryMyUI. Both companies will ask you to visit certain websites, complete a few tasks and record your thoughts. Each test takes about 10 to 20 minutes to complete and will earn you at least $10.


4. Win a Video Game Tournament

If your idea of a sick day is spent bundled up on the couch or at your desk playing games, then entering one of these online video game tournaments should be a no-brainer. 

Small-scale, amateur tournaments are available to adults in most states. (Note that Arizona, Iowa and Louisiana ban cash-prize competitions.)And while, yes, they are for amateurs, you’ll still need some serious skills to win. Tournaments for console and PC games – often fighting, sports and MOBA titles – are posted daily on GamerSaloon, World Gaming, Players’ Lounge and similar websites. Prizes range from $2.50 to $500 per match.

5. Apply for a Modest Needs Grant

Turns out your sickness is more serious than you thought. Your sick day turns into a week, maybe two, and you exhausted all of the quick money-making strategies you can. There’s still hope.

Depending on your situation, the non-profit Modest Needs might be able to help. When Emilia Chape had a $2,000 unexpected dental bill, she was able to find relief through a self-sufficiency grant from the organization.

Modest Needs doesn’t pay out cash. After determining your needs, the company will reach out to the vendor and pay on your behalf. The organization assists with much more than unexpected bills. It explicitly encourages workers who miss wages due to unpaid leave to apply for assistance.

“Under these kinds of documentable emergency situations, Modest Needs would consider paying a regular monthly bill on behalf of your household on a one-time basis,” the website states.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.