new assistant already missed work her third day on the job

A reader writes:

I have just hired a part-time administrative assistant that started on Monday. She works for us in the morning and cares for her mother in the afternoon. This morning, I recevied an email from her stating she was unable to come in today because of something she needed to help her mother with. While I sympathize as I’m sure caring for an ailing mother is not an easy undertaking, I’m not at all excited about her calling in after only two days on the job.

Should I address this with her tomorrow morning when she arrives or wait to see if this is an isolated incident? Also, any suggestions on how I talk to her about this? I need to communicate to her that I need reliable people on my team and right now, I’m uncertain she is a reliable team member.

You should probably talk with her.

While it’s certainly true that emergencies can come up during your first week on the job, most people are mortified when they do — because they know that they’re still proving themselves, that it’s not a great idea to miss work during your first week, and that an employer is likely to have exactly the worries that you’re having. So most people in this situation will stress that they’re mortified, that this is out of character, etc. — they won’t sound cavalier or matter-of-fact about it.

The fact that your employee didn’t handle it that way — it sounds like her email was pretty matter of fact — is much more troubling than the fact that she had to take the morning off. After all, you’d probably be having a much different reaction if she’d called you rather than emailed, sounded mortified, and assured you this wouldn’t be a regular thing, right? (You’d still probably be a little concerned because that’s human nature when you don’t yet have a ton of data points on someone, but you probably wouldn’t be quite as uneasy as you are now.)

So, while you could certainly wait and see if there are other problems, the way she handled this strongly suggests that there are going to be other problems, and so it’s worth talking with her when she’s back tomorrow.

I’d start by asking her if everything is okay, because that’s a kind thing to do in this context, and then say something like this: “I realize that sometimes things come up and it’s just bad timing, but because we so rarely have people miss work in their first week — their first month, really — I want to make sure that the scheduling needs of this role are going to work for you going forward. I want to be up-front with you that I generally need the person in your role to be here every day, unless it’s pre-planned vacation time or a very rare absence that can’t be planned, such as sickness. We can’t easily accommodate more than a few unplanned absences per year. And again, I realize that on occasion something will come up, and sometimes it’ll have the bad timing to do it during someone’s first week, but since we’re just starting to work together, I wanted to raise this and make sure it works for you.”

Make sure to use a kind and sympathetic tone during this conversation. If she’s truly a conscientious employee who just had bad luck during her first week, you shouldn’t come down hard on her, and keeping your tone kind can help with that. And if she’s not really a conscientious employee, using a kind tone isn’t going to detract from the substance of the message.

But here’s the thing: If she’s not an especially conscientious employee and therefore needs to hear this message, it’s already over. There are going to be more problems with reliability and more problems with work ethic (and maybe other problems too, like quality of work, because they often — although not always — go hand in hand).

So why have this conversation at all then? Why not just wait and see if those other problems appear and address it then (by letting her go and hiring someone better)? You could — that’s one option. But by addressing it up-front now, you’re making your expectations clear and ensuring that you won’t be starting from scratch the next time there’s a problem. If she’s not the right employee for you, then you want to end this as soon as possible before you’ve invested more time in training, etc., and by having this conversation now, you’re setting the stage for moving quickly in the next few weeks if you continue to see problems. (Plus, it’s possible that this conversation could lead to her deciding on her own that it’s not the right fit.)

And if she is a conscientious employee and this was really a legitimate emergency that isn’t indicative of a problem with her work ethic or reliability, she’s going to understand why you’re raising this. (That said, you still might make a point of being particularly kind and welcoming to her the rest of the week so that she doesn’t feel misunderstood or like she’s been chastised and sent to the corner, because a conscientious person will be wondering if she’s just ruined her standing in your eyes. So show her that she hasn’t.)

If I had to bet money on the most likely outcome, I’d say this isn’t going to end well and you should be preparing yourself for that … but that’s not a guarantee and it’s possible that she’s a conscientious person with one piece of bad luck. This approach accounts for both, but you’ll know soon enough which you’re dealing with. Good luck.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

  1. some1*

    I’m not a manager, but I the one thing I find suspicious is the vague wording of “need to help my mother with something”. Yeah, the LW knows the mother is sick, but if I had to call in on my 3rd day, I’d at least say something like, “my mom has a daily medical procedure that I need to assist with” (if it was something people don’t want to hear about). And I would apologize profusely.

    Also, did the LW agree that email is an acceptable form of communication if you are calling in? Some places I have worked insist on getting a phone call. Even if my manager told me emailing was ok, I would have stilled called & left a VM if I had to, because I haven’t proven myself yet.

    1. A Bug!*

      I agree with the need to be deeply apologetic and very embarrassed at having to call out in the first week, but I don’t think the lack of detail is suspicious. The employee’s entitled to keep personal details personal, especially when those personal details are actually her mother’s and not her own. It’s up to the employee if she wants to share more information but I don’t think choosing not to is a red flag.

      1. some1*

        I wouldn’t divulge personal medical info about my mom, either. But if I was calling in because I needed to “help” her I’d certainly make it clear that it’s not because I need to help her unload the dishwasher. The LW has no info beyond that the mom is ailing and the employee hasn’t been there long enough to imply when it comes to her mom, it’s necessary that she be out.

        1. KellyK*

          Yeah, exactly. You should be able to mention that it’s serious without giving out private medical information.

      2. Colette*

        I think there’s a difference between “My mother is sick & I need to take her to the hospital” and “My mother wants to go grocery shopping” – but both are covered by “I need to help my mother with something”.

        I definitely think that the employee should have been clear that the reason they missed work was actually something reasonable to miss work for if she didn’t want to raise red flags – and in order to do that, a bit more detail is necessary.

        1. Lisa*

          It may be that the mother just needs to be taken to a doctor’s appt, and she never told her daughter that until that day. Some people forget that you can’t just drop everything, just cause you have always done it in the past. The mother needs to realize that she can’t have help during those times. OP needs tell the worker that she must be there during the agreed times; however, will understand if their is an emergency. If there are constant emergencies, then they will revisit her ability to work for the company. Nip it in the bud now.

          I feel bad for the girl though, she is prob the only one able to help her mother no matter what. My mom is the last stop for all nana/papa requests, and it sucks the life out of her since they have constant appts, and need help with daily tasks like washing, and cooking too. The kid needs some boundaries with her mom, ‘can it wait?’ if its not an emergency and the old hag just wants to go shopping and needs a ride / chaperone, then she needs to speak up for herself that work comes before mommy’s extra activities.

          1. Anon*

            Seriously “the old hag”? We know nothing about either the employee that missed work or her mother, beyond the fact that former cares for the latter. That hardly makes the mother an “old hag”! It’s just as likely that the reason the employee missed work was taking the mother to an emergency medical appointment as it is she missed work for anything less important.

            I’ve been a full-time carer, I know what that entails, but it doesn’t make it impossible to hold down a part-time job reliably, and it certainly doesn’t mean the person being cared for takes advantage of the carer’s time in the ways you suggest. While the timing is unfortunate, the employee the OP is asking about has only missed one day of work. I agree with Alison’s advice, but I don’t think the OP should be reading anywhere near as much into the situation as you have. Approach the conversation with just the facts in mind, not guesses about how the employee feels about being a carer or whether her mother is an “old hag”.

            1. Anonymous*

              I really enjoy the civil nature of the discussions here, but lately it seems that people are looking for opportunities to jump at any slightly off-color phrase. Why can’t we all just get along :)

              1. Anon*

                I don’t think my response was uncivil. Calling someone an “old hag” is not “slightly off-color” in my opinion, but downright rude. My point, though, was that the OP should be careful not make judgements beyond what she knows about the situations. This employee has been there three days, the OP likely doesn’t know much beyond the fact that the employee is carer for her mother and missed work for some reason related to that role.

              2. Lily in NYC*

                As someone who is caring for a terminally ill parent, I am very happy that Anon took a stand about the “old hag” comment. It’s rude and a huge assumption.

                1. Jazzy Red*


                  That comment was insulting and uncalled for.

                  Lisa, I hope you have someone to help you out when you’re old and can’t do things for yourself, and who won’t call you insulting names.

          2. Colette*

            We don’t know if the mother is expecting too much or if it was a real emergency situation – all I’m suggesting is that the employer will be more inclined to give the employee the benefit of the doubt if she shares enough information to make it clear it was an emergency (and if this truly is a rare occurrence).

          3. Yvi*

            “The kid needs some boundaries with her mom, ‘can it wait?’ if its not an emergency and the old hag just wants to go shopping and needs a ride / chaperone, then she needs to speak up for herself that work comes before mommy’s extra activities.”

            Wow, you are projecting a lot into a situation you know nothing about.

            Also, “girl” and “kid”? You have no idea about the age of the participants here.

            1. Lisa*

              You are right, I am assuming too much here. I am projecting my own situation onto the OP. ‘Old hag’ is bad choice of words, but I still think OP is getting a raw deal, which led to my poor choice of words. When I saw PT, it made me think it was someone just of college for some reason. I don’t think Anon was uncivil, she is fine to call me out for being curt. These comments are meant for diff opinions, mine just happens to project that this person is most likely the last-stop for helping her mother with anything. Regardless of what was needed the day she emailed out. I do project too much, since I have cared for several elderly relatives until their deaths and watched others treat my mom like crap simply because she is the only one that always says yes. Some of them were mean spirited and resentful for needing the help. For my nana, its as – You are my kid, you MUST be at my beck and call., I gave birth to you…etc. I can’t help but project that OP is dealing with someone that expects her to drop everything regardless of whether its an emergency / dr appt or something that could have waited like shopping or a hair appt. Most people would say: my mom had a bad night and I can’t leave her alone or she had a medical thing that I needed to help with. since she didn’t it doesn’t sound like an emergency or situation that OP couldn’t avoid. So yea I projected that it wasn’t an emergency too. Too many times, I have been called home from work to my grandmother screaming / upset / crying and show up to be told, can you move that box for me. Eldercare is rough and draining, I feel for OP, but it came off badly. Sorry.

              1. IronMaiden*

                Lisa, don’t feel to bad about your vent. It sounds to me like you are experiencing carer stress. Eldercare is hard and often thankless, and it is difficult to establish and maintain boundaries with older family members who often feel entitiled to your undivided attention. Please make sure that you ahve some time out, just for you, so you can relax and recharge. Take care.

    2. pws*

      Agreed that the lack of detail in and of itself wasn’t overly suspicious. But the implied lack of any obvious apology or mortification is much more telling.

      And maybe it’s because I’m younger, but I don’t necessarily see an issue using email to notify a manager of an absence. Most people I know are more apt to check their email first before checking their phones. Then there is the issue of whether you’d be calling the office phone, or a personal cell phone. If this was in the morning before the work day started or even the evening before, an email may have been a better choice in ensuring the manager would be notified well before the work day begun.

      I do realize since this is only the assistant’s third day on the job, they probably should have tried WAY harder, but taking the letter at face value, I’m not seeing the same trouble employee signs that everyone else is seeing. Hopefully this ends up being just an isolated incident and not indicative of her long-term reliability and performance…but if not, at least you’re going to find out a lot sooner rather than later!

      1. some1*

        I am in my early 30’s and I don’t have an issue with email, either, but a lot of managers I have had do. (& I’ve never had attendance issues).

      2. Elizabeth*

        If I’m going to be out unexpectedly, for illness or some other emergency, I first call and then email if I didn’t reach anyone. I’m expected to call my boss’s personal phone, but that’s mostly because my job (teacher) requires someone finding a replacement for me for the day when I’m sick. If that weren’t the case, I’d probably call the office phone, leave a voicemail, and then send an email.

      3. Kelly O*

        I’ll just add that, since it was only the third day on the job, I might have sent an email early in the day, but would DEFINITELY have called and spoken to the manager at some point in the day.

        1. pws*

          I definitely agree with that — some kind of follow up should have been initiated afterwards, if just to touch base with the manager to see what was missed or if something needed to be done before the next work day.

    3. Nino*

      The thing is, if something bad really happened, would the girl be in that mental state to think things through and to a) call, b) chose her words more wisely?

      1. fposte*

        If it turns out mom was rushed to the hospital, the OP will doubtless find out quite soon. However, it’s unlikely that the OP would describe that situation as having to help her mother with something.

  2. AJ-in-Memphis*

    This makes me wonder: Does your company have a probationary period? Generally, this means that unplanned absences are not allowed (most of the time the supervisor can use discretion, after all, people do get sick and have emergencies)… and allows you to let a employee go much easier. Just wondering.

    1. Mike C.*

      What do you mean “allows you to let an employee go easier”? What is easier than telling them to pack up their desk and leave? You can just tell someone they’re fired after all.

      1. KayDay*

        It usually means that the company doesn’t have to follow it’s own internal procedures for firing someone. E.g. Managers aren’t required to warn employees or give them an improvement plan (for performance/non-egregious violations)

  3. Mimi*

    Long ago, when I was a kid (and a “meh” employee), and I decided to call off work, I would send an email rather than call. I think the reason was that I felt guilty about calling out (not guilty enough NOT to, mind you!) and email = more distance.

    So if I had to guess, I’d go with Alison and say this likely won’t work out. Now that I’m more mature, I call when I have to be out, because I care enough to make the call and communicate directly with my manager.

    1. Runon*

      I really wish I could email in when I’m sick. I hate talking on the phone some much I’d rather just suck it up and go to work sick. (And get everyone else sick.) Where if I could just email and be done with it I could list off easily what needed to be taken care of or who should be notified, set up my out of office, and go back to bed when I realize there is no recovering in the next 3 hours instead of stressing out about it.

      I really hate phones though.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t normally have a problem with people emailing to say they’re going to be out sick, but I do think that if it’s during your first couple of months on a job, you should call. After that, I have no objection to email.

    3. Mike C.*

      I get that deep down it boils down to an issue of company culture, but why does it show more care that you called rather than emailed? With an email (or even a text) you aren’t demanding the immediate attention of your manager, and with the latter they can read the message at their leisure.

      Again, a manager should let you know what is the right way to do this, but I don’t believe that one form of communication shows more care than another. Otherwise why not do some nice calligraphy on parchment paper to announce your unexpected absence?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Heh. I think *because* people would prefer to email, managers receive a phone call with a message of special conscientiousness.

        When I managed college interns, I had a hard-and-fast “you must call, not email or text” rule for calling in sick. It was WAY too easy for them to send a text 5 minutes before they were supposed to show up; if they were going to call in sick when they weren’t actually sick, I wanted them to at least experience the awkwardness of explaining it to me.

        1. KayDay*

          if they were going to call in sick when they weren’t actually sick, I wanted them to at least experience the awkwardness of explaining it to me.

          ^I seriously love that.

          However, at my office, my boss doesn’t get into the office until after I do, but she does normally check email in the early morning. So it makes a lot more sense to email if I am going to be out (and when she has been out, she has always emailed me to let me know, but that’s obviously a different dynamic). Call vs. email is definitely and office/manager specific thing.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            Oh, I totally agree. I’m actually kindof ashamed of that rule – it was an across-the-board response to crappy interns that didn’t actually reflect what we needed. In actuality, I much prefer an email – I also don’t want to listen to a 19-year-old pretend to have a cold.

            1. ThatHRGirl*

              For our hourly employees we have a “no fault” absence policy… not that there are no consequences for continuing to rack up absences – but that we don’t care what the reason is and you don’t have to explain. Everyone calls in to a VM box and leaves a message stating they’ll be off/late today and expect to be back tomorrow/monday/etc.
              Doesn’t matter if you’re sick, car won’t start, you’re hung over, etc. You get a certain number of allowed absences and you manage them as such.

          2. Sarah*

            I think it definitely depends on the dynamic at your work. It makes more sense for me to email because no one answers the phone if you’re calling in before work so it goes to voicemail, which does not go directly to my manager, but the receptionist, who won’t get the voicemail until about 10 am once she’s done going through all the other ones, so everyone up to that point is wondering where I am. And if I emailed they all know once they check their emails at 8:45 am and no one is wondering where I am. However, if it were my first week I would email and then make the phone call directly afterwards. Or just the phone call to be safe and if I didn’t reach them because it hadn’t opened then leave the voicemail and immediately email (you get the idea)

          3. tcookson*

            My boss and I communicate mostly by text because he travels a lot. I could be out of the office and he likely wouldn’t even know it, but I do send him a text if I’m going to be out (and I cc text his boss’ assistant, and the person in the office who is the informal center of power — the one everyone stops to chat with) just so anyone who needs to know I’m out, knows.

            1. Anonymous*

              To add: yes, I realize we’re discussing interns here, but given the damage one could do if they’re careless with proprietary information, I think the standard of trust should be the same.

        2. Mike C.*

          And if they were sick, you wanted them to feel awkward about calling in anyway? That’s not very nice. :(

          1. fposte*

            They’re not going to feel awkward about lying if they’re telling the truth, though. That’s kind of the point.

            1. Esra*

              Unless your parents ingrained in your brain that you are never too sick for work and probably faking, faker! Then it’s liberal amounts of guilt forever, no matter how sick you are.

              Really though, I agree with Anonymous @8:35pm that if email is really an issue for notifying your work re: sickness because you might be lying, there are probably other issues.

              1. fposte*

                Heh. For me that was a charge from a sibling. You’re never sick enough to convince a sibling.

              2. KellyK*

                Yes, definitely!

                One of my favorite things about the combination of vacation and sick time into a single pool is that it alleviates my guilt for every calling in sick.

      2. Mimi*

        It is an issue of company culture – and the cultures of those companies I have worked for have indicated that generally, a call is best.

        To be clear, I don’t oppose email, and since I’m established in my current job, I use email if I’m particularly sick and don’t want to/can’t leave a voicemail. But if it’s your third day on the job, and you care about said job, and your fingers work……you dial your manager and let them know you won’t be in.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        Because if you call, you know that the person actually GOT your message. If no-one answers, then email your manager and perhaps a co-worker or two, so that SOMEONE knows that you’re out. If I just email my boss, and she’s out sick too, or has a 3 hour morning meeting, then it looks to everyone else like I just didn’t show up.

        If it’s so early that you know your boss isn’t there to answer the call, then sure, email and go back to bed. But don’t just email one person and hope they are there to tell others.

        1. Oxford Comma*


          We make people call in. Email is exceptional and it’s almost always been accompanied by voice mail. Our boss tends to have early morning meetings. If someone just drops her an email, the likelihood of our finding out in time to cover for them is nil.

          Email is too easy and in my experience tends to be from people who are faking.

        2. glennis*

          Exactly. We call or email the supervisor, but then we also call or email the reception desk, so they’ll know if someone will be out.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      Huh, I’ve never thought about this before. I wouldn’t dream of calling my boss instead of emailing when I need to take a sick day. But I guess that’s just the dynamics of our office. I even emailed him a photo when I had to get stitches because it was gnarly and I wanted sympathy. I have such a great boss. It’s such a relief after 4 years of hell with his predecessor.

    5. Aimee*

      My last 4 managers have all been fine with email, but we are spread out all over the country, so it’s our most common form of communication anyway.

      My husband instructed his employees to just text him. Most of them start at 6-7 am, so the last thing I want is to hear his phone ringing at the times they’d be calling in. He wouldn’t get the email before he got to work, so by texting, he knows early early enough to let the other team members know and have them divide up the sick person’s calls or call to reschedule them if they can’t be covered.

    6. Anonicorn*

      Just a warning to all who email sick notices:

      I thought I emailed my manager letting her know I was sick. Promptly went back to sleep and thought nothing of it. Little did I realize that my internet was messed up, and pressing “send” only saved the message as a draft. (Possibly it warned me. I don’t know. I was out of it.) My manager called a few hours before lunch time to check on me, and I explained the situation. I’m lucky they were so understanding.

      I still send email/text notifications, but now I make absolutely sure my message is in the sent folder. And usually someone replies with a “hope you feel better,” so I try to wait for my boss to reply before totally zonking out.

  4. Alli*

    Oh man. Not a smart idea to call out or arrive late to a new job within the first 90 days. And calling out by email? nah.

    1. Jenny*

      But sometimes it’s unavoidable, like AAM said. For instance, during the first 90 days of my current job, I contracted the norovirus. Should I have gone in just because it was my first three months on the job? Trust me, I would have been extremely unproductive, what with needing to vomit every 2-5 minutes. Not to mention, I would have continued the cycle of getting even more people ridiculously sick. There are (and should be) exceptions.

      1. Jenny*

        (Oh, and of course, I was extremely apologetic about the two day absence and offered to work on a project as I could from home. But because I worked my butt off before and after this incident, it wasn’t even a blip on the radar when my glowing 3 month evaluation came along. So obviously, how you handle it is still important. But I do disagree that it’s inherently “not a smart idea” to call out within the first three months. Ish happens; just don’t be a dummy about it.)

    2. FiveNine*

      Agreed. I was going to write that the last two places I worked — in different states, no less — both required that you could not take paid sick leave until after 90 days. When my mother went into the hospital, I went to one (I had returned to the job, which I had worked at nearly a decade) and negotiated an UNPAID week off if I needed (but that turned out not to be the case). But for some reason I was under the impression the 90-day requirement wasn’t even something specific to my employer — that it had to do more with something about not qualifying for insurance coverage, actually, if I took any paid sick time off those first 90 days. I could be way wrong, but that just seems along the lines of how I remember it.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        My current place has no paid vacation or sick time for the first 6 months. At least I think it’s just unpaid — the wording was just no sick or vacation for the first 6 months, so I’m doing my best to stay healthy.

  5. COT*

    I was out sick on my first day at my current job… and you can believe I was mortified and apologetic! I started a new medication the night before (bad idea in hindsight) that had me up sick all night. I probably could have gotten through a normal workday, but I was in no shape to start a new job.

    I emailed my boss early that morning when it was evident that I wasn’t going to be better in time, and the next day I explained that I generally only take about one sick day a year. Had she approached me (kindly) with her concerns I wouldn’t have been offended at all. A good employee will totally understand why a boss would be concerned in a situation like this, and they’ll do their best to prove themselves reliable.

    1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

      Exactly. I was off sick for four days in my third week at my last job (food poisoning so bad I ended up in hospital), and I was absolutely mortified and apologetic, too. My new employers were absolutely lovely about it, but I wouldn’t have been at all offended if they’d expressed concern, and I went out of my way to tell them that I usually only take one or two sick days a year. And I worked my butt off when I got back, let me tell ya!

  6. Matteus*

    I have always wondered: if the worst happens, and a person has to be let go, do HR departments do post-mortems?
    Do they try to see if they could have prevented the situation with better practices during hiring, or if there were signs that were missed? I would think that sort of thing could be handy. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but lessons learned can be carried forward to the next hire.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Most places don’t have formal processes like that, but most places do do it informally — trying to figure out what was missed, whether there were signs that were overlooked and why, etc. I’ve always had that conversation with my own managers / managers reporting to me, and I’ve rarely seen a manager who didn’t do that (aside from terrible managers, which is no surprise).

    2. Victoria Nonprofit*

      We used to call them M&M meetings, after the morbidity and mortality conferences that hospitals hold when they have unexpected bad outcomes with a procedure. What did we do? What did we expect? What result did we get instead? What in our actions lead to that result? What can we learn?

  7. Cindy*

    Address the problem upfront… you’ll have an answer quicker than waiting and seeing if it becomes a further issue. I, too, would have been mortified if I missed time my first week (or even month); and most certainly – I would have explained my dilemma in quite a bit more detail. You probably have a issue bigger than you think… love to hear the outcome of this.

  8. Wilton Businessman*

    The only way to tackle this is to address it head on when the employee returns. If it’s not working out for either of you, changes have to be made.

  9. fposte*

    I think some employees think of part-time jobs as inherently flexible–like obviously they don’t need you there all day, right?–and somebody caring for an ill parent might have taken a part-time job with flexibility in mind. I might, if I talked to her, use that opportunity to be very clear about the kinds of flexibility the position can and can’t offer.

    1. A Bug!*

      That mindset bugs the crap out of me. No, your position is not inherently more flexible or less essential just because you’re only in for five hours instead of eight. In fact, a pretty good argument could be made that part-timers could be held to a stricter attendance standard, but that wouldn’t be fair, either.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense myself, but I’ve run into it. As Rana notes, part-time does offer flexibility–that occurs during those hours that you aren’t committed to work, which you have more of.

        1. squirrel*

          Some part time jobs *are* flexible, like when I worked at a library where the staff was accommodating of students… but it’s the sort of flexible where you negotiate your schedule for the semester/year beforehand. Maybe the people you ran into confuse that type of flexibility with “I don’t have to show up”? o_O

    2. Rana*

      That’s a really good point. I treasured my part-time jobs for the relative flexibility they allowed, but that’s a lot different than assuming that it’s absolute flexibility. Most of them that I worked had pretty clear expectations about you needing to be in place at specific times (such as teaching classes!). It’s only been volunteer work where “come in for x hours this week, scheduled as you wish” has applied.

  10. Julie*

    When I first started at my current job (about two years ago), I had to take off 3 days in the first week. I’d started on a Wednesday and by Friday I was so sick that I came in to work, lasted about two and a half hours, and went home to pray to the porcelain god for a while. Sunday night, I came down with conjunctivitis (pinkeye) on top of everything else. I wound up taking off both Monday and Tuesday, as well as the previous Friday. So… three days in the first week.

    I was *so* mortified. I was worried they were going to fire me right there, and was both pissed off at my body and annoyed at my own seeming unprofessionalism. Thankfully, my boss was extremely considerate and I haven’t really missed much work since then, so it all worked out. But still… taking time off in your first few weeks on the job should probably be accompanied by a similar level of, “Oh, my God, I know this is horrible and I *really* am not usually like this, but…”

  11. Lily in NYC*

    I’m still wondering what happened to my temp – she went to lunch one day last week and never came back! She was the worst so I was happy to see her go.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I was a receiptionist for a title company when home from college during the summers. We had a new girl start but she never came back from lunch.

      Turns out she got arrested on her lunch break and had to use her one phone call to call in to work from jail.

      It was an outstanding traffic ticket, nothing too exciting.

      They kept her but everyone called her “Jennifer Jailbird” after that. I have NO IDEA how she showed her face in the office again!

      1. Lily in NYC*

        How mortifying! I guess I should hope my temp isn’t languishing away at Riker’s Island. I wouldn’t be surprised.

      2. EnnVeeEl*

        I really like this story. Arrested on your lunch hour. LOL!

        I couldn’t have shown my face there after that. I would have had to find another job.

      3. KellyK*

        Nice! I think I can actually top it, though. A few years back, we had someone arrested *at the office* during lunch. Turns out she robbed a bank. Nothing like having the receptionist/office manager removed from the building in handcuffs to liven up a slow workday. (I had gone to lunch and missed all the excitement.)

        1. pghadventurer*

          I’m always amazed that people actually rob banks in real life. It just seems like such a cartoon crime!

    2. fposte*

      Did you call the temp agency to let them know? There’s a part of me that worries something horrible has happened to her.

      1. Just a Reader*

        I’m actually interested to hear this as well…what can you do when they just don’t show up?

        1. the gold digger*

          We had an intern who didn’t show up one day. He was a high school student and we were frantic. We called the school and they didn’t know anything. He finally strolled in two hours late. We asked what the heck and he said there had been traffic. We asked if he had considered calling us to let us know. He said the battery in his cellphone was dead. I asked if he had ever heard of a pay phone.

          He looked at me, baffled. And this was 15 years ago, when it was still easy to find a pay phone.

          1. Anon in the UK*

            Once upon a time, I had a trainee. He called in on a morning mid-week to say that he had been involved in a car accident the previous evening, had thought he was fine, but now had a fierce headache and one of his wrists was swollen and very painful, so he was going to the Minor Injuries unit at the hospital to get checked out.
            He called that afternoon, hospital apparently said a bad sprain and a mild concussion and that he should take a couple of days off to rest. Fair enough.
            We never saw him again. After a series of unreturned messages we left on his voicemail, his answering machine and that of the person he gave as his emergency contact, he emailed his resignation to the general email address – i.e. Weird.

            1. twentymilehike*

              All this talk reminds me of an asstant we had here once that didn’t work out so well … aside from being termperamental, he was in a band that was going on a tour for about a month. His vacation time was approved, however, right before he left he told me he wasn’t planning on returning, and never had been. I can’t remember if I ended up telling our bosses or if he called in during his “vacation.” But he most certainly never told our bosses he had no intention of coming back. Way to burn that bridge.

              1. FiveNine*

                All this reminded me of this guy who worked only a few days as a cook at a restaurant I was at and just disappeared one day. Because of the type of turnover, they just wrote it off as a no-show after three days. Then he just showed up about three months later and went in back and started cooking behind the line like nothing had happened. I am sitting here laughing out loud at the memory.

        2. Natalie*

          At my first post-high-school job, I quit by no longer showing up (not my proudest moment). They sent me a letter several days later acknowledging that, since I had no-call-no-show’d for 3 days in a row they considered me to have resigned.

          1. Lisa*

            I’ve had to quit for other people before. I worked at a hallmark store in college with a friend. She decided to not go back after a few months, but wasn’t going to call. I wasn’t scheduled that day she quit, but she was. I needed the money, and made her drop me off and I told the manager she quit and that I could take her shift for that night. Manager was upset, but let me take her shifts for a bit. Eventually this girl, who was my ride didn’t want to drive me to work anymore, so I had to quit too. I told the manager that the shuttle wont take me, I couldn’t find a ride and there was no way I was walking that treacherous rode at 11 pm when I got out.

            A few years later my bf and I worked at home depot together. Everyone knew we were together, so people would ask me when he was working next, etc. Eventually, he quit by no-show and I still worked there, hence I had to tell his managers that he wasn’t coming back.

            What I find funny, is that both times, I quit with notice but both companies decided to terminate me for no-show with a letter weeks later. Hey AAM – how do you deal with jobs you left on good terms with notice, but officially were terminated for no-show? This would suck if I needed those employment confirmation references. I bet its more retail based when this happens, but it still would be bad that you get a bad reference check even when you do things correctly.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’ve actually never heard of it happening before — maybe it’s a retail thing? My inclination would be call them or go by in person to try to resolve it. If that didn’t work and you were determined to do something about it, I suppose your next step could be having a lawyer contact them, but I’m not sure it would be worth the hassle.

              1. Lisa*

                It was not a retaliation thing, just my managers / store HR were too lazy to put in paperwork that said I quit and the system kept scheduling me and I was no-show. What was disconcerting was that home depot employees often were there for 10+ years, and their careers were being in retail so when they move on to say Lowes (wicked common), they have a 10 year history from a company that would give a basic reference of “she worked here but then she was terminated for no-show”. The years of hard work dismissed in one sentence of assuming ‘she became unreliable’ because the system said so and with retail turnover of managers and losing track of them and the person is just reading an HR file rather than actually knew the employee that was giving this reference.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Yes, of course I called! I was 99% sure she flaked out, but you never know. We were joking that she fell in a sinkhole. And I didn’t want the temp company to try to get me to pay for that day. They wanted to send me a new temp but I told them I’m using another company instead. I had asked that the first temp be really good with Outlook scheduling and the one that came had never even used Outlook. WTF.

    3. Claire*

      That apparently happens more than you’d think! Multiple times on temp assignments, I’d have people come by and go “haha, haven’t scared you off yet? Someone X months ago just went to lunch and never came back!” Mystifying.

      Also, one time on a temp gig, the company brought in another temp who was in the cube next to mine. They weren’t 100% set up with her computer and everything which, to be fair, is frustrating, but when one of my coworkers came over with another project she could do, the temp was like “No, you guys don’t seem ready, so I’m just going to go home. I’ll be back on Monday, hopefully things will be set up then.” My coworker was gobsmacked and, unsurprisingly, she was not back on Monday. I don’t get it at all.

      1. Rana*

        That’s sort of baffling, since if you go home and you’re a temp, that’s time you don’t get paid for!

        I can’t imagine abandoning a job as a temp and not letting anyone know. Not only would you burn your bridges with the client company, but your assigning agency would probably never send you out on a job ever again.

        (I only quit one position the whole time I was temping, and that was because the job was violating physical safety – and even then I called the agency to okay it with them first.)

        1. Claire*

          So baffling! And how could you even think it would be okay to just declare you were leaving and be able to come back no problem. I was seriously sitting in my cube going O___O (the best part was that I was leaving halfway through the day on preapproved time off, so I got to go by the coworker and go “hey, just wanted you to know I’m heading out…on my scheduled time off…not just randomly up and leaving…who does that?”)

          1. Marmite*

            I worked for a temp agency briefly, one of the first things they said to me during the signing up process was, “If you find a job’s not a good fit for you, we do ask that you try your very best to stay to the end of the day.” It would never have occurred to me that just walking off half way through the day was an option, but apparently it was a common enough occurrence to warrant that request!

            1. The gold digger*

              I was working as a temp. This was a day thing – the United Way launch at a big company. They had a little carnival in the parking lot and there were about a dozen of us working. At least 1/4 of them showed up late. Two of them walked off the job after lunch. Just left. Didn’t feel like working any more.

              I didn’t feel like working any more, either. It was hot and they made me wear khakis (so unflattering) and a horrible yellow t-shirt that they told us we had to return at the end of the day. No worries about that! But I needed the money.

        2. fposte*

          And you have a job where you’re licensed to get paid to sit and read until they set you up! Really, I’d have said “No hurry, guys.”

          1. KellyK*

            Exactly! I would’ve asked if they minded if I left for 20 minutes to get a book or newspaper or something, if I didn’t have something with me.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Holy moly, that woman has a set of brass ones. I can’t imagine being anything but super-agreeable at a temp job.

    4. Anonymoose*

      Back in 2001, I was working reception as a temp. I’d only been there a few weeks when I was seriously injured in a devastating car wreck (the person who hit me later died) on my way in to work one morning. While I was riding unconscious in an ambulance, getting myriad scans and tests, and having my face sewn back together by a plastic surgeon, my temporary employer and staffing agency were all worriedly trying to figure out what on earth had become of me. Fortunately I was a very reliable person, so I gather the tenor of this was more along the lines of, “Something terrible must have happened” as opposed to “Great, what has that flaky loser done?”

      Weirdly, it turns out that a woman I worked with, who lived near me, was about 8 cars ahead of me and saw the approaching car that was about to change my life (a diabetic driver having some sort of medical issue – driving very fast and erratically). When I never arrived, she’d apparently wondered aloud if there’d been a wreck involving that car and mine.

      Once all the pieces came together and they understood what had happened, they were (of course) very understanding. They kindly held my temp position open for me, and in gratitude I went back to work as quickly as I could (in a bout a week — which was too quickly, in retrospect. But I was also unemployed — hello, temp job — and needed the income, naturally).

      To this day, if someone no shows at work, my first thought is: car wreck.

  12. Cruella DaBoss*

    Why would anyone ever think it was appropriate to email, or worse, >>>shudder<<< send a text to call off from work?

    A live, telephone conversation is a must.

    1. Just a Reader*

      No, it’s not. It depends on the work culture. There’s no one-size-fits-all for calling out.

      1. Just a Reader*

        PS–my team texts for EVERYTHING–a text is perfectly appropriate in this culture, although I typically email if I’m going to be out.

        1. km*

          My team texts all the time too! My friends are always horrified when I mention this, but they all commute on public transportation and also spend a lot of time in court, and it’s a lot lot lot easier to text and say you’re going to be late when you’re on the subway or in a courthouse.

          1. twentymilehike*

            Ditto. Here we are on the phone so much and process such a high volume of emails that it’s nice to be able to take care of things with a quick text. It’s fine as long as everyone is on board. Email would be TERRIBLE for me, because I often don’t get my emails until later in the day or even the day after they are sent just because of the sheer volume I get.

        2. Jill*

          Yeah, I’m required to email my boss, the receptionist, and my back-up coworker when I won’t be in. I send a generic “won’t be in” or “will be in later” to all; if there is a personal reason I don’t want to share with all I send an additional note to my boss.

      2. A Bug!*

        Yup! My boss would be irritated if I called in the morning rather than sending an e-mail, for a number of reasons. It all depends on the circumstances.

      3. KellyK*

        I email, because my boss isn’t at her desk much. She might be in a meeting in this office or at one of two or three other places. She’ll see the email on her phone a lot quicker than she’ll see the voicemail to her work phone.

        But I do agree that if you’re new, you should err on the side of calling, because a lot of people feel it’s more professional and less likely that you’re faking it.

    2. Xay*

      I have to notify four people when I am out sick, some of whom telework. It is much simpler to email and make sure that everyone gets the message rather than make a round of office phone and cell phone calls.

    3. Chris80*

      This totally depends on the manager and workplace culture…it’s not a hard and fast rule. My current manager has stated that she prefers texts/emails to phone calls. I’m sure she’s not the only one!

      1. Cruella DaBoss*

        I guess it does depend on the culture. HERE a text or an email is not acceptable to call out, primarily due to our staffing circumstances. If someone on my team calls out, I have to be able to call another in to take their place in time for the shift. When I am at home, I do not monitor my work email 24/7, so a live call works best.

        1. Just a Reader*

          That makes perfect sense for shift work. I think 9 to 5ers have an easier time with electronic communication; it also helps if you have a job that can wait vs. a job someone has to cover.

    4. Elizabeth*

      My department requires email rather than phone.

      A phone call only goes to one person. An email can be sent to multiple, so that if that one person isn’t in & doesn’t come in, other people know that the sender is out of the office.

      There is history here. When our help desk person years ago was just finishing her training, she had a sick child and called our boss to say she wouldn’t be in. Only our boss wasn’t in, either, as she had a sick child as well. So no one knew that the help desk person wasn’t answering the phone, and people were leaving messages and getting very unhappy that they weren’t getting help. After that, we instituted the rule of having to notify at least 3 people of your absence. That’s a lot easier to do in email than by phone.

    5. Eric*

      What if you get voicemail? Are you supposed to keep calling until you reach someone, live?

      Whenever I’ve “called” out sick (in my current position, it’s email) I do it when I decide I’m not well enough to go in, which is always well before the office opens.

    6. Mike C.*

      I work at a place with shifts, and it’s so much easier to send a message to my boss and anyone who would be covering for me than it is to try and call people who are in traffic trying to get to work.

      Why does a text make you shudder?

    7. Kathryn T.*

      My husband worked for years at a Large Software Company in Redmond, where EVERYTHING is done by email. To the point where if you leave someone an voicemail, it just forwards the sound file (and a hilarious auto-transcription) to your email. I think people there only use their phones to call into offsite meetings, and even that I think is done through their computers now.

      1. Original Dan*

        Yes it’s done through computers now. My company is doing it too. As a matter of fact, we’ve been informed that the telephones will be ripped out soon, so we need to stop using them :-/

    8. Lily in NYC*

      My boss hates phone calls. So do you suggest I follow your rules instead of his? There are many people that prefer email in all situations. I don’t understand the “shudder” at all – it’s just different companies, different dynamics.

  13. km*

    RE: calling out versus email, I prefer email when I’m out sick because I can notify multiple people at once. I supervise a team of 10 folks at 3 different office locations and my boss is frequently out of the office. If I’m out sick, I email my team, cc my boss and I’m done.

    I’ve never cared about call v. email with the people I supervise because, like Alison mentioned above, someone who habitually calls out is usually demonstrating their poor work performance in other ways as well.

    1. Meg*

      Yeah, when I have to miss work/telework, I email my team and CC my contractor. Luckily for us though, not being in the office isn’t the same as not working – we have the ability to and encouraged to work from home when needed. I think we have a National Telework Week too.

    2. doreen*

      It’s really going to depend on the people. I supervise people working in four different offices. I wouldn’t have a problem with them emailing me and the other staff in their office to let me know they’re out sick except:
      1 Most of them don’t know my email address to send me an email from their personal email account. They can only send me emails from their work account because there is a directory of all staff right in Outlook. The email is firstname.last name – but they don’t even know their own email address, forget mine.
      2 People have at times figured out how to text my Blackberry when calling in sick – but every one of them forgot to tell me who they were. Which means I have to call back to find out who’s out sick
      3 I then have to call their work location to let the staff there know this person is going to be out- and a cc won’t work because some of them go days without reading their email.

      1. K*

        People at your office don’t know how your agency formats its e-mail addresses? I have to say, that seems kind of crazy to me.

  14. Meg*

    When I moved to the DC area in October, I caught the absolute worst head cold ever, and I hadn’t had as much as a sniffle in almost 4 years. I had three days to medicate before I started my new job (luckily just 3 days of a programming class), but I was still a little under the weather when I started in the office. I wouldn’t have had the courage to call out though.

  15. Chris80*

    Well, at least she let you know…when I was working retail, we had a new hire show up for one day of work and never come back! (Not that I can blame her much considering the job/manager…)

    1. Meg*

      We had hired a girl in 2011 right before Thanksgiving. She showed up for two days, and the third day was Black Friday… and never came back after the first two days. I was running a cell phone store by myself on Black Friday until my district manager and one of the franchise owners came in to help me.

    2. Lindsay*

      I just started a new job. I have been a little stressed out these first couple days wondering whether or not my performance is up to par. However, I’ve been trying to keep in mind that they told me what happened to their two previous hires:

      The first showed up for their first day and never came back
      The second was hired then never even showed up to fill out their new hire paperwork.

      So I figure that just by showing up I’m well ahead of the game for now.

  16. ExceptionToTheRule*

    Our policy is that you must speak to someone for the first contact. For follow up conversations (ex: “hey, the doctor said I have strep so I’ll be out tomorrow too”), email and/or text is fine.

  17. Julie K*

    I hired someone who was going through a contentious divorce with child custody issues (I didn’t know that when we hired her). We set her start date, and then she wanted to move it later by a week or two (turned out to be a sign of things to come), and we agreed. After she had been working a couple of weeks, she asked to take two days off for a long weekend. On that Monday she called and said she needed more time off. Apparently she was all the way across the country, trying to get her son back from his father. It sounded like a difficult situation for everyone involved. She really needed to work part-time or not at all with so much time taken up by her personal problems. We had to let her go when she stood up a client because she was at a meeting with her attorney (and her attitude was that it was more important than anything else, and how could I even ask her to interrupt that meeting to show up for a client appointment). I called her agency and told them she was being let go. Apparently they tried to reach her at a couple of different phone numbers and by email that evening, but she didn’t get the messages and showed up to work the next day just as I was telling the other person on the team that she had been fired. It was so uncomfortable, but she understood why she was being let go. There wasn’t really anything else I could say, so I rode down in the elevator with her, wished her luck with everything, and said goodbye.

    1. fposte*

      Wow, that’s a strong contender for Most Awkward Moment Ever. Good thing she was reasonable about it.

  18. KayDay*

    I had a really sever migraine my third or fourth week on the job (complete with light sensitivity and actual vomiting). I think I both called and emailed, since I didn’t know which was preferred, and was really apologetic. I also explained the situation much more than I normally would–instead of “not feeling well, see you tomorrow,” it was “I have a severe migraine and nausea, and am not able to work today. I normally get migraines a few times per year, particularly in the winter, but they rarely interfere with work.” My boss occasionally gets migraines, so she was very sympathetic!

  19. Anonymous*

    My first real office job, the second Monday I was there I started coming down with a cold. I didn’t want to call in since I knew calling in within the first couple months was bad, so I went to work anyway. Fortunately, my boss noticed I wasn’t feeling well and was sympathetic, and told me to go home. I made sure to ask that it was truly acceptable, and then went home.

    In my most recent job before my current one, I commuted via the commuter rail, and on the second day there my train broke down. I called and apologized profusely for being late that early on, and it was fine.

    I agree that emergencies come up, and it’s not automatically a black mark to miss a day (or come in late), but acting like you don’t know it’s something you shouldn’t do casually is probably a bad sign.

    1. Marmite*

      One of my college jobs was with a small company where the nature of the business necessitated the boss sitting in an open plan office with the majority of the staff (there was a smaller second office for IT and finance staff). She made it clear that if employees were sick she wanted them to stay home and not infect the whole office. I went in once with a cold once, it was mild and I felt well enough to work (wasn’t coughing and sneezing, just a scratchy sounding voice and the sniffles). Boss sent me home immediately. Most new hires came in mildly sick once and then realized she wasn’t kidding.

      That was an office where most people enjoyed their work though, so no one seemed to abuse the sick days. Actually had one of the lowest numbers of people out sick of anywhere I’ve worked.

  20. Kou*

    I’ve been in more places that want a flat “I will not be here” and find anything else suspicious than places would expect apologies (even though that makes ZERO sense to me and, like everyone else has said, apologies would be my first reaction). You know how, in past discussions here about this, you get a ton of different viewpoints that completely conflict? Person A thinks it’s shady without detail, Person B thinks detail is used to cover something up, Person C thinks you should try to do what you can, Person D thinks that’s a sign that nothing was really wrong, etc. The employee may be doing what was expected of her in the past, or she’s had so many different reactions that she doesn’t know what she should do and is just giving the bare bones and expecting to talk to you about it more seriously in person.

    Alison’s advice is spot on, of course, OP will have to wait and see if it’s a pattern to know anything, but she should definitely talk to the employee as suggested and outline what is expected. That will make it pretty easy to determine if this is an attitude problem or simply differing workplace culture thing. I’m quick to suspect it’s culture because I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard someone be scolded for giving information or making apologies. Maybe it’s where I’m from, I don’t know. But whenever you wonder “who thinks ___ is ok??” the answer is probably way more people than you’d expect.

    1. TL*

      You know, I wondered about this too. There have been times when I’ve been absolutely cringing inside and feeling like making a thousand apologies, but, because I felt it might make me look too ‘unprofessional’ or young/girly/overly gushy, my visible reactions were quite controlled, unapologetic, and straightforward. I can teeter back and forth between over-apologizing and acting completely unperturbed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, once or twice, someone walked away thinking “Wow, she wasn’t concerned about (important and/or emotional thing) at all!”

      Either way, this manager should definitely talk to the employee, because it *is* abnormal enough to cause concern, and dealing with it right up front should reveal whether it’s just a misunderstanding/miscommunication, or a real problem. I’ve had coworkers who sent up similar red flags during their first few days; happily, they were usually deal with quickly.

      1. Chris80*

        This is me, exactly. I’m a pretty conscientious person, so when I call in sick, my tendency is to be overly concerned and apologetic about it. However, I also worry that being *too* apologetic will just make me look guilty (as if I’m faking it) even though I’m legitimately sick and rarely call off. Because of this, I tend to err on the side of being very straightforward, and then wonder if should have been more apologetic! Glad I’m not the only one that analyzes these things!

      2. Kou*

        I think that worry is valid, like I said– I’ve been instructed by supervisors (and been chastised, even, and seen others chastised, even) in many different places. And it’s not even that they don’t care to hear it, but they find you even offering it to be a bad sign for some reason. I don’t understand the psychology of this at all, honestly. I think it does rub many people as being unprofessional or insincere, but also in my experience these are people who don’t seem to believe there’s ever a good reason for absence and interpret an explanation as a big lame made-up excuse. So there’s that.

        I think this might be the root of it: You say “I can’t be there, it’s just not possible” and they assume there’s no other way and you’ve made an adult decision. You say “I don’t think I can come in, I don’t feel well, and maybe if there’s something important I can do this this and this but I’ll be there tomorrow so do this in the meantime. I’m really sorry for the inconvenience” and they assume you’re trying to convince them, indicating you don’t really need to be gone or something is shifty about you and your attitude.

  21. Tiff*

    All I could picture reading this letter was Ferris Bueller making that ” I’m sick” call to his mom, complete with sound effects on his casio keyboard.

  22. Lynn*

    I’ve been continuously employed for 20 years, and in all that time, I have taken 4 sick days. Twice because I had a baby in the middle of the night (obviously I had told my manager I was expecting a baby, but I couldn’t know the exact day and hour), and once because I had my wisdom teeth out late on Thursday. The dentist told me I would be fine to work on Friday. The dentist LIED.

    The fourth time? I had been at my current job about a month, it was the Friday before Labor Day, and I had a severe stomach flu that made it completely impossible to go to work or anywhere else. I was so worried that my manager would think I was some kind of flaky liar, expanding my holiday weekend with a fake illness. And so unfair… I NEVER call in sick! But he (apparently) believed me, and I’ve certainly redeemed myself since then. I certainly would have understood if he’d had a conversation with me about unexcused absences.

    1. Chris80*

      Wow! 4 sick days in 20 years? That’s pretty amazing IMHO. The fact that 3 of those days were because you were giving birth or having surgery makes it even more incredible. Any manager that would have a conversation with you about an unexcused absence when you have that kind of record is a major jerk.

      1. Lynn*

        I think I phrased my post poorly. I meant I have been employed somewhere for 20 years, with no gaps longer than a week between jobs. But I have worked at more than one company. Since I was new at my current job/company when I got stomach flu right before Labor Day, they wouldn’t know about my good track record and give me “credit” for it.

        Anyway, I agree with AAM: an unscheduled absence when you’re new to a job happens to the best of us. People who aren’t normally flaky about coming to work will understand if their new manager is a bit concerned.

        1. Chris80*

          Oh, I understand now! I completely missed the part where you said you’d been at your current job for only a month when that happened. Still, I’m in awe at only 4 sick days in 20 years!

          1. The gold digger*

            Two sick days in 15 years of corporate jobs. One was a hangover. I am very, very lucky that I do not get sick.

            I did spend a week at home sick when I was in the Peace Corps, but I don’t count that as much because we volunteers were always getting sick. It was always cold and the exhaustion of living in another culture really lowers your immune system.

    2. K*

      You would have understood if he had a conversation with you about unexcused absences after taking 4 sick days in 20 years? Are you kidding me? I’ve taken four sick days in the last two years, and I’d be livid if my manager had that conversation with me, holiday weekend or not, because my record doesn’t warrant it and it’s not an okay assumption for him to make.

      1. Lynn*

        But how would he know? I could SAY “I actually never do this, seriously never”, but flaky people can say that too. I was new at that particular job, and my manager had no way of seeing all my attendance records of every job I ever had.

    3. Anonymous*

      The wisdom tooth. Wow! Was it a straight up-and-out type of deal? I had mine cut out and IIRC the dentist recommended something like a week off.

  23. Susan*

    I was at my last company for 14 years — and called in sick the very first day. I had come down with the flu, and was up trying to get dressed and do my hair when I realized I just couldn’t go in. Thankfully they were very understanding and suggested I start the following week (since your first week is training so, miss a day, miss a lot). I must have proved myself sufficiently after that to have stayed there as long as I did, but yeah, I was sufficiently mortified to make that call on my very first day.

  24. Jesicka309*

    I hate that I have to call in the morning if I’m going to be sick.

    I suffer from anxiety, and quite often spend sleepless nights agonizing over things. Recently I decided to call in sick because some of the odder symptoms of anxiety (migraines and diarrhea) reared its head and there was no way I could go to work on the few hours sleep I’d had in a week. I made the decision the night before, and settled down for a night of sleep.

    Until of course I had to drag myself out of bed to call in sick, which defeated the purpose of me staying home to recover. And they prefer we call to make sure we aren’t faking…again, not great for anxiety, even when you have a good excuse! I’d kill for a text/email culture.

    1. KellyK*

      Do you have a supervisor who would be understanding and reasonable about the anxiety? And who generally thinks you’re a good worker and not a slacker? If I were in that situation, I would consider whether you can tell them that when it’s anxiety-related, calling makes you feel worse, and would it be okay to email. I’d only do it if I were pretty sure it wouldn’t hurt their opinion of me and that they’d be discreet enough not to share my medical issues around the office, but it might be worth considering.

  25. Lora*

    Huh, it totally depends on the culture. My last boss was always traveling–you’d never get him on the phone, he was always in an airplane, about to get on an airplane, or in the middle of a desert with no phone service (literally, one of our manufacturing plants was in the desert). So for him I always emailed because he paid extra for the internet connection on JetBlue. I always told my reports that as long as they let me know before 10-ish or thereabouts, any way they wanted to reach me was fine. I realize nobody is using their cell phone in the ER while they are bleeding to death, unconscious or dying of a severe asthma attack (yes, this happened to my colleagues). One day I came in to work to find out my plant manager had been LifeFlighted to a city 150 miles away after a head on collision, and the way we found out was, the EH&S guy had a ham radio and listened to the police channel. As long as I know at some point so I can do something about it.

    Having just gone through a nasty divorce…people, if I don’t show up for work and don’t call or email, I sincerely hope that my boss has sense enough to call my In Case of Emergency number, and, if he doesn’t get an answer, alert the police. There are murderers, rapists, crazy exes, stalkers, and assorted baddies in the world. There are car accidents, meteor strikes, all kinds of things that could happen. Hey, maybe your employee’s alarm clock broke and Officer Bob will wake them up with a big surprise–they probably won’t be late again, right?

    Of course, my management style is best described as “Mother Hen,” so take that for what it’s worth. My first reaction to people calling in sick was always, “Oh no, are you going to be OK? I’ll bring you some soup and ginger ale! Rest up and keep your germs to yourself!”

    1. Anonymous*

      I so agree! We had a high school student interning with us who never came back from lunch. We got really worried after 1/2 hour and called her parents and the school. It turned out she had actually been abducted by a stalker! She had never told us about her problems with him. Luckily she was physically okay, but I hate to imagine what might have become of her because “Oh, haha, those darn interns, guess she’s gone for good.”

  26. cncx*

    I wish the HR manager at my old job could have seen a post like this. A colleague hired to take heat off of me, ha ha, never worked a full day much less a full week, supposedly to take care of her sick kids. She too called in on her first week. So instead of getting someone to take some work off of me, I wound up getting even more work and working even longer hours. The worst is that when she did deign to show up, she would criticize how I was doing her work.

    I burnt out after six months and quit the job even though I loved it when I was carrying only my fair share of the work. Funnily enough she got fired for cussing out the cleaning lady literally ten days after I left. If only I had stayed…

    If someone calls in the first week of work and isn’t completely embarassed, huge huge red flag I wish my old company’s HR would have heeded.

  27. LMW*

    I agree this might be a red flag. On the one hand, I had a coworker start with us a few years ago, and she was out on her second and third day with a sick baby. But, she was completely mortified and worked extra hard to prove herself, and pretty much stumbled over herself apologizing to everyone on the team for messing up her training schedule. She was lovely to work with.
    On the other hand, our new admin was late three times her first week, and has followed that up with being late to meetings, falling asleep in meetings, not listening to the person training, not double-checking her work, not following up on things, etc. So in her case it was a definite signal of not being a conscientious employee.

  28. DA*

    This all could be something, or nothing.

    However, the OP will have her answer within the first 3o seconds of the conversation.

    I hope the next action following the conversation is an email to Alison with an update.

  29. Anon*

    On my second day of a job I was really excited about, my father passed away unexpectedly. I had to fly home for a week. Of course my boss was extremely understanding and sympathetic. When I returned, though, the department head’s first words to me were “We were surprised to lose you so quickly.” I’m sure she meant well, but that made me feel even worse.

        1. jmkenrick*

          How awful! I had a similar situation where I took a job with a previous vacation planned (that I was upfront about in the interview process). I took it shortly after I started work as planned. During the vacation, my grandmother died, so it was extended. Then, when I got back, my car broke down the second day I was back at work.

          It was an awful month. Boss was great about it though.

  30. Cassie*

    Our dept’s policy on calling in sick is that you are supposed to call your supervisor and speak to him/her. In reality, though, some people email or text, or contact HR (instead of the supervisor), etc.

    My sis’s office (government) requires people to call their supervisor and actually speak to them before the start of your work day. No leaving voicemails (in case that person is also out). So you are supposed to keep trying back or calling the supervisor’s supervisor. I thought it was a bit silly to have to keep calling back (if you are very sick, you wouldn’t want to have to keep making phone calls every 5 minutes trying to reach someone).

    I think you can tell a lot about someone’s work ethic and work character by the way they respond when approached (confronted) about something. For example, everyone makes mistakes but I’d much rather have a staffer who was contrite and apologetic than someone who just brushed off the mistake like no big deal. Of course, someone who is just apologetic, without actually learning from the mistakes, is not good either.

  31. Joey*

    Part time, emailed, out on third day, what sounds like a full time job at home? Yep, she’ll flake out. Maybe not nc/ns, but she will be so unreliable she might as well not even show up.

  32. Karen*

    I had a death in my family (my grandmother) literally 3 days into my first real job out of college. I was beyond embarrassed – the company had a special training program for new hires that I would miss. I also was not native to the state I was working in, and had to travel back to my home state for services.

    I think that the way that I came across in my delivery of the death in my family to my manager on day 3 as sincere and embarrassed, and my employer totally had no problem with it. Again, mortified, but i showed concern FOR THE JOB, and didn’t make it sound “all about me me me me me me.”

    I suspect this calling out sick admin is a member of the Gen-Y/Millenial crowd with the all about me me me gimme gimme gimme approach.

    Gen-X (sort of, born in ’79!)

    1. Anonymous*

      I as with you until your last comments. Seriously? And since she’s taking care of an ailing parent, she’s far more likely to be a younger Boomer or a Gen Xer. Not that it matters. Every generation has its flakes (afterall, Boomers were considered the “Me” generation and Xers the “Slacker” generation at first. A bit of selfishness and laziness is more an indication of youth, I think, than what generation one is in.)

      1. Laura L*

        Also, wasn’t the ’80s nicknamed the Me Decade?

        Unless that nickname was based on the behavior of kids under age 10, then it sure wasn’t the Millenials who inspired that nickname. :-)

        1. Natalie*

          That was actually the 70s!

          I would bet a lot of money that every single generation for at least the last 100 years has considered the generation immediately after it spoiled and entitled and lazy.

          1. Laura L*

            Huh. I could’ve sworn it was the ’80s!

            But, yes, older generations always say the same thing about younger generations.

            There’s even a quote floating around that’s attributed to Socrates or Aristotle or someone that says something similar. I’m not sure if it’s real, but if so, this has been happening for 1,000s of years!

  33. Cara*

    I didn’t see this mentioned yet, but OP, did you know this employee was providing care for her mother before you hired her? Of course, everyone has a life outside of work that may cause them to miss work from time to time, her caring for her mother just seems to be a breeding ground for attendance issues.

    Was she really the best candidate? Because I’ve learned my lesson while hiring student employees. When they tell me that they carpool or that they like to go home on the weekends, how can I be assured that they’ll be there when I need them? (I guess you never can, but you know…) We have a rotating schedule for weekend shifts. The ones who like to go home for the weekend would always miss shifts, so we had to implement the policy that if they missed more than 2 weekend shifts per semester, they’d be fired. It seemed harsh at first, but we needed someone there.

    Back to the question; I’d have a conversation about what her “2nd job” entails, and if she truly believes she can be there when you need her.

  34. Tinker*

    Interesting reactions from folks. Where I work, there’s a very strong bias toward communicating anything important by email and against making unscheduled phone calls of any kind — I think I’ve received about two such calls in the past two years.

    When you’re sick you send an email to your team + your manager + maybe anyone else you’re immediately working with, and you might also continue to keep an eye on your email by remote access. That’s by far the established standard.

    The culture is also such that calling in sick spuriously or thinking of apologizing when calling in is a foreign concept — I kind of have to remind myself that people elsewhere do that. This is partly because there is no incentive, and partly because the people are the sort to think that if one is not sick, then stating that one is sick is, duh, *inaccurate* (and, conversely, that if one is sick it doesn’t make sense to say ‘gosh I’m sorry’ because, duh, it’s a *fact*).

  35. anonz*

    At a previous job, we were split into two teams with team managers for each, and those two reported to a division head. My team boss was 100% fine with email notice of sick days, and would encourage us to go home and not power through illness. The other guy though…one of his reports got food poisoning (at a work event, nonetheless), went home sick, and the next morning, emailed him to say she was still feeling poorly and would not make it in. He called her at home repeatedly until she answered to make sure she was actually at home and hadn’t taken a day off to, I don’t know, go shopping or something.

    1. Lora*

      I have not had anyone in charge of me do this since, literally, grade school.

      Wait, no, I remember once I got sick over a school holiday break and I stayed home an extra day and then the headmaster called my house to see if I had measles, because one of the measles epidemics was happening then and they wanted students to stay home in that case and he wanted to know if they should send a teacher to tutor me. But I didn’t have measles, I had the flu or bronchitis or something. So, high school. I was expected to be telling the truth or face the consequences of an un-excused late assignment in high school.

      Many times I wonder how such people get to be managers. Who thinks, “aha, here is a real jerk who condescends to people and treats them like little children, has paranoia issues, no sense of priorities and very obviously has a pathetically low opinion of the people working for them–surely he shall be able to bring out the best in our group! Yes, promote that dude and give him more responsibility!” Nevertheless it happens. I get that people need to have discipline and rigor, but…the best managers I have worked for were like a proud parent/grandparent, I wanted to do my best for them because I knew that they would be happy and proud of me. And I knew they wanted me to be able to do my best, which generally meant not coming to work coughing up a lung and using all the kleenex in the supply closet.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        “aha, here is a real jerk who condescends to people and treats them like little children, has paranoia issues, no sense of priorities and very obviously has a pathetically low opinion of the people working for them–surely he shall be able to bring out the best in our group! Yes, promote that dude and give him more responsibility!”

        Ok, I’m grabbing that quote and sending it to my husband, because that describes his boss to a T!

        1. IronMaiden*

          “aha, here is a real jerk who condescends to people and treats them like little children, has paranoia issues, no sense of priorities and very obviously has a pathetically low opinion of the people working for them–surely he shall be able to bring out the best in our group! Yes, promote that dude and give him more responsibility!”

          You’d be amazed how common this sort of manager is in healthcare. They are too toxic to be near clients or patients but somehow OK to manage (read bully) other workers.

      2. Editor*

        Maybe people learn some of their stupidity about illness from their school days.

        When our kids were in elementary school, my husband got transferred to another state. At the new school, I was told when I called in about my son being sick that they could gather his assignments and so on and I could pick them up. Big mistake.

        I collected the stuff the first and second day he was sick. He did a little bit of work the evening of the second day (Thursday) but was still not in great shape. He went back to school Friday, feeling well enough to go to school but still tired — and got reamed out because he didn’t have all his work done. I should wake up a sick child from a nap and tell him to do homework?

        At that school, when he was sick for more than one day, I learned to keep him home one extra day — negotiating that with the doctor so it was on the required doctor’s excuse — so he could get the homework done before he was back in class.

        A few years later I ended up working as a substitute teacher at the high school there and found out that the district had a big truancy problem. Teachers and administrators turned out to be unusually suspicious of any absence, and there were any number of high school students who would call in one day to announce that they were sick, then stay out several days or even a week and a half before they reappeared — no daily check in, no explanation or doctor’s excuse, no homework in hand. It seemed totally bizarre to me, but then, walking out of a job at lunchtime seems bizarre, too.

        1. KellyK*

          Wow, that’s ridiculous. If a kid is too sick to go to school, there’s every possibility they’re too sick to do homework.

          (If I recall correctly, the school I attended as a kid and the nearby school where I used to teach gave one day per day of absence to make work up. So, if you missed Monday and Tuesday, you had Wednesday and Thursday to catch up, and those assignments were due Friday. )

  36. byron*

    This kills me. I work at an IT Help Desk, and it seems like every employee we hire has no issue calling out–often multiples times–during their probationary period. If I was management it would note bode well for these folks…

  37. LilNani*

    I was called to start a job on a thursday n my start day is on Monday, prior to this i wasnt working and i had already made plans for my sons birthday the second day of work. I am wondering if i should loose my tickets for the event i want to take my son to or should i talk to my boss and tell them i got this job at a last minute thing and i had already had something planned for my sons birthday, i dont know what to do, what should i do in this situation??

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