Denny Johnston received more than a pension and a handshake when he retired from the Washington state corrections system in 2009.

Because he used only a quarter of his sick days over a three-decade-long career, he was able to convert $15,000 of unused sick time into a tax-free account to pay health care expenses.

While the benefit is extremely rare in the private sector, where use-it-or-lose-it policies prevail, state and local government workers around the country can convert unused sick time into straight cash, retirement credits or use them to pay for health care when they retire.

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