update: when an employee is too sick to call in sick

Remember the letter-writer whose employee was recovering from cancer and was sometimes too sick to call in sick? Here’s the update.

I’m the boss with an employee who is/was dealing with some serious health issues that meant he wasn’t always able to call out according to our procedures.

Per the suggestion of several commenters, we went to a “call IN rather than call OUT” system, where we assume Fergus will be out unless he calls to inform us otherwise. Unfortunately, his health has continued to decline since then. Since my original letter was published, he has been out for several consecutive weeks. But at least we no longer spend each day worrying about what his absence means–although, obviously, replacing it with worry over Fergus’s general health is only a slight improvement.

Work in Fergus’s area has slowed down a lot since he has been out. I have an employee from a different is area leaving for greener pastures, and their area was a little overstaffed, so I am replacing them with someone who can work in multiple areas, including Fergus’s. They won’t be a formal replacement, just someone who could fill in for multiple roles. That way the wheels will keep turning however things turn out for Fergus, and other areas will have some help when they have people out sick or on vacation.

Personally, I don’t think that Fergus will ever return to work. But since no one is making me fire him and we’ve found some workable solutions, I am content to keep him on “medical leave” for a few months and see how things shake out.

My staff and I have started a collection for Fergus and will be delivering some cash and food to their house when we do our department holiday lunch. I hope all your readers who find themselves particularly blessed this holiday season will reach out to their own community and offer a helping hand where they can, and that those who are struggling will feel comfortable asking for help and supported when they do. Here’s hoping the rest of 2017 is happy and healthy for you and your readers!

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. esra (also a Canadian)*

    I’m glad OP is being so considerate, but what a sad situation. A+ on sharing food and help with their family.

    1. Charisma*

      Me too. I worked for a place that wasn’t as kind to an ailing employing and, even though my coworker ended up recovering from their illness, the stress from how they were treated during their treatment left them feeling incredibly unsupported by the organization and they soon left after they recovered. It makes me feel good to know that there are people and organizations like yours out there OP.

      1. Specialk9*

        Dawww I like the whole office!
        Making a dying person not have to scrabble in the dirt is a refreshing change.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        Yes! So much love for this OP and for their office and for Fergus! <3 THIS is how you be a good boss to an employee in a horrible situation!

    1. HR Recruiter*

      This! This makes me so happy your are working with him in this awful time. In my first job as an HR Admin my company had a strict leave policy. You could not take one day longer than their policy stated. (A simple Google search will show they have been sued for this multiple times about this and lost). We had an employee with cancer who maxed out her leave. I did everything I could to try and stall things but corporate ended up firing her the day before she died. I went to her funeral and the eulogy was all about how much she loved our company. She had worked there her entire working life. I still feel guilty at what happened and wounder what else I could have done for her.

      1. Say what, now?*

        That is astoundingly agregious on the part of your company. I’m so sorry for your loss in losing your employee and also sorry for the position your company put you in. It sounds like there wasn’t anything you could have done to change their minds since they’re willing to be sued repeatedly and have to pay out repeatedly for enforcing this policy. I hope that you’ve been able to leave.

      2. Your Weird Uncle*

        That’s just so…terrible. I’m sorry to hear that happened. I hope you’re able to let go of feeling guilty though! You did what you could in a terrible situation with the deck stacked against you. I’m not sure you could have done anything more.

      3. Observer*

        I’m glad they are a FORMER employer!

        You have nothing to feel guilty for. You were not in any position to do much.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          (…she’s a ‘former’ employee because the woman died the day after she was fired)

          That’s the saddest story! But I do second that you shouldn’t feel guilty – it’s not your fault the company sucked :/

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            I assume Observer was referring to the fact that HR Recruiter no longer works their, either (“In my first job as an HR Admin my company had a strict leave policy” – emphasis mine).

    2. Nita*

      Yep! OP, you and your office are amazing and it’s so good that you’ve been able to extend a lifeline and a measure of normalcy to Fergus. It’s an honor to work with people like you. I’ve seen a similar situation play out in my office and will never forget how my bosses went above and beyond to support the employee who was sick. Best wishes and many blessings to you all.

  2. AvonLady Barksdale*

    You and your company sound like good people, OP. Dealing with this kind of uncertainty cannot be easy, and I’m impressed that you’re making things work in a compassionate way.

  3. I'm A Little TeaPot*

    That’s probably the best outcome considering the circumstances. Kudos for you for being kind.

  4. LizB*

    Today has been a really rough day for me, so seeing an update where everyone is being compassionate and making the best of a bad situation is really nice. Thanks, OP!

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, it’s nice to see something heart warming and positive on the internet, especially after those “worst boss” stories!

    1. madge*

      There’s definitely something in the air here.

      OP, you are exactly what boss/colleague should be. Blessings to you and your team for helping to make Fergus a little more comfortable.

  5. another bureaucrat*

    Thanks for the update and for all you’re doing for your team. That was a very touching message to end your letter on, and you’ve helped me remember to be grateful for health and community this time of year.

  6. Chriama*

    I’m sorry that Fergus is suffering through such a terrible health situation. And OP, I am really happy that you’re able to be so kind. It sounds like you have a good place to work – adequately staffed, compassionate, etc. And you’re contributing to being a real blessing in his life.

  7. Liz2*

    Are you delivering or having it delivered? If they are sick, having company, especially work, might be a very hard thing for them, even if it’s just a handoff. It’s a wonderful gift, but I would recommend just a nice grocery gift card and a support card signed by everyone.

  8. Your Weird Uncle*

    OP, I’m certain Fergus is very grateful to you for being so compassionate and kind. I had a friend who was going through cancer treatments over the course of several years (unfortunately, we lost him right around the holidays two years ago) and he had a boss/company that was very understanding as well and implemented a similar system. He loved having his job to go back to when he was feeling well enough to go, because it gave him a sense of normalcy that had been missing from his life for so long. And he didn’t have to worry about losing his job if he was unable to get in for a series of days, or weeks, or months….it was really the last thing he needed to worry about then. It really made a huge difference to him and his family.

  9. This Daydreamer*

    Thank you so much for finding a way to work with Fergus. I hope he does recover, but if he doesn’t, you’ve done a great deal to make his life better. The world needs more people like you.

  10. eplawyer*

    You are such a wonderful boss for trying to find a solution that works in this situation. You might not do it for every employee. But you crafted something that works for this one. And you keep the business part from being affected too badly so no one is feeling resentful. Kudos all around for handling this one.

  11. mrs__peel*

    You are an awesome person! Thank you for the update.

    One of my mother’s cousins sadly passed away from an aggressive type of cancer recently (only a few months after her initial diagnosis). Her employer quietly kept paying her regular salary during all of that time, even after she became too sick to work. That was very kind and a huge help to our family.

  12. hiptobesquared*

    You and your company is great! It must be such a relief for Fergus and has family to know that some money is still coming in and that Fergus still has the same health benefits.

  13. Bea*

    If we can all treat each other like this, bosses and coworkers alike, we would be a much better world. Thank you for being the leader that will be impacting many lives positively.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Of course, if we all treated each other like this, Alison wouldn’t need to write this blog anymore.

      But seriously, OP, you and your company are simply incredible.

  14. No Mas Pantalones*

    As someone who has had to be out on medical leave, THANK YOU, OP! Thank you for being kind and understanding and generous. <3 <3

  15. Turquoisecow*

    OP, you’re the nicest boss anyone could hope for. At my last job, we unfortunately had a couple of people get very sick (and eventually pass away in a few cases) with cancer. Some bosses were very understanding, and some were not. One coworker who was going through chemo and had to leave early at times for treatments, but kept coming in while she was sick, was told by her boss that she had to make up time. So if she left early she had to stay late another day by a similar amount of time, even though she was salaried. It seemed very petty.

    I wish your employee the best.

  16. Daffodil*

    As someone who’s lost a job due to illness, thank you for being as kind as you can to Fergus! My employer was kind to me, and it was a huge help. Ultimately there wasn’t a workable solution, but they jumped through hoops to try to find one for me. I left that job knowing I was valued and there was a place for me if/when I could return. (I’m fortunate, I’m expected to make a full recovery… in a few years. I’m merely uncomfortable and tired and brain dead until then. Could be much worse.)

  17. Paquita*

    Good for you OP! We have someone at my company that has cancer. He went out about a year ago for treatment. He got better and came back to work recently. Unfortunately, the cancer has come back aggressively and the prognosis is not good. I have never met him but this kind of information gets out somehow.

  18. Desdemona*

    I know this is not exactly the subject, but on a side note, I have to say that seeing that you can fire someone on medical leave in the US is flabbergasting. It is forbidden where I live.

    1. Temperance*

      In the US, anyone on FMLA is generally protected during their leave, and we can’t fire folks for reasons that violate the ADA, so it’s not as if our country is the wild west.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yeah, can people please not start with the OMG the US sucks type of comments? Gross generalizations are pretty tiresome and it’s not like we don’t know there is work to be done on healthcare in this country.

        1. Augusta Sugarbean*

          Did you read my comment? This always, always, always comes up. We had such a nice post going with all these positive comments. It’d be nice to skip the crappy “US sucks!” comments for once.

          1. RAM*

            On the contrary, I do think we need to point out how backwards the we are in matters like this. Pretending that it doesn’t exist and not talking about it is not going to solve the problem. People in the US SHOULD be outraged..

            1. Augusta Sugarbean*

              It’s already been pointed out. And gets pointed out. Every. Single. Time. No one here is pretending it doesn’t exist. Saying over and over the that US sucks is not going to solve the problem. I was just asking that we not beat this particular dead horse today.

            2. Anonymous for this*

              We are actually asking for these comments to stop because we all know the problem exists. We aren’t pretending it doesn’t exist: We’re know we’re in a horrible situation with health care like we know the sky is blue. Restating it is not helpful.

        2. Anonymous for this*

          That it does, but those of us who are dealing with that first-hand are aware of the problem.

      1. Bea W*

        Desdemona didn’t say the US sucked, just from her point-of-view living in a different country, the way we handle medical leave is different and surprising. I don’t see any generalization from that to “The US sucks!”

        Leave benefits are more generous in many other nations. That’s just a fact, and it does shock people who are from those countries, much in the same way US Americans are shocked learning about how things work in other countries.

  19. DeveloperDodo*

    I have never worked in the US, but it can’t be legal to fire someone who’s on medical leave can it?

    1. Engineer Girl*

      It depends on the size of the company, the length of employment, and the duration and impact of the illness.

    2. Speaking from experience...*

      It depends on the length of the leave. FMLA protects the employee for a certain amount of time, but after that, AFAIK it’s up to the company. I wasn’t fired, but more or less encouraged to resign when I hit the end of my FMLA but not the end of my illness.

  20. Bea W*

    This is so sad for Fergus, and I am heartened to see you treating this situation with such compassion. It is better overall for him to remain an employee on leave over being fired just in terms of keeping benefits when he needs them most, and taking up a collection is above and beyond. I wish more managers and employers were like you.

  21. Kailey*

    “I have an employee from a different is area leaving for greener pastures, and their area was a little overstaffed”

    I really don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean…

    1. Former Employee*

      Here is what it means:
      Someone who works in a different area is leaving and since that area was overstaffed, OP can hire someone who has skills for that job as well as the one Fergus performs so that the new person can fill in for Fergus when he is out. Because the other area is overstaffed, it won’t create a hardship for the people in the other area to have the new person doing the job Fergus does instead of the one the person who is leaving is doing.

      I really appreciate the compassion shown by the OP. Even the bosses/work places that I thought were less than ideal seemed to have risen to the occasion when an employee was seriously ill, or at least that is how I remember it.

      Separately, I hope that Fergus has applied for whatever disability benefit is available in his state or for Social Security Disability if that is applicable.

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