my boss isn’t compassionate about my sick leave

A reader writes:

I was hospitalized last week with a fever of life-threatening proportions (103 F) and was advised by my doctor to seek emergency room care immediately. Before I left the house, I contacted my boss and two of my coworkers who usually cover for me when I am on vacation and told them the situation. It did not occur to me in my illness-induced stupor to set up an away message on email or contact anyone else; I thought — wrongly — that in this emergency situation, my boss would take care of things while I was hospitalized and would take the necessary actions and contact the necessary people to inform them of my absence.

After I was admitted, I called HR to arrange for FMLA, since I had no idea when I would be released and I would be able to come back to work. I did this because in the past, my boss has not been understanding about legitimate medical issues I’ve had, and I wanted to cover myself and my job. Each morning while I was in the hospital, I phoned into the office to inform my boss that I was still in the hospital, so she knew where I was. I have been diagnosed with highly infectious flu and received several courses of strong antibiotics that have left me weak and exhausted.

When I was finally released from the hospital and opened my email, it was clear that she did not do any informing except when absolutely necessary — when she was called out by cc from one of our off-campus bosses, demanding to know where I was and why I was not returning emails. She must have then at that time told these bosses, because soon after I got a personal email from one boss apologizing profusely and saying had he had known I was ill, he would not have flown off the handle, etc. If she hadn’t been cc’ed, my guess is she would have hung me out to dry — figuring after I came back from my illness I would pick up the work where I left off, and not offering to ask other employees to pitch in during this emergency.

I have already burned all of my sick leave and am now in the red. The latest is my boss basically threatened to take me off a business trip that won’t happen for 2 weeks. I expect to feel a lot better within 1 week and it seems strange to me that while she couldn’t care less than my emails and work were not being done while I was in the hospital, now she wants to take me out of a major part of my job, when she hasn’t even seen how I am. I am still weak but now I feel like I have to show up to work, no matter how bad I feel, in order to defend myself and not her take me off this trip. I am already stressing about the work I have to do when I return. I have asked many times in the past for other’s help but I am always refused this assistance from other employees in the department because they are “too busy” and am instead offered her help to “re-prioritize.” There’s a reason why I am organized and given a lot of high-level tasks — because I can multi-task and can prioritize tasks myself. Unfortunately this has led to my being overworked and always counted on.

No one likes to be ill. But when I am, my boss makes me feel like a criminal. I am unfortunately in a position where I cannot afford to be choosy with jobs — I have to stick with something that will offer comprehensive group health insurance, or else I would have gotten out of here a long time. Doubly unfortunate, I am positive my boss thinks she can treat me like this because she knows I cannot go anywhere. I haven’t said anything to HR about my boss’s previous mistreatment of me while I was on medical leave; one time my boss made my mother cry by demanding and shouting over the phone for when I would return to the office. This had the effect of making me very anxious, knowing that my boss is not concerned about my well-being but just the job getting done.

At the very least, am I allowed to insist that we play it by ear and I can determine whether or not I go on this trip in a couple days, not now? I do not want to get emotional during this discussion with her; it occurred to me while I was sickest that I might die. (I have a chronic illness with an impaired immune system.) I am however angry by what happened in my absence and wondering if now is the time to bring this up with HR. I am having trouble with this, as in January I requested a raise and after asking several times for an update, I have still seen no action and I do not want retaliation from my boss in the form of a denied raise. But at the same time, I don’t want her treating me like this to continue.

No, you can’t insist that you play it by ear and that you’ll determine in a few days whether or not you’ll go on the trip. Your boss is entitled to make that decision now — and that’s not unreasonable, since if you’re not going, she presumably needs to arrange for someone else to go or otherwise make other arrangements. You can certainly suggest doing it your way, but if she overrules you, that’s her prerogative.

I’d guess that she doesn’t want you to go because either (a) she wants you in the office to catch up on the work that you missed while you were out, and compared to that, the trip is no longer the best use of your time, and/or (b) she doesn’t want to risk you having to pull out of the trip at the last minute and instead wants to be able to plan with confidence now. Neither of these are unreasonable.

Nor is it necessarily unreasonable that she doesn’t assign other employees to assist you when you need help getting caught up on work and instead offers to help you re-prioritize. Frankly, offering to help you re-prioritize is exactly what she should be doing in this situation. That’s normal. In fact, it’s what good managers do.

Should she have had an away message set up on email for you while you were gone, and notified others you were out? Sure, yes. But the fact that she didn’t isn’t a crime — people get busy with their own things and don’t always think stuff like this through. When someone asked where you were, she explained. Again, not a crime, and pretty normal.

The only thing I see in your letter that seems like a problem is your reference to a time that your boss shouted at your mother over the phone to know when you’d return to the office. That’s obviously inappropriate and out of line.

But I have to wonder if you’re interpreting all the rest of her actions through the lens from that one incident (or a more general dislike of her), because all the other things you’re complaining about … well, they’re not big deals and they’re actually pretty reasonable.

(And sure, I realize that the shouting incident might be the tip of the iceberg and might indicate that there have been other similar incidents … but all I can go on is what you tell me and the fact that there are a lot of complaints here about pretty minor things.)

Really, what I’d recommend is putting aside your anger and seeing this as business, rather than something personal.  You may wish your manager were more compassionate, but … she’s not going to take the approach that you want her to take. That’s not who she is. She’s going to focus on the work that needs to get done, not on how you’re doing. A lot of bosses are like that to some extent — and even the ones who do care about you personally are generally still focused on ensuring the work gets done.

{ 360 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth*

    Antibiotics for the flu? Influenza is viral.

    I think the OP has unreasonable expectations. Of course other employees aren’t going to drop everything to do your projects when your own boss is offering help to catch up on work. This whole thing seems kind of whiny to me- yes, your boss should be compassionate, but she should also expect that you conduct yourself like a professional. Professionals catch up on their work when they get back, and don’t demand that they go on a trip (but only if feeling up to it) when they’ve just been away from work for a long stretch.

    I also suspect there may be more to this story than we’re being given. I’d like to hear the boss’s side.

      1. KayDay*

        The OP mentioned a chronic illness and compromised immune system, so the antibiotics could have been to prevent a secondary infection.

    1. Anonymous*

      The OP said s/he has a chronic illness with a compromised immune system. The antibiotics may have been a precautionary measure against a secondary bacterial infection.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Certainly possible. I’m not a doctor, but it did catch my attention. As did the “fever of life threatening proportions”- 103 is high, but that fever itself is not life threatening by most standards.

        However, I’m getting a sense that there’s some drama going on here.

        1. Josh S*

          Yeah, 103*F is high, but in my (non-medical) understanding not generally life-threatening unless it lasts for days. But an underlying health condition might change that.

        2. jmkenrick*

          I also have a compromised immune system that impairs my ability to fight bacterial infections. Because bacterial infections can move so rapidly in someone with my condition, I’m always given antibiotics as a precaution when my fever is above 101.

          I’m not seeing much in her letter that will allow us to parse out her health issues. The problem to me seems to be that she is viewing herself as on the outs and that’s coloring her perspective.

          1. ITwannabe*

            If she has a compromised immune system, a 103 fever is more serious than it is for the ordinary person. For instance, my mother no longer produces two immunoglobulins (components which help to fight disease) and has to have monthly infusions of IVIG. If she even gets a cold, it can be quite serious, and the doctor wants to know immediately. I cannot tell you if that is the case with the OP, but while yes, I can see where it sounds dramatic, there could be a legitimate problem here.

        3. nyxalinth*

          I felt a bit jerky reading that and thinking “Ha, try 105.9 like I had when I was 13 and in the hospital with pneumonia!” but then I kept reading…

          OP, being sick sucks rocks. I know you feel hard done by, maybe because you still don’t feel well and it’s impairing your normal thinking on things. But please just do as your boss says as cheerfully as possible, because I really feel that Alison is right. Your boss, no matter how nice she might be or not nice, if they are a good boss, they still have to ensure that things get done.

          Besides, do you really want to be doing a two week business trip after being so ill? I know i wouldn’t.

      2. Angry Writer*

        “Chronic illness” might mean the OP is out of the office often for health issues, and maybe that is why the boss is unsympathetic.

        1. Anonymous*

          That’s what I was thinking.

          One of my old colleagues had a chronic illness that required a lot of sick leave. The employee was only working about 75% of the time and covered under FMLA. Due to the unexpected nature of the absences, it wasn’t feasible to bring in a temp. Because the work was time-sensitive, it wasn’t possible to let the work sit unfinished until the employee returned. And the company refused to overstaff the department in anticipation of the absences. Over time, sympathy waned and resentment grew. It’s a difficult situation all around.

          1. Noelle*

            I’ve been in that situation too. One of our receptionists was chronically ill and probably only worked 60% of the time. Even when she was in the office, she would expect to take long naps and breaks all day long. Whenever she wasn’t able to work, I and a few other staff had to cover the desk and phones in addition to our other jobs. We were all sympathetic, but it was a terrible situation for everybody and it definitely got stressful and frustrating.

            1. OP*

              This is why I don’t like to disclose my medical history to anyone I work with. How are you supposed to have a fair shake if people are already thinking, “oh, that’s the one who is sick all the time and takes advantage of the system…”

              1. karenb*

                I have the opposite thought…. More people would think bad things for taking time with no explanation than would for taking time with an explanation.

              2. Elizabeth*

                Because if you’re still gone and they don’t know that you’re dealing with an ongoing health issue, they are thinking “that’s the one is always gone for no reason at all”. If they are aware that there are real reasons, there is at least the potential for sympathy, even if the sympathy is eventually exhausted.

                I have recurrent migraines. They have eased somewhat as I’ve gotten older, but it means that when I have one, they are horrendous. I have been using FMLA for them for pretty much as long as it has been an option. I haven’t needed to take time from work for one for over 6 months. *Knock On Wood* Our HR department was happy to help me get it set up. They wanted to help me assure that I wasn’t being ill-treated for something I couldn’t help.

                My employer requires us to start the paperwork for FMLA eligibility after 40 hours (1 work week) in total for a single health cause. It could be a sudden health crisis, or it could be a long-term, intermittent health problem. They do this to help protect our employees from themselves. It is also a requirement for us that FMLA be exhausted before they start the disability application (which our HR department is fantastic about assisting with).

                Most people do what you seem to have done: hedge, bury & deny. It doesn’t work. You’re still not at your desk, and without the cover HR provides you with FMLA, everyone around you pretty reasonably assumes you’re slacking.

        2. Kelly O*

          Which would also explain why the boss doesn’t want the OP to go on the trip too.

          Not that it “means” anything, but if someone had a chronic illness and had just recovered, I might be a bit nervous about them going off and becoming ill again.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        I don’t mean to pick on anyone in particular, but I wish we’d stop declaring “drama queen.” What I love about this comment section is the thoughtful dissection of questions, not leaping to assumptions and namecalling (like most of the rest of the internet).

        … also, there’s a gender element here. We’re not saying “drama king” (not even a thing, culturally) – so are we assuming the OP is a woman? Or just using gendered negative language?


        1. twentymilehike*

          FWIW, we call the dramatic men in my office “drama queens” also.

          Also, “drama queen” is a cliche saying, and IMO its only gendered negative if you allow it. Just because something shares a typically gendered word, doesn’t really mean it has to do with gender. Just like when you say something like “tip of the iceburg” we all know you’re not actually talking about floating ice. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. The reason “drama queen” resonates – the reason “queen” evolved as the epithet, rather than “king” or “freak” or whatever – is because we can all tap into a sexist, socially resonant image of a hysterical woman. Applying it to man doesn’t negate its sexist heritage; you could even argue that it reinforces it.

            1. twentymilehike*

              Applying it to man doesn’t negate its sexist heritage; you could even argue that it reinforces it.

              I can understand your POV, my point was just that what some people think is sexist, others do not. Some people will write it off as a silly old saying, while some will take it more seriously. I’ve got it on about the same seriousness level as calling someone a “silly goose.” And maybe I’m wrong, but I thought that was the norm.

              we can all tap into a sexist, socially resonant image of a hysterical woman.

              Really, though? Not at all what I picture, and aside from taking a survey, there’s no way for you to know how other people visualize “drama queen.” I sort of picture Ru Paul, and I kind of have a feeling Ru Paul would own it. Changing the word queen to something like llama is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t change the reason that you say that about someone.

              But I digress, the whole reason I said anything to begin with was to make the point that it’s not worth being offended over being called a drama queen. If some tells me I’m being a “drama queen” I think the response, “I’m sorry I didn’t realize I was overreacting” is going to be my first thought. My second thought is, “welcome to junior high.”

              Typically I don’t go around calling people “drama queen” because it’s not a very mature and/or professional thing to say, but if you want to get the point accross you could just say, “you’re being overly dramatic.” But I guarantee someone will still be offended.

            2. Andrew*

              The development of “drama queen” as a term has very little to do with women, and everything to do with a certain stereotype about gay men. Get your victimology correct!

              1. Anon*

                Well, but, those types of epithets regarding gay men are all about their perceived femininity (which is assumed to be bad, because it’s feminine), so it’s really very intertwined.

      2. Connie*

        I think that without investigating all the facts (you are NOT a doctor) then you need to keep your comments to yourself. Only an idiot would make a judgment call without reviewing all the facts.

    2. OP*

      To clarify: through a CAT scan I was also diagnosed with sinusitis, which necessitated the antibiotics. This was in addition of Tamiflu, which was administered for the flu.

      1. B*

        By saying you were admitted for the flu and sinusitis with a 103 fever that does not come across life-threatening. She immediately thought, like many of us did, I have had the flu and sinusitis…yes it sucks and is horrible but really not life-threatening.

        However, had you originally told her I have this underlying condition and because of this my doctors have serious concerns about my health and life, things may have been different. She may not have had empathy towards you but she would have a better understanding of what was going on.

        Now it is your right to keep your chronic condition private. But, you can then not expect people to be mind readers or understand the real issues involved, because you have not told them everything.

        1. Rick*

          Um nobody should be coming into work with the flu. Period. Life “threatening” or not. If your employer has to come to work sick and they get other employees sick or customers/clients sick…that’s now all on you.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      Concur on the unreasonable expectations!

      OP, you’re at work to do a job, period. You’re there for them, not the other way around.

      When you aren’t able to do the job, you can expect that things might get a little tense and your boss is going to make arrangements to make sure the work gets done. It sounds like you take a lot of sick leave – you had already burned through all your leave and are in the red. To a boss that probably means you come across unreliable, REGARDLESS of how valid your reasons might be. If you’re not reliably there, then you’re not reliably there. You should be glad the FMLA doesn’t allow them to fire you for this (although I think using FMLA for the flu is a stretch).

      I wouldn’t send someone who isn’t able to be at work reliably on an important trip. How do I know you won’t back out at the 11th hour because of another health issue?

      1. OP*

        It sounds like you take a lot of sick leave – you had already burned through all your leave and are in the red.
        I have a chronic illness. People with chronic illness have to go regularly to see their doctor, to get check-ups, to get blood work, to get tests done. What do I use for those doctor’s appointments? Sick leave. I am in the red now because the period of time I was in the hospital, I used up what sick leave was left – which wasn’t much.

        You should be glad the FMLA doesn’t allow them to fire you for this (although I think using FMLA for the flu is a stretch).

        I could see your point if I had chosen to take days and weeks off sick leave, insisting I had the flu, because then it would look like I was faking it. But if someone is hospitalized for it, doesn’t that indicate a much more serious problem? If I didn’t need to go to the hospital, my doctor would have said I didn’t need to, and I wouldn’t have gone. This was a life-threatening situation.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but FMLA is designed TO PROTECT people who are having medical issues or caring for a loved one with medical issues that require the person to be out for an extended period of time. Hospitalization for an acute illness, the last time I checked, was considered a reasonable use of FMLA.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think the point there was that no matter what the reason for using all that sick time is — no matter how legitimate the reason, and yours certainly sounds perfectly legitimate — work still needs to get done. And managers may still be frustrated if someone is out a lot and work isn’t getting done, especially if that person compounds the situation by being adversarial with them (as I’m getting the sense is the case here).

        2. tangoecho5*

          It seems that a more reasonable way to solve the problem of using sick leave for doctors appointments is to ask to work a more flexible schedule during those times. I realize it’s not possible every time but it’d be a win-win if you could do it most of the time for scheduled appointments. If you need 4 hours off one day for an appointment, why not make that time up the rest of the week rather than use sick leave? You’re going to be gone from work one way or another – your company might as well get the four hours of work out of you by allowing you to make up the time.

          With a chronic illness, it sure seems the reasonable thing to do.

          1. KellyK*

            Definitely worth asking about–good idea. The double whammy of a chronic illness is more regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments *and* more just plain being too sick to come to work. So, the more you can avoid using sick days for the first, the better.

          2. twentymilehike*

            tangoecho5, very good thoughts! I don’t get sick leave and my PTO is limited, so I try to schedule appointement early or late in the day and try to adjust my schedule, or just be a few hours short for the pay period. It seems like the boss and the OP would fee more relieved if they were able to explore options and find an arrangement that would be more flexible for both of them.

            1. OP*

              At the moment I currently take what appointments I can as early as possible in the morning and try to work longer hours on those days where possible to make up what I can…but even with that I’m still using sick leave. I’ll see what the boss thinks about altering my schedule some…

          3. Noelle*

            This is a great idea. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a condition that wasn’t technically chronic, but required 6+ months of fairly regular treatments and doctors visits. I usually tried to schedule the visits first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, and would just stay a half hour late or come in early the rest of the days that week. My boss never had a problem with it, but I also told him about my health problem so it didn’t seem like I was just going to a ton of “doctors appointments” (which my boss used to interpret as “interviews for other jobs”) all of a sudden.

            1. OP*

              My boss is aware of my doctor’s appointments – I just have not volunteered why I was seeing the doctor, and because I was never asked about the nature of the appointments, I didn’t know I needed to address this.

              There is such a fine line with what you need to tell your boss, what you should tell your boss, and what will or will not get blown out of proportion. I will consider telling my boss more about my condition but I am not completely sold that this will make a difference.

              1. KellyK*

                I don’t think it’s so much that you need to tell your boss about the condition itself, but more that you need to give him/her a heads up about the frequency of appointments and an idea whether that’s the norm or a temporary situation, and your best gauge of how long it might last.

                Like, I would never have told my boss, “Hey, I have hypothyroid and PCOS. Oh, and anxiety disorder. So I’m going to have a bunch of doctor’s appointments, including half days or full days off because my endocrinologist is clear up in Baltimore, and I’m going to need to leave early one day every couple weeks to go talk to a mental health counselor.” But I have said to my boss, “I’ve got a couple chronic health issues going on, so I end up having more doctor’s appointments than average. I’m trying to schedule as many as I can for early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and I’ll definitely work around any meetings. I want to make sure it’s not a problem.”

                The specifics aren’t anybody’s business but yours, but how it affects the work really is your boss’s concern.

              2. Esra*

                It’s definitely up to you, but as a sufferer of chronic illness, I’ve found things at work go much more smoothly when people have (even a vague) idea of my issues. If I didn’t divulge my health problems, I would seem like a super super flake.

                Everyone has their own level of comfort with being open about their health, for me personally, I’ve found that being straight forward about my problems has almost always helped the situation.

          4. OP*

            This is a good point. No one plans to be catastrophically sick for an extended period…but for stuff I know ahead of time, let me see how far I get with the boss asking for an adjusted work schedule.

            1. fposte*

              I like the sound of this. I also think that you’ll feel better about the situation if you’re exploring different possibilities–makes you feel less stuck.

        3. Katie the Fed*

          “I have a chronic illness. People with chronic illness have to go regularly to see their doctor, to get check-ups, to get blood work, to get tests done. What do I use for those doctor’s appointments? Sick leave. I am in the red now because the period of time I was in the hospital, I used up what sick leave was left – which wasn’t much.”

          Here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter how legit it is. It’s an annoyance and a disruption to your team and boss. It’s time you’re not working.

      2. Rick*

        It’s people like you that deserve to have chronic illnesses, not the people who actually have them. Try supporting yourself and living on your own while maintaining a job with a chronic illness (something that isn’t actually that uncommon mind you). You’ll quickly learn how cruel the world can be to the sick, as if sick people “choose” when to be sick. While OP shouldn’t be going on this trip due to work catch up and recovery, I do think you need to lay off and learn to see through the eyes of someone who has to have these jobs to pay their medical bills which are inevitable with these illnesses. Don’t you see how ridiculous you sound? Unreliable “REGARDLESS” of valid reasoning? What the Hell? OP isn’t unreliable, they contacted their boss and the people they’d need to fill in for them. What happens from there on out is the boss’ fault. If the boss can’ prepare for employees being sick, then they aren’t good enough to be managing people, no ifs ands or buts about it. Illnesses happen and employers MUST learn to deal with this in a reasonable way. I bet you anything if this had happened to the boss they’d take as much sick time as they wanted!

        1. Connie*

          I praise your comments. I feel compassion has been overruled by bosses just wanting a warm body in a chair my job, if I was sitting in my chair dying they would ask me how long it was going to take so they could start looking for a replacement. I had to take care of my mother for several years before she passed …it was already a painful situation and to have bosses that show no compassion or offer any assistance other than to call and find out when you will be in the office only compounds the pain and confirms my beliefs that compassion is dead

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    Sorry, OP, but when I read this letter I had a similar reaction to Alison — this boss doesn’t sound like an ogre at all to me, with the exception of the incident with your mother. (And even then, I’m curious to know the context of that conversation.) It’s not unreasonable at all that she would want to pull you out of a business trip that happens in two weeks if you’ve been in the hospital for a significant amount of time. You say you expect to feel better in a week, but you might not — and you might feel “better” but not functioning at the level you need to be at when visiting a client or whatever it is you’d be doing. I can’t blame your boss for wanting to plan ahead and send someone she can be more certain will be up to the task when the time comes. I also can’t blame her for helping you reprioritize your work instead of trying to get other people to do it. She’s the manager — she probably knows what’s on your plate and others’ plates better than you do. A truly unreasonable manager would say “you need to get it all done yourself, somehow” — reprioritizing is actually a good thing!

  3. Anonymous*

    My aunt used to say “Don’t go to the apple tree and ask for lemonade”. Don’t expect people to do things that they are incapable of or just plain unwilling to do.

    OP, you say:
    I thought — wrongly — that in this emergency situation, my boss would take care of things while I was hospitalized and would take the necessary actions and contact the necessary people to inform them of my absence.
    If your manager has shown in the past that she is not going to be compassionate or understanding about your sick time, why would you expect her to do so this time? That’s not logical. You may think she *should* have done it but honestly, did you really expect her to do it, based on past experience?

    I’m sorry for your health problems but I get a huge sense of entitlement from your post. Your manager made a reasonable call on this trip and your response is:
    am I allowed to insist that we play it by ear and I can determine whether or not I go on this trip in a couple days, not now?
    Allowed? By whom? The only person whose opinion matters in this case is your boss’s and she’s already made the call. You can certainly continue to argue with her but you’d also need to be prepared for the consequences of fighting her on the decision.

    There’s a reason why I am organized and given a lot of high-level tasks — because I can multi-task and can prioritize tasks myself. Unfortunately this has led to my being overworked and always counted on.
    This came across as “poor me, I am so awesome that I have to do all the work”. I understand that sounds harsh but if you are coming across at work in the same manner as you did in this email, I think you are likely creating some problems for yourself.

    1. Joe*

      OP sounds fine in how they describe their job, lay off. I’ve been in the same position before. You get more and more responsibilities because you can be “counted on” and are “responsible” but you don’t actually get any raises or promotions for it. (Seven years no promotion or raise). Was happy to quit! :P

  4. LCL*

    it occurred to me while I was sickest that I might die. (I have a chronic illness with an impaired immune system.)

    Why aren’t you on FMLA status now? Contact your HR and get the paperwork started. The paperwork isn’t that bad, though it does have to be signed by a physician. FMLA can be taken intermittently, I am on intermittent FMLA for a relative.

    And stop worrying about not going on this business trip. It sounds like your manager, in her clumsy way, is trying to give you a break. The majority of people I talk to think that business travel is a drag, and extra work. I know some people love business travel, but they are in the minority of the group that I know.

    1. the gold digger*

      The majority of people I talk to think that business travel is a drag, and extra work.

      I don’t even want to take a business trip when I am feeling well. The last thing I want to do when I am sick is be on a 13-hour flight, only to have to stand in the immigration line for another hour and then get my butt to the hotel.

      1. twentymilehike*

        I know how you feel! I fly once a year for work and its during flu season and I dread the six hours of breathing the recycled air of strangers. I’m not even a huge germophobe, and I have a very healthy immune system, but when I do get sick, its usually after flying. Bleh.

        1. the gold digger*

          Nothing like being in dry, recirculated air around sick people to make you sick.

          Then there is the added advantage of the pressure change almost always causing a migraine headache.

    2. fposte*

      I think the OP’s on FMLA, but that’s not going to get her any more sick leave–if she wants to get paid for the days out once she’s exhausted sick leave, she does have to go in the red.

  5. P.*

    I hope the OP is feeling better – that sounds rough.

    Honestly, though, I’m with AAM. When I first started reading, I thought the issue was going to be something like a denial of paid sick leave or her trying to fight FMLA, both of which I could see being dicey and sensitive issues — and alternately reminds me of the semi-controversial post/discussion awhile ago about how some jobs require consistent attendance regardless of the reason for the absence… which actually still might be part of her reaction here. If so, she is being unreasonably passive-aggressive about it and should absolutely be more direct about the actual use of sick leave.

    However, taking an employee off an upcoming business trip without certain knowledge that the employee will actually be able to go is more than reasonable. Likewise with her not going above and beyond to accommodate the OP during and following illness — yes, it’s terrible to be so sick so often , but it’s also always your own responsibility to determine how you can manage your health and work responsibilities in tandem.

    Her yelling at the OP’s mom is absurd though. Did she track the woman down? Awful and inappropriate.

    1. nyxalinth*

      I do agree that it was unkind and unprofessional to yell at the OPs mom. However, it’s also possible that Mom took it as yelling, if she’s the sort who tends to be a little oversensitive. My mom is the type that if you don’t use the sweetest tones possible, she’ll think you’re yelling, and get mad.

    2. ThatHRGirl*

      The way I envisioned the interaction is, Boss calls OP’s phone to ask when she will be returning to work. Mom answers the phone instead of OP, and boss forcefully asks Mom to give a date when OP will be returning.
      Which, as Alison stated, is inappropriate and out-of-line, but I think we’re missing the context of that conversation. We don’t know if it was “I DEMAND TO KNOW WHEN YOU DAUGHTER WILL RETURN!”, or “Look lady, I have work that needs to be done, I need to know when she’s going to return”.

      Regardless… Bosses shouldn’t ever be talking to someone that ISN’T the employee about their condition or possible return unless the employee absolutely can’t talk. It’s just not ideal.

      1. Joe*

        Your last point says it all, and negates anything else. Boss should NOT have talked with the mother. Period.

  6. Anon*

    Maybe the manager didn’t announce that the OP would be out in an attempt to maintain some privacy surrounding her being out? And that she only explained on an as-needed basis. I totally can see that.

    As for the work while the OP was out…She should have expected to have that waiting for her when she returned. If it wasn’t a hard deadline or something required others would need to pick up and run with, I think it is fine to have the assignments waiting for the OP once she got better.

    I sense something else going on here. I think it would help if she followed AAM’s great advice and looked at this all from the business end of things. This could include having some plans for when out/ill, if the manager seems to freak out when this happens, as well as having some communication that only involves the OP and the manager, even if only by the occassional text, and not allow this manager to speak to family members, friends, etc. I know the only reason my manager would be speaking to my mom or husband or a friend is if there’s a life/death emergency going on.

    You can’t anticipate everything, but you can plan for when these things might happen.

    1. -X-*

      How can there be privacy about being out in a workplace? There can be privacy about the *reason* someone is out, but privacy about the fact of it? No way is that good practice.

      If it makes sense to keep the info secret from an external constituent – perhaps clients or someone – perhaps. But it’s not about the OP’s privacy but what type of communication is good for the organization.

      1. kristinyc*

        A few years ago at a job, someone was out because she was in the hospital. A new person in HR sent out an all-staff (150+ people) email detailing why she was in the hospital and what her condition was. She didn’t realize why she shouldn’t have done that – she just thought we’d all be concerned about her. Maybe this boss was trying to avoid something like that, but erred (too far) on the side of less information?

        1. Anon*

          That’s what I was thinking might have happened here. Maybe the manager had a bad experience and overreacted by being too tight-lipped about the issue.

    2. Esra*

      My managers have always asked to what degree I’m comfortable with them letting people know why I’m out. The main point being they were letting people know I was out! I find it strange the manager here didn’t at least send a note stating the OP would be unavailable.

  7. Hannah*

    This doesn’t even make sense.

    In one paragraph, the OP states she expected her boss to set an away message for her email and inform others of her absence.

    In the next paragraph, she states she felt the need to contact HR immediately to get FMLA started because the boss hasn’t been understanding in the past w/r/t sick leave.

    If the boss has already demonstrated she isn’t “supportive” with previous illness, why would you expect her to do so now?

    I also don’t even understand why you want to go on the business trip so badly. If I had been that sick, I would have thanked my boss for pulling me off of it. Business travel is exhausting and I tend to get sick from the travel and stress of it alone. The LAST thing I’d want to do if I was recovering from a serious illness is to be forced to go on a business trip.

    I concur — I definitely get a sense of high-drama with this OP.

    1. fposte*

      I wasn’t clear on the FMLA–it sounds like she thought it was a decision on her part, but it’s not something you choose or don’t choose, it’s just applied when you meet the standards.

      1. Joey*

        Not always. Some companies apply it whether you want it or not, as long as you qualify. Others are more compassionate and let the employee decide if they have other types of leave available.

          1. fposte*

            You know what? I think I have the wrong end of the stick here, and you’re right. It gets confusing in my workplace because it’s the state.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        No, it’s not automatically applied & the company can’t decide to do it for you. There’s a whole lot of paperwork involved in FMLA that both you as the patient/employee & your doctor’s office have to fill out annually.

        I suffered from a chronic illness for many years and never filled out the paperwork, because while the condition was chronic, it was manageable. I did when I had to care for my mother during her illness and when I was hospitalized.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            I know there was a significant amount of paperwork that my doctor had to fill out when I filed for FMLA. I am curious (and not in a snarky way) as to how that works if I don’t sign a release for my doctor to fill that paperwork out. Can you expand on that? Especially in the case of a chronic illness where you aren’t necessarily taking consecutive days off? Thanks!

            1. fposte*

              The employer has the right to certify the health condition, but it’s not a requirement.

              But there’s not much gained from trying to avoid FMLA anyway–it’s not like you can save it up or roll it over.

              1. ExceptionToTheRule*

                That’s certainly a fair point.

                FMLA is certainly for your own protection and I would advocate for taking advantage of it if necessary.

                1. fposte*

                  From the employer’s standpoint, what they really don’t want to have happen is for me to take off fourteen scattered days for health-related absences due to an underlying condition and *then* claim I’m entitled another twelve weeks for that condition going forward. (There can be retroactive FMLA, but the employer has only a couple of days after the incidence to do so.)

            2. Anonymous*

              If you give the employer enough information to designate the leave as FMLA ( for example, by providing medical documentation for your absence) , it can be designated as FMLA without a request from you. For example, if I take six weeks of paid sick leave , my employer requires that I provide medical documentation. My employer can use that documention to also designate that time as FMLA , leaving me only six weeks of additional FMLA entitlement. If I don’t provide medical documentation, they don’t have the info needed to designate the leave as FMLA, but they also won’t let me take six weeks of paid sick leave.

              1. ExceptionToTheRule*

                Thanks! I was thinking more of the type of intermittent time off that comes from managing a chronic illness long-term (ie: the type you would use PTO to cover). I appreciate the explanation.

            3. Joey*

              The most common way they force you to take fmla is to require drs notes for excessive absences. So its either cough up the medical info or eventually get fired for poor attendance. Or less commonly they can require you to use fmla leave time for covered conditions as a policy.

            4. Elizabeth*

              I am curious (and not in a snarky way) as to how that works if I don’t sign a release for my doctor to fill that paperwork out.

              At my employer, you would be counted as having an unscheduled absence if you were sick for more than 40 hours and didn’t start the FMLA process. If you miss more than a certain percentage of scheduled shifts due to unscheduled absences, you would be placed on a performance improvement plan. Eventually, if you continued to not have the cover that FMLA provides for the absences, you would be terminated.

              FMLA is pretty much there to protect the employee, not the employer. I don’t understand why people don’t take advantage of that.

  8. Josh S*

    Yelling at the mother is weird. But so is having your mother call your boss.

    I can understand a basic call that goes something like, “My child is deathly sick, in the Hospital, and unable to make the call, but wanted me to relay that she will be out of the office for at least the next several days.”

    But unless the boss got belligerent over a simple statement like that…I don’t understand. Is OP having mother call every time she is sick?

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This is why I’m curious to know the context of the phone call. Who initiated the phone call — the boss or the mother? And did it start out confrontationally, or as a normal, professional, “I’d just like to check in on OP and get an update” to which the mother overreacted, thus escalating tension on both sides and ending up in yelling on one side and crying on the other?

        1. Kelly O*

          Same here. No offense to the OP, but it truly does sound like there is more going on here than just illness/hospitalization.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m very curious about this as well. I have to side with many others and say that OP may be a bit entitled, but of course her mother probably wouldn’t see it that way. So I have an image of a mother on the phone with the “evil woman who is terribly mean and unfair to my darling infallible child”, and the conversation declining from there.

      2. Josh S*

        From down-thread, it appears that the Boss called the OP while OP was under sedation, and the mother picked it up and tried to give an answer. And this happened years ago for a different illness.

        Which makes the yelling pretty much crazy.

    2. My Other Car's the Tardis*

      Agree. I’m trying to be compassionate hear and understand both sides of the situation, but couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I read that somehow her mom was involved…

  9. Anon*

    I guess that some of this could have been resolved by a little proaction on the OP’s part. If I’m going to be out sick, unexpectedly, I’ll call my staff and have them change my email and vmail. That is unless I can’t do it myself. I’ve done the same for my staff. The last thing I want on my vmail is my normally high pitched voice sounding like Barry White when I’m sick. OP, did you ask your boss to do this? If you are going into the hospital, it seems like something she could’ve handled.

    I do understand that with a high fever, you probably weren’t in your right mind. However, once you were settled and it seems like you were in the hospital for a little while, why didn’t you ask then?

    Regardless of how awesome you are, it is your boss’ right to adjust your schedule to meet the needs of the department. That’s not your call.

    1. Construction HR*

      Ya gotta figure that if OP has already burned through all of her sick time, then she would have the drill down pat by now.

      1. Rana*

        Not necessarily. One can use up sick leave on things that are easier to schedule and handle – like doctor’s appointments – that aren’t likely to prepare you for dealing with a medical emergency involving hospitalization.

  10. Anonymous*

    I’d like to know more about what kind of business trip it is. If it’s a much anticipated/long planned industry conference, I can see why the OP is upset about not being able to go and would drag herself there no matter what. Still, it is the manager’s call.

    While I agree there was a whiff of drama in the tale, I think I have a little more sympathy for the OP than some of you simply because the illness was bad enough to land the OP in the hospital. I’m not sure why the manager is getting a pass for not, you know, managing communications and reallocating workload in their employee’s absence. That’s kind of their job, isn’t it? It’s always been part of my responsibility as a manager.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ideally, the manager would have thought about the away message and handled it, but it’s not unusual that someone would be so busy as to not think about it. That’s not a huge offense. It happens. It’s pretty minor.

      In many jobs, you wouldn’t need to reallocate work; you’d wait until the person was back and then work with them to re-prioritize (which is what it sounds like the manager did). I can’t think of a job I’ve had in the last 15 years where someone covered for me when I was out sick; the work waited until I got back.

      1. martini*

        In a prior job, when I had assigned people who covered for me on vacation, they would also cover on sickness absences over a couple days (directed to do so by the supervisor, since the supervisor was getting our updates about being out of the office). At my current job, no one covers my desk when I’m out on vacation, even if it’s 2 weeks, so I wouldn’t expect them to cover when I’m sick either.

        In the OP’s situation, I probably would have expected some level of help from her usual coverage teammates, depending on their workload and busy times of year, etc. Otherwise why have official backups set up?

          1. martini*

            I was assuming from “two of my coworkers who usually cover for me when I am on vacation”, but it’s definitely open to interpretation.

            1. Jamie*

              Yep – what is meant by backup is really variable.

              I have “back-up” when I’m gone in that someone knows how to reset the passwords and has all the important numbers for our network engineer and the phone techs in case I get pinned under that bus and am unreachable. And how to unlock this one weird file which locks sometimes and will bottleneck data collection.

              But everything else will be right there waiting for me when I get back.

              That’s why I didn’t understand the issue with prioritizing. If I were out for any length of time I would check in with my boss to let him know where I was backlogged, give him some estimated times of completion, and ask if there was anything he wanted to move to the front of the queue.

              This way I’d know I wasn’t inadvertently letting something crucial wait and he has the info he needs to keep the wolves from my door while I get caught up.

          2. OP*

            When I go on vacation, there are 2 people in the office that cover for, and I for them when they are on vacation.

            These two people were cc’ed on the email I sent to my boss saying I was going to the hospital. I laid out in the email the things that were the highest priority that should be done first. Those things were taken care of; my two colleagues emailed me to confirm they had been done. From there, I hoped my boss to step in and assess if anything else that was pressing needed to be done in my absence. I have no evidence she did any of that until specifically called out by a boss on the other side of the country.

            I do not expect these teammates of mine to know what to do when I am out…this is where I had hoped my boss would step in. Was I the person supposed to be doling out the work that wasn’t getting done while I’m hooked up to an IV in the hospital, trying to deal with a medical crisis?

            It sounds like most of you think my boss NOT doing anything was fine but from my point of view, I think the minimum she could have done – and this would have taken minutes – was to send an email to the people who needed to know I was out that a medical emergency had come up and I was in the hospital. That’s it.

            What exactly is a supervisor’s role in cases of emergency? Forget for a minute that this was medical / chronic illness. What if an employee was in a car accident, was in the hospital and in traction. and was unable to speak for him/herself? Would you all be giving the same response?

            1. B*

              Those two situations are different. One involves someone unable to have access to email, phone, or speak. You had already emailed your boss and coworkers. So, in your own words, why could you have not taken a minute to put your out of office message on or asked them to do so?

              And if your boss was called out because she did not do her job then that is on her. I am unsure why you are so focused on that when you did not receive any backlash from it.

              1. Anonymous*

                So, in your own words, why could you have not taken a minute to put your out of office message on or asked them to do so?
                Yep, doesn’t add up. OP, you asked for input and I get that it’s not what you wanted to hear, but a good portion of the people on here think you are coming across poorly. Which is hard to here, I know. But if you can be open to it without feeling defensive, it could give you some helpful information.

              2. Lulula*

                OP could have contacted everyone via a method that didn’t allow setting out-of-office (i.e. I don’t know if you can do that from iPhone). Honestly, just because you’re not bleeding from an eye doesn’t mean you’re well enough to mentally process things at the usual logical level. If I had a 103 fever & was in the hospital, not sure I’d be futzing around with this any more than I had to – although I’ve also never been in a position where I’d have expected anyone else to be able to set that up either. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have expected the boss to let those she was aware might need to know that the OP was in hospital; likewise, I know how busy people can get, I don’t think it’s worth dwelling on that one.

            2. fposte*

              But you weren’t. You were in the situation you were in. And in *any* situation, it’s a mistake to silently expect other people to do something (an error that a lot of personal as well as business relationships have foundered on).

              I feel like you’re stuck in the place where unhappy job-seekers get stranded when the process doesn’t go well, and they want to talk about what hiring managers *should* do, and Alison explains that since that’s not going to happen they need to deal with what they actually do. Even if we all rose to our feet and said absolutely, she should have totally known and handled your workload for you, it doesn’t get you anything–she doesn’t care, you’re still at odds with each other, and the trip question isn’t settled. So what do you want to change going forward, and what can *you* do to help make that happen?

              1. Kelly O*

                I tend to agree with this. You were able to email your boss, and it would not have taken long to do the same for those who also might need to know.

                If you’re dealing with chronic illness, or caring for someone with chronic illness, you have to be a bit open with others – not necessarily in the nature of your illness, but in setting up a system to make sure your work is done by someone, and you and your coworkers and boss have a system in place to deal with things.

                I personally was not ill, but when dealing with my Dad’s illness several years ago, the person with whom I worked most closely and I developed a system for clearly letting each other know where we were on certain projects. (It helped that we were both dealing with a similar situation – the illness of an immediate family member- and were committed to working together.)

                I would also suggest, as kindly and respectfully as I possibly can, that you step back from this and think about your actions, and how they’re affecting others, and how they’re being perceived. I know that can be tough to do when you’re in the middle of something, but it can go a long way to at least starting to repair your relationship with your boss, and with your coworkers (who get hung up with dealing with these absences, whether you like it or not.)

                I don’t mean that to sound cruel or hurtful, but I have found that when I step back from a situation and try to look at it from other angles, I see areas that I could have done better. Admitting that, and trying to work toward better resolution next time, can go a long way to making your boss more receptive to your issues.

            3. AMG*

              The inherent issue here is that you are playing the victim by reacting the way that you are. The good news is that you have the power to free yourself from the drama and use the feedback to make yourself a better employee and more comfortable wit the expectations that your boss has. It seems that you were looking for Alison and other commenters to tell you that you are a Poor Thing and that your boss is a jerk. This is not the right blog for that. It is a place to learn empowerment.

      2. rdb*

        As an admin,my work frequently can’t wait. But my office has a system in place for absences. I have another admin who’s my designated backup (and vice versa).

    2. Anonymous*

      If the OP is truly that ill, why should her manager assume she will be well enough for travel in a few weeks?!!! Why should the OP even assume she will be well enough for travel? I would certainly take her off the business trip and expect her to catch up on her work.

      1. K*

        Yeah, I can easily imagine a letter saying “I was just hospitalized but my boss expects me to go on a business trip in two weeks! Isn’t that outrageous?”

  11. B*

    Sorry OP but I agree with Alison and the others. Your boss is making a sound business decision to not have you go on that trip. A) You have already missd a lot of work that needs to be caught up on. B) You may feel better but may not, which means asking someone at the last minute to fill in for you and be up to speed, so she is hedging her bets and sending someone else. After all she is your boss. C) While not appropriate to yell perhaps she was trying to find out if you were going to be coming back in a couple of days or a couple of weeks. Again, not unreasonable. D) Most of us, if not falling over in the hospital are made to feel like criminals if we take a sick day. That’s just how a lot of businesses are. E) If the head honcho apologized after being told, what’s the issue. You did not get in trouble.

    As for not being able to leave…I do not see why you cannot. Many people need group health insurance, have immune issues, dependents, etc. Yes, sometimes it takes just the right benefits but that is pretty much how it always is.

    1. Anonymous*

      Ditto regarding the OP’s reasons for not leaving… I think health insurance is usually a primary concern for most people, as many many many people are managing some sort of medical condition, or have dependents who are.

      1. twentymilehike*

        I think health insurance is usually a primary concern for most people,

        This is very true. DH has a childhood injury that will be concern for the rest of his life–and regular access to his doctor is a necessity. Unfortunately, the system in the US is set up in a way that the only way he can get care (for a price that we can pay within our lifetimes) is through a group plan. Hence, being stuck at a crappy job just for the benefits, and turning down better jobs because they don’t offer benefits. That stinks. And that can make you pretty jaded.

        Also, as a side note, I feel like the OP may be a little timid and may not communicate her needs well, and this could contribute to frustration on both sides of the coin, including the boss, the mother and coworkers. I’ve been there before personally, and while it sounds easy to just say what you mean and communicate your needs, it can also be a struggle.

        My advice …. OP, make sure to communicate your needs and concerns to your boss in a professional way, and be receptive to her needs and concerns. Your condition may be something that needs to be taken into account when planning your work day/week/year and not getting overwhelmed. If you are proactive now, you’ll be able to avoid messes like this in the future, especially if you and your boss have a plan in place already. Good luck.

      2. Heather*

        Yup. If you have a chronic health condition, you absolutely have to have continuous coverage, and in many states it’s almost impossible to get individual coverage, or if you can get it, it’s prohibitively expensive. This country is full of people who can’t leave their job because they would lose their insurance and they don’t have a spouse’s insurance to fall back on.

        Hopefully this will change at least a little bit once Obamacare is fully implemented, but for now, it’s not at all unusual for people to be stuck in jobs they hate just for the health insurance.

        1. Ornery PR*

          I would love to see a result of healthcare reform be severed ties between employers and health insurance.

  12. The IT Manager*

    I think the LW and her boss could be miscommunicating. The LW and boss are definately not seeing eye-to-eye. There’s certainly some conflict. The boss is not being as compassionate as LW wishes she would, but perhaps LW is seeing seeing her every action with a jaundiced eye and interpretting it in the most negative way.

    LW thinks business trip is a positive/reward/important and thinks the boss is taking something fun (or critical to her success) away from her. The boss may just want the decision made now and not last minutes, may want the advance notice to send someone else, or may just want the LW to focus on catching up when she returns to work.

    LW – You seem to think that your job is the most important in the office. That others in the office should assists you, and they should pick up your slack when you’re sick. You’ve already asked and have been told they’re too busy. (Why did you put it in quotes? Do not believe it? Do you think helping you should take priority over they’re assigned duties?)

    The LW seems to be mischaracterzing the boss’s offer to “re-prioritize.” The boss can’t offer assistance from anyone else in the office, but has offered her help to focus you on what she feels is most important. LW refuses her help and instead continue to do it all herself.

    In my opinion, LW, your best bet for your mental health is to change your attitude. You’re boss is not your adversary. You’re co-workers are not a resource to help you do your job so accept your boss’s offer to re-prioritize your work and then focus on what’s most important.

  13. Wilton Businessman*


    “Yelling on the phone” is the only thing that doesn’t fit in this scenario. My guess it was somewhere between “strong suggestion” and “what do you mean I have to talk to your mother?”

    Be that as it may, we clearly have a situation where the OP is understanding her needs but is not understanding the needs of the business. While our people are a very important asset, that does not mean we are in business for the benefit of our employees. The business must go on, with or without the OP.

    I find it interesting that the second call was to HR for FMLA.

    I wish the OP the best of luck in getting better. When she gets back on her feet, I think the manager and the OP need to sit down and discuss what they expect from each other. Do not be surprised if you get put on lower priority projects until you are back to full strength.

  14. DA*

    While 103 is a high temperature, my experience shows that you really don’t need to deal with a hospital until your temperature hits 105 (that’s when it becomes life threatening). Plus, it shouldn’t take at least a week to recover from a temperature of 103. A day or two (three at most).

    In addition, while commenting that you are ‘in the red’ with regards to your sick time allotment, and that your boss ‘makes you feel like a criminal’ when you are sick, leads me to believe that your boss may think you take your sick time too liberally. You may want to start re-evaluating when you really need to take a sick day, that way you have the days off for when you really are sick.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the issue is likely that she has an underlying medical condition that could presumably make this more serious for her. (If that’s not the case, then I agree that this seems a little dramatic.)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        … and hospitals don’t admit people who don’t need admitting. I think we need to trust the OP on her illness.

          1. Jennifer*

            I may be wrong, but I believe generally that term generally applies to people who are constantly in the ER, but they usually are not actually admitted. Most people in the ER are never actually admitted.

            1. Jennifer*

              Oh man, double generally. I hate when you edit your sentence structure and forget to check it again after. Apologies!

              1. Josh S*

                The Department of Redundancy Department finds your edits unnecessary, but thinks you should do them anyway, just to be doubly sure.

                1. Flynn*

                  There’s a local tertiary institute, called the Auckland University of Technology, that got upgraded from polytech to university a few years ago, so it just stuck an extra ‘university’ on the name.

                  Now it’s the Auckland University of Technology University (AUT University).

        1. Canuck*

          Well, hospitals actually do admit those who do not need inpatient care, for a variety of reasons (social well being, failure to thrive, etc). This happens up here in Canada, and I’m sure happens in the US where some hospitals get paid based on patient admissions and procedures performed.

          1. Heather*

            In the U.S., if the insurance company determines that the person shouldn’t have been admitted, they won’t pay for the stay. Believe me, people here don’t get admitted to the hospital for their social well being. They’re lucky if they can get the insurance company to cover an admittance for their *physical* well-being!

    2. -X-*

      The story with fever is that yeah, 103F isn’t that bad. But if you a 103 temperature and other serious symptoms or a body that is compromised in other ways, it can be a sign of something really bad.

      “Plus, it shouldn’t take at least a week to recover from a temperature of 103”

      Might not take a week to recover from the fever itself, but it might take that long to recover from what caused the fever. Without other info we can’t know for sure.

      1. Kaysa*

        My child just had a fever that was about 103 at the highest, and it took 4 days just for the fever to go away. And that was just standard cold and flu stuff, nothing serious.

      2. Anonymous*

        Amen! This summer I had a week-long mystery illness with intense fatigue, high (103F) fever, chills, night sweats, zero apetite, the works…strep/mono tests came back negative after 6 days of worsening symptoms, and I only got better when the perplexed doctor decided to give me penicillin anyway, to see if it did anything. After 3 massive doses I remembered what it was like to want to get out of bed. I still have no idea what was wrong with me, but I was in NO condition to work (and my job back then was simply sitting in a chair on the beach as a lifeguard), and so I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like with an underlying condition.

        BUT the issue isn’t the illness, it’s the OP’s attitude about the Boss’s handling of the acute/chronic illness and its repercussions. Maybe the Boss could’ve gone above and beyond and didn’t, but it doesn’t seem like she *wronged* the OP, or did anything less than her duty as a Boss. Sounds like a miscommunication of expectations/needs on both ends.

    3. OP*

      As stated in the original post, my doctor told me to go to the emergency room. I tried to get an appointment to see him but he said the fever was too high for them to be able to do a full work-up in the office and that I needed immediate medical attention.

      Anyone who has been to an emergency room knows from the time you arrive to when you are finally seen by a doctor, followed by diagnosis, takes hours.

      I am not complaining about the amount of sick leave I am getting – my guess is that most everyone gets doled out 1 day a month – but I have a chronic illness. No sick leave is being used liberally. When I have a doctor’s appointment, I use sick leave. When I am sick, I take sick leave. Anyone with a chronic illness can relate that 1 day a month, if you have to factor in doctor’s appointments alone, can be insufficient.

      1. fposte*

        And that’s why you need to file for intermittent FMLA. It won’t get you paid for those instances, but it will protect your job when you take them.

      2. B*

        1 day a month sick leave is very generous, at least for the places I have worked. And if you have already gone through all of that, then yes you should have spoken up to your boss right away. Communicate your illness to her, what it entails, how it comes about, what you do to prevent it, and what happens when it does.

        Without doing so she probably assumes you are faking things, interviewing, or who knows. But that is because you gave her no choice, you left her to assume the worst.

        1. snippet*

          Every company I have ever worked at (regular mid-size corporations) have allowed 5 sick days per year. Obviously, if you are a salaried employee, that is a little more flexible. One sick day per month (12 per year!!) is very generous, in my opinion. That’s great! Probably keeps down on germs in the office!

        2. Victoria Nonprofit*

          Aaaaugh. This thread is driving me crazy. Why oh why are we all leaping to criticize the OP?

          “But that is because you gave her no choice, you left her to assume the worst.”

          Wrong. The manager has choices, just as all of us have choices. In my workplace, I am certain that if I chose to keep medical issues private my bosses would trust and respect my decisions about how to handle my work. Sure, I’ve built up the credibility to do that (and maybe the OP hasn’t), but it’s also the culture of my organization. That culture is built by the choices our management makes: trust over fear, investment in talented and hardworking employees over “churn and burn,” etc.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think that’s true in general, but I’m not sure it applies here. The OP has been out enough to be in the red on sick leave; most bosses are going to have concerns at that point. She’s also alluded to turning down her boss’s help with reprioritizing stuff, which would also make me nervous as her boss.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit*

              Yeah, I get that. And I’m not sure why this thread is making so jumpy – I see the red flags in how the OP is talking about this situation, I agree with your analysis (and that of many commenters), and I appreciate the thoughtful coaching about how the OP can think through and handle situations like this differently. And I see that the OP isn’t responding all that constructively, which is another red flag.

              But I’m frustrated with what sounds like a lot of victim blaming in the comments, too. (Victim? Not the right word. But the general idea is what I’m getting at.) The OP had a legitimate illness – or at the very least it’s not up to us to determine whether she did or did not. She has a chronic condition that significantly affects her ability to work. She and her manager haven’t figured out a solution to that, and aren’t communicating well about it. Both of them need to work on that; it’s not only the OP’s responsibility.

                1. Anonymosaurus*

                  you “agree to disagree” and then keep harping on it? come on now. you’ve said your piece and been responded to, a few times.

                2. Amouse*

                  Sorry if it seemed like harping. I was genuinely thanking her for saying it better than I did!

                  I agreed to disagree with Alison because I respect Alison a lot. I wasn’t aware that agreeing to disagree with Alison upthread meant I couldn’t comment again to thank someone or say something additional. That seems odd to me.

              1. Canadian mom*

                Yes – but it’s very difficult to “work on” a solution when an employee has a chronic illness and has no idea when she might need to take one or two days off, or one or two months off, at a time. As Alison said – after an acute session of illness, it would be helpful to know if the absence period would be days, weeks, etc. Getting an answer of “I don’t know” would be a lot less helpful than “I don’t know, but as soon as I have an idea as to whether we’re talking about days/weeks/months I’ll let you know” will be a lot more helpful.

                While I feel for all parties here – at the end of the day, the work has to be done, somehow.

            2. OP*

              I want to clarify turning down my boss’s assistance with reprioritizing…when I’ve asked for this help, she takes the list I come into her office and doesn’t do anything with it besides ask me when things are due, which I’ve already provided in a list in order of highest priority, then going down. She doesn’t offer to take anything off my plate or offer to get someone else to help share the load while things are overwhelming, she just tells me to put it down on a lower priority. It doesn’t help the situation. So I stopped asking. And yes, referring back to the original post – 2 years ago I was promised to have an assistant and once she was settled in the office on how the software worked, she was supposed to help me. A month went by and I went to see my boss again, to ask if it was ok for me and the new hire to start working together. I was told she was too busy. So the stuff that I’d hoped would be shared with someone else who was assisting me ended up down the priority list. I have to tell myself, get done what you can get done,

              I wish you guys could be in my office and see what exactly is going on here. I am really hurt by some of you who say I’m a drama llama and a diva and that I’m somehow entitled. I’m not. I’m trying to get my work done that keeps getting shoved down my throat. I have asked, repeatedly, for assistance with my work from other people and my boss refuses to give it out to anyone. I HAVE TRIED. When you see your coworkers swan out of the office for 3 hour lunches because they have nothing to do and you’re stuck at your desk because you have deadlines to meet, you are going to get aggravated. All I was asking for from my boss was a little consideration, during not a period of run of the mill sick leave, an actual medical emergency.

              I should probably also add that she is plenty compassionate to others when they are sick, when mothers need to leave early because their children are sick, etc. So it isn’t that she is entirely compassionateless. It is hard not to feel unfairly treated when you’ve seen your coworkers get entirely different treatment.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                She doesn’t offer to take anything off my plate or offer to get someone else to help share the load while things are overwhelming, she just tells me to put it down on a lower priority.

                That IS what re-prioritizing is. Changing the priority level of some things, to allow you to focus on the more important things first.

                OP, you seem really determined to blame your boss for things that are, frankly, pretty normal. I’m not sure what else to say here, other than to reiterate my initial advice to step back and see this as a business situation, not a personal one … which you don’t seem to be doing.

              2. P.*

                I don’t want to add to the blizzard of criticism you’re getting OP, but you may have to accept that your job requires more work than your co-workers AND that it is your manager’s prerogative to deny you an assistant moving forward or the delegation of your tasks, for whatever reason. Many, many people are in situations just like that in many, many companies.

                If you want to continue working there (and it sounds like you need to for insurance reasons, which I am sympathetic to), you also need to accept what can and can’t be changed. It may not be fair, but it sounds like it is what it is. For your sake and the sake of your work, you need to try to determine a balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of your work responsibilities in their current form, rather than the form you wish they would be.

              3. Anonymous*

                OP, you are coming across as a martyr and a victim – everyone else is the bad guy, your co-workers do nothing but go for 3 hour lunches while you heroically are chained to your desk doing all the work, your boss is inept and unfeeling — everyone is simply terrible, except you.

                That seems an unlikely scenario. What seems lore likely is that everyone in your office is a flawed human being — including you — and you all play a part in creating a situation where at least one employee (you) is very unhappy. All you can do is figure out what part you play in it, identify what you have done to contribute to it and make changes to your behavior.

          2. B*

            Yes, the manager has a choice and so does the OP. The OP chooses not to tell her manager she has a chronic condition that will make her take so many sick days she is already in the red. How can the manager have a sense of trust and credibility when she is left wondering why the OP is always out sick. That would scream unreliable.

            You have earned that right and in a great organization, but it sounds like the OP has not.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit*

              “How can the manager have a sense of trust and credibility when she is left wondering why the OP is always out sick. That would scream unreliable.”

              In which case it is the manager’s responsibility (as well as the OP’s) to proactively address the situation.

              The OP came to Alison and the manager didn’t. So there’s no use in offering advice that amounts to “someone else should behave differently.” But it’s worth acknowledging that her circumstances are challenging and she needs to figure out how to creatively manage a tough situation – not pretend that she’s entirely to blame.

              1. AMG*

                Yes, absolutely. OP’s situation may not be fair, but it is her reality to deal with. Accept what you cannot change and adjust what you can.

  15. karenb*

    I am unfortunately in a position where I cannot afford to be choosy with jobs — I have to stick with something that will offer comprehensive group health insurance, or else I would have gotten out of here a long time.

    I have already burned all of my sick leave and am now in the red.

    These two portions of the OP’s letter worry me… It sounds to me like a significant amount of time has been used already on medical leave and a concern about health insurance means this is an ongoing issue as opposed to a one or two time event. I’d hope the OP would have processes in place to deal with medical issues because they appear from the letter to be more frequent than the “norm”. If not, it could be part of the managers issue.

    1. fposte*

      If there is an underlying chronic illness that flares up and impairs the OP, another legal possibility addition to FMLA (including intermittent FMLA, as LCL points out), is ADAAA. It won’t fix your relationship with your boss, but it’s good to know what protections exist.

      1. OP*

        With past experience in previous jobs, I have kept knowledge of my condition to my bosses and coworkers a minimum and at a need to know basis because of the way I have been treated. I took FMLA as pre-emptive proctection as proof that I was going through a life-threatening condition so I could not be fired for it, which is how I understand FMLA to work.

        If I have to see my doctor to get check-ups, blood work, etc. I take sick leave and do not make a big deal out of it. If I made a big deal every time I needed to see my doctor, that’s equivalent to crying wolf, isn’t it?

        At a previous job I had set things in place when I had to undergo monthly chemotherapy because I knew ahead of time when I would be out. In those cases, yes, I can see having things with a standing order-kind of situation. But how can you plan for a emergency hospitalization?

        I notified my boss this time because I knew I was going to the hospital and since I did not know if I would be admitted and/or would be out of work for days, weeks, etc. I was trying to be responsible. I could have not bothered to contact my boss at all, but I did.

        1. Jennifer*

          “I could have not bothered to contact my boss at all, but I did.”

          OP, I am sympathetic to your health plight, but this statement baffles me. To me, it is the equivalent of stating “I could have skipped that mandatory project, but I didn’t (and therefore congrats to me!)”. You probably did not mean it in any such way, but unless you are physically unable to call, it’s pretty much expected you will. Making it seem as though it was something you went above and beyond to do is another example of what I think others are seeing in your original email and are negatively reacting to.

          1. Jamie*

            I never thought calling in was optional. Any place I’ve ever worked a no call/no show wouldn’t result in serious trouble and termination after three days.

            If I were in the hospital and separated from a phone or otherwise physically unable to call in my husband or kids would absolutely know to call my work – and they would be fine with that as they’d rather hear from them than nothing at all.

            Even FMLA requires notification of absence – so I’m also puzzled as to why this would be seen as optional.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I could have not bothered to contact my boss at all, but I did.

          Here, I think you’re losing perspective. Of course you contacted your boss. It’s not a reasonable option not to. If you’re patting yourself on the back for this kind of thing, you’re preventing yourself from seeing the situation clearly, which will prevent you from making the best decisions for yourself.

        3. fposte*

          I’m not suggesting “making a big deal.” I’m suggesting that you fill out a form and sign a paper indicating that you go to doctors’ appointments for an ongoing condition. You have no sick leave any more. You have said you can’t afford to lose your job. Isn’t filling out a form worth it to protect your job?

          BTW, FMLA can operate retroactively, too.

          1. ThatHRGirl*

            Completely agree. Intermittent FMLA is for this purpose and as fposte says, can operate retroactively to cover your absences.
            I also agree with fposte’s (I think it was you?) idea about request for ADAA… For some chronic health conditions, a reasonable accomodation could absolutely be time off for doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, etc. but it’s something the employee has to request – the employer can’t read your mind.

        4. In the Manager's Boat*

          You need to be straight with your boss. If you want sympathy and understanding regarding your illness, you have to let your boss know the seriousness of it.

          You can’t have it both ways, your boss is not a mind reader.

          She’s trying to come up with ways for you to keep your job (re-prioritizing your work), but you withholding information means she has to guess… and that’s going to be frustrating for both of you.

        5. Listmoney*

          OP, as someone who just finished treatments for cancer at the age of 31 and is now back at work, I am sympathetic to your predicament. I’m luckier than a lot of my “cancer friends,” who are dealing with their illness on a long-term basis while juggling work. However, keeping the knowledge of your condition minimum to your bosses while expecting them to go out of their ways to accommodate you every time emergency happens seems to me simply unsustainable, particularly if you are going to deal with your disease chronically.
          Using one day of sick leave a month seems a lot in most work places. Where I’m at (Canada), most people I know usually have 10-15 days of sick leave a year, and it’s rare that people use it all. When you have a chronic disease, it seems to me that the most sensible way to everyone is to sit down with your bosses, tell them your needs, and figure out a way to work with it that’s acceptable to everyone. Trust me, I understand why you don’t want to share your condition; I really do. I’m struggling with how much I need to divulge in job interviews myself. But my experience has been that honesty is really the best policy. When people know what you are going through and sense a good will on your part to make their lives easily and work with them, they tend to be more understand than if all they keep hearing from you is that “I have a medical condition.”
          If they’re not understanding, it’s probably someone you don’t want to work for anyway. I know this seems unfair, but life already isn’t “fair” to begin with when you have whatever disease you have. The truth is that we are assumed to be less-productive workers than the healthy people. I’d rather do my best with all good intentions and work with those who see values in that.

          1. Lora*

            +1. This.
            OP, I HATE my current boss. He hates me too. We are polar opposites in personality and work philosophies and just about everything you can think of. I even hate his stupid Lexus and he hates my dorky Mercedes. We are that different. He is a world champion bureaucrat and maker of busywork for other people. I am the craziest mad scientist you’ll ever meet.

            But when my doc informed me that I had two new tumors (cancer survivor) discovered in a check-up scan, I told him the very next week about it and that I was going to need a bunch of follow up appointments in order to, you know, not die an agonizing death.

            Was his response, “gee Lora, take all the sick time you need! We are here for you! Have a cup of tea while I listen sympathetically to all the details of lymphatic fluid oozing out of your orifices during the imaging and how you weren’t totally numb when they did the biopsies” ? That was what my boss did when I was originally diagnosed four jobs ago–she was a sweetheart.

            No, it was, “you should use personal time and vacation time for these appointments.” Heck, I would have settled for, “will you have any medical restrictions on heavy lifting or going into the clean rooms?” because I do, but he did not give a single eff about it, I was supposed to stick all my oozy bits under extra bandages and deal with it or something. I may have mentioned, he doesn’t like me much.

            But now that he knows, he also knows that if he gives me a hard time about it, I will whine to HR and, importantly, the safety department who get a bit salty about sick people with open wounds in the cleanroom doing heavy lifting. So he has to at least give me the time off or reduced duties, because FMLA and disability insurance cover my absences per the handbook. If he wasn’t told, then he could say, “Let’s fire Lora because she used too many sick days and this has nothing to do with that ugly green Mercedes with the pink interior I swear”. And HR would let him.

            Telling your boss protects YOU. Preferably, tell your boss in writing, via email, and save a copy.

  16. Amouse*

    I have a feeling there’s a long history here and you feel like your boss is “out to get you”. I’ve been there. Try to take a step back. I realize it’s stressful worrying about this on top of being sick but try to read what’s here really look at the facts. Maybe your boss isn’t a likeable person to you, maybe you disagree with her managing approach but nothing she’s done besides making your mom cry – which I have the sense there’s a lot more to that story than you’re saying – has been reasonable. Not everyone is a fuzzy, compassionate person. Trust me, I wish they were but the world is made up of diverse personality types and not everyone is going to think like you and be like you. You just gotta do the best you can with what you have.

    1. Frances*

      Yes, since it also seems like OP was still ill when they wrote the letter, I’m wondering if that is partially affecting how horrible the situation seems to them. The last time I was sick, I checked in via email and within minutes was fuming over what felt like unreasonable demands from my coworkers. Then I caught myself, realized I was in no state to do any real work, answered the one email that actually did require an immediate response, and went back to bed. When I reread the other emails later, it was clear they were all completely normal questions — I was just too ill to process them.

      1. Amouse*

        This is very possible. It’s great to have empathy and looks at all the ways people’s behaviour can be affected by circumstance.

        I feel a lot of people here are being too harsh. There’s a way to speak to someone (especially when they’re sick) and even try to make them self-aware in ways they might not have considered – that isn’t insulting and attacking.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think the problem is that the OP’s letter was written in a way that seemed to lack self-awareness and perspective about where her boss was coming from and what is and isn’t reasonable to expect. Correcting that sort of thing isn’t inherently harsh, but requires saying things that people will sometimes take that way.

          I think one thing people value about this site is that they’ll be given direct feedback. When the feedback is “you’re way off base here,” that’s going to be a hard a message, unless everyone writing it is a skilled diplomat.

          1. Amouse*

            I agree with your reasoning as to why people like the blog, hence why I come here. Usually though, you don’t allow name-calling etc and several people have labelled the OP a drama queen or proceeded to try and haggle for comments and comments over “how sick she really is”.
            That’s just unnecessary.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t really see name-calling happening here at all, with the exception of “drama queen,” which that person was already called out on. Beyond that, though, I do agree with those who are seeing unwarranted drama in the letter and are calling it like they see it. It’s not rude to tell someone directly what you see as problematic in a situation they wrote in requesting help with.

              1. Amouse*

                I usually agree with you but it was way more than one person who called the OP a drama Queen.
                I agree as well about there being unwarranted drama in the letter but I tried to see it from the OP’s perspective as opposed to attacking the OP which I feel people are doing in several cases. Perhaps those people just lack diplomacy and did not mean to come across so harshly. If that’s the case, I apologize.

                The haggling over medical diagnoses to a person who is genuinely sick, is just mean-spirited and also ignorant of unqualified people to do and so not the point.

                1. Amouse*

                  Alright, I guess I saw several synonyms for drama queen but sure, once officially using that label.

                  Well clearly you see no problem with this OP being responded to in this way, which is fine. That’s your decision ultimately. But if she’s seriously ill and reading this, much of it would come across as harsh and unkind. I’m not saying she does not need to be made more self-aware but I feel the blog is allowing a tone to come across that I don’t usually see here.

                  Anyway, agree to disagree.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That tone tends to arise here only when an OP sounds wildly un-self-aware. Same situation, different tone = different types of responses.

                  I don’t allow openly rude behavior here. I’m not, however, in the business of saving OPs from hearing how their perspective strikes others, nor do I see a lot of value in preventing that.

                  And yes, agree to disagree.

                3. Amouse*

                  But do you really not see how someone seriously ill reading through comment sand comments debating their medical condition could come across as unkind?

            2. Sandrine*

              I don’t think the “drama queen” comment is an insult or that harsh, either, because if that’s what it looks like, then that’s what it looks like.

              As far as “how sick she really is” then I just think it’s a reasonable question to ask, as long as the person asking backs down when given the answer, of course.

              1. Elikit*

                Right, and based on the OP’s contributions, I think any response that isn’t, “oh, poor you, you are terribly hard done by and your boss is wildly unreasonable” would come across as harsh.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Yeah I have to agree. The OP really seems to be taking only the “sympathy” and nothing else. It’s unfortunate because there is a lot of useful, honest advice here from both and less sympathetic commenters.

                2. Jamie*

                  There have definitely been OPs in the past who had a hard time with the initial rush of candor in the comments who posted later about how they were able to take in once the sting wore off.

                  And I always keep in mind that it’s not just about the OP. I know when I first found AAM I was googling some work problem and I didn’t write in because it was already covered – then I got lost in the archives. So whether the OP sees the logic in some of the dispassionate advice or not, I’m sure someone at some point will benefit from this discussion.

            3. Anonymous*

              Yeah I stopped coming to this blog because it was becoming more and more like the Etiquette Hell forums. This post is a prime example of that.

  17. Runon*

    To the OP when your boss offers to help you re-prioritize (unsure of why the scare quotes here) what they are often suggesting is that there are, or may be, items that you don’t need to do, that can be moved off your plate. It isn’t insulting for your boss to offer that and I would definitely take advantage of it.

    Your boss is thinking of the big picture. Say there are 100 items that you and your coworkers are working on. She may be able to step in and say, these 5 can be taken off your plate for right now, or these 2 can be taken off your plate and this one can be given to someone else who can have one taken off. She needs the top 50 to be done right now, but it might not matter quite as much who does some of the ones at the bottom and some of them may be able to be removed entirely.

    (And if my boss told my coworkers I was out sick and gave that information out like candy I’d feel like my boss wasn’t being compassionate toward me. So your boss may feel like they are being compassionate by not telling everyone your private business. She may be trying very hard and honestly if my boss didn’t tell people, helped me re-prioritize my work, and took me off a business trip after I was sick-there may be a better way to get sick than an airplane but I can’t think of anything that isn’t gross-I would feel like I had a good boss.)

  18. Joey*

    Alright people, lets stop playing doctor. I know its easy to do, but unless you’re a physician you have no business questioning the medial issues.

    On to the op. here’s a few things you need to come to grips with:

    1. Most managers would be frustrated with an employee who has burned up all of their sick leave and is in the “red”.
    2. Your boss is probably treating you like this because shit isn’t getting done, period. I doubt its personal.
    3. Your mom should not be talking to your boss unless you’re on your deathbed.
    4.its pretty difficult to justify a raise considering you’re frequently behind on your work. (Forget about it for now)

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      I’m going to defend the mom phone call here, because if you don’t have a significant other, your mother is your next of kin, and you’re being admitted to the hospital through the emergency department, who else is going to call on your behalf?

      It took me a good 8 to 10 hours to get my cell phone back when I was admitted to the hospital.

      1. Joey*

        Most managers find it unprofessional for ANYONE other than the employee to call in unless you’re in surgery, in a coma, or otherwise physically unable to call in. Just being in the hospital isn’t necessarily a free pass.

        1. KayDay*

          I disagree. I think that all of my managers would have been fine with another person calling on the employee’s behalf anytime someone was in the ER or had a serious medical issue, even if they were conscious. What’s more important is that the other person keep the call professional.

          1. fposte*

            I’ve had spouses contact me in such situations. I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll think it’s creepy if it’s “Pookie is home with a cold,” but “I’m emailing at 1 am to let you know that I just brought Pookie home from the ER” is fine.

        2. Your Mileage May Vary*

          That may be but even if you aren’t in a coma, the medical people working on you don’t tend to like your being on your phone while they are trying to start IVs, etc. Isn’t it better to ask someone close to you to call your boss right away so your boss gets as much of a heads up as possible?

          Spoken as someone who was admitted quickly for observation for a possible appendectomy. I was on pain killers by IV very fast and, consequently, pretty loopy. I would much rather look unprofessional by asking my sister to call my boss (which I did) than to leave a slurred speech voicemail containing who-knows-what.

        3. A Teacher*

          Maybe in your experience, but in mine–I had surgery and took off what I felt was enough time and then I had a reaction to the medication. I was single and lived alone but went to stay with my parents after surgery. I didn’t make much sense so my mom called three different supervisors–because I was in three different locations for my job–and all could not have been nicer to her about the call. Vicodin and an allergic reaction do not mix and I would have made no sense on the phone to any of the supervisors. This was in a corporate sector job for a large physical therapy company.

          I’ve had to have my sister call for me in my current job when I suffered a concussion–again, my assistant principal was nothing but nice.

          My sister and mom were as professional as could be and I (along with most of us on here) don’t abuse the system. If my boss wants to ding me for having someone call me in when I can’t then my own thought is they have to get over that. Now having anyone other than yourself call in for something other than a fairly major medical issue or maybe a death in the family/car accident that’d be different but for medical reasons people need to be flexible.

  19. In the Manager's Boat*

    I think that the OP needs to look at this from a manager’s viewpoint. Here’s what I gleaned from the letter:
    -You have a chronic illness that causes you to miss a lot of work.
    -You have taken on a lot of high level projects because you’re awesome, and you don’t want to give them up.

    When you miss work, the manager still is accountable for your work getting done. She can’t afford to reschedule your coworker’s workload every time you can’t come in. She needs to be proactive in balancing the workload of her team, therefore, she is reorganizing the workload that is causing her grief… yours.

    I would stop trying to read into her reactions to your illnesses and be the adult she expects you to be. Realize that your calling is sick, while human, DOES negatively impact the office. Her job is not to coddle you, but to keep things moving in your absence. No matter how awesome you are, if you’re not there to do the work, it’s not getting done, and SHE is responsible in the end.

    1. Joe*

      Being sick is something that happens to everyone, though. Basically, if you’re going to be managing people you need to realize people get sick (and it actually hurts a company more to force a sick person to keep working). While no boss should “coddle” you, simply being reasonable and responsible is the right course of action; that means that when your employee tells you they are sick, you pass that message along and get people to fill in their position, otherwise that makes YOU look like a bad boss for not having plans conceived for when (when not if) an employee inevitably gets sick. Even if it was just a cold this person should not be coming into work. Those are contagious and if your other employees or clients/customers get sick because of it, it’s now on you, the boss.

      I don’t understand why bosses feel entitled to be “upset” when you are sick. No coddling needed, hell, I don’t even care if you tell me to get better soon, just grow the Hell up and accept that it happened and not try to make me feel more guilty than I already am. This goes double when an employee takes unpaid time off, aren’t we suffering enough being unpaid AND sick? We don’t need you whining about how you think we’re the first person to ever be sick in your presence.

  20. K. A.*

    Am I the only one with sympathy for the OP?

    I, too, had a boss who made me feel like a criminal if I took so much as half a day to go home sick after spending the earlier half in the office bathroom getting sick. It says something about the boss and what kind of person the boss is. A boss who does this isn’t a great boss the rest of the time.

    And yelling at the OP’s mother. Really? And how was the OP’s mom supposed to know when she’d be well enough to go back into the office? A crystal ball? That wasn’t just out of line, that was way out of line.

    And, yes, a flu virus can kill someone with a chronic illness. Just ask an experienced ICU nurse.

    Otherwise, I do agree with Allison’s response. But I also have sympathy.

    1. businesslady*

      I have a great deal of sympathy–no one should yell at an employee’s family member during an already difficult time, & illnesses should be taken seriously.

      however, I also have some personal perspective on this, having been hospitalized unexpectedly for a life-threatening infection a few years ago & ultimately missing two months of work. while it’s hard to muster the energy for even the most minute of tasks while you’re incredibly sick, I did manage to set up an away message & voicemail within 24 hours of my absence, & remained in regular contact with my coworkers (answering questions, triaging email, etc.) during that time.

      it’s never an ideal situation when something like this happens, but it’s important to uphold your professional responsibilities to whatever extent is possible.

    2. OP*

      To be honest, I think you are one of the few. I appreciate your thoughts, especially “a flu virus can kill someone with a chronic illness. Just ask an experienced ICU nurse.”

      These days insurance companies will do anything to keep you from being admitted to the hospital, because it costs them too much money. People who are admitted to hospital are there because the attending doctor has decided that they require intensive medical care before they can be released.

      1. Anonymous*

        Am I the only one that finds it off-putting that the OP is consistently responding to the comments expressing sympathy and empathy, but not others asking for information or clarification?

        1. SW*

          I got the same impression, also helped along by comments of hers like, “Thank you, dear writer. I appreciate YOUR empathy,” and other digs implying that the rest of us are being unsympathetic.

          I get that some people are, but anyone trying to be reasonable and constructive (AAM herself, for instance) gets ignored.

          1. Anonymous*

            What I dislike is this polarization between “sympathetic” and “unsympathetic” here. My hope for this OP is that she sees that sympathy does not necessarily mean that she has no responsibility in the situation. Is she deserving of cruel comments? No. But even taking in the constructive feedback as well as the sympathetic feedback, I haven’t heard one commenter here say: “Yes, OP, your boss is totally wrong and you are right” whether the commenter was sympathetic or not. Not one commenter out of over 200, even the ones who called for empathy. I hope that resonates with you OP. Do you see yourself as having responsibility for your actions? Do you see your boss’ perspective in this at all after all this?

            1. SW*

              Exactly right. There’s a lot of useful advice here. Perhaps it’s not easy to swallow when you’ve been sick; I can certainly relate to being extra-sensitive after an illness (“How could you yell at a sick person!”), but I think what the OP isn’t getting is that she’s not the only person inconvenienced by the illness.

    3. nyxalinth*

      I don’t lack sympathy, or empathy, either. There’s the way the OP sees it (“I was sick, etc.) the way the boss sees it, and the way it is.

      The way it is is OP was sick, boss still needs things to get done, OP doesn’t get to go on the trip, the sick days were used up. I don’t lack sympathy or empathy, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to look at it objectively.

      OP, I used to be like an employee like you, then I took an arrow in the knee.* –err, lost a job that I really, really liked and ended up back in call centers. Don’t let this lead to your losing a job.

      *game-related humor

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        I read that and thought you had written “game hunter-related humor”. It made your comment much more gruesome. :)

  21. Laura*

    There are employees who cause problems with their illnesses and those that do not.

    Sure, its a shame when a human being is sick, especially with a chronic condition. But either way you slice it, its a pain to a manager. They can care until they burst with love and rainbows, but at some point, if a person’s chronic illness is putting a strain on the office, then they can no longer reasonably complete there job.

    She is in the red on her sick day allotment, so it is possible her manager is frustrated, and rightfully. He may care, but he can also probably find a “healthy” employee, even if slightly less qualified, who doesn’t cause him any stress or anxiety managing OOO days.

    He should have not yelled, but nothing else seems out of line.

    1. fposte*

      OP, there’s a contradiction here: you want your manager to redistribute your workload when you can’t complete stuff due to illness, but when she does redistribute your workload, in the form of the business trip, you’re unhappy. But you can’t leave it to other people to figure out what to do about your work and then insist they only take off the stuff you’re willing to let go.

      1. Amouse*

        To me it seems like the anger over being taken off the business trip stems from history rather than logic. It seems like the OP feels her boss knows the business trip is something she really wants to do and that’s why she’s reading it as punishment for being sick. I agree with you that it’s a contradiction when we look at the facts.

        I think right now the OP needs to take a step back and find some clarity about the situation because she’s feeling attacked and defensive.

        1. fposte*

          That’s how I saw it too. I could have been clearer, but what I was trying to say was that logically, this makes perfect sense to do, and it’s worth thinking about it from that standpoint.

          I do think that the OP may need to realize there’s limited ability to pick and choose what an employee gets to handle and doesn’t even in the best case, and if somebody’s missing a lot of work they’re likely to lose some projects they enjoyed as well as tasks they’re not so crazy about.

    2. Joe*

      This is one situation, and she had to be hospitalized for it. It’s unreasonable for people to act like she’s just another cog in the factory and if it doesn’t work, get a new one. People with chronic illnesses need jobs too…more really, they have medical bills that are higher than others. I’m sorry but it’s really stupid looking in a manager to be told their employee is sick and then NOT do anything about it. Employers need to have plans for when people are sick…not if, WHEN. Everybody gets sick and sometimes it will be bad.

      Don’t you see how ableist you sound? Tossing aside a RECOVERING (no longer sick from the flu) employee for a “healthy” one. Nobody is “healthy”. Everybody gets sick. The flu affects everyone even if you get a flu shot you can still get a case of it.

      I love when non-sick people get stressed out by sick people. It’s so hard being the healthy boss!

  22. Coelura*

    It also sounds to me like the OP needs to take the time to arrange everything with HR and her manager on a proactive basis to make sure she has the foundation of understanding around her chronic illness. She needs to classify herself as “disabled” with HR and notify her manager of her needs due to her disability. She also needs to file for FMLA and STAY ON TOP of all the paperwork.

    I have a chronic illness as well. It impacts my immune system and also causes extremely painful flareups that prevent me from working or even driving with no warning. I had to be open about my illness and the potential impact on my work with HR and my managers through out my career. I started working long before the ADA existed and although things have been much easier in the past few years, by being open & honest with my managers & HR I was able to manage the relationships even before the ADA protections.

    But this transparency is required for the impacts of the illness to be mitigated without negative impact to job security.

    1. fposte*

      I think this is a good point, especially the legal groundwork; if this is ADA-eligible, the key there is “interactive process,” too. I also think that there’s a lot of emphasis on how unwell the OP was in the original email; while that may be true, she needs to make sure that’s that’s not the approach she takes in the office, where the issue needs to be treated in a businesslike fashion. You have an illness, it requires time out sometimes, here’s what needs to be dealt with legally and practically. Any veering off into the actual temperature of your fever, etc., dilutes your business point.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        I agree about keeping details and symptoms out of the business conversation. By mentioning them you leave yourself open to more criticism. Anyone with access to Dr. Google could be looking up your condition and will compare online lists of symptoms with what you say you have and may conclude you are embellishing.

        Alternatively, you run up against people that came to work every day (and walked! in the snow! uphill! both ways!) with a high temperature and can’t understand why you are such a wuss? (Although don’t get me started on the mentality of these people!)

        1. ADB*

          Dr. Google is dangerous, indeed…

          And I am that person you speak of. Worked through mono and two bouts of whooping cough – and yes I did walk to work after an ice storm LOL. It’s almost like an extreme sport – not very smart, but seems like a good idea at the time. To each their own and I certainly don’t expect others to be as stupid as I :)

  23. JLL*

    Genuine question- i don’t know how this works, but can a boss call you up when you are on medical leave and force you to give an answer as to when you’d return? I’m not talking about a day off- I mean an actual leave. I know they can’t do that here in Canada with mat leave, but I don’t know about medical.

    And to be perfectly honest, I do see both sides. If my job is vital enough that your bosses are contacting me for things and getting upset that they cannot reach me and I am in the hospital, I would expect you to preemptively mention to them that I’d be unavailable for a couple of days.

    But it’s really selfish to essentially hold everyone up while you “figure out” if you’re well enough to take the trip. Costs go up for travel the closer the date approaches, for booking or cancellation, and if there is preparation to be done, whether it be a report or presentation, it’s much easier when you know for sure if someone is in or out. It’s not a reasonable or cost-effective way to run your business.

    As far as re-prioritization- that’s the help she’s offered. Take it. If it proves to not be enough, THEN that’s a follow up conversation. But to turn down the help she’s offered, then complain that you aren’t able to achieve what you need to is, again, unreasonable.

    1. OP*

      I don’t know the answer to this question but my boss has done this every time I’ve been on medical leave. To me, it is intrusive. I’ve advised by HR that I am not required to disclose anything about the situation to my boss. HR needs the information in order to process the FMLA forms but I believe according to privacy laws they are not required to tell my boss about my medical history.

      The trip has already been paid for. I work for a small non-profit, and each person has their own tasks, so she can’t send anyone in my place.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right, of course your boss isn’t entitled to private medical details, but it’s not unreasonable for her to ask for a sense of when you’ll be back in the office, particularly if there’s a history of longer absences. If you were managing work, wouldn’t that be information you’d want too?

        1. OP*

          The last time I took any significant time off work through medical leave was 2009. Yes, I have a history of longer absences, but it’s not like I am taking time off left and right for medical leave.

          I am very sensitive about sick leave and medical leave because that is my life and I would like to keep that private. Except when I am out on extended periods – which is not often – it does not affect my ability to do my job. My main concern is that even if I were entirely candid about my illness, the situation at work would not change, and I would just instead be scrutinized even more than I already am. (I had a bad case in my previous job when I was hospitalized – again, entirely unpredictably – while I was out, one of the higher-ups told EVERYONE what was wrong with me and what illness I had, and I felt that was a huge violation of privacy. I was embarrassed and mortified.)

          Yes, I understand a boss wants to know when their employees will return. At the time of the hospitalization I checked in daily to report that no, I would not be coming into work that day because I was still receiving treatment at the hospital. At that time neither I nor the doctors knew when I would be released so this was information we could not provide.

          When I was released, I asked the doctor when I would no longer be contagious and when I could return. This situation is not like a broken arm, where you can return when the arm is stabilized or has healed. This has a gray area. The doctor said I was the best judge of this and that I could return to work when I felt better and if the fever had not returned. I informed my boss that the medications I received in the hospital had made me exhausted and I needed more time to recuperate, and that I would continue to give her updates on my condition.

          Beyond that, what else could I provide? I was above board with her on the situation, that I had been released from the hospital, and that I would return to work as soon as I could.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I imagine your boss was looking for some sense of whether you might be back within a few days or whether it would be longer. Weeks? Longer than that? If it could truly be any of those, then all you can do is explain that — but that stuff does need to be addressed and explained.

          2. B*

            They were probably looking for a rough time frame. Tomorrow? 2 weeks? 2 months? etc. The reasoning is, what about the deadlines coming up? what about the trip? what about other work?

            And to hit upon a point. You say you are not taking time off left and right for medical leave. But in reality you are. Every time you use a sick day you are taking off. Just because it is not for an extended period of time does not mean you are not taking off. That is a big point a lot of us are trying to make.

            1. Jamie*

              People have to take care of their medical needs as they arise – but strictly speaking it’s actually easier for a work place to deal with the extended leave than a lot of emergency leave.

              If I’m going to be out for 6 weeks then arrangements can be made and temporary coverage assigned. If it’s a day or two at a time, but a lot, and you never know if I’m coming in that day…that’s impossible to plan for and you’re always hitting what’s pitched.

              Some illnesses are that way and so people absolutely need to do what they have to do – just agreeing with your point that just because it’s not a long leave period doesn’t mean it’s not disruptive. It’s actually more so, in many ways.

              1. SCW*

                That is what I’ve told staff members dealing with family emergencies or personal emergencies–they are welcome to take the entire time off to deal with the issues, or come in when they can, but if they are going to come in when they can they need to make sure that they communicate if they aren’t able to come in at times that are crucial to coverage so we can arrange someone to come from another location. It is actually easier if they take a whole week off and I can arrange coverage at once, but sometimes they may not have enough leave or want to come into work to take their minds off of things (one staff member said sitting in the hospital waiting for news was driving him crazy)

          3. Jennifer*

            Jamie mentioned this below. I think they want to know when you’ll be back in case they want to hire a temp. It makes sense because they still need to get the work done. If you’re going to be out for an extended period of time, they still want the work to get done.

            That could also mean having a temp come in for three to five days as well. It may not sound like an extended period of time but some companies I’ve worked for have done that because the work simply cannot be put on hold.

            When I started my job a few months ago I was having some medical issues. They weren’t serious but I needed to get it taken care of. I needed to go to several doctor’s appointments. I told my manager about my issue. I didn’t tell her in depth but I told her what was happening. She understood and told me that we could work it out because I just started. She suggested flex time and me catching up later in the day or before work started.

            I think sometimes telling a boss what’s happening will help them see if from your perspective. If not, they may think you’re milking the system.

            I understand that you’re not required to tell your boss about your conditions but sometimes people may draw their own conclusions if you don’t disclose.

            I had a coworker who was constantly calling in sick or leaving early. We shared an office. Every time she did that I would have to pick up her work. That meant my work would have to be put on hold. Hers was more time sensitive but so was mine except mine was not as immediate as hers. In this case, she was milking the system. But it got to the point where I talked to my boss and said I don’t feel this is fair. I would have to do her work and mine and get it done rather quickly, except hers was due first and then I had to rush to get my work done and I didn’t feel like I was producing quality work on my projects.

            I’m telling you this because from my perspective my coworker was lazy. (She ended up getting fired for excessive absences) Your situation is much different. But in my situation and yours our bosses could have hired a temp to take care of the work. That way, the person who calls in sick because of a true medical condition or because of laziness won’t impact others.

            It will impact the bottom line so be prepared not to be given a raise if they have to bring in someone as a temp from time to time even if you’re doing amazing work throughout the year.

      2. JLL*

        But if that’s the case, and you come back, and you’re behind on your work, the work you are doing in the office might be more important to their overall goals than having you on this trip.

        Not to mention- what happens if you are still not well in these “couple days” you’re asking your boss to wait? Now she’s lost those days either finding someone to fill in (i know you say no one can do what you do, but hear me out) or finding a workaround whatever it is you do.

        Again- it’s not reasonable, no matter how much you want to go.

    2. JL*

      I don’t know the answer to the question either, but in my opinion, it would be perfectly reasonable for a boss to want to know when the employee may return. As a manager, it definitely helps to have an idea of the timing. I wouldn’t treat it as set in stone, but an estimate is better than flying blind when trying to organize the team/workload.

    3. -X-*

      If your boss asks when you’ll be back, give the best answer you can. If you totally don’t know, say that – “I don’t know and won’t know for a few days. I’ll let you know as soon as I have more detail.”

      If you have a sense it’ll be 1-2 weeks but could be more, say “I’m hoping it’s 1-2 weeks but it could be more. I’ll know more clearly in a few days and let you know.”

      None of this is revealing personal information that’s unreasonable for a boss to know. It’s not intruding on the OP’s personal life. It’s getting info to help manage the organization. Completely reasonable question.

      “HR that I am not required to disclose anything about the situation to my boss.”

      Oh this sounds like BS on someone’s part, or a misunderstanding or miscomunication. You’re not required to divulge anything about your medical condition to the boss, but when you will be back in the office should not be a secret if that information is known. And if it’s not known, the boss should know that too.

      “according to privacy laws they are not required to tell my boss about my medical history.”

      How is saying “two to three weeks” revealing medical history? When the two to three weeks pass and you come back to the office, that information will be known to her/him anyway.

      1. martini*

        It’s the difference between diagnosis (employer shouldn’t ask for this) and prognosis (employer needs to know and should ask for this). But at least in Canada, from my experience, many employees share the OP’s (incorrect) opinion that asking questions of someone out on sick leave is not allowed due to privacy.

      2. SCW*

        I once called a staff member to ask if she was planning on coming to work after two days of no call/no shows and she screamed and yelled at me for even calling, and called HR about intruding on her FMLA leave. But she had not mentioned word one of any medical or family emergency, all I knew was that she was not there, my boss was on her honeymoon, and I was the only staff member left to run the whole building. Drama Llama! She never came back to work at our building, though she did go on FMLA and went back to work in a different position elsewhere in the organization.

    4. Joey*

      Sure they can, but its not smart. But you can also say “my anticipated return date is x. I’ll have more information on [date of next appt]. x can be as specific or as vague as the info your dr gives you.

    5. Anonymous*

      I work in Canada dealing with disability claims and your employer absolutely has a right to your prognosis for recovery/return to work. They also have a right to know the general nature of your condition and to obtain information regarding any limitations and restrictions you may have so they can look into offering you an appropriate medical accommodation (which they are required to do under the Canadian Human Rights Code, unless doing so would lead to undue hardship). They dont, however, have any right to what would be deemed as confidential medical information, including your actual diagnosis or treatment plan. And just as your employer has responsibilities to attempt to accommodate your medical condition, as an employee you have responsibilities to fully participate in the process including keeping in regular contact with your employer where required.

    6. courtney*

      Under FMLA guidelines it is illegal for work to contact you in any way when you are out on specified leave, even when it is intermittent FMLA. HR had to remind my boss of that a couple times before it sunk in.

      1. Jamie*

        They are allowed to contact you regarding the leave itself. If I was on FMLA my employer could call for a status on my leave – but not to ask me a question about month end close.

        From the DOL website on the FMLA FAQ:

        “Q: Can my employer make inquiries about my leave during my absence?

        Yes, but only to you. Your employer may ask you questions to confirm whether the leave needed or being taken qualifies for FMLA purposes, and may require periodic reports on your status and intent to return to work after leave. Also, if the employer wishes to obtain another opinion, you may be required to obtain additional medical certification at the employer’s expense, or recertification during a period of FMLA leave. The employer may have a health care provider representing the employer contact your health care provider, with your permission, to clarify information in the medical certification or to confirm that it was provided by the health care provider. The inquiry may not seek additional information regarding your health condition or that of a family member. “

  24. books*

    I’m going to be a jerk….

    But it’s 2013. No laptop, no phone, no webmail – login and put up an away message after a few days. Fully understandable that you didn’t do it on day 1, but how many days were you 100% away from your work email? It reads like a long time.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      But if she assumed her boss was going to do it, why would she check?

      It brings up a good point, however. Once all the dust is settled from this incident, it would be good for OP to clarify what the procedure is if someone from the office has to suddenly be out.

      1. Layla*

        Can my boss help to set my out of office email?
        i think it requires IT to do so

        i know mine wouldn’t bother to do so. i expect she will send a mass email out to regular contacts stating i will be out.

        anyone else who isn’t regular, should be able to find their way to my boss to check on my whereabouts if i’m not answering my email

        1. Jamie*

          It’s not considered best practice for a manager to have their employees passwords – but I’m sure it happens more than IT would like.

          If using Outlook with OWA enabled an employee can do it themselves from the web. Otherwise, for me, in case of emergency if someone sends me the message they want (I don’t write copy :)) I’ll plug it in for them.

          Lack of an out of office would be a much bigger deal in positions where you’re on tight deadlines and dealing with external communications (customers, vendors, etc.) Internally if someone wasn’t getting back to you wouldn’t you just ask their manager?

      2. Layla*

        or, how does her boss know she didn’t set an out of office ?

        this would require her boss to suddenly realise she didn’t receive an out of office when she sent her a mail…

    2. S.L. Albert*

      Also, to be fair to the OP, I don’t have a smart phone, I wouldn’t bring my laptop with me to the ER, and I can’t access my work email unless I’m on the network, which I’m not classified to to with my personal equipment. So if I wound up in the ER, I wouldn’t be able to set my out of work email. I’d be able to call and/or e-mail my boss and some of my coworkers from my personal e-mail, if I had the opportunity, but I’d be cut off from my work stuff unless some brought my work computer to the hospital.

      1. books*

        True, I was generalizing.
        But: “Each morning while I was in the hospital, I phoned into the office to inform my boss that I was still in the hospital, so she knew where I was.”
        At some point in this communication, you say – I didn’t put up an out of office, could you update people that I’m out?
        Fair to assume that a reasonable boss would do something like tell team members that that was the case (which my boss did when within the span of 2 weeks we had 2 people out with minor head injuries), but isn’t it something you’d ask too…

    3. Anonymous*

      But maybe she couldn’t do that from the hospital even to send a note from her personal email. Not every hospital is blessed with wifi nor does everyone have a notebook or smartphone. Also, not everyone has access to their work email system to set an OOO message even if they have appropriate hardware and connectivity to the internet.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      Just so you know, some people work entirely on classified systems and can’t access their work email from home.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Yes. Not even “classified” systems -sometimes just businesses that don’t allow outside access or don’t give all employees access from the outside.

        “Work from home” is becoming the new “start your own business” – a thing to say to people that’s much, much harder to do than it sounds and is sometimes impossible.

        1. Jamie*

          Nicely put.

          Maybe a third of my users have access to work from home when needed (and none of us could do 100% of our jobs from home due to the nature of our business.) Another handful could have it if they wanted it.

          For most of my users it’s not practical.

          Pet peeve – waiting until you’re sick, but still want to work, to talk to me about working from home. That’s not going to happen. I’m happy to work with you if I know in advance, and even lend you a laptop raring to go, but I’m not going to spend time working with someone on the fly to install security certs and VPNs – the unknown that is their personal pc isn’t my problem.

    5. Joe*

      She told the boss and a couple employees who usually cover for her that she was going to be out. It’s the boss’ fault that that information never went anywhere.

  25. Jamie*

    This is something that caught my attention:

    when she was called out by cc from one of our off-campus bosses, demanding to know where I was and why I was not returning emails. She must have then at that time told these bosses, because soon after I got a personal email from one boss apologizing profusely and saying had he had known I was ill, he would not have flown off the handle, etc.

    Is this a workplace where people routinely “fly off the handle.” Because if I wasn’t receiving email responses from a colleague in another location I would get in touch with their manager to see what was up. Hostility seems misplaced here.

    one time my boss made my mother cry by demanding and shouting over the phone for when I would return to the office. This had the effect of making me very anxious, knowing that my boss is not concerned about my well-being but just the job getting done.

    Under what circumstances did this happen? How was the boss in the position to speak to your mom, was she calling you in? And I do know a lot of people who use the word “yelling” in a hyperbolic way – without details of how this happened and what was said it’s kind of hard to categorize this.

    And I’m certainly sorry you were sick, OP, and I hope you’re feeling better but as nice as it would be if everyone was concerned about our well being, that sentiment can’t exist in opposition to getting the job done. Stuff still needs to get done – I like my boss a lot and I know the feeling is mutual. If I were sick she’d feel terrible – but she’d still need to address how much of my stuff would wait for me and who would handle emergencies.

    As for the rest, aside from the yelling, your boss did what I would have done. I’d have offered to help you re-prioritize so you could get caught up without feeling like the walls were closing in and I would absolutely pull you off the business trip both due to work concerns and the need to solidify plans when you’re recuperation isn’t certain by that point.

    I know when you’re sick it sucks and it would be so nice if the world and responsibility could be paused until you feel better – but unfortunately stuff needs to get done regardless of what happens to any of us. If I died tomorrow I have no doubt my work would be sad and they would come to the funeral mass and send a lovely donation to the charity of my husband’s choice…and they’d try to have a body in my chair before my seat cooled off. I totally respect that – it’s business.

    1. OP*

      Is this a workplace where people routinely “fly off the handle.” Because if I wasn’t receiving email responses from a colleague in another location I would get in touch with their manager to see what was up. Hostility seems misplaced here.
      Yes. This person who flew off the handle regularly flies off the handle. He is on the other side of the country and is used to me responding by email within 24 hours. After a couple days, he was concerned, so he contacted my boss.

      Under what circumstances did this happen? How was the boss in the position to speak to your mom, was she calling you in? And I do know a lot of people who use the word “yelling” in a hyperbolic way – without details of how this happened and what was said it’s kind of hard to categorize this.
      I did not want to go into details about this since that happened years but here it is: I had internal bleeding in my arm and required twice-daily nursing visits to my house. To keep me comfortable, I was given medicine to sleep and my boss called when I was asleep so my mother, who had been taking care of me at the house while I was sick, answered the phone to tell her that I was under sedation and sleeping.

      As I understand it, the conversation started as a status update type of thing from my boss and my mother explained what I was going through and what the doctor’s orders were. The doctor said that I could not return until the swelling in my arm significantly and he could not guess when that would happen. Until then I required twice-daily infusions of medication to treat the bleeding and they would reassess as time went on.

      I understand that some people cannot relate to having diagnoses whose endpoints / resolution but in this current and that last case, I could not guess when I could return. Neither I nor the doctors could provide a date that “she can return to work by X day.” All I could say to my boss was that I hoped to be back in the office as soon as I could, as soon as the situation cleared up.

      I want to clarify something – I’m not asking for the world to stop when I’m sick. The decision my boss wants to make over this trip is being made over my condition. I didn’t want to fight with her over email about this and wanted to wait until I was back in the office so we could discuss this in person. The attending doctor released me from the hospital and said I was fine to return to the office when I felt better. My boss is not a medical doctor. I wanted the ability to speak for myself instead of her making any premature decisions.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m getting the sense that you’re not giving your boss any information when your doctor says she doesn’t know when you’ll be able to return to work. I’m not surprised that your boss is getting frustrated — that would be hugely frustrating for me too. Your boss needs to hear “My doctor isn’t sure yet, but should have a better idea in 2 days and I’ll update you as soon as I talk with him. It could be as little as a week or as long as a month, but we don’t know yet.”

        That’s really different from “I don’t know yet.”

        You might get better results by giving your boss more context and more information. Just because you don’t have a definite release date doesn’t mean there isn’t helpful info to share that wouldn’t leave your boss feeling so in the dark about when an employee will return to work.

      2. Jennifer*

        ” The decision my boss wants to make over this trip is being made over my condition.”

        It doesn’t really matter what Boss’ rationale is for deciding you shouldn’t go*, it’s her decision to make. You’re certainly entitled to fight it out, but if that is the decision, that is the decision. You could be completely clear of any health issues and ready to run a marathon tomorrow, Boss could still decide it is not in the company’s best interest for you to go.

        *where is that disclaimer for barring issues relation to protected classes when I need it. Also, someone please do correct me if I’m wrong on this issue that the illness in this case would qualify OP as protected.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You’re thinking of the ADA. It’s not clear whether the OP’s condition would fall under the ADA or not, but even if it did, the manager would still be entitled to judge that the OP’s time was more needed in the office than on the trip.

        2. OP*

          I am confused over the boss’s decision about the trip because it feels like she has done a 180.

          She didn’t think my hospitalization was serious, so she took no action while I was out. Ok. Fine. I get that. You all say this was reasonable.

          Then why all of a sudden 2 days later is she so worried that I cannot go to the meeting? What has changed for her to suddenly decide my situation is so serious? I have kept her updated on my condition during the time I was in the hospital and after I was released. I am back in the office now.

          I get what you all are saying, that it’s her decision to pull me off the meeting for the greater good of the office. Sure. Fine. But she would not send anyone in my place – that’s the nature of our small non-profit office – so it seemed out of place that she would make the decision without having a honest discussion with me about it.

          1. Jamie*

            But if you put yourself in your manager’s shoes for a moment you might see the logic in pulling the trip.

            Clearly the trip isn’t mission critical since you’re not going and she isn’t sending anyone else. You said yourself you’re responsible for a lot of important work, which wasn’t done for you while you were gone.

            Can’t you see how your manager would prefer you focus on your backlog of work rather than a non-mission critical trip? You’ve already lost a lot of time.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            OP: You are making this personal. It’s not personal. It’s business. Stop looking for personal reasons to explain your boss’s actions, and start looking for business ones. You’ve been given plenty possible ones here (particularly that she thinks your time can be better used in the office, once you’re back), and you seem to be ignoring them in favor of seeing this through a personal lens.

            It’s not personal.

            1. Joe*

              “It’s not personal” <– what employees say before they've encountered a boss or manager who is making it personal.

          3. K*

            I don’t think not updating people on you being gone is an indication she doesn’t think it was serious. It might just be an indication of her being busy, scattered, or stressed out and letting something slip. Without more information, I think you’re imputing something into her actions that isn’t that discernible.

            On the conference, another possible reason to cancel is because she thinks it looks better to say nobody from your organization is attending two weeks in advance than to say someone is and then have that person not be able to go at the last minute.

            1. SCW*

              Also, the thing about calling in sick and saying you don’t know when you will be in is that the boss doesn’t want to send out an e-mail saying “Jane will be out of the office for an indefinite amount of time, your guess is as good as mine!” especially if you then come back the day after the e-mail. It is a catch-22. I had someone call in and say she wasn’t feeling well today and wouldn’t be in, and probably not tomorrow either. Now one part appreciates the notice, the other part thinks–“you have a cold, how do you know how you’ll feel tomorrow morning!” But that is the human reaction, the manager has to take it at face value, and figure out coverage.

              1. ES*

                “Now one part appreciates the notice, the other part thinks–”you have a cold, how do you know how you’ll feel tomorrow morning!””

                Really? When I’m pretty sick, I can usually tell when I’m starting to get better, when it’s heading downhill and when it’s up in the air. I feel like I can reasonably call (at least for standard things like colds) whether I’ll be able to make it into work the next day. Of course it’s not 100% certain until I wake up the next day, but I’m usually pretty spot-on about how I’m feeling. I don’t really see how that would be a red flag.

          4. Rana*

            I think that the key problem is not that your condition is serious or not. The problem is that for your boss, it is unpredictable.

            It’s hard enough to plan around an illness that may suddenly turn serious without warning if you’re the patient – and you have my sympathy for having to deal with it – but it’s also difficult when you’re having to make plans around someone else’s illness.

            Are you out for an appointment? An emergency? Will there be follow-ups? When are they scheduled? Will that schedule change? It doesn’t matter whether you’re at death’s door or just in for a regular, routine check-up: either way, you’re out of the office, and your boss doesn’t seem to have a good sense of when this is likely to happen. So trying to schedule something two weeks after a major crisis seems tricky at best; you’re saying that you feel better, and that you want to go… but how can you know that? How can your boss know that?

            From their perspective, your illness is mysterious – it takes you out of the office on a frequent, not-so-predictable basis, for unpredictable periods of time, with no prior warning – and you haven’t made much effort to make it less so. So why should they trust you this time when you say they shouldn’t worry about scheduling something in a couple of weeks?

            If you want their trust, you have to trust them in return, and that means giving up some of your privacy. If your privacy is more important to you, then this is the cost of it.

            1. S*

              Lmao IT’S THE FLU. Everybody gets it! Unpredictable my ass, of course it’s unpredictable that’s how the flu works! Same with colds. Learn to accept that people get the flu and be a better manager.

        3. Katie the Fed*

          Even if it was an ADA issue, not being allowed to go on a work trip is not an adverse action. If you’re going to bring a complaint, you have to have suffered some actual, you know, consequences. Hurt feelings are not an adverse action.

  26. Sandrine*

    Also, OP, only replying to people who are sympathetic does not paint the situation in a good light.

    I do not have a chronic illness myself, and I don’t even use the same system as I am in Europe. However, I *have* used a lot of sick leave over the past year because my health has started to deteriorate.

    While my boss is somewhat understanding, he can’t just wave a magic wand so everything goes as I want. I even had to ask *his* boss for a transfer and a shift change to work evenings since the issues were getting so bad my attendance started to sink.

    Am I pissed that I had to actually ask to leave my team (and my boss who is, after all, a nice guy, but to know that I had to communicate with him) ? Hell yeah.

    Do I actually understand why my boss isn’t so happy with me despite caring about the human side of things ? Yes to that, too.

    Your situation sure sucks, OP. That’s for sure. There’s nothing like being sick as heck, unable to get up or handle work tasks, and being made to feel like you’re guilty of some super bad thing.

    However, there is one thing that DOES sound off: if you know for certain that your Boss isn’t compassionate about X or Y and reacts a certain way when sh** happens, you *should* , in fact, have a plan for when sh** happens, even if it happens as often as you winning the lottery. In fact, in such circumstances I would plan for something so that, when I call for the first day I have to be out, all my boss has to do is click one link/forward one e-mail/somethinglikethat so that things are taken care of ASAP.

    I’m not going to blame you because you didn’t think of it. Dismissing people who don’t agree with the letter won’t help you, though. Try and see every response and respond to as much as you can.

    Yes, it can be painful. And hard to read at times, too. But you probably came to AAM for a reason. AAM readers NEVER try and bring someone down just for kicks. If they ever seem to “slam someone down” there’s usually a pretty good reason for it…

    1. OP*

      I am not responding to posts in which I’m being called a “drama llama” (see top of thread).

      I’m not dismissing comments, there are a lot of them to read and get through and I am reading them on my lunch break. Many of them are agreements, +1s, etc.

      Yes, I have considered that my boss’s hand has to be held in cases like this and I will consider doing something similar for the future, I appreciate your suggestion. When you are very sick you can barely think straight. What I was worried about was getting treatment and getting some relief.

      1. Joey*

        You would get a better outcome if you just put yourself in your managers shoes and thought about what information she would want. Your view seems to be that she should have more consideration for you and your situations. You can be much more helpful to her if you understand her main consideration is getting work done.

        An its very possible that your boss views the trip as a sort of perk. I know I’d be hesitant to send someone on a business trip if he’s been unreliable, is not helpful regarding the issue, and has generally been perturbed by reasonable actions I’ve taken.

    2. Amouse*

      I have to agree with this. OP even though I’m very sensitive to your situation and the way in which people choose to respond to you, I still do definitely think you need to take in every response (minus the drama llama-type ones) . I do think you need to see your boss’ side in this more and that you and your boss need to communicate better to find a solution.

      It does seem like you are doing that more as the thread goes on, which is great! I know it’s hard not to get defensive, but try not to. This community of commenters is very intelligent and experienced.

      1. OP*

        I am not sure what people are expecting from me regarding replies. I’m reading everything but if I don’t have a response, how do I reply? Is everyone expecting me to reply each and every comment with “good point” and “thank you”?

        Some of the comments to other comments have answered what the previous commenter was asking, so I didn’t think it was appropriate to add “agreed” or “yes” as a further reply. Right?

        Like all of the questions Alison posts on here, this is not a black and white case. The first reason I submitted my question here was to ask if it was my boss’s duty to do more while I was out on a medical emergency (the consensus is no, that she was perfectly in her right to leave all this work for me and not do anything in my absence, and while I can see this viewpoint now, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I am not going to argue with it.)

        The second reason was to inquire if there was anything I could do on the HR side if anything like this happens again. We have laws in this country supposedly protecting us from losing our jobs and from discrimination. I have chosen not to disclose my medical history to my boss. It is very easy to say “tell your boss about your chronic illness” if you yourself have never have one that you have needed to tell your boss. Despite the best laws, there is stigma, and you are treated differently. When I am healthy as can be for someone with a chronic illness, I can get my work done on time, and my illness is not an issue. This was a medical emergency and hospitalization that could have happened to anyone. It is unclear to me how disclosing my full medical history would have helped this situation.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think anyone is saying you should disclose your full medical history. You could, however, say “I have a chronic medical issue, which means I have more doctor’s appointments than many others. Is it possible for us to work something out so that I can make up the time?” or “I have a chronic medical issue, so on rare occasions, it can cause complications with other routine illnesses. Can we talk about a plan to cover for me if that happens?”

          Note that there are no medical details in there, and that you are proactively considering the business impact of your illness.

        2. -X-*

          OP – which do you think is more likely to hurt your job prospects?

          Telling your boss you’re likely to be out for the next 2-4 weeks due to medical problem, and then being out for the next 3 weeks. (assuming your doctors and you think 2-4 weeks is likely)


          Not telling your boss your boss how long you expect to be out, so she has no idea if it’s 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months, and then being out for 3 weeks.

          You need to ask yourself this question.

          PS – I don’t think anyone has said “tell your boss *about* your chronic illness” (emphasis mine). They have said “tell your boss that you “have an ongoing illness which means you might be out of work roughly X amount.” Those are not the same thing. The latter has almost no medical information in it. Please pay attention to this distinction. You’re making your situation worse by being secretive about how much you can be at work.

          EDIT – I see Colette wrote pretty much the same thing as in my PS.

        3. COT*

          OP, it kind if seems like you want it both ways. You want compassionate understanding of your extra sick-time needs, but you don’t want to tell anyone that you have extra sick-time needs.

          Yes, medical emergencies can happen to anyone and our employers have to accept that. But not everyone uses as much sick leave as you seem to, and so those people have more sick leave when emergency strikes. If you want your boss to be more understanding of why you’re in the red on your sick time and why you might have the occasional long absence (and how that may or may not impact your ability for travel)… you have to offer an explanation.

          If I had an employee with frequent unexplained absences for medical needs, planned or not, I’d be frustrated too. If that employee were proactive about mentioning a medical condition (without details) and developing a plan with me for working around doctors’ appointments, I’d be a lot more flexible and compassionate. To me, that would show a lot more strength and competence than refusing to disclose something significant that I could help accommodate if only they asked.

        4. KellyK*

          I’m pretty private about my health issues too, and I’m very aware that people will make judgments about people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. So I understand not wanting to talk about your illness at work. And I absolutely agree that you shouldn’t have to share your diagnosis or symptoms, or any of the personal stuff. But I don’t think anyone *here* is expecting you to.

          The problem is that people make judgments with the information they have, and if you don’t give them the relevant information, then those judgments are likely to be both wrong and negative. People on this thread thinking that a 103-degree fever isn’t that big a deal is a perfect example of that. You say you were hospitalized for the flu and a 103-degree fever, and people who don’t know that you have a chronic condition that makes those potentially life-threatening draw the wrong conclusions about you being in the hospital.

          If you *don’t* tell your boss that you have a chronic illness, and you just take random sick days for doctor’s appointments, it can create the impression that you call out every time you have a minor cold.

          I don’t think you need to disclose what it is. But you really need to be proactive about addressing any ways in which it affects your job or inconveniences your boss and coworkers.

        5. Katie the Fed*

          You didn’t lose your job, and you didn’t face discrimination. Not going on the work trip is not an adverse employment action. You have no basis for a complaint.

        6. BL*

          I have a chronic illness and have chosen to tell my boss and eventually my immediate coworkers about it. The nature of my condition is such that it generally doesn’t have an impact on my work, outside of more frequent doctors appointments. However, when it flares up, it can cause anything from daily disruptions to extended absences. I understand that sharing this information is a very personal decision but I often think it provides perspective to management and others you work with. You have to weigh the pros and cons but right now it sounds like the argument in favor of giving more information is based on your current experiences and the argument against is based on a past experience at a past employer.

  27. MA*

    Maybe the OP should investigate reasonable accommodation options if they are suffering from an underlying health condition that could qualify as a disability. A flexible or part-time schedule can work as an accommodation if the OP has a condition, like cancer, that may qualify as a disability. I’ve personally had co-workers who made such a request and it worked out well for our organization and for my co-workers while they were ill.

    A great resource is the job accommodation network. They have a really helpful website that covers types of disabilities and possible accommodations. I believe you can call to speak with their staff to ask more in depth questions about the ADA and accommodations.

    I’m in no way saying the OP is disabled or entitled to an accommodation or that a flexible schedule would even work for the OP’s office. That being said it seems like they have an ongoing, underlying health condition and it could be helpful to get some more information about their options.

    1. OP*

      My condition does not fall under disability – I have checked. Maybe when I am in an acute situation, things would be different, but it would only apply in those instances.

      I don’t have cancer or something that needs regular treatment that can be scheduled in advance. Unfortunately the nature of my chronic illness is that it waxes and wanes…and all I can do is take the best care of myself as I can, continue to see my doctors, etc. Unless I am missing something from what you wrote, I don’t think I can apply for disability or even a modified work schedule a if the situation is not acute and ongoing.

      1. fposte*

        It doesn’t have to be acute and ongoing to fall under the ADAAA, though–“An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active,” says the EEOC. When it flares up, does your illness limit a major life activity including but not limited to “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working”? It sounded like it did.

        Admittedly, I’m not clear on the whole sick days thing here. If you have no rollover and they start with the calendar year, then you could have gone in the red by being out three days even if you hadn’t taken a single day off since the 2009 incident, so maybe this is a totally isolated thing. But the way you’ve talked about the issue suggests that you have actually needed illness-related time off fairly regularly and that that’s not likely to stop soon. And your description suggests your manager is already unhappy with your time off, and if so, the soldiering on without anybody knowing about your struggles ship has sailed.

        Most of all, I really want to encourage you to think about *change*. Your responses here have been mostly resistant to doing anything other than what you’re doing, but you also sound pretty unhappy with the situation. I think you’re allowing your resentment of the manager to interfere on an “I shouldn’t have to” basis with reasonable steps you can take to improve your situation, and I hope when you feel more recovered you can reconsider the issue.

        1. OP*

          I will investigate disability further, since it sounds like it may cover more than I thought. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I honestly did not think I qualified. (To give you an example, the patient advocacy group for my illness has stated in seminars I’ve attended that people with my illness often have to enlist the aid of a lawyer to help them prove they have disability and deserve disability benefits. Since I can still work when I am well, it seemed impossible I would get anywhere with disability.)

          When you have lived with a chronic illness for as long as I have (nearly all my life), you will have some things that make you wary of who needs to know about your condition, what you are going to disclose, etc. Needless to say I have been some situations where I know without a doubt I was treated in a certain way because my condition had been disclosed, so I have needed to be very careful with what I will tell people.

          Thanks to the constructive, non-derogatory comments on this thread, I am now open to discussing with my boss the situation, since my assumption that in a medical emergency for anyone – not just me – my boss would step in, and now I know after an actual case and saw this didn’t happen, I will just have to put myself out there. I just wish it weren’t this way regarding chronic illness. I think anyone who has a chronic illness can relate to this: all we want to be is normal and to be treated like everyone else. As soon as the lid is off and you reveal you have a chronic illness, all bets are off.

          1. fposte*

            Aha, that’s what happened–you got cross-threaded with different meanings of the word “disability.” You’re talking there about SSDI, the Social Security payment for people whose disability prevents them from working. That’s a completely, totally, utterly different thing from qualifying for ADAAA protection, which is to support you so that you *can* work and to give you a legal backing in discussing accommodation with your employer. Different standards, different offices, different purposes.

            And while certainly people can be victims of discrimination if they have a chronic illness, the reasons to keep it to yourself are largely so people don’t think it will impact your attendance when it doesn’t. Yours *does* impact your attendance. Now the choices are just whether you frame it as needing more time than anybody else for God Knows Why, which does your rep a lot more damage, or frame it as a chronic illness that doesn’t usually interfere much with work but requires ongoing maintenance. I think the second one is going to serve you better.

            1. fposte*

              To be clear: I don’t actually know if your particular illness qualifies for ADAAA or not; it just sounded to me like the reasons you felt it didn’t weren’t correct and that it was worth more investigation before you dismissed something so helpful.

          2. Malissa*

            Just to clarify, there is a difference between disability to the point that you can collect benefits and disability that qualifies for accommodation under the ADA. The bar for ADA is much lower.

          3. Anon-for-this*

            “I think anyone who has a chronic illness can relate to this: all we want to be is normal and to be treated like everyone else.”

            I think a lot of people without chronic illnesses don’t realize just how different it is from being sick from time to time. It makes you constantly be on edge with regard to your health – I have RA and every ache I feel in a joint makes me fear that I am getting another flare where I won’t be able to move; every sniff makes me wonder if I caught a cold because a co-worker came in sick and my immune system is weakened by medication. When I tell people and then they ask me how I am because I am limping a bit or something, I wonder whether they think I can’t perform my job or are annoyed because they think I’ll soon be off work sick.

            I actually don’t want to be treated like everyone else. I have a chronic illness and I want that to be accommodated so I can continue to be able to work. Because the constant fear of not being able to work, the fear of not being able to live my life as I want to live it – it gets to me, and I suppose it gets to many other chronically ill people as well. It’s not like having the flu once a year, or even like having a cold 5 times a year.

            I would like to *be* “normal”, though. But I wasn’t asked whether I wanted to get rheumatoid arthritis at the ripe old age of… 24.

            1. Kettle Pot*

              I have RA too,.but first it was JRA. I was diagnosed at 9, so I feel your pain…literally! People find that hard to believe. I’ve had people all but call me a liar to my face. I guess I’ve been dealing with it so long, I just deal with it. I have to be pretty sick to miss work.

      2. MA*

        I wasn’t suggesting that you apply for disability (the federal program that provides monthly payments to individuals who are unable to work due to a disability). But I was suggesting that you may want to get more information about a reasonable accommodation request. I suggested the Job Accommodation Network because they have a wealth of resources and could give you more guidance about whether or not this would work for your situation (it very well may not, but it doesn’t hurt to just visit their website).

        If the real issue is a conflict with your supervisor a reasonable accommodation request (even if it applies) is not going to fix things. And if you truly don’t like your manager, then maybe its time to consider your options. I’ve had some bad managers (ones who were even fired because they were so bad), but I always find its helpful to step back and think about your role in the conflict and how you could improve the overall dynamic. To be honest, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome (and I say that as someone who is sympathetic to dealing with a medical issue in the workplace).

        1. MA*

          I’m not trying to sound harsh. I’m just speaking from experiences where I had conflicts and later regretted not taking the time to step back and objectively look at the situation and my own actions.

  28. Lils*

    If this were me, I’d want to hear this, even if it made my ears burn. I’m sorry if it sounds harsh.

    Aside from the details about FMLA and sick leave and what your boss did or did not do to help you, it sounds like you need to step back, get some perspective, and change your attitude.

    Your letter comes off as if written by someone who has a very high opinion of their own talents and importance and a low opinion of everyone else’s. If this attitude comes off when you’re dealing with your boss and colleagues, I am not surprised that your boss feels exasperated with you and maybe unwilling to go above and beyond. I don’t believe it’s ok to act like the diva of the office, even if you *are* the smartest person in the room. If I were your boss or friend, I’d remind you make sure you’re behaving as if you’re a member of the team.

    There is a concept called “managing up” in which it becomes your job to help your boss do her job to the best of her ability. If your boss is disorganized, make it your job to help her avoid problems. I like the suggestion by many others above that you plan ahead for future unexpected absences–live by the principle of “if I get hit by a bus”…leave documentation about your work so that others can help you when you’re out of the office.

    My $0.02…

    1. Elle*

      Based on the comments she has made in the thread, it seems like the LW thinks that an illness is some sort of magic trump card against natural consequences. She THINKS she doesn’t have to tell her boss when she is likely to be back in office. She doesn’t have to set an out of office. Other people in the office should be assigned her tasks (for ever? just because?) She should be allowed to pick and choose her work.

      To be even harsher, if I were the LW’s manager, I’d be building a case against her to manage her out of the organization and my guess is that I’d succeed.

      1. AMG*

        Exactly. I have worked at a few places where they would be doing everything they could to get rid of her. Including–but not the least of which–would be not doling out sympathy. I’ve seen others managed out by heaping work onto one person and not the others–easiest and most effective way to get someone out.

        1. SW*

          I generally agree with you and Elle, but:

          “I’ve seen others managed out by heaping work onto one person and not the others–easiest and most effective way to get someone out.”

          What? That’s horrible.

          If a supervisor has to resort to such unfair tactics to fire someone, maybe they should rethink why they want to fire them in the first place.

          1. AMG*

            It’s absolutely horrible. But if someone is simply a problem child or high maintenance, it’s better than taking 6-9 months to document everything to the point where it’s almost a part time job.

            I was laid off recently for reporting SOX and harassment violations, then found the company tens of millions of dollars as a result of the investigation. My thanks? Laid off, since I was a ‘liability’. It happens.

            1. fposte*

              No, it’s not better. It’s sleazy and unprofessional and outright bad managing. I’m not surprised that a company who did that also laid off a whistleblower.

              1. AMG*

                I agree–point of clarification: It is easier for the manager to lay the person off than put all of the documentation and effort into getting them fired, and HR supports it.

  29. ES*

    I feel for the OP, as I’ve been in similar situations. However, I definitely don’t understand not being open with your boss about what’s truly going on. I’m not saying the boss should get every single detail or symptom, but being upfront about it would go a long way towards building trust and understanding. If you’re worried about privacy, by all means directly ask the boss not to mention the specifics to anyone else, but I still think it’s worth telling the boss.

    I hate how we live in a culture where medical issues are often considered shameful and something to be hidden. I personally am pretty open about any health issues (minus gross details) – I didn’t cause them or ask for them, so why should I be ashamed?

      1. ES*

        Seriously! I’m lucky because my workplace has pretty generous amounts of leave that they give us (the trade-off for many other crappy things we have to deal with). I wish everyone had that much, because even though I know there are people out there who can get by on three days a year, there are others who just can’t. I feel like this all goes back to that sick leave post from a few weeks ago…sick leave issues seem to really polarize people!

  30. Lulula*

    Having worked in situations where I had zero backup and was still having to attempt work under difficult (103 degree fever etc) scenarios, as well as having less serious chronic conditions that require lots of dr appt’s, I do have some sympathy for the OP’s position. I also worked in an environment where there was rarely an “acceptable” reason to be out sick, including actual sickness. Yes, business needs to get done, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t getting much great work done when I felt wretched and couldn’t stay awake for more than 20 min at a time… I feel like our society doesn’t make many allowances for the variety of responses to illness: yes, one person may be stoic or strong enough to push through a serious illness, another is completely knocked out by the same thing. We don’t all have the same physiology.

    It’s also tough having a chronic condition – I know many people who never go to the doctor, whereas health insurance and flexibility are the 2 top requirements for anywhere I work, unfortunately. It really impacts a lot of my choices. People with no health problems (or loved ones with them) seem to have limited sympathy in general for those of us who are less robust. It also means that while we may have similar ambitions and expectations to people who aren’t coping with the same issues, we may have to accept that there are pragmatic limitations to what we can take on. That can be a difficult/bitter pill.

    OP I understand you’ve had some privacy issues in the past, but I really feel like you need to be somewhat open with your manager about what’s going on, at least in general (i.e. you’re managing a serious chronic condition). Otherwise, they’re much more likely to assume you’re just out a lot because you’re a slacker. And if there’s any way you can look into a flexible schedule vs sick time, as others have suggested, that sounds like a good plan as well.

    You may also just need to re-evaluate expectations of what you can do right now – sure you may want to be the go-to person on everything, but the reality is you’re not doing your health any favors by pushing yourself, or your career any favors by over-committing. Even if it doesn’t impact you daily, it obviously impacts the workflow frequently enough that it’s an issue. You may not get much more sympathy from this boss by being more open – they are still apt to be frustrated by interruptions to business – but at least they won’t think you’re just being erratic in your work habits &/or flaky.

    It really is tough to try to be successful & a “good employee” when health issues conspire against you, despite your best efforts. (I would certainly rather not feel like crap all the time and spend a chunk of my income on medical expenses!) All you can do is accept the framework you’re dealing with, and try to set things up as best you can within that, unfortunately. OP, sounds like you’re burnt out on trying to manage chronic illness, serious acute illness, and being a high performer at work while not getting much support – I hope you can take some of this FMLA time to just rest a bit, if nothing else.

    1. -X-*

      “People with no health problems (or loved ones with them) seem to have limited sympathy in general for those of us who are less robust. ”

      This is a rather broad brush.

      1. Lulula*

        Perhaps I should have inserted the qualifier “many” – I certainly don’t mean EVERYONE, but I encounter plenty of people who don’t understand why benefits would be an issue, or someone might frequently need to have an afternoon off for a medical appointment, or need more than 5 hours of sleep a night, or not start your own business while running marathons on the weekend… I think as a culture based on free-will, we like to think individuals have control over all aspects of their lives and it’s easy to see many issues as merely a reflection of lack of will-power. I’m sure my POV is also colored by working for extremely stoic bosses & in unforgiving industries, of course.; just having bad allergies has been an uphill battle. So I will belatedly add a massive Thank You to all those who are kinder in their judgements :) And hope I work for/with you in the future!

      2. Esra*

        I think for a lot of healthy people, dealing with those of us with chronic illness tends to get… I guess tiring after a while. You tend to get a lot of “You’re sick again, really?” after a while, because more people are used to these issues being a temporary thing.

        1. Jamie*

          I don’t know. I wasn’t employed when I was caring for my mom during her battle with cancer – so when I hear of anyone trying to provide care for a loved on and juggling the pressures of work my heart breaks because I truly don’t know how I would have done that. We’ve had a couple of instances of co-workers caring for ailing relatives or having cancer themselves and I can honestly say that I never heard one snarky word about it …and from a bunch of stressed and overworked people like us that’s saying something.

          Even when it goes on for a couple of years I was always happy to help manage things here so they could take the day or leave early, come in late, whatever. And we all felt that way.

          However, to the person all of these people did everything in their power to make it as easy as possible for those picking up for them – clear communication, etc. – and they worked really hard in doing as much as they could so there wouldn’t be any more slack to pick up than necessary.

          I think that a lot of this has to do with management. For us tptb were always willing to discuss when the workload was reaching a tipping point and restructuring some tasks, re-prioritizing, etc. It was a juggling act sometimes, but when everyone is working with the right motivations – getting shit done while allowing people the time to deal with medical issues in a humane way – it’s workable.

          1. Anonymous*

            I took care of both my parents during their final illnesses (one stroke; one cancer) while working FT. Fortunately, systems analysts’ positions are somewhat flexible, and my manager in both cases didn’t care if I was telecommuting from the moon as long as the software releases went in on time and the artifacts were all signed off. I attended a lot of meetings sitting on the floor in hospital corridors with paperwork spread around me doing walk-throughs with no access to webex. Burnt a lot of midnight oil, too.

        2. S*

          That’s their fault, not ours. There’s science and biology backing us up on why we are sick and if they can’t accept that…cough on them!

  31. A Nonny Mouse*

    My old manager was fantastic about my sick time. He had small kids and, although he cared about me too, his priority was not bringing home flu viruses that would infect his kids. So if I so much as sneezed, he’d send me home. I can remember twice where I couldn’t actually make a call-in myself – once was laryngitis where I literally had no ability to speak (so I sent my boss a text instead, which he appreciated), and another time was when I was in the hospital on IV drugs for a cluster headache and since it was morphine, there was no way I could make a phone call – I could barely say my own name! My fiancee ended up making the call, and again, my boss was happier to hear from someone else than to hear nothing from me.

    As to the OP’s question, OP, I do feel for you with your illnesses. I suffer from debilitating cluster headaches and frequently can’t get out of bed when I get them, much less function at work. However, your boss has to do what s/he has to do to keep the business running, and if that involves reprioritizing your work or keeping you from a business trip, unfortunately, that’s business. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means that they are running a business.

    When you’re better, I suggest sitting down with your boss and asking what you need to do to catch up and maybe there’s a way you can work from home while you’re out sick? I know it’s not ideal, working while you feel like crap, but even if my boss doesn’t expect me to, sometimes I will just login to email to clear things out and get a better picture of what’s heading my way when I’m back.

  32. Limon*

    Wow! what alot of strong comments all around.

    I don’t have any answers and can only say that as someone who is currently unemployed and looking for work, it is no fun. But it is a very good time for me to look at myself and my own behavior and think about what I could or would do differently. How have I been at fault? how has my attitude been the problem? Now having all the time in the world I can definitely see where I could have acted differently and not been so self-absorbed.

    You know, when you have a job it is easy to see all the things you don’t like or whatever. You can lose your gratitude. Not having a job and looking hard for one, you can equally see how it’s not about you and all you’re asked to do is show up and get the work done, and have a good attitude. Don’t be irritating to others and try and make life better for those around you. Pretty simple, really.

    OP, think of this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the work world. In a quiet moment, go back and read through these comments and see if they fit in your heart. Be honest, what do you have to lose? You wrote in here looking for help, take what has been given. Then make those changes in your life.

    Good luck!

    1. Jean*

      From another person making the journey from unemployment to employment: Thank you the reminder me that the job search also offers the possibility of self-reflection and growth. Does my behavior really support my stated priorities? If the two don’t match, something needs to change.

      Limon and OP, I wish you both well in finding a good path to travel.

  33. Anonymous*

    Any initial sympathy I had for the OP has drained away as I read their followup comments. I can’t even imagine how the boss and co-workers feel working with this person. Wow.

  34. JW*

    One thing I might add, that I haven’t really seen here yet, is that OP made it clear she really needs this job, so maybe we need to be a little more cautious about treating FMLA like it’s a magical shield that will protect everything. We might like it to work that way or maybe even it’s supposed to, but in real life, there can be many more shades of gray. An employer can’t fire you in retaliation for exercising your FMLA rights or discriminate against you for doing so, but if you work in an at-will state, they can fire you for any other reason under the sun (as long as it’s not otherwise protected — race, gender, etc.) And as alison always adds (again, maybe depending on the state): they can treat your sick leave however they want b/c you’re not entitled to any. ) And too, as a few commenters have pointed out, it’s a two way statute — the employee availing him/herself of leave also can have a bunch of duties too, like complying with her employer’s notification policy, even if it means calling in every day; resubmitting paperwork every couple of weeks; etc. Obviously, it depends on the state in which you’re working, and once you’re on notice some employers will be scared of doing anything (even for great cause), but others won’t, and the one thing we see here over and over is how much tougher it is to get a job when you’re unemployed, particularly if your old boss wouldn’t give you a great reference (and it sounds like the OP has been through a few jobs, so that could be a cumulative problem).

    Anyway, I know the discussion was more about what’s “fair” (not really my place to weigh in) or what you’re “entitled to” under the FMLA/ADA, but I just wanted to sound a note of caution that the default rules are seldom perfect fairness (certainly not in employment) and even getting what you’re “entitled to” get can be a Pyrrhic victory.

  35. SW*

    I know illness sucks — I used to work at an office where people blamed you for being sick. But it’s your manager’s job to manage, not coddle. I’m not sure why you think your illness means your boss HAS to do your job for you. If your boss thinks the tasks aren’t time-sensitive, she’s within reason to just let them sit until you come back. She even offered to help reprioritize. And given your frequent absences and other behaviors you’ve mentioned (like how you refused to give an estimate for how long you’d be out, instead calling in sick one day at a time), I can’t blame your boss for being frustrated. Like Alison said, you can have the most valid reason possible, but that won’t change the fact that you’re not working when they need you to. And that there’s work to be done when you come back.

    Also: it’s possible that when your coworkers say they’re too busy to do your tasks for you, they may actually be too busy.

    If you feel this job is your only option, it’ll be a lot more manageable for you if you stop taking every decision your boss makes so personally. Try to have a sense of detachment and understand the business side of it. Your job will only suck more if you try harder to hate your boss.

  36. anon-2*

    Another chapter to be included in my future “Dinner Table Stories” collection.

    I once worked in a computer operations setting and was the supervisor. One guy was not in the best of health – he had been sick, but had been threatened if he used more sick time.

    So, I’m working with him. He’s coughing, literally almost turning blue. I ordered him home. No one dies on my shift.

    I asked him – did he have a doctor? NO. I referred him to several – “drop my name, I know these docs”.

    Monday I get called in by the manager for an a**whipping. For sending him home. Now, as the chewing out is proceeding, the phone rings. It’s my worker’s wife. She talks with our manager. He had blood clots in his lungs. Walking pneumonia. He would be in the hospital at least a week and it would probably be another month before he could return to work.

    So I turn to the manager “you were sayin’????”

  37. PPK*

    Most of what the OP says sounds like I would expect at my job. Except having one’s mother yelled at.

    I’m quite sure that at my job, my boss would not change my email or voice mail. They would just handle things as they came up (aka, when someone CC’d or otherwise asked my manager). Around here, if you can’t track someone down, you start asking around if they’re at work or not. We work with remote teams, but we don’t always share vacation calendars across teams. Things would only be re-assigned as necessary. Is it so important that it’s on fire? Okay, then get someone else on it. Otherwise stuff is generally left for when you return (much to my disappointment sometimes!).

    I’m also fairly sure that if I called in from the hospital for a couple of days, they would rethink sending me on an upcoming trip. Although most of our travel is slap dash at the last moment, so I could be wrong here.

    When we do priorities, it’s most about picking the next most important thing to work on — not things to give away. Actually, it’s nearly impossible to give something away once you’ve touched it (which is a ongoing joke in itself…if you look at some thing then you touched it last and now you are the “expert”).

    1. JT*

      Can a boss even change an email response or voicemail message? I think in most cases those have passwords. Perhaps IT could override those (probably by re-setting the passwords), but it’s not something someone can just do without knowing the user’s login info.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        I’m sure it could be done. I know they’ve gotten into people’s email here after a death. Phone is probably easier depending on the system you have. But in our culture, IT does not generally go in and change people’s vmail or email away messages without it being something major.

        I’ve gone back and forth about replying to this. I’ve been on both sides of the table. I have suffered from severe bouts of infectious illnesses. Flu, real flu, is not a 24-48 deal. It knocks you down and leaves you for dead, and if you have a compromised immune system? Yeah, not good. So I get it.

        On the other hand, when you’re on the other end and people are calling in and give no expectation of when they’ll be back? That’s not considerate. I am respectful of an ill coworker’s privacy, but asking for some sense of when they might be back or when they might know when they’ll be back is not an unreasonable request.

        I think, if I were you, OP, I would try and do as Alison has counseled.

    2. Cassie*

      I don’t think it would even occur to my boss that an out of office should be set up on my email or voicemail.

  38. cncx*

    This letter makes me think this is the most recent in a long line of illness- or drama-related absence from work and that the supervisor is just over it. Everything here screams precedent and maybe how things were handled the last 10 times is coloring perception on both sides, or at least the side of the OP, of what are, as Alison put, reasonably small issues.

  39. Ariancita*

    Off topic, but I want to thank Alison and all the commenters on this. I’m currently butting heads with my manger and feeling frustrated, and all these posts have reminded me to take a step back, stop taking it personally, and reevaluate my expectations. Taking an honest look at what I’m bringing to the table during this struggle, I realize I could be doing a lot better. So thanks for the reminder! This was very timely for me. Apologies to the OP for hijacking.

  40. Cat*

    Just to add, I work on an IT Service Desk and when a person is off sick, a call gets logged by HR and we set their out of office.

    1. Anonymous*

      I really think that depends on the company size and structure. I’ve never had anyone update my e-mail or voicemail for me when I’ve been ill, and (surprisingly) the sky didn’t fall. The OP’s workpalce is a bit hard to figure out – it’s a small non-profit, so I wouldn’t expect an IT desk (or even an IT department) but if it’s eligible for FMLA is can’t be that small. Hmm!

      Oddly enough the ceiling didn’t fall when I went on vacation. Now that was a shocker!

  41. XT*

    My first initial reaction to the OP was similar to many of the pretty harsh comments. Thankfully before responding with anything similarly snarky (yes I did think originally it seemed that they were replying only to the not-super-informative-or-helpful sympathy comments) I did read through the comments and saw some good advice and that the OP did learn at least from the business/managerial side they gleaned some advice too. I’m happy they gleaned useful information, as I’ve seen much worse people on here (IE: the woman whose husband quit her job for her…anyone remember that?) who were just looking for people to agree with them and then became rude and belligerent when they found the opposite when they were far from correct in their rationalizations. I don’t think that is the case with this OP, and I’m happy that they were able to consider confronting the manager with at least a few details and willing to compromise to make the situation better for those involved. I’ve known people who have tried to cheat the system and I’ve known people who actually had debilitating illnesses who had worked around them and figured out a common ground so the work got done regardless.

    On another note: I have worked for a company before whose policy was no paid sick days, and a doctors note was REQUIRED if calling out sick, and someone had to cover the shift. It also paid minimum wage, no benefits, so basically the person would have to pay $$ to get out of working when they had a common cold or flu- something not requiring a doctors visit but certainly a liable excuse for not working…and I asked lawyers if this policy was even legal. My answer was YES. My solution: I found a job in the healthcare industry :) I love it!!

  42. SF*

    Sorry that you had to endure that. I went through a similar situation back in June 2012. I had to be immediately hosptilized due to walking pneumonia(which I caught at work). The weeks prior to me being extremely sick, none of my managers felt it was okay or safe for me to take time off and get myself checked out in a clinic. While I was in the hospital, I kept my immediate supervisor abreast of the situation everyday during the mornings and late afternoons. However, unbeknownst to me, there were some changes made in my absence which states that an employee does not inform their immediate supervisor, but instead the Manager. Upon my release from the hospital, I again informed my supervisor that my doctor instructed that I stay out from work another two weeks because of the coughing and I was still highly contagious, but she neglected to inform me of the changes. When I arrived back to work I was informed that I was not put on the schedule because nobody was informed that I was hospitilazed with walking pneumonia. I was then told that in order for me to get back on the schedule is to call and/or write a letter to the manager. In other words admit to any and all wrongdoing(that I was not aare of) and ask that I be put on the schedule.

    After being given the run-around for a full week. I was then put back on schedule and allowed to return work. I even submitted hospital relaease documents as well as my doctor’s notices. In November of the same year, I was let go of my duties and given a simple “there are budget cuts being made” excuse. I honestly felt that it was sort of a personal vendetta on their part.

    On a side note: During the week of waiting, I emailed my spervisor asking her why she hade never informed me of the changes nor informed the manager that I was hospitalized. It turns out, she has never responded to my letter or even offered an apology.

  43. Kat*

    I feel bad for OP. Sounds like your boss is going to start writing you up for performance issues and fire you. This is how they get rid of people with people on fmla. Tons of work, no way one person could do and no help. I have rheumatoid arthritis and I’m on fmla it can be rough. My immune system is compromised and 103 fever is very serious! God bless, hope everything works out. To all you blessed healthy people shame on you.

  44. Joy Palos*

    As a manager I would not have responded in the same way her manager did. Yes, work is stopped, changes need to be made, but this is a human being we are talking about. Part of what is wrong with the world today is so much focus on the dollar, and putting it ahead of your employee.
    My family worked for a great man. He had a factory that offered all the benefits that are offered in this day and age, back in the 70’s. Plus he gave each factory employee ham and turkey for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Birthdays off with pay, cost of living raises, merit raises, and Christmas bonuses. Topped off with he paid for their health insurance, as well as dental, including children’s braces!
    This was unheard of in factory work in the 70’s.
    He started the day going around to each worker every morning and saying good morning and asking about their family.
    Once, in the 80’s, the safety guy was not thinking straight and ordered a forklift gas powered to use indoors, while the other one was repaired. After working half the day in the building, people started saying they didn’t feel good. When break time came, they opened the doors to go outside, and started collapsing from the carbon monoxide poisoning.
    They were rushed to the ER, one was pregnant. They all had carbon monoxide poisoning.
    Not one person sued or even attempted to sue that company. Not one person left that company. They all still work there today.
    Because they are a great team.
    I never ask any of my folks why they are out, but always ask if there is anything any of us can do for you while you are out? I ask that they will call me if they needanything at all. I tell them just worry about you, we have this taken care of.
    We all pitch in to help keep the work load down as much as possible.
    I have never had anyone use all of their sick days except once, when an employee had cance. Everybody gave their sick time over to her and her father that worked here too. So she could use it and he could too. After FMLA ran out.
    I think this person is a sensitive person, but I find they can make some of the best and most loyal people to work with.
    I think in this case, the manager is perhaps abrasive, maybe not. But the OP feels tension and discomfort rather than support. Support grows a strong team, tension send discomfort grows anxiety.
    By the way, if this person has a chronically compromised immune system, antibiotics may be given in any situation to help her, and a 103 temp could be very serious if your body had little immune.
    I certainly hope none of you ever learn this first hand, by yourself or a loved one.
    And under no circumstances would it ever be professional to speak rudely to an employee’s family member. You shouldn’t be rude to your employee for that matter.

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