should I let employees just leave a voicemail message when they’re going to be out sick?

A reader writes:

I’m a new supervisor of a team and, compared to the team members, have significantly less experience in both what we do and length of time at our employer. I told my team early on that they need approval to use leave. I also sent out an email saying that leaving a voicemail wouldn’t cut it for sick leave unless they were so sick that they couldn’t call or email. I also told them that annual leave needs to be approved in advance. I told them this in part because, as part of my supervisor training, I got an email forwarded to me that was written by one of the head honchos here saying we’re not supposed to have a leave-a-voicemail policy and people need actual approval.

I’m getting pushback on this policy. Of couse people just want to be able to leave a message that they’re taking the day off work whenever they feel like it and one person has already done so. I talked to this employee about it, who pointed out that all their previous supervisors had let them do that. Their last supervisor of the team did said that a voicemail was fine. Other supervisors I work with, supervising people doing the exact same thing, let their people just leave a voicemail. I went to my supervisor with the question and he was very on-the-fence about it.

I’m not sure if I should back off on this policy or not, given that many supervisors either don’t know about it or don’t follow it. My employer has fairly generous flextime policies, and, with the nature of our work, it’s unlikely that there would be any valid reason why someone needs to be in the office or even working on any given day. Any input is appreciated.

I’ve never been a fan of “you can’t leave a voicemail” sick leave policies. If you’re sick, the last thing you want to do is have to keep calling until you reach someone. Moreover, if you’re up half the night with the flu, you want to be able to leave your manager a voicemail at 4 a.m. and then go back to sleep — not have to set an alarm to call her once she’s in. And really, there’s no need for policies saying that you have to actually talk to someone, unless the subtext of the policy is either that the employer doesn’t trust its employees or that it might not okay the sick time, neither of which is reasonable.

Now, if your employer requires you to enforce this policy anyway, then you have to enforce it. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case in practice — other managers aren’t doing it, and your own manager wasn’t willing to say “yes, you need to enforce this” when you asked him about it. So that says to me that you have some discretion in whether you enforce it or not — and thus I’d say don’t.

Both in general and in this specific area, you’ll get better results by erring on the side of giving your employees more autonomy and trust rather than less unless there’s some specific reason not to.

{ 215 comments… read them below }

  1. De Minimis*

    We sort of have a “no voicemail” policy here, though we also have a very clear chain of command regarding whom to call when you’re out. If you call the designated person and can’t get them, you have to leave your number with the message, and then they are supposed to call you back.

    My complaint about the policy is at least one of the designated people has job duties that keep him out of his office, so he is notoriously difficult to reach [though he does have a cell number.] It also requires people to check their work e-mail so they can figure out who is in charge the day they are out, otherwise they have to call numerous people to find out. In practice, though, there is really nothing to check whether you actually spoke to someone or not in cases where your regular supervisor wasn’t available.

  2. LBK*

    IME this policy exists solely for the purpose of trying to suss out if the person is “really sick”. If you can talk to them live, you can probe them or pressure them into coming into work, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve done when I was in retail and I knew we would be strapped for coverage if someone called out. Looking back, I wouldn’t do that now because it’s so rude and distrustful of your employees.

    1. SJP*

      As i wrote below, thats not necessarily true. I have to call in when sick as I need to pass over work to colleagues as I work as a PA so can’t just leave stuff hanging.
      Yes some companies do so they can hear the person and ‘suss out’ if they’re really sick, but there are genuine reasons for having someone call in

      1. De Minimis*

        At my workplace it’s generally very casual as far as leave, but I think they are required to approve all sick leave or vacation if the employee has the leave available. They don’t start being able to use discretion for leave until a situation where the employee has to use leave without pay, but even then I think it is usually approved.

        1. Joey*

          Why would you deny someone paid leave if they said they couldn’t make it to work?

          if it’s that bad the person needs to be fired

          1. De Minimis*

            Leave without pay is what happens when an employee has used up all sick leave, vacation, etc…but still needs to be off. From what I can tell [I see all the pay reports] it’s generally granted, but I assume they would not have to grant it if they didn’t want to. I do think after a certain period of leave without pay they have to get it approved at a higher level if it’s an extended period.

          2. Mike C.*

            I’m with Joey here. If you trust the person enough to hire them or keep them employed, you should trust them enough when they say that they need to take a day off for stuff.

            If you’re in a place where you need to worry about coverage or specific roles, now would be a good time to develop cross-training plans so that these unexpected issues will cause fewer problems.

            1. De Minimis*

              I think you both misunderstand, it’s mainly an administrative/budgetary issue. If they don’t have any leave available, but still need off, they have to take unpaid leave. A day or two of that here or there is not a big deal, but anything beyond that can cause problems. We’re a federal agency and I think if we start having a lot of people taking unpaid leave for long periods we start hearing about it from headquarters, because they’ve budgeted for these people to be paid for a full year. So if we run into a situation where someone is totally out of sick leave, vacation time, etc. and something like FMLA isn’t in play, management has to start deciding whether to continue to allow it after a certain point. Of course, in reality, the type of situation where that happens tends to be something serious to where it would be unlikely that it would be denied.

              I know it’s pretty common here for people to ask for leave to be donated to cover a medical emergency, though I don’t know how many people actually donate.

            2. De Minimis*

              Absolutely 100% yes to the cross training…I am running into that a lot when I need off. The person I replaced was there a couple of decades and seldom took off for an extended period. After she left, I needed off for a couple of weeks and everyone flipped out….I asked what they did in the past when my coworker took off, and was told that “she never took off for an extended period…”

              They still don’t really have proper coverage, they have one guy covering one of my functions but I checked and it turns out he doesn’t actually have the correct level of access…trying to get them to take care of it, but no one there seems to know what to do….ugh, tax dollars at work.

              1. Jenna*

                I worked for a corporation, and we had access issues, too. Sometimes someone had access, but, lost it due to not using it for a while…but, the person they were covering for hadn’t been out of the office for a long time. It’s fixable, but, annoying.

          3. De Minimis*

            Oh, I see…I meant that employees have leave approved no questions asked assuming they have the hours of leave available. From what I understand, you can’t be denied the use of leave that you’ve earned [with the exception of government shutdown periods…all leave is cancelled for those and everyone comes in.]

      2. Carrie in Scotland*

        Re: your work – if you had an email/calendaring system then my old bosses could look in at what was in your ‘tasks’ and see if there was anything urgent for deadline and/or that came into your inbox (I was an admin assistant). The other thing they did if you were off for several days, and not just one, was to let your team know, so they’d send any urgent work to your manager rather than to your inbox.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, here we share our calendars with each other so I can see what my coworkers and boss have on their agenda for the day. I can also see when they’re traveling so I know if I email them with something that they won’t respond right away. They can see my appointments too–they know if I’m showing in IM as busy at X time, that it means I’m on the front desk or whatever.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Looking at 10 or 12 different calendars in Outlook gets messy, so I set up a shared calendar where we put things like “Cosmic on vacation”. Yes, it’s duplicative of our own calendars, but it’s also less work to find who is out and who is teleworking, so overall it probably saves time. It definitely cuts down on the confusion.

      3. dawbs*

        This might be obvious, but what of that info/work can’t be passed along via Voice Mail?

        I prefer to do an email or voice mail when I’m unexpectedly out, because then it is re-playable/re-read-able that my message says
        “Hi, it’s me, I’m in bed with a delusion I’m Ethel Merman. Jane or Bob should have the information about the chocolate teapot handle run for today. I’m supervising Fredia and George this afternoon, both of them should know how to temper today’s chocoalte. call me at my stage number if there is information you need, I’ll make sure I’m available between 11 and 2 by phone.”

      4. LBK*

        I still think that’s something that can be passed along via email or voicemail – presumably there is some kind of plan in place and tasks are typically divvied up a certain way when coverage is needed, so I’m having trouble envisioning what kind of discussion you would need to be involved in. If there’s any decision-making required about who should be handling what in your absence, I’d think that would be done by your manager, not you.

      5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I don’t think it’s actual policy at my workplace, but I wouldn’t rest easy until I knew for certain that my boss or the department admin assistant knew I was going to be out, but that’s because I have a job (teacher) where someone has to arrange coverage (i.e., a sub) or things get very messy. So when I call/email to say I’m sick, I will try again in half an hour if I haven’t heard back.

        Of course, I’m not able to go back to bed right away after calling in sick anyhow, because when I’m unexpectedly absent it generally takes me an hour or more to write up sub plans that are detailed enough for someone unfamiliar with my curriculum & classroom to follow. :(

        1. ILiveToServe*

          Teaching- And one reason I hated calling in sick was sub plans. Mine were never up to date with the curriculum and I would rather drag myself in and make it through the day than try to create sub-plans for 5 classes while I was feeling like crap.

          1. Chinook*

            “And one reason I hated calling in sick was sub plans.”

            This and dealing with a certain type of parent are the only two things I don’t miss from teaching. Luckily, I taught jr/sr high school, so I could always create a project for them to work on that was both curriculum based and didn’t require more than me being able to ensure they don’t kill each other. As a result, the only time I called in sick was when I lost my voice (and I could usually feel it coming on the night before so I could quickly come up with something for the sub to do).

            I honestly love my current job where I can email in sick (to people whom I know check their email first thing and regularly) with few handover notes. I don’t do it often but it is sweet, sweet bliss.

    2. elder dog*

      Now we have tests that can determine which strain of flu someone has, I am waiting for the first few court cases against hospitals and retail establishments for allowing infectious people to come in to work and infect other people. I’m hoping to see at least reckless endangerment and attractive nuisance charges.

      1. ILiveToServe*

        on the other hand if you do have the flu (yes I was tested, type A) there is no way you can drag yourself in. We email.

        I had an assistant who would not email that she was out sick. She would leave very dramatic- coughing voicemails to let me know she was taking the day. I truly didn’t care why a person is taking a sick day. Please don’t share details.

        If an employee is abusing sick leave that is easy enough to document-
        do they call in the Monday after a holiday weekend …or the day before…consistently?
        do they call in the day after payday? repeatedly?
        do they call in after announcing that they were going to party all night?
        do they call in the first day the temperature hit 45 degrees after three months of subzero temps?
        do they call in the first day of hunting season?
        do they call in the day before they are scheduled to be on vacation?

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Yup. People who abuse sick leave policy usually aren’t smart about it. Sure, it’s nice to have a long weekend, but the random Wednesday off that breaks your work week into two blocks of two days apiece is nothing to sneeze at!

          (note: when I take a mental health day in this manner, I make sure nothing crazy will be going on in my absence, and I tell my boss that’s what I’m doing!)

        2. NutellaNutterson*

          This makes me think of the Pointy Haired Boss, cracking down on people taking 40% of their sick days on Fridays and Mondays…

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        As long as the consequences fall on the heads of the executives or managers who decide this is policy and not the unfortunate person who has to go to work sick or be fired, I’m totally on board with this.

        I once worked in a public-facing role at a university and called in sick for one day with a 102-degree fever and nasty viral bronchitis. My boss was so angry that I’d called out (apparently they’d had to close down because one of my coworkers happened to go into the hospital the same night and the other was a lazy clueless jerk) that I didn’t dare do it again. I ended up having to come in for a week and a half with the same fever. Pretty soon, there were several other people who got the same thing I had. I felt guilty that I’d spread my illness, but I wasn’t in a position to get myself fired without UI (because it would have been “for cause”).

    3. Liz*

      Except that email is OK under the policy. It sounds more like they just don’t want a voicemail which could be missed.

      1. ILiveToServe*

        yes. I like my employees to email as I am not always at my desk.

        I email my supervisor, my assistant and the guy with the office next door if I am going to be out.

    4. Stephanie*

      Eh, depends. I had a job where they want to talk to you live, so they can confirm that you’re out sick and need coverage. They usually wouldn’t pressure you to come in.

    5. Kyrielle*

      I’m required to call in sick and make contact with a real live person, not so they can pressure me – only one boss has ever done that, and even that one normally didn’t – but because one too many times, someone called in and left a VM and it turned out they didn’t know/remember that manager was on vacation, or THEY called out sick, or…and then no one knew where the person was.

      In practice, I send an email as soon as I know I’m sick, and if either of the bosses sees it, they usually reply something like “no need to call, feel better soon” or the like. (This works very well because I have a boss who checks email at all hours and another who works modified hours and is in at about 6 am each day…and I’m up and getting the kids out the door, so I can check my company email briefly to see if my earlier message was received. If not, I call.) The company’s fine with that, it’s timely confirmation of receipt of message they’re after.

  3. Colette*

    I understand needing approval for vacation days – but requiring approval for sick time implies that you’re the one who evaluates whether they’re sick enough to come in, and that’s not likely to end well. Under what circumstances would you say no? If someone is abusing their sick leave, you can still talk to them when they get back.

    (Also, do you require approval for bereavement leave or jury duty? Again, are you going to say no?)

    1. Denise D*


      I wonder if there is a misunderstanding on the policy or if the company wasn’t clear in communicating the policy. It is reasonable that you need approval in advance for vacation time/PTO. But for sick leave? I’m thinking there wasn’t clear communication from the higher ups and that’s caused some confusion. Or am hoping that’s the case.

      1. Suzanne*

        Oh, a former co-worker of mine told me that he worked at one company that required a 24 hour notice for paid sick time. Just let that sink in…

        My former employer required a signed note from whatever doctor/dentist/optometrist when you took any sick time pay for an appointment. Because we’re all adults, right?

    2. LBK*

      Also, my understanding of requiring approval for vacation days as approving that it’s an acceptable time for you to be out of the office – so no big deadlines, acceptable coverage, etc. It’s not “give me a presentation on what you intend to do with your vacation and I’ll judge if that merits my approval of you taking time off”. Either way, it’s none of your business what they’re doing with that time, and digging or requiring explanations is really distrustful.

      1. Colette*

        And that’s completely reasonable – you don’t want three of your employees taking leave during the busiest week of the year. But yeah, the only time what they’re doing comes into play is if it’s a situation where you’d like them to be flexible, if possible. If they’re planning to spend the day watching movies it’s more flexible then needing the day off to attend their sister’s wedding.

    3. Formerly Bee*


      And it’s pretty likely that someone will be so sick that leaving a voicemail or email is the best they can do, or be in some other emergency where that much communication isn’t possible.

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      At my workplace, a school, we’re required to let the administration know about all expected absences, including jury duty, but in those cases it’s not about *approval* as much as making sure it’s on the calendar and that classes will be covered.

      It doesn’t sound like the OP’s workplace is the kind of place where immediate coverage is needed if an employee calls in sick, though, so I think it’s a silly policy for his/her situation. Maybe once he/she has been a supervisor longer, he/she could officially push back on the policy… in the meantime, it seems like quietly disregarding it is unlikely to get him/her in trouble, since other supervisors are doing the same.

      1. Colette*

        Oh, I completely agree that it’s reasonable to require notice of planned absences, but the OP’s business seems to be focusing on approving them, which implies they can choose not to approve them. For vacations, that makes sense, but for illness/bereavement/jury duty, it doesn’t. (Believe me, if a family member dies, I will not be waiting for approval.)

  4. SJP*

    OP you mention “I also told them that annual leave needs to be approved in advance.” and they just call in to say they’re taking a day PTO, if that isn’t allowed then you need to enforce that that isn’t allowed with a warning or something more severe, otherwise people aren’t going to respect that you’ve said no to that and just take the day anyway.
    Fair enough, I agree with Allisons answer about being able to leave a voicemail for when you’re sick cause you can leave a voicemail if you’re ill. Personally the company I work for requires you to call in between 8am and 10am to say youre not in, so even if you’ve been up half the night you still need to set an alarm and call in. That is so you can pass work over to other team members if you have to.

    But with the taking a day of vacation day last minute and just leaving a voicemail then thats annoying because they need to give you advance warning to hand over work etc. Make that very clear and say something like if they do that then that day won’t be taken at PTO and will be taken as unpaid leave or they get a written warning or something with repercussions. It gives a clear signal that if they really should give advance warning they’re gonna be out on vacation days beforehand.
    Even if they tell you the day before then you can check their work load, other colleagues workload who may need to cover and then approve or deny the PTO request. But morning of, nah thats not ok in my book.

    I’d love to just call my employer in the morning and leave a voicemail saying “i’m taking a vacation day today, see you tomorrow” and bugger off to the beach on a hot sunny day but I cannot do that, so work something out with your manager about how they’d handle repercussions if they don’t comply with the policy

    1. LBK*

      I’m not sure I understand the functional difference between someone calling out last minute for illness and calling out last minute for vacation time. The only difference is what bucket of PTO it pulls from, either way you’ll have to accommodate their absence.

      1. SJP*

        I’m from England so I’m not sure that the same PTO thing is the same. We don’t have a limit to how much sick leave you can take in a year like America. But we do have a set amount of holiday.

        I know that where I work and have worked previouskly that if you just called in on a random day and left a voicemail saying “I’m not going to be in today, im using a vaction day” the company would damn well wanna know why you were doing that at the last minute. Whether it was a legit emergency like a sick/injured child/family member etc then they’d be understanding as it’s something that couldn’t be foreseen but if I came back into the office and just said “oh I just took a vacation day cause the weather was nice so I fancied going to the beach” they’d be pissed! Not only cause that is unprofessional but it can often leave colleagues and peers in a tough spot with having to cover for your work (depending on the role obviously)
        So for the OP’s reportee’s to do this just doesn’t seem professional and courteous at all!

        1. SJP*

          in regard to unlimited sick leave.. I mean we probably do, but I mean if it tallied 15 days in a year of calling in sick due to sick bugs and stuff then that is different from extended periods of being signed off sick, in which there probably is..

        2. Bio-Pharma*

          Side question: I thought English people used the word “pissed” meaning “drunk,” and Americans used it to mean “angry.” Do you use it for both meanings?

          1. Sarkywoman*

            It used to mean drunk exclusively, with ‘pissed off’ being the phrase for angry. American media has facilitated a change to the most common meaning these days.

            1. SJP*

              Yup, I/We in England use it for both meanings, although as this is an American based board I thought i’d use a term that was familiar..
              I mean it’s becoming used more and more here to describe people who are angry and annoyed, as well as pissed to describe a drunk person

      2. Zillah*

        I don’t think there is a functional difference, really – but for sick time, the last minute notice really can’t be avoided, and most people understand that.

        1. SJP*

          I do think their is a functional difference though, because one is just a choice of wanting to take a vacation day, and the other with having to take a sick day because of actual sickness..
          Companies would understand the difference but one is perfectly reasonable and the other is really unprofessional and uncourteous to colleagues as most companies will have some form of cross over with having to cover something if someone is out sick

          1. SJP*

            sorry correction i need to make having to cover something if someone is out sick, I mean not out sick but out on last minute holiday leave..

          2. Zillah*

            I agree – but I think what LBK is saying is that the actual impact on the workplace really isn’t very different, because either way you’re out at the last minute and mostly unavailable, which is true. But, as you said, while there may not be a functional difference in terms of impact, most people understand that sickness is a thing that happens that you can’t really control.

      3. Observer*

        The difference is that there is generally no good reason for not letting people know in advance when you are going to be out, absent emergencies. Sick leave is different. While you can plan appointments and procedures, you cannot plan illness. Pretending otherwise it fairly stupid.

      4. LCL*

        It’s a lot easier to call in someone to cover, or get the remaining workers to do the absent person’s duties, if the absent person has called in sick. Because people are more willing to help if someone is sick.
        If the absent person has called in because they want a longer vacation, eg the day after the Seahawks won, it makes people testy.
        In fact, we don’t allow last minute vacation calls, though we know some people misuse their sick time that way and we can’t stop them. When people do that with their sick time, the rest of the crew gets angry with them.

        1. SJP*

          Hit the nail on the head..
          It’s about how it affects your coworkers.. as you’ve said, people are much more willing to accommodate people who are sick, than they are willing to for people taking an extra vacation day as they want longer vacation or a longer weekend cause something came up..
          That is the point i’m trying to get across…

      5. INTP*

        There isn’t a functional difference, but if someone’s unplanned absence causes inconvenience to other employees, I see the point in differentiating. It’s reasonable to expect someone to minimize unplanned absences but be understanding when they’re truly unavoidable. If you treat them the same, you’re either going to have people creating problems for others by taking spontaneous vacation days or not bothering to get them approved or people coming in sick because they felt they couldn’t call in with no notice. (This is assuming the vacation days are elective, personal emergencies should be the same as sick days.)

    2. Ezri*

      Yeah, I think I’m a little puzzled by what the OP wants to enforce . If she tells her reports that all PTO must be approved and they are calling in to use PTO at the last minute via voicemail, I can see her addressing it for valid business reasons. But sick days aren’t usually planned in advance.

    3. illini02*

      If by PTO, you mean a combined leave bucket that covers vacation and sick time, well I still think they can do it last minute if they want. Part of the good thing about PTO is that you can use it when you want to. So you don’t have to feel pressured to come in when you aren’t feeling great. But its also for whatever reason. Now I wouldn’t ever SAY I’m taking a PTO day to go to the beach, but if you want to do that, thats why you have those policies usually. Now again, this depends on the job and how much it affects others. But when I have had those combined PTO buckets, it was really use them as you see fit. Of course, you weren’t expected to just call in on Monday and say you were taking the week off. But a day here and there was no big deal.

  5. Helka*

    Moreover, if you’re up half the night with the flu, you want to be able to leave your manager a voicemail at 4 a.m. and then go back to sleep — not have to set an alarm to call her once she’s in.

    This times a million. I think pretty much every time I’ve called out of work sick (as opposed to last winter when I called out of work snowed-in) I’ve called at some ungodly hour of the morning because that was when I a) made the decision that I wasn’t going to make it and b) was awake. Asking me to wake myself up again at 8am if I’m only just managing to fall asleep at 4 is cruel.

    Plus, what’s the window where they call in while the boss is there, but before it starts looking like they’ve pulled a NCNS?

    1. Anonsie*

      I’m the same way, I don’t know what it is. I can never fall asleep at night when I’m sick and then I finally pass out at 3am and don’t wake up again until noon. Where I am it’s standard to email sick notices, so I often send them in the middle of the night when I know I’m not getting up the next morning and then go to bed. Big relief.

    2. JMegan*

      This, exactly. And what if your boss is in meetings all day, and you can’t reach her in person? Do you have to keep calling back until you reach her? How many calls is enough? And what if you don’t reach her until 4:30 when she’s packing up to go home, is that when your sick day officially starts?

      I think the best way to deal with this policy is to just ignore it, as it seems some of the other managers have been doing. But if you decide you want to push back a bit, you could ask TPTB some of the questions above. And quiz them a bit on what that means for manager, in practical terms, if they do have such a policy in place. Does that mean that you have to be available by phone at all times, even when you’re in meetings? Do you have to answer calls from names/numbers you don’t recognize, even if you’re in a meeting, because it might be someone calling in sick from their landline? Is there a policy that if the sick person does leave a VM, that the manager can call them back in X period of time, or is it up to the sick person to keep calling until they reach a live person?

      And what if a manager is sick? Does this same policy apply? Meaning, the sick employee is now interrupting senior managers and directors and tracking them down until they get a live person?

      Following that train of thought for a while might get TPTB to figure out on their own that the policy is unreasonable. And if not, I say revert to Plan A, and just ignore it.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Exactly what I was thinking. I could be calling all day to reach my manager, but they are out sick and I don’t know it. Do you really want secretaries calling the Sr. VP to ask permission to be sick because they can’t reach their own manager?
        And why is it OK to email but not leave a voicemail? Do these managers not check their voicemails?

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yup. I’ve done it. When I woke up at 2am and realized something was very, very wrong (i.e., I had the flu for the first time), I called my manager’s voice mail asap. I also did it to assuage my own guilt– I knew that if I called in at 2am, I couldn’t rally and be at my desk at 9am. I ended up barely able to move for a week, and there was no way I was going to pick up a phone if I could avoid it.

  6. Oryx*

    I worked somewhere with a “must talk to an actual person” policy for calling off sick and it was awful, for all the reasons Alison stated. Having to call at a specific time and perhaps keep calling until I got through when all I wanted to do was go back to sleep was just a really, really terrible position.

    I’m also really bothered by this: “Of couse people just want to be able to leave a message that they’re taking the day off work whenever they feel like it” as it seems to minimize a sick person actually being sick and, instead, makes it seem like the OP doesn’t believe their employees are sick when they call in sick. Also, are we dealing with a Sick and Vacay policy or an all-in-one PTO policy?

    1. catsAreCool*

      “Of couse people just want to be able to leave a message that they’re taking the day off work whenever they feel like it” That really bothered me, too.

  7. Carrie in Scotland*

    In my previous job to this one, originally the policy in the office was: if you’re not feeling well enough to come to work, leave a voicemail. The handbook said within 1 hour of your normal start time (so around 8 for 9 am start).

    However, then the manager left to be replaced by 2 new ones (promoted within the office) and ONE manager (mine) implemented the OP’s scenario i.e you cannot leave a voicemail you MUST phone in. After I had done it the “old” way, I was taken for a “chat” with this manager about it. I was not happy (we didn’t get on).

    Oddly (or not) when I was transferred to the other manager in my office, he was fine with me leaving a voicemail to call in sick.

  8. Judy*

    I guess I do see the point of you have to talk to someone or send an email to a group, because I see the subtext as “Because the voice mail you left the message on might belong to someone who is also out of the office.”

    1. Helka*

      The one time I had this happen, our team lead called me when she got into the office. “Hey, I noticed you’re not in. Boss is also not in, and I see her voicemail light is on. Did you leave her a voicemail?” “Yes, I’m sick.” “Okay, thanks. I hope you feel better soon!”

      And then when Boss got back to work, she confirmed with Team Lead that she did indeed have a voicemail from me, timestamped for something like 3am that day. It was not a big deal at all.

      1. JMegan*

        Yes, this is what we have – one mail box for the entire company to call in sick. The EA’s check it every day and email their teams if somebody is going to be out.

        “Message left on absence line: Wakeen is sick today, and expects to be back in tomorrow. Jane is his backup for anything urgent, otherwise he’ll deal with it when he comes back.”

    2. Jennifer*

      This is why I call at least two people’s voicemail.

      I used to just be able to e-mail everyone that I’d be out. Unfortunately now they require a voicemail, but now I’m thinking “hey, at least I can still just leave a message.” I feel bad doing it before about 7 a.m. though. Like it looks bad if I call in sick the night before or something.

  9. some1*

    I honestly don’t mean this snarkily, but besides the head honcho’s email, why do you want your reports to speak to you in person when they are calling in sick? I would think it would be more convenient for you. It’s not like you can’t call the employee back if the message is unclear.

    The only issue I see is if *you* are also out sick and don’t check your voice mail, but that won’t be solved by the employee having to get you on the phone live, so maybe they should have to call HR or something as well?

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      In my previous job, you could phone the receptionist and leave a message about being late or taking the day off sick if you knew your manager was not in until later, so that could be a backup plan?

      1. some1*

        As an admin I can tell you this is a great idea. A lot of the people I have supported over the years have done this as a courtesy because it helps both of us.

      2. Oryx*

        This is what I tend to do. I’ll just leave a message on the main line and because of the way our system is set up she can easily forward it (either the actual vm or an email) to whoever needs to know.

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          Oh my god, easily forwardable voicemail was a godsend to me back in the day.

          Especially when our email system was out and I needed to get a message about it to the entire company. Why, hello there, group-copied voicemail!

          1. Oryx*

            Our phone system is all through our email. Even VM pop up there, like as a new email message so forwarding is just the same as forwarding an email! It’s super easy.

      3. Colette*

        In some companies, that might work; however, it’s not a possibility everywhere. (A previous employer didn’t have a receptionist, just security.)

    2. AnotherAlison*

      It’s not like you can’t call the employee back if the message is unclear.

      Exactly. I have had some managers who did that. To me, that’s the ideal compromise for the OP. Leave a voicemail so we know asap that you won’t be in, but know that you will get a call from the manager so you better work on your sick voice/background noise if you aren’t really sick!

  10. Annie McG*

    Considering how many offices are doing away with voicemail, and for those that aren’t, so many professionals hate to use it—including their own—that’s a ridiculous policy. I would actually feel annoyed if a staff member chose to keep calling me or leave a voicemail at all! This takes up my time unnecessarily, whereas I could skim an email or text message in 2 seconds, and reply only if or when I felt it necessary for some followup. I may be busy half the day before I will get to my voicemail. With an email or text, I’ll get it right away.

    1. Lily*

      Yeah, it’s been a really long time since I worked somewhere where the standard calling out sick procedure *wasn’t* to send an email to your manager (and depending on the job, relevant coworkers who might need to cover for you). Most of my bosses are the kind of people who start working from their homes or at least read their email over breakfast so an email is always going to reach them faster than either a voicemail on their office extension or an in-person message.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        That’s our current system – email your direct supervisor, and copy HR plus anyone you’re supposed to have a meeting with that day.

        There’s been talk about switching to a voicemail system that’s already been implemented for other departments, but our department is pushing back. The new system’s designed for people in direct patient care roles where coverage for absent employees is all-important, but we’re a research division where we all have our own individual projects for the most part and it’s rare to have to think about coverage. The only exceptions would be if there’s a deadline that day or a big meeting that needs to be chaired or something like that. Hopefully we’re able to convince the higher-ups that the email system is more appropriate for us – I hate using the phone at the best of times, and being forced to use it if I’m puking or feverish sounds most unpleasant.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          Just remembered another baffling detail about the new voicemail system. It’s a central line, and you have to input your employee number before leaving your message. The idea is that the system is supposed to send an email alert to your direct supervisor and to your HR rep. (You’d still have to email anyone else who’s impacted by your absence separately). But when someone in my department tested it, because their employee number matches the job title “graduate student”, the system sent the email alert to everyone in the entire (huge!) system who has someone with the job title “graduate student” as a direct report. We’re talking hundreds of very senior people, who were rather unamused at messages about grad students in other departments flooding their email inboxes.

          1. Chinook*

            “Just remembered another baffling detail about the new voicemail system. It’s a central line, and you have to input your employee number before leaving your message”

            Ooohhh…I would hate that. When I am sick, I have been known to mess up my own callback phone number in the while reciting it in a voicemail or writing up the email(I have dyscalcula that is under control when I think clearly and slowly and have lived in 6 locations in 10 years, so many home phone numbers rambling around my head). Luckliy, the bosses usually laugh it off and/or realize that this is as ign that I really shouldn’t be in the office, dealing with numbers.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              After they announced this new system, but before our department negotiated a temporary exemption, I saved my employee number in my phone as part of the contact information notes for the number you have to dial if you’re sick. That way it’s always there – I knew I wouldn’t want to be fishing around for it while sick!

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        This is how it’s been done everywhere I’ve worked for the last 15 years or so.

        It’s extra convenient for me because in cases where I was too sick to really even function, I could wake up, send an email, go back to sleep, and then when I was better rested, find out what I had actually said to people and whether I needed to follow up.

    2. E.T.*

      I haven’t heard of offices doing away with voicemail, and I would be very surprised if any office does that. I think voicemail is necessary, since there are still people who don’t have internet access at home and don’t have texting capabilities on their phones. Some people simply do not want work to intrude into their personal lives, and some people may not have those services due to financial reasons.

      1. Zillah*

        Alison talked about it in the article she posted yesterday – Coca Cola got rid of voicemail for all but 6% of their workers, and those workers specifically requested to keep it.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Alison just wrote about this very subject yesterday- Coca Cola Inc. has gotten rid of their voicemail and I bet it’s going to happen more and more often over the next couple years (*crosses fingers*).

      3. Darcy*

        Coca-Cola eliminated their voice mail. There was a recent article about it. I personally HATE the phone, so would love for my company to do this also.

      4. beachlover*

        We are required to contact our boss, but can use voicemail, text or email. I have left text messages at 4 in the morning, when I am sick. I also copy my co-workers. so they can cover urgent issues while I am out. In regards to voicemail being done away with, I just read that Coke is doing away with their voicemail system for approx 94 % of the company, I guess there are a few depts that still rely on it.

    3. Allison*

      I prefer e-mailing or texting when I’m going to be out sick, or working from home at the last minute due to illness. It’s easier for me to type it out whenever and go back to sleep for a bit. No one’s ever complained.

    4. Sparrow*

      I was thinking the same thing. We have voice mail, but it is rarely used. In the rare times I do get a message, my password has expired. Also, we have a liberal work from home policy, so it’s possible my boss wouldn’t even be in the office to receive the message. There is a group email for our team, so I can send one email and both my managers and co-workers are notified.

    5. Observer*

      Not everyone has email at home or has a smart phone. And I can tell you that when I get sick enough to stay home, sending an email is the last thing I want to do. But, I guess still better than requiring someone to talk to someone in person. That’s just ridiculous.

      Getting rid of voicemail is hardly as common as it’s been made to be – just as getting rid of email is also an outlier. And making people jump through oops because you can’t be bother to check your voice mail is just rude. Besides, if you have voicemail, what are you going to do about the people who you DON’T control? There are lots of people who will eave messages, and telling them that “I don’t do voicemail” isn’t going to fly.

      1. Formerly Bee*

        Most phones are at least capable of texting. Is it really “jumping through hoops” for someone to prefer texts or emails over voicemail?

        Though I do think voicemail’s the way to go if you’re calling in sick, because so many people at least at my job check voicemail first thing in the morning. Emails or texts can get put off a little longer or lost in a busy person’s inbox.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Some business phones– many, I would say, if not most– don’t accept texts, so that’s a consideration. At my old job, I didn’t have my boss’s cell phone number and wouldn’t have been able to text him at all.

        2. Observer*

          Texting requires a cell phone at both ends – and that neither has texting blocked. Also, sometimes texting really IS harder than talking to people. When I get a fever, I tend to get dizzy and / or my hands shake. Those are also common flue symptoms. Under those circumstances a voicemail is just the easiest thing.

    6. INTP*

      Email seems like the ideal solution here to me. The OP doesn’t have to contradict the orders she’s been given if she’s uncomfortable with that (and it’s fine to prefer to follow he rules IMO). It’s only marginally less convenient to employees than leaving a voicemail- they can do it at 3am, CC whoever else might be affected in case the manager isn’t in, and go back to bed. If someone has an extreme circumstance like not having internet at home, that could be dealt with individually.

  11. soitgoes*

    I agree with Alison, for all of the reasons she gave.

    I think there’s another issue at play though, which is that there are rules on the books that aren’t being followed, and upper management is okay with that as long as things are running smoothly. It’s totally reasonable that a new manager (OP) would come on board and want to follow the letter of the handbook, and it’s right that she’s asking this question. Odds are, nothing major will ever happen since it sounds like people mostly get along at her workplace, but these mild “do what we want within our discretion” atmospheres can turn nasty if something ever goes down that’s explicitly prohibited by the handbook or even employment law; you don’t necessarily want to have a team of managers who aren’t accustomed to checking up on the rules.

    1. INTP*

      Yeah, I would be very uncomfortable breaking the rules just because every one else was. I’ve seen rules that didn’t seem to matter turned against people, especially when they’re new and being watched. I think it would be fine to offer the option of emailing or calling in. I don’t see why an email is such a burden on the staff assuming they have email access outside the office. (If someone really doesn’t have email at home they could get some slack, but that’s not common enough to base policies around these days).

  12. Vancouver Reader*

    I can understand that as a new manager you want to follow the rules, but like Alison said, it makes it sound like you don’t trust your employees to tell the truth and it’ll start you off on the wrong foot with them. Most places I’ve worked, there are the official rules, but then each department does their own thing according to what works best for them.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m confused. What will a phone call convey that a VM or email wouldn’t? Nothing on the LW’s end addresses this question. The message is the same regardless of the communication method.

    It also sounds very condescending and paternalistic. Geez!

    1. Three Thousand*

      A phone call lets you probe them to find out if they’re “really” sick and try to convince them to come in anyway.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I associate it with some early jobs I had when pretty young, when there was a “you have to talk to a manager in real-time” policy mostly because inexperienced kids would sometimes, not knowing any better, call and tell a peer they were sick and then the peer would forget to pass it along. The policy was more to make sure you told the right person than anything else. It seems kind of infantilizing with adult employees.

        And in retail, I think it’s sometimes to try to nag you into finding your own substitute, even if you feel like death warmed over.

        1. Kelly L.*

          (And also there wasn’t email back then!)

          At my current job, voicemails and emails are fine, and I like it.

      2. Inlander*

        The only times I’ve missed work recently was due to flare-ups of colitis. My voice was fine – no sore throat, no congestion or sneezing or coughing. But was I REALLY sick? You bet!!

        1. esra*

          Uuugh, I have Crohn’s and yea. I had one awful manager who was like, if you don’t sound sick you aren’t sick. I always thought, dude, you do not want the graphic details.

    2. Allison*

      My guess is that sending an e-mail or text, or leaving a voicemail, is easier than calling, and some may feel uneasy about making it “too” easy for people to take a sick day. Gotta make ’em work for it, right? If you make people speak to their manager in realtime, maybe people will be less likely to abuse their sick days, or ditch work for every little tummy ache or case of the sniffles.

      Not that I agree with that mindset, but you never know.

  14. Jennifer O*

    To me sick leave and vacation/PTO should be treated differently. If you’re sick, for the reasons Alison mentioned, leaving a voicemail message is entirely reasonable. I would absolutely buck official policy and allow employees to leave a message when they’re sick.

    The OP’s letter makes it sound like employees are also leaving messages to take a day off (i.e., for vacation or PTO). I think that’s inappropriate and that the OP should enforce the policy about getting advanced approval for vacation/PTO.

    1. MaryMary*

      I’m guessing OP’s workplace is like mine and there are not separate categories for sick days and vacation days. PTO covers anytime you are not in the office.

      I suspect part of what’s driving the phone call policy is a desire to differentiate which employees are actually sick, and which are taking unscheduled PTO. But that goes to Alison’s point about trusting your employees. If there is an issue where an employee takes a majority of their PTO days without prior notice and approval, or someone who consistently takes Fridays or Mondays off, or if you see your employee catch a foul ball during the broadcast of an afternoon baseball game, then that’s a performance issue and should be dealt with as such. Everyone else should be able to take a sick day without jumping through hoops.

      1. De Minimis*

        Our procedure is the same for all unscheduled leave, we have to speak to a designated person, either our supervisor or the next person in the chain if the supervisor is absent. Sick leave has to be something health related, though it doesn’t have to just be the employee. Anything else is usually considered “annual leave” which is basically vacation.

        1. Annie McG*

          Wow, that could take a couple of hours for many folks, constantly calling extensions, waiting for someone to pick up – to not be in a meeting, too busy, etc. That’s ridiculous, to expect a sit person to sit there for hours trying to get someone on the phone, instead of actually taking care of herself so she can get back to work ASAP. That sounds like a company stuck in the ’80s or something.

          1. De Minimis*

            Well, it’s the federal government, and it’s a fairly backward agency.

            But it’s not quite as bad as you think, but only because we are a fairly small facility. The only time it turns into a mess is when multiple members of the “chain” are out at the same time, which does happen.

          2. doreen*

            That really depends on the situation. I don’t have voicemail on my office phone – but the phones are always answered by a live person who can transfer the call to whoever is covering if the supervisor is out or take a message if for some reason that person is not available.Supervisors below my level don’t have access to their work email outside of the office , so no one would get the email if the supervisor was also out ( assuming the employee even could figure out the supervisor’s email address without the Outlook directory , which many of them can’t )

            1. Observer*

              Even when someone will always pick up the call, it doesn’t mean that the person who you need to speak to will always pick up the call. My boss is away from his desk more than he is at it – and to be honest, some days that’s true for me, as well. It’s the nature of the job.

    2. Anonsie*

      I suppose there are plenty of non-illness reasons someone might need to take last minute PTO in the morning but those are normally more like minor emergencies rather than what I would consider personal/vacation time. I’ve had to take a morning to take my dog to the vet suddenly, for example.

      But I’m guessing they have a shared bank where all time off is PTO at the letter writer’s workplace so they’re referring to any time out as PTO.

  15. MaryMary*

    This is so interesting, because my recent managers (and my personal preference) have asked for employees to email instead of calling at all. Our current policy is to email your manager and cc HR. Most people also reach out to people they work with closely and cancel any shceduled meetings. To be fair, everyone in my workplace has access to email from home and on their phone, which makes emailing as easy, or easier, than calling. But email provides documentation for both the employee and the manager, and makes it so much easier to notify multiple people.

  16. KerryOwl*

    We have this policy, and it’s annoying, for the reasons Alison has stated. I can see its value if there are specific tasks that must be delegated in the sick employee’s absence — (e.g. who is going to make sure the Lannister project goes out the door today?) — but it sounds like that is not the case at OP’s company. Let them leave a voice mail. (Or text or email, if a voice mail isn’t guaranteed to reach its recipient.) A lot of the time, you know the day before that you’re going to be too sick to make it in.

    1. LBK*

      But IMO, delegating the Lannister project isn’t the sick person’s responsibility, it’s the manager’s. Just like it would be with delegating anything else.

      1. AVP*

        Well, sometimes only I know what I had planned to do for the day and who would be better at finishing it if I can’t, and if it has to get done or if it can wait…but in my mind thats why email was invented.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        I dunno, I manage pretty highly autonomous people, and mostly they can delegate projects amongst each other. Linus: “I have to do X, Y, and Z for Lannister today, can someone else pick that up? I’m thoroughly ill.”
        Lucy: “I have some space in my schedule, I got you covered.”
        Manager: “Thanks, everyone.”

        If everyone in Chicago waited for me to wake up and check mail/voicemail on the West Coast, half the day would be done before any delegation happened.

  17. Zillah*

    OP, I agree with everything Alison said, but this concerns me:

    I’m getting pushback on this policy. Of couse people just want to be able to leave a message that they’re taking the day off work whenever they feel like it and one person has already done so.

    I’m not sure whether you’re talking about sick days specifically or all PTO days, but regardless, the way you’ve phrased this makes you come off as suspicious and unsympathetic, particularly when coupled with your explicitly telling your team that they need approval to use leave. It seems to me like you’re applying relatively standard policies regarding vacation time to sick time as though they’re the same thing – but even if it’s all coming out of one PTO bucket, they’re not, and it’s not surprising that you’re getting pushback.

    I think that new supervisors can fall into the trap of adhering strictly to official policy because they’re not quite sure where to make other judgment calls. Given that other supervisors in your position are telling you that they allow this and that even your supervisor didn’t say “No, this absolutely needs to be done,” I think you really need to relax on the official line here. Right now, I think you’re probably alienating your team and making them feel untrusted over something that’s relatively minor, and that’s a problem.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      I absolutely agree on your last paragraph and in particular, last sentence. It is a problem because of the feeling it provokes (unhappy employee(s)) and then that can spread throughout your office.

      OP: As I mentioned above my manager, at the time changed from the voicemail policy to the one you are doing just now and I got hauled in for a “chat” for doing it the old way (I didn’t realise she wanted it done this other way) and it DID not make me a happy employee. In fact, that, coupled with several other things made me start job hunting sooner rather than later. So don’t, I implore you, be that manager.

    2. Pam*

      Also, OP, do know that it won’t undermine your authority to go back on what you previously said. Tell them that you did some digging into the matter, and that it is in fact OK to leave a voicemail if sick. They’ll probably appreciate that you heard their concerns. It’ll likely earn you some cool points with the staff, which is a good thing.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, there’s absolutely nothing wrong or “weak” about evaluating/researching/thinking on an issue and changing your mind in the face of new evidence or a convincing argument. It makes you look like someone who is reasonable and can be worked with.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Plus the office assistant and the person in the adjacent cube so he can put a post-it on my monitor. I can’t anticipate who might decide to need me while I’m out, but if several people know, others can figure it out. Or, since at this job I can access my work email from home, I’ll just add an out-of-office notice to my email.

    2. Windchime*

      Yeah, all these replies are depressing me. My team has an email group set up; we simply log in and email the group “I am sick today, hope to see you all tomorrow.” Done. The boss gets it, as well as everyone else and that’s the end of it. Fortunately, I have a boss that treats people like grown-ups and doesn’t feel the need to verify whether or not I’m truly sick enough to justify staying home.

  18. AdAgencyChick*

    This is one of those policies where I would probably be bucking my technical duties as a manager. Yeah, okay, I know I’m supposed to enforce company policies and present a united front. But if I think it’s a stupid policy, I’m going to say so to my most trusted employees (who are not the ones who abuse sick leave policies anyway, or I wouldn’t trust them).

    If I were told to do this, I would probably send out an email so that the head honchos would see that I was toeing the line. Then I would quietly tell my direct reports, “Send me an email when you’re sick. I don’t want you to have to call and call until you get me.” Or I might even tell them to leave me a voicemail asking me to call them back because they’re sick and they want confirmation that their sick leave is approved. Of course I will tacitly approve it, no need to wake a sick person up when she is probably in bed recovering.

    (Also, why is email okay when voicemail is not? That seems even easier than leaving a voicemail for sick leave policy abusers!)

    If this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

    1. Hlyssande*

      But if I think it’s a stupid policy, I’m going to say so to my most trusted employees (who are not the ones who abuse sick leave policies anyway, or I wouldn’t trust them).

      I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid-ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.

  19. Sascha*

    My current job actually prefers email over voicemail for taking sick days. As others have mentioned, sometimes the supervisor who needs to know either doesn’t check voicemail, or doesn’t want to be bothered with a phone call, even if they don’t pick up. However this is probably just our culture, we’re very much an email department, so if someone new came in and started telling us we must call and talk to a person or leave a voicemail, the entire department would probably push back.

    Which is a nice change from my last job, where my director wanted us to actually get her on the phone – no emails, no voicemails, no texts. She was one to pressure us to come in despite being sick, and generally didn’t trust us to do anything – a really bad micromanager.

  20. Workethic101*

    In my opinion it’s dependant on the field your in. If your industry is like mine, where its 24 hours a day. 365. “someone must have boots on the ground at all times” position, where there are people working the previous shift and they are in need of you to Releive them in order to go home, then yes, a policy of “you must speak to someone, and it can’t be a voicemail” is perfect.
    my company has that policy and i’m one of the folks always taking 3am/4am call that someone is calling off and it’s my responsibility to cover the unit. (by calling in coverage or being there myself)
    think about Nursing, policing, corrections, etc. you can’t leave your post without adequate coverage.
    In other fields where it’s not so critical to have a physical presence as much, I can see where leaving a voicemail or e-mail is perfectly fine.
    again it’s completely connected to the line of work that you do. (personally i Hate getting the 3am (cough, cough, i’m sick, not coming in call).
    Ultimately the 2nd half of your battle is going to enforcing your decision with motivational incentives or personnel actions.
    good luck

    1. AB*

      Yes, it’s obvious that there are some professions where you have to get coverage and therefore might not be able to go the voicemail route. However, I really doubt that it’s the case here. After all, the OP’s boss is on the fence about the voicemail policy, people could previously leave voicemails and other departments/ managers allow for voicemails.

      Being sick when you have a required coverage job stinks, but in most of the situations I’ve known, there’s a system in place and people typically have designated coverage (example: teachers typically have a list of subs to call when they’re sick). But, people do get sick, there’s really nothing you can do about that. It’s not the person’s fault.

      1. Zillah*

        I agree – the OP even says that there’s not really any reason that an employee would have to be in and working on any specific day.

  21. Audiophile*

    My current job tried to do something like this recently. I had called out, and had left a voicemail with a shift supervisor. He replied later on, and the following day there was a team email sent out that anyone calling out, had to speak with someone and that voicemail wouldn’t suffice, and including was a “chain of command”. The issue with this, was the aforementioned “chain” was notorious for not answering their phones, save for one person. This obviously wasn’t going to work. If you can’t reach your team, you have no choice but leave a message.
    I’m not going to keep calling back, I already don’t feel like talking or I can’t talk and you expect me to call you and a few others repeatedly.

  22. MaryMary*

    This reminded me of a story. Many years ago, my mom was a recent college grad in her first teaching job. The school district’s policy was that if a teacher was sick, they needed to call a specific phone number within a certain time period (very early in the morning) and leave a message so the district knew to assign a substitute. My poor mom got laryngitis, and couldn’t speak loudly enough for a message to register. The system kept rejecting her message as being empty and telling her to try again. She ended up calling her mother at like 5 in the morning, in tears, to have her mom call her in sick to work.

      1. MaryMary*

        My mom is now retired but still substitutes now and then. Some schools have the policy that teachers need to find their own substitutes. My mom has gotten calls at 5 or 6 in the morning from old friends and collegues frantically looking for someone to sub that day. This is also a prett crappy policy.

        1. Calgary Recruiter*

          My sister is a teacher and still lives with our parents (the rental housing market in the town they live/work in is basically non-existent) and my dad is a retired teacher who is still on the substitute list for the same school board.

          My sister has mentioned many times how jealous her colleagues are because for her to find a substitute, she just has to walk down the hall and wake my dad up if she’s not well enough to go into work :)

          (Plus, the kids get a kick out of their teachers dad teaching their class for the day)

          1. ILiveToServe*

            I had to find my own subs. One time I got stuck in jury duty and was out for 4 weeks ) murder trial. weeks and weeks of sub plans. sigh.

            One good part of this policy was when I got an job offer in August, I was able to higher my own replacements as we hired her as a year-long sub. She was made permanent the next school year.

          2. Chinook*

            Calgary Recruiter – “My sister is a teacher and still lives with our parents (the rental housing market in the town they live/work in is basically non-existent)”

            As someone who has had to move in with her parents as an adult in her 30’s for the exact same reasonm, I feel her pain and embarrassment. It is hard to convince those who don’t live in one of those towns that you really are a capable, independent adult when you live with your parents but the only alternative is the converted single home down the street that is subdivided into 3 apartments by using extension cords through the temporary walls to power the extra microwaves (which is what my parents’ neighbors really did and were able to get $600/apartment) atleast you know if your parents are slumlords before you move in.

            1. Calgary Recruiter*

              Oh trust me, when the rental market in Calgary was really tight (it seems to be relaxing a bit now) I would have loved the option to move into my parents house. Unfortunately, they’re in Ontario, so that wouldn’t be a manageable commute ;)

              I had to get roommates again in order to be able to afford a place with a reasonable commute when I was house hunting last year. It can be tough to explain to people that I’m not trying to relive my University party/glory days by living with 2 other people, I just needed affordable rental housing while I save to buy my own place!

    1. Kelly L.*

      I’ve told this story before, but I once had to get my boyfriend to call in sick for me because laryngitis was what I was sick with. This boss had a pretty strict policy about having to speak “in person” to him if you were sick, but I’d built up a decent enough reputation that I got no flak for it.

    2. BadPlanning*

      Now I’m imagining her trying to beep out the message in Morse code by hitting numbers. Beep Beep Beep, Boop Boop Boop.

    3. Marcy*

      That happened to me once, too. I had no voice at all- not even a whisper. I tried calling my boss and he couldn’t hear me and hung up. I felt fine so I just went in to work since I couldn’t call in. I worked in the office where I was supposed to answer the phone and direct any calls to where they needed to go. Every time the phone rang I had to run outside the office and flag coworkers down to come answer the phone for me.

  23. Calgary Recruiter*

    “Of couse people just want to be able to leave a message that they’re taking the day off work whenever they feel like it and one person has already done so.”

    If I’m reading this correctly, it doesn’t sound like the issue is how people are calling in sick, it’s that you (or management) feel that they’re abusing their sick time when they aren’t actually sick.

    To me, calling in sick is something where my employer needs to meet me halfway. My manager is rarely at her desk, and her schedule is inconsistent depending on her childcare needs. Because of this, if I need to call in I call once and leave a message, and once followed up on an email (I had had the kind of flu where I couldn’t leave the bathroom for more than a few minutes for more than a day and we had a big client presentation that day so I wanted to make sure she got the message immediately). I agree with Allison that it’s unfair for your employee to have to keep calling, what if you’re in meetings all day? or not in yourself? The point of a sick day is to get some rest, and you can’t do that if you have to call your boss every 5 minutes.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      Yes – because if you have to wait to actually speak to your manager, you might be waiting a long time if something like transportation issues come up or she had a first thing urgent meeting or a dentist appointment or similar.

  24. LillianMcGee*

    Coverage is a necessity for me and my direct reports, so when someone’s out sick, I expect that they will get the word to me by whatever means necessary. They can rely on the fact that I check email and voicemail first thing and will call/email back to confirm receiving the info. They can also rely on the fact that I pretty consistently (accidentally) leave my cell phone at home and that a call/text there may not be sufficient. They usually will text, and then email me to make sure.
    I say if coverage is necessary, make it a policy that supervisors must reply to out-sick messages so staff can be sure their message was received. Supervisors and staff also should communicate (!) so everyone knows the best way to get those messages to each other.
    Another thing that commonly happens around here is that staff will use me or the receptionist (pretty consistently in the office all the time) to relay out-sick messages to supervisors or other need-to-knows who are not as reachable. Like a point person so sick person doesn’t have to keep calling.

  25. Amber Rose*

    I send an email when I’m sick to the general email. Something sent to is sent to everyone’s email. That way everyone knows I’m out and can email me back with questions if they have them.

    Since I tend to lose my voice when I’m ill, a call in procedure is seriously painful. Or that time I was in the hospital after falling on the ice and tearing a muscle and the office wasn’t open yet. I was so drugged up that even if I remembered to call after I was discharged all they would have got was giggles and something about balloons.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Sigh. My attempts to make that not a link appear to have failed. I hope that’s not a real email. :(

  26. Frances*

    I understand why a new manager would like to follow the rules and why the LW is confused about what to do. Allison is spot on though about sick folks needing to be able to leave a message (our office a group email policy so that everyone on the team knows you are out) so they can work on recovery.

    I’m curious how the LW should handle this now going forward. Should s/he just let it drop and say no more or would a conversation with folks (nothing in writing) be a good idea? Something that includes why s/he at first wanted the policy but now is rethinking it.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, its being a de facto policy that’s different from the official policy makes it a pain, since you’re probably right about avoiding written deviation from the official policy. It sounds like it might not be a huge number of people, though, so mentioning it in a meeting would probably work. I’d rather communicate clearly that we’re going a new way than just letting it drop, so people will know what the expectations are.

      I also think it’s weird that this is official based on somebody else’s email, and that they don’t seem to have policy written up somewhere.

    2. Rex*

      Yeah, I’m wondering about that too. Since she’s a new manager, and she’s already taken a stand on this issue, might she need to provide some context before backing down? Otherwise, she might create impression that she’s not consistent, or that the things she says are optional?

  27. Amanda*

    Huh. My company policy is silent on the method of notifying managers of PTO use; just that “whenever possible” it’s preferable to get approval at least 24 hours in advance. Of course 24-hour notice is generally not feasible in the case of illness.

    In any case, our unofficial policy is that email notifications are just fine, and we generally copy coworkers, project managers, etc.–anyone who might wonder where Petunia is. I think it’s easier all around because anyone who may be affected doesn’t have to hunt down Petunia’s boss to see if Petunia is sick/out for a doctor appointment/whatever, which I think would just cause further disruption.

    However, I’m in an industry where one day of sick leave usually doesn’t throw everything off schedule, so there’s not often work that HAS to be passed of that day. I can see how a workplace that’s deadline-intensive could require a phone call to ensure tasks are properly handed off, though in cases of severe illness, I still think that’s unrealistic (“Hang on, boss, it’s been 15 minutes which means I need to vomit again…” “Sorry, boss, I’m at the emergency room with a 104 fever and hallucinating pink hippos.”).

    1. Hlyssande*

      I always copy at least one coworker (or bcc them) because they’re in before the boss and may get worried otherwise.

  28. Dawn*

    I am out sick today and just sent an email. It is so much more efficient than voicemail and my manager will see it before she would get voicemail messages.

  29. CubicleGuy*

    Back when i was a teenager, my very first boss would require her employees to “request” sick leave when we called in. I learned this the hard way when I called in the first time and told her I wouldn’t be able to make it in that day because I wasn’t feeling well. Her response “So are you requesting sick leave? Because we don’t just tell people we’re not coming in here”. That was over 10 years ago and I don’t think I’ll never forget her response. I worked at a grocery store and calling in sick meant people had to cover you, but still! If i’m sick, i’m sick!

    1. Andy*

      That’s so rude. I wonder if she gets a wicked tingle every time a former employee is remembering all her rude.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I know, right? Making people jump through hoops just for the sake of making them jump through hoops. Ick.

      2. CubicleGuy*

        If she did, she’d be tingling all day. That woman loved to put her employees down whenever an opportunity came up. Worst of all, you’d get phone calls throughout the day asking if you were certain you couldn’t come in!

    2. Anonsie*

      I’m pretty sure 100% of my supervisors until I was out of college did this, you were asking permission to stay home and they would feel free to say “nope, you better be here or else!”

      Then my first job where they didn’t do that, when I called and asked if it was ok I got a talking to about how if I have to ask (and therefore are able to come in if told no) then I should be coming in to work because I wasn’t that sick.

      So then I just started saying “I’m not coming” and then my next job they got upset because I was supposed to ask clearance instead…

      There isn’t really a set “right” way to ask out, different places have different policies and expectations. Acting incredulous when someone new uses a different one than is standard where you are is so assy.

  30. AnonEMoose*

    My husband works for a place that insists on employees talking to someone; voicemail isn’t enough. It sucks, because he has to get up when he’s not feeling well, and sometimes has had to call three people before actually getting someone. It’s not like they absolutely require coverage, and he’s not relieving anyone.

    I don’t know why they can’t just set up an extension for that purpose and have a supervisor check it first thing. It’s a little odd, because they do treat employees reasonably well in other ways.

    Meanwhile, if I’m going to be out sick, I get up long enough to log into my work email, send an email to my boss and immediate coworkers, and go back to bed.

  31. Rae*

    I work at a very small office, and we just text. I text my manager and one of my coworkers “hey, I’m sick, I’m gonna be out today” and any other info they may need. If I’m going to be any later than fifteen minutes, I do the same – otherwise, I just text the receptionist. Works very well for us.

  32. Marzipan*

    I don’t get it. Leaving a voicemail IS calling. It’s me calling and you not answering. Totally fair enough to expect actual time off to be booked in advance and in person, not just a voicemail saying someone felt like having the day off, but for actual illness I’d say sometimes a voicemail may be reasonable.

  33. Katie the Fed*

    FWIW, my policy is that they can text me, call me, email me, send a carrier pigeon, whatever. But they have to receive a response to confirm that I got the message (I don’t have my cell phone once I get to work and might miss the pigeon).

    Most people just text me at 5 or 6am and I respond “ok” and we both go back to sleep.

    1. Joey*

      whats the point of the response?

      Seems like it would be burdensome to have to wait for a response and for you to respond quickly

      1. Chinook*

        “whats the point of the response?”

        To make sure you entered the right phone number or email address or that the carrier pigeon wasn’t eaten by a hawk. As someone who sometimes has to dial a number a few times to get it right when she is sick (thank good news for smart phones) this makes total sense.

        1. Joey*

          Eh. Maybe I value sleep too much, but I don’t want to wake my manager up at 3 am when I’m sick nor do I want to have to wait around until I think she’s awake to call.

          And as a manager Im sure as hell not going to respond to a call in when I’m asleep. They can get take comfort in knowing as long as they got me the message via email, vm, or text they’re fine. I’ll respond after my normal wake up time.

          1. Marcy*

            Yes-this! I usually know around 3 a.m. that I am not going to make it and I call and leave a voicemail for my boss plus email the boss, her assistant and my staff so enough people know I’ll be out that I am not risking my boss not getting the message. If I am finally able to fall asleep after that, I do not want to have to set an alarm to wake up to make sure I got a response because I won’t be able to go back to sleep and when you’ve been up sick all night, you need as much rest as you can get. And if my staff wants a response at 3 a.m. when they call in sick? Forget it! My phone is turned off a night so I will not be getting the message until a decent hour when I turn it back on. I’ve told all of them to let me know any way that is convenient for them and to let at least one other person know in case I am out, too.

      2. skyline*

        Mine is similar. Call or text is fine, but they need to receive a confirmation that I’ve gotten the message. If I don’t confirm within a reasonable amount of time, they are expected to call up the chain of command. I am in an industry where we have specific coverage needs and need to ensure certain staffing levels.

        (What happens when you don’t have the confirmation rule? People call in sick to the manager who is at an offsite meeting with his phone off, and people at the worksite are wondering if the sick person is a no-show and start calling them at home in concern.)

      3. Katie the Fed*

        Because I don’t have my cellphone at work. If they text only and I’m already at work, I might miss it.

        If they send an email, I might miss it because 99% of my work is on another network.

        So the reason is because there is a VERY real chance I could miss the message. They have to keep trying until they have positive confirmation that I received the message.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          To be clear – it’s not just that I don’t have my cell phone. I CANNOT have my cell phone at work.

    2. De Minimis*

      That’s interesting, our policy makes it sound as if there’s something requiring federal employees to abide by a similar policy, that requires people speak to a “live, leave-approving official…” But apparently that is not the case.

      I have left a voice mail only once, on a day when the person in charge was the guy who is notoriously hard to reach. Didn’t have any negative impact due to the way our system is set up.

  34. Gwen*

    Ugh, that policy sounds awful. I’ve always called and/or emailed, and in my current position I’m able to text my boss to let her know I won’t be in, which is awesome. It would honestly never occur to me that leaving voicemail doesn’t count as “calling” in.

  35. Ineloquent*

    I try to talk to someone in person after the one time I called in sick and left a VM for my manager. Apparently, she was also out sick, and didn’t check her messages, and Big Boss thought I was a no call/no show. Didn’t get fired or anything, but it awkward the next day.

  36. Ed*

    I’m so glad I can just email or text my manager (depending on time of day). If I wake up sick, I send my manager an email saying I won’t be in and maybe a note or two about what I had going on that day, then go back to bed without a second thought. Part if this is having sick time and vacation time come out of the same pot. I’m only hurting myself by faking sick days.

    We do have a policy that HR can ask for a doctor’s note if a pattern develops. For example, my buddy is a cop and they get 24 sick days a year. He said by July there are a few officers that are already out of sick days.

  37. Anonsie*

    This seems pretty cut and dry. When you came in, it sounded like this was the policy you needed to enforce. On further discussions with other managers, including your manager, it turns out that it is not necessary. What more, your employees dislike it and they used to be allowed more leeway with this by previous managers. I don’t see any reason why you would stick with the policy rather than following what is clearly the real company line here.

    If you’re worried about going back on your word and looking poorly because of it, it would be a lot worse to stay firm on this just because you don’t reverse Custer decisions or whatever.

  38. Not me for this one*

    Working in a medical-related situation with on-call and accountabilities for seeing patients, we had to call in and speak to either our immediate supervisor or the VP of the group in person. It was a problem as has been said – couldn’t leave them an office VM because they may not check it first thing (which wasn’t OUR problem). Calling their business cell at 4am would not be acceptable. I had a real challenge when the VP and team leader were both out looking for new jobs. And I’m fairly certain cell calls were not answered when my number appeared as I got written up for them. After being up all night and finally falling asleep, I slept through the 6:45-7:45am window for calls and woke up at about noon.

    My role was not direct patient care. It pretty much is perjorative to not be able to leave a message on VM.

  39. Joey*

    What do you get out of talking to someone in person that you can’t get in a voicemail (or even a text) ?

    All you have to do is tell them what info they need to include in their vm.

    Personally I think mandating that you talk to someone shows that you distrust your staff. Most people will assume that you’ll be deciding if their reason sounds legit when in reality the reason rarely matters.

    At that time, all that really matters is how long the person will be out and how they can be reached if needed.

  40. HR Manager*

    I think voicemail should be fine too. Interestingly enough, the one method we do not like is texting. While most are ok, we have found some who have abused the PTO policy often text in their absence and with very incomplete information. Messages essentially read: Can’t coming in today. k’ bye..

    We ask that a call or voice-mail be placed to the manager or team lead instead, and we find most people will give a reason (sick, car won’t start, son’s got measles, mauled by lion, etc.) which is very helpful. Texting seems to encourage as little information sharing as possible.

    1. Bio-Pharma*

      I’ve been trying to be as vague as possible regarding son with measles (family situation), mauled by lion (medical emergency), etc. so that if/when it came time to interview, it wouldn’t be so weird being vague!!!

      1. Goldie*

        When it comes to interview, I’ve either requested a half-day vacation in advance with no explanation, or given the manager an advance notice saying something like: I have an appointment on X day at Y o’clock, I’ll make up the hours during the rest of the week. I’d feel weird calling in sick for an interview, unless my current job was so completely awful that I wouldn’t care about it at all.

      2. HR Manager*

        But” family member is sick” is absolutely fine. To just say you’re not showing up today is not ok. We (HR and manager) don’t need diagnostic specifics, but I don’t think it should be taken as prying just to give some sort of reason.

  41. puddin*

    We can leave a vm, call, email or text our manager in my department. BUT we also have to call a third party tracking company to file a ‘claim’. This company normally handles LTD and STD type things so all employees ‘one day off with the flu’ turn into 3-4 emails, paperwork sent to the house (legal forms), and usually a follow up call from said company to start your disability claim. Imagine filling out STD forms for every sick day…

    The claim is that this will help to ensure we are paid for our time out but we do not have designated sick days as salaried personnel, there is no sick time per se. You call in and if you do it too much for your manager’s taste, you get a talkin’ to. So I do not know what the company or I get out of this; I suspect it gets subtracted from FMLA but have not had to investigate that (thankfully).

  42. Goldie*

    My last two jobs, we’ve just texted. I cannot imagine having to call and keep calling until you get hold of a manager (who would normally have the majority of their meetings and conference calls in the morning)… disruptive to the manager, exhausting to the sick person. But we’ve had such a low cap on sick days/such limited PTO, no one has abused this policy that I know of. At one of my old job, there was a lot of sick-day abuse going on. So the HR capped the sick days at five per year and the abuse stopped.

  43. Stephanie*

    Actually, my predecessor got fired for this. Company has a phone/email/text/semaphore until you get a live person to confirm you’ll be out. They won’t guilt you into coming in, they just want to know so they can find someone to take the shift. Reason is, there’s no coverage otherwise and the duties can’t be put off until the following day.

  44. Patty*

    I spent a long time in a ‘no voicemail’ to call in… It changed, after I needed an extra day off during chemo.. The two people I was supposed to call we’re out, with ‘call the other person’ on their voicemail… It took about 7 years, but they finally changed it… During cold and flu season, getting one of those two people on the phone was pretty much Impossible,,,

  45. Former QA, Current SAHM*

    Ugh! I worked for several years at a company where we had to call in each day between 8 and 8:15am and speak to two different people; no exceptions.

    When I became hospitalized with a nasty bug while on vacation, my room had no cell phone reception and the room phone couldn’t make long distance calls — so each day I’d have to set an alam, hobble out if bed, and drag my IV cart to the nurses station to make a call.

    I hate policies like this!

    1. Bea W*

      That’s awful. You’d think someone would have the good sense to waive that requirement while a person is in the hospital. Jeepers.

  46. Liane*

    MyJob has an automated call-in number for both lates (>10 minutes) & absences. It is pretty simple, also allows for calling in the day or night* before. It then transfers you to your location to talk to a manager live (“mandatory”). But, in practice, anyone can take the message and inform a manager–or if no one answers the phone, managers can look up the call-in log on the intranet. And whoever talks to the person, it’s usually just “Oh, okay, I hope you feel better” or whatever.

    There’s only one thing that I really hate about MyJob’s Attendance Policy. Everyone is allowed 3 absences (with 1 late = 1/3 absence) in a rolling 6 month period**. BUT 3 days in a row out for the same reason is only counted as 1 absence! So if you only take 2 days off work to recover, you have 2 absences on your record–but if you call in for that 3rd shift–you only have 1.

    *Great for those illnesses when you know you are likely to be up half the night
    **and management at my location is great about “Approving” those due to ice/snow or other weather issues so they don’t count against you

  47. Sunny*

    My new employer requires the supervisor to follow up with the sick person on the phone. It’s really lovely to have much-needed sleep interrupted by your supervisor calling you.

    1. Bea W*

      I worked at one place where the policy was to call the sick employee at home 3 times during their scheduled shift to verify you were indeed laid up at home and not pulling a fast one. I worked the 3-11:30 PM shift. :-/ This was before cell phones, and they assumed if you didn’t answer you weren’t home.

      1. Observer*

        That’s an incredibly stupid policy. Also just so unkind and even counterproductive. Basically you are giving people who are sick enough to stay home the choice of either not resting so they can answer your calls or getting accused of lying. Considering how often the main things doctors tell you is “get lots of rest and fluids” that’s a good recipe for keeping people from recovering as fast as they can.

  48. Mander*

    If you do end up allowing people to just leave a voicemail, be sure you don’t forget to check it, decide that your foreign employee who didn’t turn up has run off back to his home country, stealing company secrets in the process, and immediately cut off all of his passwords, etc., only to find that he had an emergency dental appointment and left a message to tell you that he wouldn’t be in.*

    * I just read about this case here on AAM the other day but now I can’t find the link. I’m sure I have some of the details wrong, but still….

    1. Bea W*

      I remember that one!

      I ended up being carted off to the ER without my phone (keys, wallet, etc) so I had no contact info for anyone. I was more worried that my boss would think I up and disappeared more than I was worried about possibly being admitted to surgery. That was before I had read about that incident on AAM, but managers don’t generally like it when people fail to show up for work and don’t call to explain why.

  49. Bea W*

    The problem with pre-approval of sick leave is you can’t always predict when you’ll be sick. Expecting a sick employee to get ahold of someone off hours to get approval for using sick time is not reasonable. It also discourages people who are really sick from staying home and not sharing with everyone in the office. If people abuse sick leave a better way to handle it is addressing the problem employees individually rather than making it difficult for everyone. The only people who plan bring sick in advance are the very same people who use sick time as vacation time.

    1. Observer*

      It also discourages people who are really sick from staying home

      Unfortunately, many bosses think that this is a GOOD thing. And the issues are not limited to sharing germs, either.

  50. Me*

    Is it just me or did anyone else notice that with the nature of the work it apparently doesn’t matter if poeple are at the office or even working at all? Odd that they have any policy, or employees for that matter.

Comments are closed.