my assistant won’t call in when she’s sick, should employers respond to all applications, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My assistant won’t call in when she’s out sick

My assistant (my only direct report) has been sick quite a bit in the last few months, and although that is very frustrating, what makes it worse is that she does not “call in” sick (or email or text) to anyone. I have asked her twice to make sure she notifies me each day she is sick. And now for the third time in the past few months, she missed days without notifying anyone. Her pattern is to let us know the first day (or the day she leaves work early) that she is sick, then not contact anyone until she shows up several days later feeling better. We are a very small office (4 full-timers), and it’s well-known we can just let any of the others know when we’ll be out.

I’m wondering if her age/background has something to do with it, since she’s a few years older than me and owned her own family business for many years. But honestly, I don’t really care, I just need her to notify me! Any suggestions?

We don’t have any handbook or formal policies (no write-ups, no attendance tracking, etc.), but isn’t this sort of a common courtesy? She’s worked in much more professional offices than ours, I can’t imagine she got away with it there. I’ve told her face to face twice that I need to be notified each day she misses – but now what? I’m thinking my only real option is to explain that I will have to replace her if it continues, although the work of interviewing and re-training someone is more daunting that just dealing with it.

You handle it just like you would any other performance problem or clear instruction that was being ignored: “Jane, I’ve told you several times that you need to call in each day that you’re going to be out, not just once at the start of a multi-day absence. You didn’t do that this week. What happened?” … followed by, “I want to be very clear that you are strictly required to do this; it’s not optional. If it continues not to happen, I’ll need to treat it like any other serious performance issue.” And then, if it happens again, you do that — up to and including replacing her if you decide the behavior is disruptive enough. (I’d argue that it is, not only because of the impact when you don’t know if she’ll be in or not, but because it’s bad to have someone working for you who repeatedly ignores clear and easy instructions.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Should employers acknowledge all applications as they’re received?

I am currently hiring for an open position in my office. I have received many resumes in response to the employment notice. Is it standard practice to respond to each individual who applied letting them know that their resume was received and we will contact them if we need further information or want to schedule an interview, or is this something that is naturally assumed by individuals sending in their resume?

It’s courteous to do so, but not strictly necessary. (An easy option, though, is to set up an auto-responder that automatically acknowledges the receipt of applications.) You should, however, send rejections to candidates once you’ve decided they’re out of the running.

3. Applications that ask when you can start work

I came across a question regarding giving notice from November 19, 2012. At the end of your response, you say: “By the way, a side note about answering questions about when you could start work: Don’t give a specific date (like December 3, as in your example). The date you can start depends on the date you accept an offer. Instead, say that you can start two weeks (or whatever) from the time you receive and accept an offer. Otherwise you could find yourself receiving an offer only a few days before the date you said you could begin work, and that won’t allow you to give a sufficient notice period.”

This is exactly what I always want to do, but often there is a small space on the application for writing the date. If it’s left blank, the application may get rejected. What can I do?

If they’re requiring a specific date, pick a date a few weeks out and put that down. They’re not going to hold you to that; employers know that most employed candidates have to give at least two weeks notice and they’re going to understand that picking that date is shorthand for “two weeks from hire,” rather than “two weeks from this application date.” And if for some reason they’re not immediately clear on that, you’ll just explain that when it comes up.

Often stuff like this is asked on applications without the employer having fully thought it through, so don’t stress too much about it.

4. Picking up short-term work before a job begins in August

This coming May, I’m graduating from college, and I’m excited to join a management consulting firm in August 2015. The only issue is that the firm doesn’t do their orientation until relatively late in the game, August. I’m going to be moving across the country to San Francisco, and I’d love to try and get an internship / temporary position from May – August, but do you think my future firm would disapprove? Do you have any advice on how to approach other companies if it’s truly only a few months that I’ll be available?

I don’t see any problem with doing that! You’d just need to apply for short-term jobs, either internships or contract roles, so that it’s clear from the beginning that you’re only available until August.

5. Using a manager from a volunteer job as a reference

I haven’t worked for three years due to illness, but I have been volunteering for the past six months. Next week, I have an interview where it is requested that I bring in my list of references. My supervisor at my volunteer job really appreciates the work I do (data entry, updating logs, creating online calendar slides for organizations monthly activities, etc.) and has said he would love to give me a glowing reference. Does a reference from a supervisor at a volunteer job “count” as much as a reference from a supervisor from a previous paid job?

It absolutely counts and it’s fine to include that person on your reference list though, especially since the work is so recent.

That said, it often doesn’t hold exactly the same weight as a reference from a paid job, because the standards of accountability are often different in volunteer roles. And even when they’re not, it’s often tough for an outside hiring manager to really tell that. But it certainly counts enough to include on your list of references.

{ 164 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    #3: I’m curious then, what would be a reasonable start date if one’s out of work? If something would require relocation, immediately just sounds nuts and naive, especially if it’s cross-country and/or in a tight housing market. But then I don’t want to make it sound like I’m uninterested (or, uh, busy).

    #4: If you can afford it, I would just relax the summer before you start your first job, especially in management consulting. I’ve had a few friends work in management consulting after graduating, and it can be pretty hectic (long hours and/or lots of travel). You’re also going to have an adjustment from school to work, so you want to go into that fresh.

    That being said, I know not everyone can go travel around Europe for three months after graduating (I definitely wasn’t able to afford something like that), especially if you’re moving to somewhere like SF with a high COL. I think I had a two-month gap between graduation and FirstJob’s start date. I just lived at home before I started working and went batty.

    Are you friendly with any professors? Could you perhaps do research assistant work or something similar before you start full-time? Or maybe there’s some contract work you could find? You could try looking for retail (or similar) work where it won’t necessarily be held against you if you quit after a couple of months, but I know that’s not the easiest to find anymore.

    1. ac*

      I agree really taking it easy if you can manage to. There will likely be other on- or near-campus jobs available during the summer (in addition to research assistant) like working at campus facilities, retail or food service, etc., that will provide a low stress environment and understand you’ll leave at the end of the summer.

      1. Lizzie*

        Agreed – again, with the caveat “if you can afford to do so.” In between graduating with my Master’s in late June and starting a job in my field in late August, I took a part-time, temporary job relevant to my field, since I couldn’t afford to have no income for those two months. The job was fine, but what was really fantastic was the fact that I only had to do it 25 hours per week and could spend the rest of my summer relaxing, reading for pleasure, and exploring my city. (The latter is something I didn’t get to do when I first moved a year earlier, because I started part-time school and a full-time job two days after I moved!)

    2. CAA*

      For a start date with relocation, put approximately how much time it will take you to get there and be ready to work — 1 month, 6 weeks, etc. If you’re currently unemployed though, try to make it as close to immediately as you can. Go start the job, while staying in a Residence Inn or similar. House hunt on evenings and weekends, then once you have a place, go back for a few days to finish getting your stuff packed and moved. This is not easy, but it can be done.

      1. Sharon*

        I agree with this. I’m always puzzled at people who feel the need to buy a house first thing, without doing any research on neighborhoods. Seems to me to be a sure fire way to financially tie yourself to something you’re going to regret in 6 months to a year. Renting an apartment or staying in a Residence Inn for a few weeks really isn’t that horrible and can make much more financial sense.

  2. Jeanne*

    That is very odd in #1. I have chronic diseases and issues. I always left a message for each day I was out. Unless I was admitted to the hospital. Then I would say where I was, that I’d probably be there a few days, and I would call the end of the week, for ex. Why would you not call? It’s even easier if you can email. It’s a common courtesy as well as professional behavior.

    1. Nina*

      I agree that it’s odd. I’ve heard of people not calling in, but not taking several days at a time without any notice. And on more than one occasion! How is the OP supposed to know when the assistant will return?

      OP, do you call when she doesn’t show up on day two, three, and so on?

      1. Seal*

        I was wondering whether or not the OP called her assistant if she didn’t show up as well.

        In my public sector jobs, a job was considered abandoned if the employee didn’t show up for three days in a row without calling in or without getting prior approval to take that time off. Exceptions could be made at the discretion of the manager. Obviously there are those rare emergency circumstances that might make it impossible to call in. But if someone didn’t call in by a reasonable hour, their manager usually gave them a call or sent an email to see what was up.

        1. themmases*

          I agree, in every job I’ve ever held this would be considered a “no call, no show” i.e. a way of quitting your job if you don’t care about burning bridges on the way out. In some jobs, you wouldn’t even be fired like this was a performance issue– it would just be assumed after a day or two that you had quit in a really rude way. I can’t imagine how anyone who had ever held any job, even a part time retail job, could expect to do this and still have a job to come back to.

          1. MK*

            I suppose it’s different because there is a history of illness; if an employee, who has called in sick repeatedly in the past few months doesn’t show up, they assume she is ill, not just gone awol.

        2. Basiorana*

          In my work, people set their own schedule but still 3 days without contact would be considered job abandonment. Hasn’t happened here, but it did all the time in my previous job. In the one situation at the old job, the girl had been in an accident and her mother had forgotten to tell us. When she returned, there were a lot of apologies all around and her job was reinstated– but she had still been off the payroll in the meantime.

          If the OP isn’t calling every day after the first, asking where the assistant is, and on the third day making it clear that this is job abandonment, she needs to be.

      2. Student*

        I don’t want to armchair-diagnose the OP’s employee. However, this would not be unusual behavior for someone with depression. The employee might also have an illness that she considers embarrassing or shameful, and she’s trying to avoid talking about it at all. Or, the employee is lying about an illness for a variety of possible motives, and is ashamed of that or afraid of getting caught out.

        The employee’s behavior is out of line, no matter what the cause, but I can see some plausible motivations for doing this.

        1. Noelle*

          I am ashamed to admit that when I was suffering from depression, I did this. I had missed so many days already, and I didn’t know what to say if I did call in, since “I’m too depressed to come to work” isn’t usually acceptable.

          However, in my case, when I did come back to work, I came clean to my manager regarding what was going on. She helped me find a therapist through our employee health insurance, and, now, ten years later, I’m a therapist myself.

          So, even if depression is what’s going on, it’d be better for the employee to communicate what’s going on.

          1. Moo*

            Aww that is an awesome story. Love the full circle; and thank you for sharing about your depression — it’s encouraging to someone who is also depressed (me). :)

    2. Jessa*

      Exactly, the only time you don’t call every day is if you call on the first day and say “The doctor says I need to be out til Wednesday for this. If I am not going to be back Thursday because of changes in my condition, I will call you Thursday morning.” But you call every day unless you’ve already told your boss a return date, and you STILL call every day if your company requires that and you are able to (obviously if you’re in hospital for surgery or something you arrange for someone else to call if you must notify daily.) Most companies however are fine if you have a return date for you not to call in between.

      1. UKAnon*

        I was wondering if it was this situation – if OP has simply been saying “you need to call in” and the assistant has been calling on the first day and saying “I’m going to be out until at least ___” that may be crossed wires more than a deliberate obstruction by the assistant.

        1. JMegan*

          I don’t know, it sounds like the OP has been pretty clear: I’ve told her face to face twice that I need to be notified each day she misses… I don’t see how the assistant could be misinterpreting that, other than deliberately.

          OP, my guess is you’ll be recruiting for a replacement before too long. Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain. Yes, the recruiting and hiring process can suck, but it should only take a couple of months. And at the end of it you’ll have a reliable assistant who shows up for work every day, ideally for several years. Good luck!

          1. fposte*

            I think so too. I think at the least this is an assistant who doesn’t really care about the boss’s instructions when it’s something she doesn’t want to do, and I also suspect (as I think the OP may) that the employee is taking days off when she’s not sick.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              That’s what I was thinking — that the assistant is taking days off when she’s not sick (or she starts off sick but takes extra days while she’s at it). I think I got that vibe because I’ve seen other people do the same thing — take off when they aren’t sick, but feel guilty about calling and lying about it. People make strange choices when they get into that weird guilt/resentment mindset of knowing that they’re doing something wrong but wanting to do it anyway.

              1. Sarah*

                The weirdest thing is that you’re so much better off calling and telling the truth, even if it’s not the best reason to be out. I once missed the entire first half of a shift with zero warning because I misjudged traffic on a long drive coming back the morning after a weekend away, and was running 4 hours late half an hour before my shift was supposed to start. If I’d shown up 4 hours late with no call, that wouldn’t been really bad. But calling from the car 30 minutes beforehand to give my manager a heads up and let him know my ETA was, while not great, infinitely better.

          2. Meg Murry*

            Unless the telling has been in a vague “it would be nice if you would call in every day” or “I wish you would call in every day” or even “I would like you to …” – a way that sounds more like a suggestion than a requirement.

            OP needs to put it in clear, written form: If you are going to be out of the office, I need to know by x time (9 am, no later than 1 hour after shift begins, etc) for each day absent. You can notify me by the following methods: email to blah blah blah, text to blah blah, phone call/voicemail to blah blah. As others have suggested, putting it on a business card people can keep in their wallet is a good way to do this.

            And OP should make sure that at least one of those methods are a way that aren’t going to ring by her head in the middle of the night, so if someone wakes up puking at 4 am, they can call or email then and go back to bed, without worrying they are going to wake the OP.

      2. BritCred*

        I agree with this: We had a call in every day unless you had a sick note policy. When I was really bad I could get away with “I don’t think I’ll be back until Friday but will keep in touch” on a Tuesday but would make an effort to call or email *somepoint* during the day. I had the understanding with my boss and as long as I was being genuine that was fine.

        If I couldn’t do that I called in during our “notification” time of 8am-10am even if that was all I did before I went back to bed….

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        When I was in the hospital for some major surgery and then home for an additional couple of weeks, I was still calling or texting my boss fairly regularly, because it could have easily gone from “needs to be out 2-3 weeks” to “needs to be out 6-8 weeks” pretty quickly.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          And in that case, I would figure a good boss would say, “Keep in touch and let me know when you’ll be back,” then just expect to hear from you periodically. This assistant situation is so strange. When I had the flu, I left voice mails (at least) every day, including one at 3am when I was awake and ill and knew I wouldn’t be going in.

          1. Jessa*

            Exactly, usually at the places I’ve been working, unless you’re out on short term disability or FMLA (which you manage through HR and they have specifics of who you call, when and how you notify,) if you’re out let’s say for 5 weeks, you usually call in once a week, and let them know whether or not you’re still on the expected return date. At that point you don’t have to call every day.

          2. V.V.*

            I would advise caution when phoning in at 3 am. I did this once (4 am) expecting to leave a message, knowing at that point that I would not be able to come in, and not trusting I would be able to wake up to call just before work… to learn that my boss forwarded the office phone to her house every night before going home

            I almost lost what was left of my dinner and choked on it, when I heard her groggy “Hello” on the other end.

            1. Sarah*

              Yeah, email is great for that, and it’s a lot better if there’s a contact method that allows for a time delay between send and receipt in case the sick person needs to use it during the small hours of the morning.

        2. Mary (in PA)*

          I did a similar thing recently when I was in the hospital for what turned out to be somewhat-emergency brain surgery. I designated my sister as the point person for updates and had her add my boss to the email list. Then, every time something changed, I would notify her, and she wrote email updates for everyone.

    3. MK*

      Especially since she was already told she should call in. I can imagine that someone might be clueless or inconsiderate enough not to call in, even though it’s common sense, but refusing to do it after one was warned, that is almost suspicious.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        You would think, but I once had a coworker that did exactly that.

        The first time was a genuine accident. Marian had a planned medical appointment and thought she had emailed our manager Ursula to ask for that day off. Unfortunately, what she actually did was type out the email but somehow not send it. When Ursula never replied, Marian just took it as meaning that it was okay and never followed up to confirm. In the end, Ursula found out by accident when she went to see Marian and found her not there. At the time,as Marian had been so adamant that she’d tried to let Ursula know, Ursula let it drop instead of docking her a day’s pay for unauthorised absence (as other managers had advised her to do).

        A few months down the line she again failed to call in for an absence. She got signed off but failed to either produce her certificate or call Ursula for about two weeks. Ursula knew what had happened because coworkers had told her (I’d thought Marian had called in but found out she hadn’t when another manager called me about it), but our policy is that you have to call management when you’re ill and since Marian hadn’t done it, she did lose pay on that one. Marian then chose to blame this one on me even though I had ended up having to be the one to break the news that she wasn’t coming in.

        And it went on – when she had a longer absence, she was sending certificates in but a few times there had been a delay in their arrival meaning Ursula would call Marian to find out if she was calling in. Marian used to get angry about that but if she’d just given a courtesy call in the first place it needn’t have happened, so she didn’t get a lot of sympathy on that one.

    4. AnotherHRPro*

      This is a performance issue and should be treated as such. Your assistant is not following direction. I would document the situation, include feedback in her performance evaluation, provide written guidance as a follow up to a verbal conversation (i.e., as a follow up to our conversation on DATE, you are required to call into the office each day you are absent from work) and be prepared to replace her if this behavior does not change. As part of your conversation with her, you really need to ask why she is not following this simple direction.

      1. Basiorana*

        That’s soooooo rare that I’m sure the OP would have mentioned it. It’s also not something that the assistant could have hidden.

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh, because if you tell me “you must call every day,” and I live in a place where I have to go somewhere to get to a phone, the first thing I’m going to do is TELL you that. I’m not going to let it get to the point that you discipline or fire me for ignoring you. I’m going to tell you and work out another way to contact you. Especially nowadays where you can get a free or very low cost phone from social services in every state. Or a seriously cheap prepaid phone. That’s the kind of issue you work out with you boss, you don’t let that hang and have people think you’re completely irresponsible and cannot follow simple directions.

    5. Agile Phalanges*

      I could see wanting to sleep in when not feeling well, and therefore not wanting to call in at 7:00 a.m. or something, but maybe on the first call-in, check with the manager about whether it’s okay to just check in with them at noon the next day or something. I could see, too, where some managers/companies would be okay with an initial call-in and saying you anticipate being out for three days and you’ll let them know if that changes. But if the manager expressly says they want a call every day, even if you do have to get up early (then go back to bed) to do it, you do it.

    6. Cindi*

      Hey there — I am the OP for item #1, wasn’t sure which post to reply to, hope you all see this. (should I answer each one individually? or try for an all-in-one post?)

      I appreciate Alison answering my question, as well as all of your great replies!! Yes, I agree this is odd, to say the least! In all my years working I have never seen this, and honestly cannot believe it happened — more than once!

      To answer your questions, yes I did call her when she didn’t call in, at least the first few times. The first time this happened, she was gone for 5 working days: Day 1 she didn’t call, I called her twice no response; Day 2 she called me, I encouraged her to get better and told her how much I appreciated her calling and asked her to call the next day with an update; Day 3-4 no call; then Day 5 I called her first thing in the AM (trying to get prepared for picking up her slack), she answered and said she was still sick and when my frustration came thru, she got emotional. When she did come back, the response I got was “I’m sorry, I was just sooo sick, I barely got out of bed” and “Oh I’ve never been that sick before, it was just so bad”. I tried to be understanding, while making it clear she needs to communicate with me, and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and wrote it off as a one-time occurrence.

      So then, not even 3 weeks later, it happened again! This time I think it was 3 days. I don’t think I bothered calling her this time, I was just speechless over the whole thing. Seriously, who does that?!!? The second time when she returned to work, I was VERY clear that she needed to call. And again, I got an apology, acknowledgement, but still the “I was just so sick, I don’t know what came over me”. The 3rd occurence was just recently (when I submitted the question) and I won’t go into more detail, but to say I was more firm and clear and she apologized.

      I would never have thought of the depression thing, but I think you guys are on to something. As far as chronic disease/issues go, she talks often about how healthy she is, eats right and exercises, and says “I’m never sick”. (!!!) I can see the depression thing though, since I have been through it myself (mind you I would NEVER not call in!!!). I’m not sure how to approach that aspect of it, but I’m going to give it some thought….and pray this doesn’t happen again.

      And as for some who mentioned miscommunication: I was clear about either calling in daily, or if you know you’re going to need more than one day, she can let me know that too. I mentioned how sometimes you know it’s really bad and you might say “I’m going to miss today/tomorrow, but I’m planning on being back Thurs” and then sometimes you don’t know, so that in that case, call me every day.

      Again, thanks SO much for the feedback and discussion, I really appreciate this forum!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oooof. I really think you need to start preparing to fire her. She’s operating with a total lack of professionalism and courtesy, and she doesn’t care. There’s no way this is a top performer we’re talking about.

  3. Relosa*

    #4 – depending what kind of work you’re looking for; apply for summer-seasonal facilities. I started in the amusement industry and would make bank each summer; namely because I rarely had time outside of work to spend said money. It largely depends on what your needs are though. But anywho, you’re almost guaranteed to get hired, most parks offer an hourly incentive bonus (so make sure you have your dates right) and it could be the last chance to make new friends, live a crazy summer, and just be only partly responsible before you start working :)

    1. some1*

      This is a good idea, as well as looking for work in summer resort towns and tourist destinations — and if you don’t live near enough to commute a lot of these places provide affordable housing for that time since a lot of employees are in the same boat.

  4. Glor*

    #1… wow. Just, wow. I have health issues as well, and I had to call out of my last job a lot, often for multiple days. But I had to call each and every day I was out, so as not to be classed as a no-call, no-show. If it comes down to it, you can always use that term to signify how serious this is — “Jane, you have essentially NC/NS three days this week. In many jobs, this is cause for automatic firing. You need to find a solution where you let someone in the office know that you will be out that day. Do you have any suggestions?”

    1. Henrietta Gondorf*

      I’ve never worked anywhere where no call/no show wouldn’t get you fired unless there was some sort of major emergency.

      I don’t like asking for the employee’s suggestions here because the options are very limited and the OP is going to have to set a clear rule regardless. She notifies designated people/person of her absence by phone/text/email at her earliest opportunity each day she’s out sick and lets them know when she expects to be back.

      1. JMegan*

        I like it because it forces the assistant to take responsibility…or at least, to say the words “I will call in every day.” There’s a bit more power in having her say the words herself, as opposed to the OP saying it and having her agree.

        I don’t think it’s going to change the outcome, because as the OP states, this woman has worked in professional offices before, and knows what she’s supposed to do, and still isn’t doing it. But it’s a good first step down the road to her dismissal, anyway.

    2. Anna*

      It is so bizarre. The only time I didn’t have to call in every day I was out was when I had H1N1 and then it was really a case of “let us know when your fever breaks and even then we don’t want to see you until 24 hours later”.

    3. JTD*

      When I call in sick, I often text my boss before work hours to give him a heads up, especially if I find that I can do a certain amount from home so he doesn’t need to cover for me on immediate stuff, and then I call per company policy when he’s at work.

      However, after the first day when a chest infection meant I was doing a good impersonation of a Victorian heroine with consumption, it was perfectly fine to text him. But we agreed that in advance.

      I once had someone I manage disappear for several days and I, our team, and my manager were frantic to the extent we got HR to contact his next of kin. He hadn’t been well, and it took several days before we found that he just couldn’t be bothered to tell us, even though we’d left a frantic message with his landlady.

      1. Jessa*

        When I couldn’t talk, I would have my husband call. Sometimes you have to have someone call for you. There was only one job where I had to make a specific reasonable accommodation request. When my asthma is very bad, when I have a hemiplegic migraine, I literally cannot TALK. So they had to put in the file that it was understood that “must call in yourself and only you,” also means her husband because it’s unreasonable to punish her when she cannot talk at all.

        1. Elfie*

          I used to have to call in for my husband as well – he’s hard of hearing and can’t use the phone, but his company policy was to only allow employees to phone in sick. Now they’ve relaxed the rules (at least for him) and he can email in. However, at both his place and mine, it’s perfectly fine to say that you expect to be out until a particular date, and if anything changes you’ll let them know. That gives adequate notice for coverage if needed, and also keeps the employer in the loop.

  5. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 This caught my interest, I’ve had a very good sickness record in the last 7 years I’ve been out sick for one period of three days, on days one and two I called in sick and on the third day I slept late so hadn’t rang in, my boss rang me waking me up and it really pissed me off as I felt so ill and was quite happy asleep, the conversation I had with my boss was so pointless (them “so you’re not coming to work today” me “no I feel like crap” them “OK well feel better soon, hope to see you Monday”), and I never really understood the reason for the call.

    I understand its a big deal that the employee is ignoring a direct instruction to call you everyday and unless there is an underlying medical condition then excessive absence can be a performance issue all on its own, but why is daily phone call needed? I just cant see why its that important.

    1. Sunshine*

      Because unless you specify otherwise, the manager will assume that you will be back the next day. If that doesn’t happen, you owe a phone call.

    2. Revanche*

      Ditto Sunshine. If you were planning to be out for vacation, you’d need to tell them when to expect you back. If you’re sick that’s much more vague so, leaving aside the direct instruction to do so, if you have work that needs to be covered or that you’re being relied upon to deliver, the boss/supervisor would need to know that you’re out sick and not going to show up to do your job that day.

      And in another thread, I think a lot was covered along the lines of: how do they actually know you’re just sick and asleep vs got in a car accident on the way in vs were deathly ill and needed help, etc?

      1. Nina*

        how do they actually know you’re just sick and asleep vs got in a car accident on the way in vs were deathly ill and needed help, etc?

        This. With no concrete return date in place, the OP has no way of knowing if the assistant is still out sick or if something else has happened. If my assistant was gone for several days without notice, I would assume the worst (death in the family, they were hospitalized, in danger, etc.)

      2. QualityControlFreak*

        So, funny story. When I actually WAS in a car accident on the way into work last winter, this was apparently the top thing on my mind. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m told I kept telling the paramedics “someone has to call my work and tell them I won’t be there!”

        1. Revanche*

          Oh goodness! That’s both funny and terrible! I would have done the same, I expect … mostly because I know that my bosses would actually care, and so would my staff. But even if they didn’t, people would need to know to cancel my mtgs, etc, so my professional responsibilities side would be screaming: Tell them something happened, not to expect you for a while, and then rest!
          That’s what I do when really sick: email, saying I’ll check in on [whatever]day and then do so.

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            It was really fine – I work for and with good people. I was told there were a lot of grim faces at work that day (my spouse actually did call my workplace, so they knew what had happened). Again, I don’t remember anything from that time span. I tend to think that reaction was a holdover from a previous workplace where being off sick was a hanging offense.

    3. MK*

      The reason for the call was for your boss to know when to expect you back and plan accordingly. It’s not really reasonable to adopt a “you ‘ll know when I am back when you see me at my desk” and expect your job to deal with it. In your case, since you called in on the first two days and then didn’t on the third, your boss might very probably expect you to walk in the office any moment. When you didn’t show, calling you would have been the logical thing to do.

      Unless there is a policy that says otherwise, I don’t think it’s necessary to call in every day, as long as you keep people informed. If you know (either because your doctor told you or because it’s the usual recuperation time) that you will need at least X number of days off, tell people to expect you back on Y day. If it takes longer, call in again; if you get better sooner, you can give everyone a pleasant surprise.

      1. Kathryn*

        This. If you are not going to be there on any given day, your boss should know that and something like why (in generalities, vacation, sick, traveling, etc. They don’t have to be given pictures or long winded descriptions.)

        You can do this by calling/emailing every morning, by scheduling the time out and putting up an out of office on your phone/email, or by telling your boss at the beginning of an illness “Hey, I think I’m getting pretty ill, please don’t expect me back in until Friday.” On Friday, you then owe your boss either your appearance or another communication.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Because your boss cares about your well-being on some level, even if it’s just as an employee. If my employee or intern had been sick and didn’t show, I would check in on him/her– especially if I knew he/she lived alone, or if I was worried about his/her capacity to drive or commute safely after an illness. You owe some kind of notification, and without that, you should expect your boss to check up on you.

      I once worked as the only person on my team who was in our head office every day– my boss traveled 85% of the time. The first time I was sick, I told only my boss, then the head of HR came around the next day and asked me to please inform him too so he would know not to be concerned about me. Was that intrusive? Maybe a little bit, but it took two minutes to call his office and leave word and go back to sleep, and I was pleased that someone actually noticed when I wasn’t there.

    5. Rebecca*

      At my job, if you are sick, don’t come to work and don’t call in for 3 days, that’s considered an automatic quit. You’re done. And even though we have sick time, if you’re out sick for 3 consecutive days, you can’t come back to work without a doctor’s excuse. As you can imagine this is a bit tricky, as if you have the flu for instance, the doctor’s office discourages people from coming to the office and infecting others, and on the other hand, will not write excuses for patients they haven’t seen.

      1. Otter box*

        My workplace does this too. We have to notify our bosses and the corporate attendance tracking group in HR, and the kicker is you still get an attendance penalty for every day you’re out, or one per 3 consecutive days, and it’s unpaid because it’s manager discretion whether they’ll let you use vacation to cover it, and they often don’t. Thankfully I now work in a city with a local sick pay law where they’re required to pay you up to a certain number of sick days and remove the automatic attendance penalty, but it’s like pulling teeth to get management or HR to comply with the law – I’ve seen managers outright deny it exists or lie about or about who can qualify for it – and a lot of people decide it’s not worth it to fight it. Several people have actually been passed over for promotions or fired because of sickness related absences. I don’t understand why none of them have looked into wrongful termination lawsuits since this is a massive company that would probably love to settle out of court, but I guess I can’t judge till I’ve been in that spot.

        Today I’m actually out sick with what the doctor said was “clinically the flu” whatever that means, so this has been on the forefront of my mind. I’ve definitely made an effort to stay in touch with my supervisors, though, and I can’t imagine a scenario when I don’t call out each day. The only exception I’ve personally experienced is when I had an accident and ended up in the hospital for three days and was out for a week. I only called in the first day and then the day I came back (also I made the call while high on some serious painkillers like maybe morphine and it went so badly my mom grabbed the phone out of my hand because I made no sense…lol). For a normal illness though? No way.

    6. Cleopatra Jones*

      but why is daily phone call needed? I just cant see why its that important

      I’d just like to say as someone who watches waaaaaay too many cold case/forensic files/unsolved murder shows, the only way that some of those people were identified as dead or missing was because their job notified the police that they had not reported for work when they were supposed too.
      Oftentimes with family and friends, if they don’t hear from you for a few days it’s not a big deal because they assume you are busy and will call when you get a chance. On your job, people are a little quicker to identify suspicious circumstances because they will say, ‘ Jane never misses work without calling so we were worried and wanted the police to check out the situation.’
      So yeah, calling in and letting the boss know you won’t be there is really important for everyone.

      1. fposte*

        Overall, though, I don’t think that’s a legitimate reason for having to call in every single day you’re out during an absence event; after all, that’s almost never required for FMLA-type absences, because how absurd would that be to call every day and say “Still recovering from surgery and planning to be back in January”? In the OP’s case, the employee isn’t disappearing–she’s notified that she’ll be out sick the first day. I think she needs to check in about subsequent days for office information, but not because she’ll otherwise be murdered and no one will know.

        1. Jessa*

          But that’s different. You did call. And told them you’d be back on date x. The issue with every day calls is when you don’t have a date x in the future. You’re out ill, you could be 2 days out, 5 days out, whatever. If you have a return date most companies (accent on most, I’ve seen some pretty stupid policies) do not require you to call every day. The idea of calling is to let them know how long they need to fill in your position. The secondary thing is because decent people worry if they don’t see someone.

          1. fposte*

            But I’m no less likely to be murdered on FMLA, right? I’m challenging the notion that the reason for subsequent calls is to make somebody miss you, so therefore they can find you if something bad happened to you. But as you say, it’s to let them know how long they need to cover your work.

    7. Beezus*

      Presumably, you have work that needs to be done collaboratively with someone else, or work that someone else needs completed to proceed with their work, or work that someone else needs to cover if you’re out, or questions that you’re the best person to answer, or meetings with other people that will need to be postponed. When you work with other people, your absence normally impacts them in some way, and it’s expected that you’ll let them know when you won’t be there to do it, rather than just not show up and let them draw their own conclusions.

      1. Picky commentor*

        It’s one thing to say on Monday ‘I’m pretty sick, going to take the week off, I’ll let you know if I plan on coming in earlier or need more time off’ amd not expect to have to call in for a week, and it is another thing to not say how long you expect to be off. If you truly are taking it one day at a time, then you need to let your employer know. I don’t really understand why anyone would think it was a waste of time or unnecessary not to inform the place that employs you of how long you expect to be away, not only as common courtesy but as a legitimate business need.

    1. Bea W*

      Congratulations! I was just going to say, when I had a gap in employment, I used a volunteer job reference. I was currently working part-time paid and also used my then current manager as a reference, but since one reference is usually not enough, I tapped my current volunteer experience for references. It was fine.

      1. Raine*

        Love your avatar, Bea! Trying to figure out what that would be called — Necktie Cat, or Dinner Jacket Cat instead of a Tuxedo Cat? (I have a beloved Tuxedo cat myself.)

  6. The Cosmic Avenger*

    #1 seems odd to me because I check my work email from home regularly. No, not all hours of the nights and weekends, but every office workday I also check email once or twice from home, and I also work a full day from home fairly often. If I’m taking a sick day I usually email my boss the night before saying something like “Unless I wake up feeling much improved, I’ll need to take a sick day tomorrow”. I wonder if the OP’s assistant has access to work email from home, because it’s quite easy to send an email update, but I can’t remember the last time I actually called my boss on the phone.

    1. Elkay*

      As long as they’ve got access to an email address then they can email the boss. On occasion I’ve felt too crummy to get out of bed, turn on the PC, get my remote access key and wait for work email to load so I’ve emailed in from my personal email.

      Previous job had a good system. It was a big company and you were required to report sick via HR. They gave everyone a wallet sized card with all the information they required personalised to you (payroll no. Etc) so you basically had a script to follow when you called the sickness line.

      1. BritCred*

        Done this too and boss has got in to an email : Boss, its 1am and I’m feeling crappy. I’m not expecting to be able to work in the morning….”

        If I am ok to work? I can email/text him with “I’m feeling better, on my way.” If not I’ll call in when I DO get human enough but it means when he gets to his desk or his emails he can plan his day much better around me not being there.

        I had over a year off sick with this firm before I left them and I still have the door open to come back should I wish since they appreciated that I was honest with them and would work hard to minimize the impact as much as I could.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Believe it or not, some people don’t have a personal email address, and if that’s the case, they should be able to use their work email for this kind of off-hours, work-related email.

        (I know because I’m married to one of those people, and despite managing my own vanity domain and having an address set up for that person, they use their work email as their only email address.)

        1. The IT Manager*

          Not everyone has access to work email from home.

          I don’t have quick and easy access to my work email. Turn on computer, login to decrypt hard drive, log into computer, log in to VPN, turn on email and wait 10 minutes for it to synch* before I can send email. A text or phone call is a lot faster than that as long as I have the contact info of the person I need to call.

          * I know there’s something technically wrong with that last bit. It should not take long, but without that its still a 10 minute process or so.

          1. TT*

            Some people don’t have quick/easy access to any email at home. Or even texts. I have family members who not only don’t have cell phones (smart or otherwise), they don’t have computers or other internet-connecting devices. What they do have, is a landline that they can use to call in/out with.

            Granted, said family members are also absolutely diligent workers, and would find a way to notify their bosses of sickness or absence even if they had to walk 5 miles, barefoot, in the snow, to find the nearest communication device :)

            1. Observer*

              Most people either have a cell phone or a family member / room mate that they share a land line with. (It can actually be cheaper for an individual to go cell only vs land line.) In normal circumstances, it’s perfectly reasonable to say to the family member / room mate “please call my office and tell them I can’t even crawl out of bed.”

        2. esra*

          Using your work email as your only email seems like a recipe for disaster. Unless you never use email for anything personal.

    2. LAI*

      Agreed! When I am sick enough to stay home from work, I usually know it the night before. Sometimes I write the email and save it in my drafts, then set my alarm just to wake up, confirm that I still feel terrible, press send, and go back to sleep.

  7. Jake*

    #1 is a Big Deal and you need to make sure your assistant understands it is a Big Deal. A refusal to follow time off procedures is about to be part of the grounds for dismissal for one of my coworkers. I feel bad for him because while he has had the procedures reiterated to him several times by several parties, nobody has taken a stand and said, “this will result in dismissal if you don’t start following the procedures” or an equivalent.

    1. Mabel*

      This comes up quite a bit in AAM questions, and I don’t understand why managers have such a hard time telling someone that their job is in jeopardy if they don’t follow X procedure, but they seem to have no problem firing someone for the same reason. I completely understand not wanting to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with an employee, but it’s part of the job of being a manager, so you do it anyway.

      1. natalie*

        but you know, I always wonder why people do not understand that “you should call in every day” actually means”do it or you are fired”. A reasonable adult should know that you are expected to do what you boss asks you to. Even if they ask politely and do not repeat the “or you are fired” part.

  8. fposte*

    On #1: I think the small office where everybody understands the way you do things and there’s no formal policy is great until it’s not, and I think that may be part of the source of your frustration here. Do you even have an official number of sick days an employee is entitled to? If your assistant is non-exempt, you might also consider that days without notification don’t count as sick days but simply unpaid days; that would be a consequence short of firing that might be relevant to bring in here.d

    I would also be *crystal* clear on what you want. When do you want notification by? What formats are acceptable? Will you need to respond to these notifications so she can be sure you got them? Can she notify out for Monday and Tuesday on Monday if it’s clear it’s not a one-day thing, or do you want a new notification every day she’s out? This is not the time to go with the “Just something, whatever works” approach, because it’s not doing it with her. And you say you’ve “told her to her face”–next time you do that, *follow it up in email*. This is an official statement that you want to make sure isn’t mistaken for casual conversation. I might also, if you’re not prepared to outright fire her next time but she does it again, go for Jamie’s “I specifically discussed with you the requirement that you notify me on days you won’t come in. You didn’t do that. Why?” and see what you get from that.

    1. MK*

      I disagree that this is about the lack of formal policy or the OP not being clear, because they state that they have asked the employee twice to notifie them each day she is sick, and she hasn’t done so in any way, as far as I can tell. When your boss tells you to do something (a very reasonable thing too), it doesn’t matter if there is a policy or not; nor do I think the boss must specify the format in detail in order to be listened to.

      1. fposte*

        I’m not talking about those as reasons why the employee shouldn’t have to notify; I’m talking about those as reasons why the OP is so thrown by this, and identifying specific procedures the OP can follow if she wants to take this further, since she doesn’t have specific procedures in place.

        I agree completely that the employee should just freaking call in, but she’s not, and the OP hasn’t fired her and is uncertain if she wants to. Identifying what look like clear next steps for the OP, not for the employee, can help her quantify whether she’s ready to fire or not.

  9. Teapot Headache*

    Re: OP#1—how in the world does someone like that keep his/her job and why allow that? Good grief! I hope you don’t have a business that intends to make a a profit.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      You should’ve come to my old workplace (before the firm was bought out and my coworker was fired). My coworker would take off for days at a time without telling anyone. Once he took off 3 weeks in January and went to Arizona to visit family. We’re in PA. He never took time off or said anything. Never answered his phone.

      He would start going up to a week or more at a time before he’d show up at work again. No call and no show was the norm for him. My boss never fired him until after the merger when 1 of his new business partners told him either the employee would be fired or he’d have paperwork by next week to buy out my boss’s ownership unless he was going to manage.

      Only then was the employee fired. This guy wouldn’t show up to client meetings or call to ask us to tell them he wouldn’t make it. He’d never show up and his work would fall to somebody else. Morale was so low that it had only 1 way to go.

  10. BRR*

    #2 Please send a confirmation of receiving the application. If you’re worried about people contacting you have IT set up another email. It’s a nice thing to let people know their materials were received. Plus if for some reason they weren’t, a great candidate might think they were and you could lose out on them.

    1. Colette*

      Personally, I just delete confirmations. I don’t really see the value from the applicant’s end – not receiving one doesn’t mean it was not received, it just means that company doesn’t send them or it got spam filtered.

      1. MsM*

        It’s still nice to have some reassurance that it didn’t just fall into the ether, though, especially if it’s a job you really want. And if the message includes further instructions, like “We will be reaching out to first round candidates to schedule interviews in the next 2-4 weeks,” or “No phone calls, please,” that helps with planning.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This. I love the auto-reply confirmations. Even if I delete it after. It just tells me “hey, your email worked” and saves me any worry on that front.

      2. Observer*

        I delete them, too. But I like getting them. If you didn’t get one, it doesn’t mean your application didn’t get there, but it leaves a question. If the confirmation comes, at least you know your application showed up.

      3. grasshopper*

        I like the auto-replies. I know that my message at least got there. Call it a mini-reward for putting the work into writing a personalized cover letter for the position. Hopefully your candidates put some time into making their application, so taking the time to set up an auto-responder is the least that you can do.

        Put yourself in the applicants’ shoes and you would want an answer. Think of it as dating. If you’ve gotten up the courage to ask a guy/girl out and then they never respond, that is much worse than a solid yes/no answer.

        Also, consider job applicants as potential customers/clients/donors or even employees in other positions. I’ve got a very good memory for organizations where I’ve made an application and received a polite rejection from that I will continue to support/shop/give/apply for positions. Organizations that never reply are ones that I am less likely to support in future.

    2. danr*

      Yes, send a confirmation email and when the process is complete send a polite, short rejection email to the folks that didn’t get to the interview stage. Don’t try to personalize it or say what great qualifications the rejections had. I used to think that if my qualifications were so great, why didn’t I get an interview?

      1. David Dempsey, LCSW*

        Thank you for all the feedback, it has been extremely helpful. I think common courtesy always wins out no matter how busy an individual is, so a short acknowledgment of receipt and then another notification if the applicant wasn’t selected would be best practice so that the applicant knows they were considered, and the perceived image of the company by the applicant is hopefully a good one as a result of the interaction.

  11. Darcy Pennell*

    #5: When I was applying for jobs recently I used a volunteer reference because I don’t change jobs often and I only had a couple of work references which were anywhere near current. And the volunteer job is a weekly commitment I’ve been doing for years, so I felt like the volunteer manager is in a good position to evaluate me. I added a note explaining that if they needed all three references to be directly related to my professional work I could provide that, & would have given them an older reference if necessary.

  12. CJ*

    #1: You’re forgetting one of the side-effects of what this woman is doing–she is pulling down morale for everyone else. When a company with a lot of hard-working people sees one or two people who endlessly get away with slacking off, missing work, etc. they start to become resentful. I know–I’ve been in that situation.

    I’m not saying that someone with legitimate medical issues should be let go, but a reasonable policy is that if someone is going to miss more than two of work due to illness they should have a note from a doctor. That way a) you know the absence is legitimate but, more importantly, b) other employees know this is the policy and don’t feel so resentful.

    It’s easy to SAY other employees should mind their own business, but, especially in a small office, this isn’t always the case.

    1. Cat*

      I’ve also been in the position where I’ve been resentful of employees who seemed to be taking advantage of sick leave policies, but I don’t think this is the solution. It encourages people to come in to the office when they’re sick, it mandates useless and often expensive doctor’s visits, and it annoys and overburdens doctors who don’t need contagious people with non-treatable illnesses infecting their other patients and clogging their waiting rooms.

      1. some1*

        I think a good compromise is leaving the policy of requesting a doctor’s note to the manager’s discretion – that way the people who don’t take advantage don’t have to jump through hoops.

        1. CJ*

          Yes, this is a good compromise. However, be sure to spell it out in writing or you end up with the problem of people thinking you’re playing favorites (“You didn’t require Mary to submit a note, why do I have to get one?”).

    2. some1*

      “You’re forgetting one of the side-effects of what this woman is doing–she is pulling down morale for everyone else. When a company with a lot of hard-working people sees one or two people who endlessly get away with slacking off, missing work, etc. they start to become resentful. I know–I’ve been in that situation.”

      Also been there. This is a real morale killer for the employees who follow the rules. At one former company there was a manager who wanted to be “nice” and didn’t want to go through the trouble to replace anyone so his reports got away with everything – it breeded a lot of resentment.

    3. MK*

      I understand your reasoning, but in a small workplace (like a family-owned small company) that would breed a lot of resentment, because it would come across as overly suspicious. Also, when I am sick with the flu, the last thing I want to have to do is a) find a doctor relatively near me, b) find out their hours, c) schedule an appointment, which might not even be possible at short notice for a non-serious illness, d) dress myself, e) get myself to the doctor’s somehow (I am not sure if driving while feeling unwell or taking public transportation woyld be worse), f) wait X amount of time for the doctor to see me, g) go to a pharmacy to fill a prescription and h) return home. Especially if it will make very little difference in my recuperation, since taking aspirin and staying in bed would probably be much better for me.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Around here, if you didn’t already have a doctor, you’d have to call around to find someone who was accepting new patients. Forget finding one close to you: you’ll be lucky if you find one at all.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, no, no to the doctor’s note policy! That’s insulting to employees — it signals that you don’t trust them enough to treat them like adults. It also discourages employees from staying home when they’re sick, is an unfair burden on truly sick employees (because who wants to drag themselves to a doctor when a few days of resting in bed will cure them?), and drives up health care costs by pushing people to the doctor when they only need home care.

      No doctor’s notes.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes! Doctors also get annoyed about these and push back, because bringing in something you know doesn’t need treatment, but is contagious, such as the flu, puts other patients and staff at risk of catching it – for nothing, except a note. I gather some doctor’s offices are starting to charge extra for the note.

        Also, how valuable is it? I get the flu. At first I think maybe it’s something else and will go away, but the realization sets in and I have to go in on day 3. So on day 3, the doctor can write a note that I’m in their office and sick (as far as they know), because other than what’s observable right then, they’re going off my self-report of how long I’ve been sick and what my symptoms are.

        Plus, most of us have copays. Mine is a fairly mild $25…you’re now telling me I have to pay $25 for the “privilege” of staying home sick with my flu. (If I have the flu, I don’t need to see the doctor, so I’m _only_ paying that to get the note.)

        It signals distrust, it’s actually _not very accurate_ in many cases, and in cases that didn’t need a doctor’s visit, it costs money and wastes everyone’s time, plus exposing other people to the illness.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Seriously. I know when I’m sick and when I’m ready to come to work. I also know when I need to go to a doctor. Sometimes (usually) the flu or back problem just has to run its course.

      3. Rebecca*

        This might be worth bringing up to my State Representative. Those are great points, especially the part about driving up health care costs.

        And also no to issuing attendance points for missing work when you’re sick, even when you use your sick pay benefit, because you didn’t schedule it ahead of time. I know 2 people who work at a company that does this. No one plans to be hospitalized or wake up throwing up and/or with diarrhea! They shouldn’t be penalized with attendance points that could lead to termination if too many are accumulated in a rolling calendar year.

      4. Pennalynn Lott*

        It also leads to situations like this: One of the worst jobs I ever had (white collar, office job, $60K salary) required a doctor’s note if you were out more than two days. It was just one of the many ways they treated their employees like children who couldn’t be trusted to think for themselves. So my [very cool] doctor gave me a stack of signed, undated notes and told me to use them whenever necessary. Which I used for lots of days off to search for another job, one where the employees were treated like responsible adults.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Awesome doctor!

          Did you see the recent article circulating the internet with the letter from the Canadian doctor to an employer stating he would start charging the company for requiring doctor’s notes? I don’t think it was to a specific company, but it was very satisfying to read.

      5. Anna*

        Some companies (at least two that I know of) ask for a doctor’s note if you’re out for more than three days. So I had a wicked case of the flu, had burned through my three days of rest and still wasn’t well enough to go back to work. On the fourth day I had to drag myself to the doctor and get a note saying I had a fever and should still be at home. The way it was explained to me is that anything after 3 days could automatically kick in FMLA. Is that true or just a precautionary measure?

        1. JTD*

          The last time I needed a doctor’s note, my company required it for more than four days.

          I was nearly hospitalised with an infection and the hospital shrugged and said “we don’t issue them and you don’t legally need them [UK law] until 4+x days”.

          Thankfully my GP said “how long?”, rolled his eyes at my conservative estimate and wrote me a note for a week longer, because he said I needed that time. He’s used to the “don’t want to make a fuss” mindset and he taught me so much.

          Thankfully my current work has a work from home option, so if I’m feeling cruddy, I can text my manager and let him know, including how much I can work from home. Sometimes, just not having the commute is all you need, but I treasure the late-night text of “don’t you dare come in tomorrow, get better first” when a cold kicked in nastily late afternoon.

          1. Hlyssande*

            I would also treasure that text. Especially if they’d send it to my coworker who is incredibly proud of the fact that he’s never ever taken a sick day (we get 5 sick, 2 weeks vacay to start, and the sick days don’t roll over). Even when he’s coughing and hacking and drippy and gross, he doesn’t take a sick day.

            I had a struggle the first time I hurt my back and needed a note for FMLA leave when I didn’t have a primary care. The clinic the hospital referred me to said they didn’t fill out the paperwork and thankfully our dept’s HR rep said he’d handle it.

      6. Jennifer*

        It’s also assuming you can get a same-day appointment to see a doctor, which isn’t always the case.

      7. blackcat*

        I once woke up with what seemed like a moderate sinus infection. My plan was to stop at a walk in clinic on my way to work. As I drove, I felt worse and worse. By the time I got to the clinic, I felt awful. The NP who saw me (dressed and ready for work) said “no way are you going to work.” When I waffled, she came back with a highly official-looking note. The next day, I was feeling better and went to work (sometimes with an infection, antibiotics really are magic!). I offered my boss the note. He LOL’ed and asked me if I needed to sit out P.E. today. (This was at a school where the kids *did* need dr’s notes for some things, because we had parents who would lie for their kids to get them more time on assignments. Enforcing those rules were not fun.)

        There were lots of things about is management style that were not great, but I appreciated his attitude towards us taking time for our health. I’ve always been astonished at how many of my friends have needed dr’s notes for even short absences (one friend needed one EVERY TIME she missed a shift. Out for two days–she needed a note FOR EACH DAY. In food service. I’m sure she spread her germs to many customers!)

      8. BananaPants*

        Requiring a doctor’s note for a single sick day is absurd. In my workplace, employees are expected to call/email/text one’s manager or the absentee line (just a VM box, the admins rotate on checking it every morning) daily to report absences due to illness. Our sick leave policy states that one’s manager or HR “may” require a doctor’s note after 3 consecutive sick days. After 5 consecutive days the employee has to call the company’s short term disability provider, who will initiate a claim.

        These two thresholds are supposedly in place to minimize abuse of our very generous sick time bank (I have 11 years of service and I think I have 15 weeks’ worth of sick time for 2015). Even with 3+ consecutive sick days, one’s manager or HR usually doesn’t ask for a doctor’s note unless an employee has a very high usage of sick time or there’s a suspicious pattern to sick time usage. If you make it to 5 consecutive days and have to call the short term disability administrator, they’re going to require that you see a physician anyways in order to make their claim determination.

        We have a high deductible medical plan – for me to set foot in my PCP’s office is going to run around $90+. There’s no way I’ll go to the doctor on Day 1 of an illness for what is likely to just be a bad cold/upper respiratory virus that needs to run its course – and that’s assuming I can get a same-day sick appointment to begin with (not at all guaranteed unless I take my chances with the walk-in clinic).

  13. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – don’t put up with this. This is blatant insubordination – it’s a minor thing and the fact that she refuses to do it is a sign of issues with her willingness to take direction.

    There’s no excuse for not calling in. My employees can text or leave a message if they can’t reach me, but they know they’re not excused until they’ve gotten a response from me.

    1. Observer*

      I happen to disagree. I can see situations where a person has a good (in their head) reason to not call that has nothing to do with intending to be insubordinate or refusing to take direction. It’s still a problem, though, so the OP needs to lay out the expectations AND consequences clearly.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I’d love to hear some of those situations, because I can’t fathom thinking it’s ok to not make contact.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Except that OP has specifically told her assistant to call in. It’d be one thing if, say, this person came from a small family business and genuinely had no idea most people do this. “Good reason to blow off the boss’ instructions” is what?

        1. Observer*

          Good reason or Good to the person who is doing it? “She said she’d *like* me to call, but blah, blah blah”. “She HAS to let me take time off to take care of myself” (conflating the possible requirements of FMLA leave and being able to ignore reasonable notice requirements.) “My personal problems are none of her business.”

          Of course there is a lot that goes along with those types of statements, but not necessarily willful insubordination.

          It’s clearly not sensible and reality based. And it’s clearly something that needs to change – REGARDLESS of the motive. So, approach it without regard to motive. And, yes, be willing to replace her.

          1. Oryx*

            Maybe not “willfull” insubordination in that it is the intention of the employee to be insubordinate, but insubordination all the same.

  14. Emsz*

    The issue in the first question is really weird to me. I understand that what she’s doing is wrong, I guess I just don’t understand the policy in the first place. The last thing I would want to have to worry about if I’m ill is having to call in each and every day that I am.
    Everyone I know who’s employed (I am a student) calls in once, and then show up again when they’re better, or lets their employer know if they’re expected to be out longer than a week or so. Is this an American thing? (I’m Dutch).

    1. MsM*

      It must be either an American thing or a non-student worker thing, because unless the emergency is so dire that you can’t contact anyone, I’m surprised people wouldn’t just do this as a matter of course. I could maybe see giving an estimate for how long you thought it was going to take to get better and checking in with updates, but even then I’d try to give those on the last day of the range I provided if I needed more time instead of the morning I was supposed to come back.

      1. TT*

        Maybe it is an American thing, but even as a student worker, I was expected let them know each day if I wasn’t going to be in, whatever the reason. It’s not just about you, the sick person, it’s also about the work needs of the office. They may need to arrange someone to cover certain tasks if you’re not going to be there, and the more notice they have (rather than sitting around waiting to see if you show up or not), the easier it is to arrange that.

        1. MsM*

          True. I’m thinking of my student job, which only required a set number of hours each week, not a particular shift. So unless I got sick early in the week and didn’t think I was going to be better by Friday, I probably wouldn’t have thought they needed to know.

        2. Mabel*

          I used to manage a small team of trainers, and if one of them was going to be out, I had to make sure someone else was covering their training sessions (or I had to reschedule the sessions). If the trainer didn’t call in, I would have to waste a lot of time trying to find out if they were running late or not coming in at all. And I would really want to know why they thought it was OK to leave us hanging.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I don’t think it is an American thing. I think it’s a company culture thing, but also job dependent. If this is your receptionist, if she doesn’t say that I’ll be out the next three days you may want to know every morning that she’s out so you can ensure someone is filling in for her at reception or answer phones every day that she is out. I think a lot depends on if her position must be filled everyday or if her work is her work and can sit while she is sick.

      1. Cat*

        Yes, I will admit I have not always called in on subsequent days of being out (though I usually manage to remember to email the receptionist to make sure she knows, but I think once or twice I haven’t). My job is such that if nobody is particularly needing me for something on a given day, my absence won’t necessarily be noticed, especially if I’m checking email (and I get voicemails forwarded to my email as well). So I can see why it wouldn’t initially have occurred to the OP’s assistant – though, of course, that doesn’t excuse ignoring direct instructions to the contrary.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I need to know if you’re not going to be in. What if I need to send someone to a briefing with short notice – if I think you’re going to be in but you’re a no show I have to scramble to find coverage.

      I’d also like to know that you’re ok and not in a hospital or jail. Some particularly sensitive government jobs will send security to your house if you’re no call/no show and they can’t reach you and confirm you’re ok.

    4. MK*

      I don’t think it’s an American thing. I agree that calling every day can be a bit superfluous, but calling in once and then just show up when you are better wouldn’t work either, unless your work can wait till you come back. In most cases, there needs to be some kind of arrangement about coverage or handling time-sensitive work. And it would be wierd to call in and say “I am ill, I ‘ll see you when I see you!”. Usually people have some kind of general idea how long they will be absent and say “I won’t be in today, but should be ok tomorrow; if not, I ‘ll let you know” or “don’t sexpect me at all this week, I will call again on Friday with news” or even “I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and will call after that to tell you how long I must stay home”.

      1. TT*

        One day my husband’s boss was late – excessively so, and she wasn’t answering calls or texts (there were some reports only SHE could do – and her own manager was waiting for said reports for hours), so they started to get genuinely worried about her. Her manager drove to her house to make sure she was ok. Turned out she was sick and had slept through her alarm and all the calls/texts. Obviously she wasn’t deliberately neglectful, but it is one of the other reasons for letting people know – so they don’t worry about you.

      2. Hlyssande*

        I couldn’t help it, I laughed at your typo. “Sexpect.” Ehehehe! /tom hiddleston giggle

        Also I completely agree with you. A reasonable employer would be happy with any of those suggestions in your last sentence.

      3. Revanche*

        Yep all of suggestions would work for me, it both alleviates my personal worry if you’re ok and professionally allows me to make sure you have coverage so you can just concentrate on getting better, not whether your work was falling through the cracks.

    5. esra*

      Canadian here. Honestly it seems crazy that an employee wouldn’t let their employer know how long they’d be out. How is the employer/fellow employees supposed to plan for coverage if needed etc?

    6. Matt*

      European here – for me it seems to be an American thing, although the difference seems to be that in return, doctor’s notes do not seem to be very common in the US as far as I read from the threads about the sick days topic in these forums. Over here, almost everywhere you have the policy that a doctor’s note is needed as soon as three or more work days are missed. (Some employers even require a doctor’s note on the first day.) So the usual way of things here is that you call in *once*, then go to the doctor to obtain the doctor’s note, then e-mail it to your direct boss and HR department, and as soon as you return, you provide HR with the original doctor’s note in paper. The doctor’s note contains a date when you have to return to the doctor to check, so the employer has an idea about how long it will take. Maybe if it’s a longer illness, you should call something like once a week with a status update, but certainly not daily.

    7. Bob Because*

      I have a lot of family in the Netherlands, so I often hear about the differences between working there and working in the states. The main difference is that American employers are inherently distrustful of their employees and don’t believe when their employees when their employees say they’re sick.

      Now, there are some employers who aren’t like that and trust their employees, but these employers are exceptionally rare

  15. MsM*

    #4: You’d really have to check the company regulations (and tax implications, unless you’re willing to do volunteer work) on this one, but have you considered picking up a short and simple freelance project? It might land you a client you can take with you to the new job.

    Or take everyone else’s advice and just relax. You’ll have precious little of that once you start, and that particular gap on your resume is not something that any future employer will question.

  16. hayling*

    LW #1, is this employee using sick time/PTO on the days that she’s not calling in? If she is, I’d certainly tell her that she can’t use them unless she calls in.

    1. Risa*

      I would be very careful with this tactic. It’s illegal in San Francisco to attach punishment to sick days, as long as the employee is under their legally mandated 9 sick days per year. You can’t even give a verbal warning that they’ve used a high number of them in a short time as a heads up that they may run through them before the year is out. I was let an employee know that they had already gone through 6 of their 9 and it wasn’t even mid-year. The employee complained to the city’s labor board and I got a call from them advising me that I couldn’t do that. Withholding a legally entitled sick day would get you in major hot water here.

  17. Allison*

    #1: I’ll admit, in my last job I didn’t always let people know if I was out sick or working from home for the day, but then again my work was largely independent, and most of my team was remote and everyone communicated electronically. I did interact with some people in the office, but my boss was sometimes in a different office so he often didn’t notice if I wasn’t there. No one ever complained or requested that I keep people up to date on where I’d be spending the workday, if they did I would’ve gladly communicated when I was working from home or taking the day to recover from illness. Then again, I probably should have anyway.

    The fact that the assistant is often not showing up without telling OP she’s out sick is an issue, especially since the OP has told her she needs to and she still hasn’t. OP needs to tell her, clearly and without dancing around the issue, “I need to know, each day, whether or not my assistant will be here. If you can’t communicate that information on a regular basis, I will find someone who can and you will be let go.” Before this talk, however, maybe ask her why she isn’t letting you know this information each day. I know it’s tough to wake up at 6ish and send your manager an e-mail when you’re sick, but that’s not an excuse not to.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Which is why, when you’re feeling lousy the night before, you send the email then. That means the manager is already notified and you can get the sleep you need.

  18. Student*

    #1 – Some people (myself included) take things very literally, so it might help to clear up exactly what you need her to do. For example, you refer to it as “calling in” sick. It might help to explain to her that all you want is an email note or a text, if those are acceptable notification, and that she can notify any of employees #1-4.

    It might also help to clarify with her when she needs to ask permission, when she needs to just tell you what’s going on, and when she needs to start officially documenting her illness. I am sure you don’t like the idea of making a formal sick policy since your office doesn’t have any leave policy at all right now, but this is exactly what they’re for. It makes the expectations clear for everyone.

  19. MR*

    How the hell does someone do a No Call No Show more than twice, and still be employed? OP #1, you have an employee who is walking all over you.

    The first time someone NCNSs, they receive an immediate one week unpaid suspension. The second is an immediate termination. No questions asked. I get that ‘stuff happens’ and you may be late calling in, but to just go without hearing from the employee? Come on.

    With only four employees, you can’t afford to have this type of behavior. The other employees are probably fuming that that this assistant is continuing to get away with this. I’m surprised that Alison had such a passive response to this situation.

    Until you fire the employee, nothing is going to change with this person.

      1. MR*

        IMO, No Call, No Shows are the quickest route to termination. No explanation should be needed, no counseling, no coaching required. It’s just something that is Not Done.

        If it’s something that does need to be explained to an employee beyond a teenager in a customer service type role, then that employee isn’t going to last anyways.

  20. Wise one*

    To OP #1: how did you inform the employee previously? Was it in passing in conversation or did you make it explicitly clear and that was the focus of the conversation? How big is the employee’s workload and performance overall? It’s possible that the employee was so sick that these were unintentional oversights and he or she did not realize how serious they were. In addition—if the employee’s work product is good or excellent, this is a myopic thing to focus on.

  21. Cassie*

    We don’t have a formal no call, no show policy, but the unwritten rule is that if you are calling in sick, you have to call your direct supervisor and let him/her know. If you know you will be out for multiple days (let’s say with chicken pox), you would just tell your supervisor an estimated date of return and not have to call in every day. It’s not jury duty :)

    My friend’s workplace has a strict call-in policy where you have to call at the start of your work hours and speak to your direct supervisor. If your direct supervisor doesn’t start work until later or is not available, then you need call the supervisor’s supervisor. You have to speak to a live person (and it can’t just be someone in HR). Email or voicemail is not acceptable.

    I do think there should be room for some compassion/flexibility. There was one employee whose neighborhood was without power (due to very strong winds) and could not open the garage door to drive her car out. Her cell phone was out of battery and she didn’t have a landline phone. I think she managed to eek out a text message to a coworker but otherwise had no other way to contact the office.

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