my employee posts on social media when she’s out sick

A reader writes:

I oversee a close-knit team, and most people follow each other on social media.

I noticed that the last two times one of my employees called out sick, she posted photos to Instagram during the work day hours — “selfies” of herself looking all dolled up and ready to go out. The first time this happened, I let it slide and in good faith assumed that she was just reposting a photo that had been taken another day. Now that it has happened again and there is somewhat of a pattern, I want to address it with her.

Do you have any suggestions on how to approach this conversation? Or if I should approach it at all? I seem to be getting mixed opinions on this – some people say it’s not my place to comment on her social media activity. The way I see it though is that regardless of whether the photos were actually taken on the day she called out sick or not, it was poor judgment on her part because she is senior in this department and most of our junior employees (who step in to cover her work when she is out) have access to her social media activity. I was alarmed when I saw the photos and I can only imagine that the junior employee who had to stay late to cover her work on those days had a similar reaction.

I know this poses a larger issue that it is not ideal for managers and employees to be social media buddies.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. voyager1*

    I agree with AAM on this. The perception to the other employees is a big issue here. That the senior employee is posting these pictures on social media is a real lapse of judgement IMHO.

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      This is why I don’t connect with co-workers on social media unless we’ve become “real life” friends and my social media is private. I don’t want to have to worry about perception and that removes the issue entirely.

      I don’t even necessarily think it’s poor judgment because it’s perfectly fine IMO to post old pictures when you’re laying in bed sick. I also think taking a “sick day” for reasons like being burnt out and needing a day to relax and recoup is not a lapse in judgment, and you can do whatever you need that day, even if it includes playing with your makeup and hair and having lunch with some friends or something.

      1. charo*

        You never know what might happen at work when you’re taking a “mental health day” or even a real sick day.

        If someone is sicker and calls in too, or there’s a big work problem and your absence makes it worse, you don’t want anyone resenting your absence after they see your posts.

        There’s nothing to be gained at work from flaunting pics of any kind.
        Keep them separate.

        1. HoHumDrum*

          I don’t disagree with you per se, but just to throw out there that if you got swamped because your co-worker was out sick, the person to be mad at isn’t your coworker but rather your boss, or whoever else is in charge of staffing. Maybe if businesses hired more than the bare minimum they wouldn’t have to live in fear of flu season.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I wonder if these feelings are more heightened at the moment because everyone knows of someone who’s reported ‘flu like’ symptoms and then been quarantined for 2 weeks which, while very good to do so, does strain people.

            Just a theory though.

            (Btw I totally support any action that reduces the risk of Covid infections. Just wondering if our current stress levels are causing this to be more contentious)

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              I agree 100%. The stress of current events is absolutely causing good people to blow up over tiny frustrations. Hopefully, we can all remember to take a step back and remember that, even if we disagree on any number of things, we all want the same end goals: health and happiness.

        2. Koala dreams*

          Flaunting? The whole idea of social media is connecting to people by sharing things from your life, it doesn’t make any sense to add someone on social media and berate them for posting selfies. It just as ridiculous as it would’ve been to ask to see someone’s photo album in the days before internet and then complain that they have pictures of themself in it.

        3. Sleepytime Tea*

          Who determines “sicker?” If you’re ill in any capacity, even a mental health capacity, your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself, not the company. No good will come from forcing yourself to work, doing possibly sub-par work because you know you’re not at your best. There is no way to make sure that a random emergency won’t take place on a day you’re out of the office, planned or not. And if your team isn’t set up with cross training and backups to the point where my absence for one day would cause the world to fall apart, then that is an organizational issue, not a me issue.

          In a past job I did that. I didn’t take a single day off for over a year, sick or otherwise, because there was no backup, there was no one else who could handle things if I was out. I took it all on myself. I burnt out and almost had a serious meltdown, and the organization was partially at fault for failing to hire more people and/or cross train to make it possible that I could be gone for a single day (I was partially at fault for letting them take advantage of me). Not to mention just because I’m not there means someone can’t call me and ask me a question if it’s a true emergency. I learned my lesson. The company has zero loyalty to me, and it is NOT incumbent upon me to risk my mental health and well being for them either.

          And posting pics on social media is not “flaunting” by definition.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            All of this is true and burn out is real, but then, as the company, they’d have every right to look at what look like very fit-and-well ”out sick” employees and ask if in fact they are sick and to ask for a doctor’s note or some form of verification, particularly if it happens more than once.

            If a person has allowed, of their own free will, access to their social media, then they shouldn’t be surprised if those same people feel moved to ask about things that they see, especially if they are in fact picking up work as a result. It would be bizarre if they didn’t.

        4. brighidg*

          If the workplace cannot handle two people being out at once, that’s the fault of management not the employees.

      2. Snarl Trolley*

        100% agreed, especially on that last line. Mental health is absolutely sick-day worthy – it’s a health issue, right in the name, and different people need different things for mental wellness. Yep, sometimes that’s a dinner with friends after a day spent not thinking about work and getting glam. Mental burn-out takes a hundred different forms, and needs a hundred different solutions, all of which are up to that individual alone. No judgement, although I do agree that posting it on social media is….perhaps not wise, with current stigmas on mental health.

        But once again, that’s why I can’t imagine being connected to anyone professionally on social media, barring LinkedIn.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Even without current stigmas on mental health, posting those pictures comes across the wrong way. At first glance, most people are going to assume the person is just playing hooky. And social media bombards you with so much, you rarely have time for a second glance.

          1. Nina in the North Woods*

            It’s an issue older than social media. I used to work with teens with special needs. We were in a
            regional program that met a few times a week, and did a lot of life skills stuff. We worked with Vocational Rehabilitation on workplace skills, including when not to call in sick.

            One counselor’s uncle had called in sick on the first day of fishing season. A few days later, the local weekly paper ran a photo spread about the start of fishing season. It included a photo of him, posing proudly with his first fish of the season. His boss was not impressed. People also like to call out for the first day of deer season.

            A teacher shared the story of a friend of hers who called in sick, went skiing, went off-trail, and had to be rescued by Ski Patrol. The incident made the news.

      3. Rayray*

        I’m with you.

        I have had coworkers I really liked but I only “friend” ones that I actually feel close to.

        Mental health days are very needed sometimes. In the past, I tried to actually plan them out ahead of time. It worked at one job because I wasn’t fully miserable. I still remember the first time I ever just called in sick because I couldn’t muster the energy to deal with it that day. It was my earned sick day and I was entitled to use it. I needed it that day. I don’t remember specifically what I did on that day but on some mental health day breaks I have gone to movies, hiked, hung out with friends, etc. Sometimes people need it. I wonder if this place has a crappy time off policy so this person calls in rather than jumping through hoops just to get a day off.

        1. charo*

          EVEN if you become friends, remember that “work friends” can be great ones but if they go sour, you still have to work with them. I’ve been there.

          I’ve had REAL friends from work for decades.
          But one was a work friend because we worked for the two top people. She betrayed me when she had a chance — it shocked me how blatant it was. Then we were both still there. She always pumped me for confidential info. yet would never tell me anything — so I should have known.

          1. Rayray*

            Definitely good advice.

            I’ve never really gotten closer to anyone more than just they’re someone I’ll eat lunch with and vent to. I like to be friendly with people because you’re absolutely right that work friendships can go sour. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also seen where the friends can get into spats over work related issues and I am not for that.

          2. yala*

            Yeah, for the first few months at my job, I thought my coworker and her group were my friends–we’d go out and eat lunch together (which also meant we could take longer lunches), take breaks and chat together etc.
            But then I Upset Her. And instead of telling me she was upset, she gradually started to freeze me out, an encouraging others to do so as well. And I regret any personal info I told her whatsoever.

            I have a few friends at work now, but all in other departments, and I keep my social media private. (Also not on social media? Any family members in the generation above me. It’s just asking for trouble. Shoot, that’s how my brother got outed to the family)

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, if they posted the picture with text like “I feel lousy today, so I thought I’d play with my appearance to cheer myself up”, it wouldn’t send the wrong message to her subordinates. Or even “Here’s a few pics from my last night on the town that I hadn’t had time to post.”

        1. selena*

          That would definitely solve OP’s problem: some indication that the poster really is feeling under the weather and not just skipping work.

          After that it’s up to OP to trust her colleague, tell the rest of the staff to trust the colleague, and to never become the kind of person that is fine-combing through posts to prove that someone wasn’t reeeeaally sick (‘you answered a single email?? than you could have worked dammit’)

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          I definitely did that at the start of lockdown – a couple of weeks earlier my family had all got together for my two year old nephew’s birthday party, but I hadn’t finished posting my photos at the time because the hotel wifi was no good and it took me a while to get round to it, and on day 1 of lockdown I posted them to cheer myself up, but I did make a big point of clarifying that in the caption. (Funny, I was thinking of the original of this post as I did that.)

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, especially since it says they are pics that look like she’s “ready to go out” and not that they are actually pics of her going out. Maybe when she’s feeling badly she likes to make herself feel better by playing with hair and makeup? There’s nothing wrong with that! If she were posting pics out at like concerts or whatever that would be one thing, but nothing here even sounds remotely worth a discussion to me.

        1. anon for this*

          For all we know the person gets dolled up to even go to the doctor. Some people do that.

    2. Eukomos*

      Really? It feels pretty disingenuous to me. I have to say if my manager told me they were worried about this because of the other employee’s perception I would assume they’re lying to cover up being upset with me for posting, unless they really, really sold the “I trust you” line. And if I really were posting those selfies for reasons other than going out to have fun while playing hooky, I’d be quite upset with my manager for not only wanting inappropriate levels of control over my social media but also lying to me about it. Of course, my response would be to lock all of my social media accounts which this employee probably should have done long ago, but it would damage my relationship with my boss.

      1. tangerineRose*

        This is assuming that Facebook’s security is decent. Is it? They’ve had issues before.

        When I take a sick day, I stay off of social media. No reason to make people wonder.

        1. Eukomos*

          They definitely have security problems but the problem at hand isn’t whether the Chinese government gets a hold of our locked posts. The public/private settings usually work fine in my experience, and more people should use private.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yep, right on. I have taken a few mental health days myself and I aim to stay off the radar. I don’t go anywhere and I don’t do anything online. One place had silly people who would be seen shopping at the mall when they were supposedly home sick. I do mean shopping as in browsing around looking at many different items, carrying lots of bags of purchases and so on. I do not mean they were seen at the drug store at the mall purchasing a few health care items.

          The thing is people can and do watch what we are doing. This is real, not a figment of our imaginations. If the work place is toxic or if the person is difficult then that raises the likelihood that some one will say something. Even in the case of a likable slacker someone will say something. It’s human nature, no surprises going on.

          1. Elfie*

            I’ve had lots of time off because of depression. Do you know what I do to help with it? Sometimes I go shopping – it’s called retail therapy for a reason! My employer knows I’m off because of depression, so if it’s helping me get back to work sooner because it’s self-care, surely that’s the aim of a sick day? I get what you’re saying, but you’re still kind of indicating that a mental health day isn’t a real sick day because you can go shopping.

      2. Caroline Bowman*

        Yes, I agree. I think the manager should be straight and tell them that social media, because they’re all on it, often only tells 1/4 of the story, but to be aware that from her (the manager’s) point of view, it’s iffy to post pics of getting ready to go out when you have called in sick, especially more than once.

        Be truthful. Also do mention that subordinates have access too and that it doesn’t look great, which is true.

  2. Granger*

    THIS: “I trust you. But you should be aware that junior employees who have to cover your work when you’re out are also seeing these and may not have that perspective.”

    WOW. I’d really like to have Alison speaking into an earpiece for me all day, every day.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Had an employee way back who called in sick…then posted up on media that he’d queued to get the latest (phone of some type). I did call him in and say that while yes, we actually did trust him, the perception of others would NoT be favourable.

      Then showed him how to lock his stuff down to friends-only. I probably wouldn’t have been so understanding if he’d posted up stuff that was offensive (racist, homophobic etc.) but that’s an entirely different matter.

      I’ve been off ill enough myself to know that even me posting up a picture of some sewing I’ve done could be taken as ‘omg I thought you were ill’ by some, so I lock stuff down.

      TL:dr: lock your stuff!

      1. charo*

        I defend taking “mental health days” when you need it and know that it isn’t creating problems for others. You may have been giving 150% recently and just need a break.

        But being blatant and obvious about it seems wrong. Your absence COULD cause a problem and you don’t want to own that publicly. It’s just rude.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve lost jobs due to employers thinking I was ‘making it up’ because I had repeated time off ill (god, disabilities suck). Believe me I understand the negative impression it can give!

          Just saying there are levels to this.

          1. yala*

            I was reprimanded last year for taking too much time off without warning (sick leave, rather than annual) and even accused of having to take leave without pay, which I’d been very careful to not to do (and checking my pay stubs proved that no, I never had).

            This was in the months following a family crisis that messed me up so badly I couldn’t go to work for a week. That summer was an incredibly stressful time for me, and there were days when I legit just couldn’t THINK or do anything but lay on the couch and feel horrible and hopeless. I had to dip into my annual leave, which I very much did not want to have to do, but I was *careful* and didn’t use any leave I didn’t have.

            Since most of our work isn’t on a deadline, and most of my projects are solo ones, no one had to pick up my slack. But yeah, it still creates a negative impression, especially if TPTB are already trying to see the worst in you.

            But I will agree that taking a sick day and then posting pictures of yourself from that day (during the workday) going out or something similar doesn’t seem like a great plan.

            1. yala*

              *would also like to clarify, I wouldn’t think that posting on social media at all or posting pictures of crafts or things you did around the house is “flaunting it.” Even pictures of yourself fancied up aren’t necessarily that.

              But posting that you skipped work to get an iphone or game system? yeeeeeah, that’s not cool.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve taken days off due to mental illness needing a break even knowing that it might create problems. I may have posted images of sewing/crafts I’ve done. I don’t however think it’s bad, nor an indicator of my age or if I’m a lazy person by nature.

        3. anon for this*

          What people do with the time off they are entiled to as part of the compentison be it sick days or pto isn’t your business. If you work some places that one or two people being out causes such problems then its managements fault.

      2. Anya Last Nerve*

        Same here. A guy who was a direct report of mine emailed me one morning that he would be out sick because he had “tummy troubles” (yes, a grown man emailed his manager and used the word “tummy”). Later, 2 of his coworkers who were friends with him on Facebook said he had been posting the night before about going out partying for his birthday. I didn’t say anything to him and let him take his day, but I definitely thought the entire thing was unprofessional.

        1. charo*

          Yeah, he could’ve taken the next day off, he knows when his b’day is. Then, even if you didn’t get wild, you can look forward to sleeping in. Do something to compensate if b’day was a dud.

          A single day off, rather than all combined, can be really nice. I used to take a day off attached to holiday time off, esp. if the hol. was middle of the week. Turns it into lots of mini-vacations.

          BUT, I volunteered to work XMas Eve Day so others could be off cause it was so quiet I knew I could relax. It wasn’t a sacrifice, but it looked like one.

          Plan ahead on taking a day off when you know you’d like it; it’s a nice alternative to two weeks all taken at once.

          AND if you’re clearly sick a couple days, it doesn’t hurt to take an extra one when you could have forced yourself to go in, to get organized again. Just don’t post it.

          Because if you’re already off, one more day doesn’t matter, but taking a lot of single sick days looks more suspect.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Ironically, I’m reading this at the end of a single sick day. A Monday even. Some of us have to use one-off sick days for things like migraines, insomnia, and TMI side-effects to cafeteria food. (Unexpected side benefit of full-time WFH for my employer …I haven’t had a single one of those since March.)

            1. Rainy*

              I’ve had to take a fair amount of single days off for allergies, and it’s always last minute. The universe doesn’t leave a note on my pillow at night like “by the way, during the night you’re going to inhale so much pollen you’ll wake up with a face like Kylie Jenner’s lips and the rest of you covered in hives”.

          2. Rainy*

            Thinking that single sick days are suspect says more about the suspicious person than the sick person.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          You remind me of a funny story where an employee said she had ‘tummy issues’ because she couldn’t spell ‘diarrhoea’ and felt ‘the sh*ts’ was unprofessional. Did tell her later that without predictive text I can’t spell that wretched word either!

          (Definitely agree with you though that the birthday party bit was….dodgy. Probably wouldn’t have said anything either though)

          1. Frank Doyle*

            IMO discussing diarrhea is unprofessional no matter how it’s spelled!! Just say that you’re ill, who on earth wants or needs the specifics which might lead to an unintended mental picture!

            1. Autumnheart*

              Anecdotally, I have definitely noticed that the more professional my job has gotten, the fewer details my manager wants about any sick day I might take.

              Retail job as a college student, and some entry level hourly jobs: Manager insists you find your own coverage; badgers you about coming in anyway; wants to know exactly what is wrong with you, the thermometer reading and the number of trips to the bathroom; wants a doctor’s note; insists that throwing up isn’t a good enough reason to stay home; suggests or outright tells you that you might get fired for this.

              (Note: this is only if you’re a reasonably reliable employee with a decent work ethic. If you no-call no-show once a week because you’re hung over, your job will be completely safe and you’ll never get in trouble.)

              Professional job as a middle-aged adult: “I’m really not feeling well today, so I’m going to WFH/take a PTO day.” “Sorry to hear that! Hope you feel better tomorrow.” That’s it.

              1. Rainy*

                My experience matches yours.

                I was a team lead at a retail store where we had the guy who would use his break to sprint to the liquor store down the block, buy a fifth and down it, and then come back, say hi before the booze hit, and then disappear into the stockroom to be found later curled up on a sofa sleeping it off. That store had more problems, and the whole company is now closing, but despite my SM having a fit and firing actual decent employees if she felt like they had “backtalked her” (about topics like, “I told you I can’t work Thursday afternoons, I have class”), I couldn’t persuade her to fire that guy, because “well, we need a man to move stuff around”. He had arms like pipe cleaners.

            2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

              LOL, my current boss is a doozy about this.

              Back in September, I was going to bed and had to use the potty. It was around midnight. I didn’t know for another 7 hours, but I had colitis. My toilet bowl was straight blood and I was throwing up at the same time. Scared the h*ll out of me.

              In the morning, I called in and said I wouldn’t be in. Told the boss I was having some “gastro problems” (verbatim). I didn’t want to tell him the specifics, it was kinda gross and really embarrassing. He said he needed me in once I felt better. I told him I didn’t think I’d be in at all that day but would do my best to be there the following day (I was waiting for the ambulance at this time). He ragged me up one side and down the other. Big time.

              And I lost it. Completely lost it. (This is the same guy who gives the guys bigger bonuses than me and the other woman there; he bought the guys PPE but made me and my other female co-worker fend for ourselves….but those are other stories shared in another comment somewhere.) I said, “No, boss, I won’t be in until I am out of the hospital. I’m waiting on an ambulance right now because I’ve been up for seven hours doing nothing but s*itting blood and throwing up.” Then I hung up on him.

              The flowers arrived in my hospital room the following day.

              (My dad was like this, too, so I’ve learned to be kind of patient but everyone has their breaking point.)

            3. Batty Twerp*

              It can have an impact depending on your industry. For example, when I worked as a nursery school receptionist, if I’d had “tummy trouble” I wouldn’t be *allowed* back to work for 48 hours.
              Which is completely different to ‘just’ having a migraine where I’d be *expected* back at work as soon as I was well.
              Sometimes the specifics (while not necessarily going into diarrhoea level detail) is a necessity beyond “I’m not feeling very well”.

  3. Roscoe*

    I think the biggest issue is you don’t need to be connected to your employees on social media. There is no reason for you to follow her on Instagram. She can post what she wants. And again, you don’t want to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for her to post while not at work. Even if its a perception thing, I think you still need to be really wary of how you present that. I’d be PISSED if my boss said I could post pictures from the weekend because I’m out sick today. Its really none of her business.

    1. Exit, pursued by bear*

      I don’t connect with co-workers on social media as a rule. If one of us leaves, sure.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Same. The only reason I’m connected to anyone at the moment is that 10 years ago we worked together, left those jobs, and were friends in the middle before we chanced to work together again. I see no need given our current roles to unfriend them, but if one of us was a manager or something? Yes.

        I also think it matters about the perception of a “sick day”. Sometimes I take a day of leave just to catch up on things, monitor the installation of an appliance, etc. It’s not always about being sick. If the employee is using sick leave for this, then perhaps the solution (if warranted) is to remind people to use PTO for general use time off. We do not have “sick leave” here, so it’s all one general pot. Unless I say so no one except my boss knows the specifics.

      2. Koalafied*

        I recently tried to add a co-worker as a second billing contact for our Facebook Business Manager advertising account because I was the only one, and was flabbergasted when I discovered that I couldn’t add any of the administrators of our Page/people already authorized to access Business Manager, run ads, post and comment as our Page, etc, unless I was personally friends with them on Facebook – and conversely, I could have added anyone I’m friends with as a billing contact for my employer even if they aren’t already a page administrator or advertiser with access to our Page. How does that make sense?? It’s annoying enough the way Facebook requires employees to use their personal accounts to admin business pages instead of allowing business to create business credential logins, but the fact that I could only add personal friends to have access to billing information and not any of the people already approved to access our Page/Business Manager account is that much more insane. I had to reach out to the co-worker and awkwardly ask him to become friends with me, and reassure him that he could unfriend me as soon as he got and accepted the billing account access and I wouldn’t be offended.

        1. Exit, pursued by bear*

          Eww. It’s all part of the Everyone Must Be Connected to Everyone All The Time. It drives me nuts. Same when LinkedIn wants access to my contacts. No room for bloody nuance.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I never followed/friended any o my employees (I do consider that a power imbalance) but the few times I did investigate what an employee posted up it was because someone else had complained. Once, it wasn’t justified, I trusted the guy but did advise he take our company name off his page in future. The other time it was more offensive stuff being posted and I did have to ask the employee if a) that was them and b) since they confirmed it was it was an awkward conversation (but we’re talking massively offensive white supremacy stuff here. Extreme exception)

    3. kathlynn (Canada)*

      This. My job wants employees to like/follow them and stuff on Facebook. I’m like, nope. Didn’t do it at my last job. Won’t do it for this one. They have a over reaching “don’t post about your job at all”, and I don’t want to risk my paycheck because I post something they disagree with (like wanting more protections for workers, or higher minimum wage. Or talking about my experience with previous employers).

      1. MrsCHX*

        “ like wanting more protections for workers, or higher minimum wage.

        This is protected speech!!

    4. charo*

      IF they don’t all follow each other, THEN what they post IS private.
      But that’s not this case.
      You’re right, it should be. Back in the day, the idea that people would be able to post pics to the planet while “off sick” is an appalling one. Fraught w/issues.

      1. wheels up on thirty*

        Not on Instagram, Twitter, etc. I sometimes check the pages of peope I admire without following them. And a junior employee seeing a pattern of being asked to stay late/work extra hours potentially without more pay might get suspicious and want to check if the person claiming to be sick is saying the truth. Plus, sometimes it’s easy to see from the caption if this is a recent photo.

        People are free to do what they want, but don’t expect your actions not to have consequences. A caption “getting ready for a fun afternoon of games and drinks with my long time friends!” posted with a picture on a sick day is not going to go well for the person covering for the employee.

    5. Anya Last Nerve*

      But if the employee has a public profile, all bets are off. I used to have a manager with a public Instagram account. When he called off sick and left us in the lurch while posting pictures of himself at a party or at the beach, it was not a good look. Especially when he gave his team a hard time about days off! You can’t argue for privacy while having a public account telling the world what you are up to.

      1. charo*

        THIS. Cause you never know what happens at work when you’re off.
        It might be “Cake Day” and they don’t miss you.
        There may be a big disaster, tech or crazed gunman or burst pipe, something bad. Or big boss shows up and the pressure is on.
        They won’t forget it.

    6. Kate 2*

      It’s not just about the boss. Sick employee is a manager and boss know sick person’s employees follow HER. When you have a public social media account ANYONE can see it, and in this case they can and do!

  4. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

    If I were a co-worker, it would be hard for me to resist commenting on it “hope you’re feeling better! We missed you at work today!”

      1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        Because I would resent having to pick up the slack for someone who is abusing sick leave policies.

        1. StudentA*

          Someone is abusing sick leave policy by posting a pic of themselves in makeup? This just makes you sound judgmental. How much slack are you picking up? Why not help others out? It could be you tomorrow. Someone could be healthy today, fall ill tomorrow.

        2. MrsCHX*

          But you’re making this up.

          MANY of my Instagram pics were taking at some prior time. I think this is true for many people.

          And I don’t think “sick enough not to be at work” has to translate to “I’m deathly ill and can’t function”.

          I’ve taken off unexpectedly for migraines (can’t work, can’t function) or a bad cold (don’t want to be at work with a hacking cough and constantly blowing my nose, but I have moments where I feel okay). Posting on social doesn’t make me not sick.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Because they’re making your life tougher by 1.) making you cover their work, and 2.) making the bosses (justifiably) more suspicious of employees taking sick days.

        1. Deliliah*

          This rubs me the wrong way. I have definitely taken a sick day due to waking up with a massive migraine, spent six hours in bed, and then woken up feeling refreshed enough to straighten my hair and put some makeup on and take a photo because it made it feel better.

          I get the perception issue with junior employees, but to say that just because someone got dressed up on a sick day means they’re not sick isn’t fair.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            This. It’s none of anyone’s business why I posted a new pic of me when I called out sick. And if your first go to is resentment and anger, that says more about you than me. This is clear example of why I’m super picky about who I friend on social media so I don’t have to monitor myself and worry about what I post.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Migraines: the several hours of it ‘god please remove my brain’ followed by a really drained and bored feeling. At least for me.

            1. Deliliah*

              Yep. I can never really focus enough to read a book or follow a TV show. Doing my hair and makeup is a thing I can do for 10 minutes, pause, sit on the bed and stare into the abyss, go back to makeup, pause, drink some water, start in on my hair, pause….

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Frankly I admire you for that, I’ve got zero talent for makeup or hair but if I did I probably would do something like that instead of sewing/reading copious amounts of fic on AO3….

                I don’t like feeling like I have to be totally immobile if I’m off ill.

            2. Damn it, Hardison!*

              After some of my migraines I’m quite keyed up and have lots of energy. I’ve been known to log in to work in the afternoon after having a migraine overnight or in the morning. I hope my manger doesn’t think that’s odd!

            3. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I get what I call “the migraine stupids” when the pain & nausea pass. I can do basic physical tasks, but nothing requiring thought. Mopping yes… Weeding maybe… filing or paying bills oh no.

            4. Mockingdragon*

              Yeppp….the “migraine hangover” is so much worse than the pain part. The pain I understand and know how to deal with (and I get it mildly). The HOURS and HOURS afterward of shaky hands and general wooziness and weakness, even when I caught the migraine early enough to take painkillers and skip the pain part…

          3. Dust Bunny*

            Same. Had a horrible night, took a nap in the morning, was OK in the afternoon, but at that point I’m not going to go into work for like two hours and then turn around and come home.

            Bottom line, unless somebody is doing this frequently, people need to MYOB.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Most places I’ve worked, once you call off, you’re done. It’s 8 hours sick/PTO, even if you do feel better and want to come back into the office or go back to work from home.

          4. Traffic_Spiral*

            “just because someone got dressed up on a sick day means they’re not sick isn’t fair.”

            “Fair” means very little in this situation. It’s highly unlikely, though, that you’re too sick for work but also energetic enough for selfies. And on the off chance you are (you aren’t) don’t go pushing your coworkers’ goodwill by posting your “oh look at me I’m so healthy and happy” pics where the coworkers can see them.

            Or, you know, do that, because you crave attention from literally everyone more than you care about having any sort of professional reputation, but then don’t whine when your coworkers are annoyed that they’re picking up your slack while you’re at home taking selfies.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                If you’re going to be on a work advice website you should expect the occasional reality check about work professionalism. If you’re too fragile to be reminded of basic work norms, maybe find a website more suited to your current needs.

            1. Koalafied*

              “energetic enough for selfies?” How much energy does it take you to hold up a phone and press a button? Because for me it’s a pretty negligible amount.

              Agree with history geek, this is a very unkind comment. Accusing a hypothetical person you’ve made up in your mind of “craving attention from literally everybody” and “whining” is not “basic work norms.” I think you should seriously reflect on the hostility you seem to feel towards your coworkers and/or women.

            2. EventPlannerGal*

              Sorry, how much energy do you think it takes to post a selfie? Lying in bed, scrolling social media and hitting post on a selfie you might have taken days ago is hardly energetic. And even if she’d taken it that day, putting on some makeup is hardly a Herculean effort. I understand the point you’re making about how it will appear to your colleagues, but it is just not true that somebody can’t possibly be too sick to go to work but well enough to put on some eyeshadow.

            3. Bundle*

              What kind of work do you do that requires as little energy as getting dressed and taking a selfie?
              I would not do what the worker in the letter did but I’m pretty sure that in most jobs, sick enough to miss work and strong enough to put makeup and take a pic are not mutually exclusive.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I mean unless you are absolutely up to your eyeballs swamped kind of work, it shouldn’t be making your life that much harder…

          If someone out makes your work suddenly all sorts of stressful like that, your management needs to be the who answers to that.

          Nobody here causes this kind of havoc on a single day out.

          I don’t care what anyone does on their sick day, I care if they are otherwise reliable. But nobody is important enough to cause this much stress to the crew. What if their car broke down? What if their dog needs a surgery? What if they woke up with the trickling shits? Those things have downtime wherein you may put on makeup and take a picture to waste time.

        3. pancakes*

          It’s only making the life of the employee doing the covering tougher if they would’ve had a day off but for their coworker calling in sick, and if they’re paid hourly they’re not uncompensated. Having to do work at work doesn’t seem unfair to me.

          Similarly, a good boss won’t become authoritarian about sick day usage in response to one employee posting a photo of themself looking not-unwell. The problem in that scenario isn’t that an employee out sick posted a photo; the problem is authoritarianism and the atmosphere it creates for people who have to live under it.

          1. Anon for the Day*

            My second job is at a grocery store and we’re having lots of call outs lately in addition to being short staffed. It gets pretty draining to pick up the slack during normal times, but during COVID it’s becoming worse. I’m trying to be understanding as a team member, but my good will is running short. All this to say, most people are understanding when it happens a few times, but if you’re always calling in “sick” people start to doubt you (even if you’re legit sick).

            1. pancakes*

              I can see how that would be the case in a grocery store or a warehouse or someplace else where the work involves a physical component, but people in office jobs generally aren’t affected by a coworkers absence that way.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I can see how that would be the case in a grocery store or a warehouse or someplace else where the work involves a physical component, but people in office jobs generally aren’t affected by a coworkers absence that way.

                I would literally kill to have covering for a coworker just be physical effort. Mostly it’s recreating the missing tribal or specialized knowledge that makes an office-worker calling off stressful.

                1. pancakes*

                  That sounds unusually intense and stressful, to the point I have to think there’s something dysfunctional about the workplace, if not multiple things. A workplace where there are tribes and/or specialized knowledge kept by only one or two people isn’t well-run. Likewise a workplace where people get ahead by martyring themselves.

                2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  @pancakes: Guilty on all charges, your honor.

                  Tribal knowledge refers to stuff that’s generally (but not universally) known amongst a group but is unrecorded–like don’t go to Chick-Fil-A for lunch on Sundays, don’t ask Chuck about the moon-landing, and remember that Fergus prefers to be referred to as “ze.”

                3. pancakes*

                  I wouldn’t categorize those things as tribal knowledge. Remembering someone’s preferred pronouns or remembering that someone gets rant-y about a particular topic shouldn’t require reminders from a coworker.

                4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  Tribal knowledge is any unwritten information that [may] not commonly [be] known by others within a company. This term is used most when referencing information that may need to be known by others in order to produce quality product or service.

                  A set of unwritten rules or information known by a group of individuals within an organization but not common to others that often contributes significantly to overall quality. Tribal knowledge may be essential to the production of a product or performance of a service but may also be counterintuitive to the process. For example, three chefs may create the same dish but each may have a level of unique variability. If a restaurateur wants to recreate a particular version of that dish on a continuing basis, they will have to retain the services of the chef that created it in that particular way.

                  I can’t use real tribal knowledge and remain anonymous, so I tried to use things of similar import.

              2. Anonymous for identification*

                Office job here. We lost someone else in January taking us to 40% of our former staffing level. And other departments had layoffs so are trying to pass tasks to us. Um….no.

                1. pancakes*

                  Being staffed at 40% is a problem created by management. I don’t doubt it creates feelings of ill-will among employees and makes routine absences feel fraught, but the problem in this scenario is created by management, not by individuals taking a sick day.

        4. EventPlannerGal*

          “Because they’re making your life tougher by 1.) making you cover their work”

          This is such a weird attitude to other people being off sick, honestly – it obviously has nothing to do with the selfies because this would be the case whether they posted pictures or not, so I can only assume this is how you feel about people taking sick leave in general. Maybe somebody being off sick is “making your life tougher”, but so what? It happens when you work with human beings. It makes my commute tougher when it rains but I don’t go around getting mad at the sky. What do you want, for people to just suck it up and come to work sick because otherwise they might be inconveniencing you? Because I mean, that sounds like literally the worst and dumbest attitude to have to public health at this moment in time.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      I’d reply with “Not really but luckily while I was pooping my brains out I had access to a mirror and some makeup so I had at least a little bit of joy. Thanks for looking out for me though!”

      I just don’t understand what part of a makeup selfie implies that a person is not sick?

      1. Rosie*

        I think it’s because a lot of people absolutely do not want to put on make up and do their hair while they’re sick, so they can’t imagine that anyone else would. Honestly, until I started reading these comments, I didn’t know that some people spent their spare time on sick days doing makeup and it never would have occurred to me (and I’m really into makeup!). If I saw the post in question, I would have assumed that the employee was faking sick.

      2. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        I just cannot imagine being too sick to go to work, but not too sick to do my hair and put on makeup, then take pictures of myself and post them on social media. Sometimes it feels like a chore to do my hair and makeup even when I’m *not* sick.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          So agree. When I am sick there’s not enough of me left to even operate a computer, never mind create posts.
          But then there are mental health days. Just my opinion, but I tend to believe if the sick employee goes any where or does anything someone will definitely notice. Eh, I got noticed while I was laying on a gurney in the ER. A cohort happened to see me there. She also was stuck with staying at the hospital and she called work to find out if I was okay. (Wisely she did not approach me,I was pretty messy and we did not know each other very well at that point.)

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I know this is not the convention everywhere, but everywhere I’ve lived sick days are for either being sick or going to medical appointments or caring for an immediate family member who is sick. I have many a time taken a sick day because I had to go get a whole bunch of tests, so I was basically sitting in an hour of traffic, playing four rounds of “hurry up and wait” at the hospital, then back again in more traffic. I’m not going to work after that. It’s still a valid sick day, but I don’t necessarily feel like shit on that day, at least not any more than I would’ve had I been at work.

        3. Sam*

          You’ve never had, say, food poisoning that… works its way through your system… pretty quickly, and leaves you stuck at home and somewhat distrustful of your ability to stray from the bathroom, but otherwise alright? And I mean, that’s an example I’m choosing for its universality, but there are plenty of comments on this page that show there are all sorts of individual reasons for this.

    2. Koala dreams*

      That sounds like a perfectly nice message, but I guess you meant it sarcastically?

      If you resent having to cover for a co-worker, bring it up with your manager, in a clear way, don’t play games with the sick co-worker.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        And remember it the next time you’re tempted to call in and make coworkers cover for you.

        1. Koala dreams*

          Well, if it’s something contagious, you should call sick and not go to work out of some misplaced sense of duty. If you are already short-staffed, it doesn’t help to risk your co-workers getting sick too. (Working from home is another thing, of course.)

    3. Bad Hare Day*

      This happened to me! Except that my coworker posted on a photo that had been posted more than a year previously… so clearly was creeping on me, and doesn’t understand how FB works to boot.

  5. Ali G*

    I think a bigger issue is a junior employee having to stay late to cover someone’s work because she is out a single day. Is that for real? If so, then staffing and/or how priorities and time out of the office are managed. If I am out sick for a day it doesn’t impact any one else’s workload in a meaningful way (and I am senior staff too).

    1. ElizabethJane*

      Also sometimes when I’m feeling like shit but I’m also bored out of my mind because I’m home sick I will take some time to do my makeup to a much further degree than I would if I were going to work. I might actually get out a curling iron and play around with my hair. For all my coworkers know I’m actually pooping my brains out but I can still put my makeup on while sitting on the toilet.

      For me this is firmly in the camp of “stop judging the things that women do to feel good about themselves”.

      1. gracie*

        At my work, it’s encouraged to take sick days for mental wellness as well (in moderation, of course). Everyone needs a “me day” and take a break at some point when the weekend was not enough to de-stress. Burnt out employees are unproductive and demoralizing for the company in the long run.

      2. Ali G*

        Yup. I get migraines, and even when it’s “done” I can’t work (look at a computer), read, watch TV, etc. and so I get BORED. I take walks, cook and pretty much treat the rest of the day like a weekend, because I can’t work. But someone on the outside could perceive me as “lying” about being sick.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I frequently sew when I’m off work due to a pain flare up. I dare say some would look at my sewing photos and think ‘if she can sew then she can work!’

        (No. I can sew while unclothed on my front in bed. I’ve never found a workplace that’ll allow that!)

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s going to be office-specific and possibly driven by turnaround times. We’re properly staffed and work gets done, but when someone’s out… as a team of 5, that’s 20% of our force and the loss is felt. Overtime donations (we’re salaried) are the norm when someone’s out on short notice.

      I agree with treating this as a lapse in judgment and framing it that way. No one wants to be policing PTO (and I think this is a good argument for a PTO bank instead of discrete vacation and sick day banks), but at the same time, if you’re going to take advantage of the system, it’s not a good idea to flaunt it lest you bring down unintended consequences upon yourself.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        There’s no indication that she’s taking advantage of anything though. We know that on two sick days she has posted selfies of herself with makeup and hair done.

        Are those sick days over the course of a year? Two years? A week? Are they the only sick days the employee has used? Does she regularly go over her allotted sick time?

        1. Emilia Bedelia*

          The point is that no one else should even be put in the position of considering all that. If you are doing to have coworkers on your social media (especially junior coworkers, or your boss), you need to be very aware of the perceptions of what you’re posting. If you are not interested in doing that, you should not have coworkers on your social media. This employee needs to choose 1.

          All the questions you asked are very good points and they’re things that a manager should be considering. It’s different when there are junior coworkers involved – if she is posting about her adventures with no clear indication of whether it’s an old picture, it’s not really fair to tell someone “It’s none of your business whether Sick? Employee was actually on vacation – we don’t police coworkers” when they had to stay late to pick up the slack.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            “if she is posting about her adventures with no clear indication of whether it’s an old picture, it’s not really fair to tell someone “It’s none of your business whether Sick? Employee was actually on vacation – we don’t police coworkers” when they had to stay late to pick up the slack.”

            (I don’t know HTML formatting well enough to quote things)

            It’s actually incredibly fair to tell junior employees exactly that. Employees, junior or otherwise, have no business policing their coworkers’ time. That is for management to handle. If my employee came to me and said “I’m mad that I have to pick up the slack for Lucinda when she posts pretty pictures of herself on Instagram” I would respond with “Lucinda and I are managing her time, just as you and are managing yours. If you need assistance with your workload we can talk about that but what Lucinda does when she is out is not up for discussion”.

            1. Emilia Bedelia*

              I don’t think that’s fair at all. Lucinda is not actually managing her time, because other people have to do her work on top of their own while she is out. I think that would be extremely demoralizing as a junior employee to hear that you need to pick up the slack for someone who is seemingly cutting work with no regard to how it impacts their coworkers. This is just going to breed resentment from her coworkers.

              If this were a case of an employee keeping track of Lucinda’s bathroom breaks or tracking her break times or something, that would be a case where you could say “You need to cut that out because it’s not your business”. Here, Lucinda has chosen to add her coworkers and share her day with them. I wouldn’t call it “policing” if Lucinda is freely sharing information and if the coworker is actually impacted by her actions.

              If Lucinda chooses to take a sick day when she’s not sick, and wants to post on Instagram, that’s her business. Making it obvious to her coworkers who are doing her a favor is just poor judgment. Lucinda should just remove her coworkers from social media, and then this wouldn’t be an issue.

              1. ElizabethJane*

                Except we still have no indication that Lucinda is not sick. I can think of plenty of illnesses where I would not want to go to work, or where I would be unable to go to work, but I would absolutely be capable of passing the time by practicing my makeup skills.

                The conversation with the junior employee is “Yes, Lucinda does actually need to be off today. No, I will not justify why she needs to be off, but assume it’s just as bad as if she were down with the flu. If you have a problem with the workload we can talk about it but Lucinda’s status is off the table”.

                The only thing we know is that Lucinda put on some makeup and posted a picture. She could still be at home. She could have immediately washed her face and took a nap. Or not washed her face because she had the energy to put the makeup on but not the energy to care about taking it off. My point is if Lucinda is otherwise a solid worker and this isn’t a clutch time where she knew being out would be a problem then tell other people to mind their business about what she’s doing on her sick day.

                1. Emilia Bedelia*

                  I DO think that the manager should say something similar to your script to talk to the complaining coworker. I don’t think that conversation is mutually exclusive to talking with Lucinda about the perception, however.

                  It’s of course up to the manager to determine how this fits with Lucinda’s overall work history, and it should be made clear to the others that it’s not their place to be tracking her. But if Lucinda is in a position of responsibility, she should be aware of how she is coming across to others when she chooses to share what she’s doing that day.

                2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  Agreed with Emilia Bedelia. We can argue all day about whether or not something should be, but we all generally agree here that perception is important at work, and that it’s good practice to tell a report if something they’re doing, however objectively benign, could hurt others’ perceptions of them. It’s totally fair to tell a junior report if they complain not to judge, but it’s also reasonable to give Lucinda a heads-up that this might impact the way others see her.

                3. Koalafied*

                  Yep, I have a friend who posts a selfie every day with a date and a sentence or two about whatever is top of mind for her that day, kind of like a journal. She is pretty consistent about this and it does include photos she takes when she’s not feeling well, and other than maybe a bit of an exaggerated “I feel bad” pout to emphasize how she feels, she doesn’t often “look sick.” She still does her hair and makeup, sometimes the caption will even say something along the lines of she felt crappy but doing her hair and makeup helped her feel better. I rarely wear makeup and even more rarely take photos of myself, but that doesn’t prevent me from seeing that my friend has a different relationship with makeup than I do and that she takes selfies as a way of boosting her own mood or confidence when she’s feeling low or yes, sick. Just because it’s not what I would do doesn’t make it invalid.

              2. pancakes*

                It isn’t clear that Lucinda has chosen to add her coworkers to her list of followers — it’s equally possible they’ve chosen to follow her. It also isn’t clear that covering her work is doing her a favor rather than doing what’s expected in their workplace. People don’t generally go to work as a favor to anyone, but to earn wages.

                1. Anonymous for identification*

                  Isn’t Instagram one of the sites that lets bloggers schedule posts to roll out over time?
                  If yes, she could have done all those pics last Saturday!

            2. Gumby*

              Sure, fine. Next time I work an extra 2 hours one day and have to miss dinner with my family (or the ballet that I had tickets for, or my yoga class, or whatever) because Fergusina took a sick day and then I see her social media posts, I am not going to complain. Any number of “we don’t police our co-workers’ sick days” lectures will not change my *opinion* of Fergusina. All the lectures do is make underlings stay silent. It does not make them happy about putting in extra work to cover for someone who gives the appearance – whether merited or not – of having misused a sick day. The resentment can still build up and all your lectures have done is push it underground.

              I, frankly, do not have a job in which my workload is notably higher when a co-worker is sick for just a day or two. But, if I did, I would be happy to cover for Joe’s dentist appointment or Jenny’s flu. I would be quite unhappy to put in extra hours so Fergusina can sit by the pool. (Vacation is one thing – I can plan for that. The nature of sick days being mostly unexpected changes my internal calculus because I probably had plans that are being disrupted.)

              1. Kella*

                “If you need assistance with your workload we can talk about that…”

                If you are regularly overworked because of someone’s absence, it’s totally reasonable to say “since Fergusina was out on X days, I’ve needed to take on Y work and I’m not able to keep up with that on top of my own. How should I handle this?”

                But the problem is not that Fergusina is taking sick days, the problem is that you’re not getting the flexibility, sustainability, or compensation that matches your work output. Those problems can be fixed completely separately from what’s happening with Fergusina.

            3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              After hearing that conversation, you’d have a snowball’s chance in Hell of convincing me I’m part of a team.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I agree. I heard way too much of this type of response in retail. In my mind it correlates to weak management. Just my opinion, though. OTOH, I knew not to say anything because of this type of response, but I heard others get this response with both barrels.

                When I supervised, I said, “I work under the assumption that if someone asks for time off then they actually need that time. The reason does not matter that much, as we all have different things we have to attend to. Time off is tracked and excessive time off will be a problem that involves a sit down meeting with the higher ups. My best advice is to think twice before asking. When you ask, I will assume you have carefully considered and this is your conclusion.”

                I worked for micromanagers. If one of my crew took too much sick time, they were hosed and there was not a lot that I could do to help them. The only thing I really could do was back away from listening to the particulars of their requests. I refused to get down in the weeds and judge whether their request was valid or not.
                What happened next was interesting, the sick time went down. As the sick time went down, the micromanaging went down. The pressure cooker that was building found a relief valve.

                Crews will bicker, that’s a fact. I hammered on the point that we are all adults and we can assume that each person is using their best judgement until proven otherwise such as an excessive number of absences.

      2. Hellow Sweetie!*

        Do you and your team feel like you can take vacation days? My concern with a team that needs to work overtime when one person is out is that it makes people feel like they can never take days off. Which in turn will result in people feeling like the only time they can take off is for sick days. That’s a lot of pressure!

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Do you and your team feel like you can take vacation days?

          I’m going to separate that into two questions.

          The rest of the team has no qualms about vacation days. We’ll occasionally see an email at 7pm the previous day saying “I’m out starting tomorrow; X project is in Y state, Z project is in A state, B project is in C state, etc.”

          I’m the outlier; I’ve seen the damage that can be done in a day, so I essentially maintain full operating manuals for every project I handle, schedule vacations months if not a year out, and–before the policy was changed to allow rollover–would routinely defend the decision to forfeit ¾+ of my PTO as the less-stressful choice.

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        We have PTO in just one bucket where I work, but there is definitely a difference between planned versus unplanned use, so I don’t see how this would solve the LW’s workplace’s policing problem.

        Also, just the fact that vacation time is a benefit and sick time is a form of risk pooling…

      4. Jackalope*

        A slight tangent, but I’m going to push back on the single PTO bank. As has been mentioned before here, if you have a combined bank instead of separate sick & vacation leave, then unless you have actual unlimited leave, any time you call in sick it’s going to be cutting into vacation time you can have, and so makes people less inclined to call in sick when they ought to. I will also add that at my employer there’s a use it or lose it policy after a certain amount of vacation (although any vacation under that will roll over into the next year), but sick leave can be accumulated indefinitely. I’ve been there awhile and even though I’ve used sick leave whenever I’ve needed it, I still have a cushion of a couple of months in case I have an accident or cancer or something, and that brings huge peace of mind.

    3. Mockingjay*

      I see this as two issues as well.

      1) Senior employee called out “sick” to “play” instead. OP didn’t mention the employee handbook, but she should probably check the wording on call outs. Also, if PTO is scanty or slow to accrue, it’s likely that most employees will use sick leave for the occasional day off. Maybe Senior employee just needed a break and wanted to do something fun.

      2) Workload is severely affected if Senior employee is absent for a day (regardless of reason). This is a staffing and prioritization issue. Junior employees should not have to work OT each time a senior colleague takes a day off. What’s going to happen if the Senior employee takes a two-week cruise? (Post COVID, of course.) Who sets up coverage when staff is absent? Do the juniors have sufficient training to step into these areas? Are the juniors expected to perform their own work that day as well as the senior’s duties? Do they know to go to the OP to address priority conflicts?

    4. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this. If they can’t handle one person being out for a couple of days, they’re understaffed and too close to the edge. This wouldn’t happen at my job–either it could be handled by whoever else was there without overtime or it could wait.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        If they can’t handle one person being out for a couple of days, they’re understaffed and too close to the edge.

        When we’ve been staffed that highly, we ended up fighting over work as if were a baguette and we were starving.

    5. doreen*

      That very much depends on your job. One day a week , people at my office see their clients in the office. Let’s say that day is Thursday. If Lucinda knows in advance that she is taking off July 23 and therefore doesn’t schedule appointments for July 23, everything is good. If Lucinda calls in sick July 23, her coworkers are going to see her clients. ( There are reasons they can’t just be rescheduled) That may mean that the waiting room isn’t empty until 7:30 when they normally leave at 7 – which is not a big deal as long as Lucinda doesn’t tell anyone she wasn’t actually sick. Because people don’t mind staying late because someone is sick or had an emergency but they’re not so willing to do it because Lucinda woke up and decided to go to the beach. ( Especially since in my case, there’s only that one day they see clients in the office- if Lucinda woke up and decided to go to the beach any other day of the week, no one would have needed to cover for her. )

  6. Mill Miker*

    There was a paper a while back showing that one of the big vectors for colds and the like moving around offices were people who would take cold medicine so that they felt completely fine, and then went into the office and got everyone else sick because “feeling fine” and “not contagious” are not the same thing.

    It’s possible the employee knows they’re sick, but is managing the symptoms well enough that they’re mostly fine but tired, and just trying to stave off boredom while they rest. Doing some makeup and taking pictures sounds like a good way to do that, especially if she’s the kind of person to worry that being sick makes her “look gross”.

    If I saw my boss doing this kind of thing, I’d see it as a reassuring sign that sick leave is to actually about employee health/recovery/not spreading things, and not just about getting unproductive people out of the way for the day.

    1. The Grey Lady*

      I totally agree. I have been sick in the past but I have felt physically fine, for the most part. But if I know I’m contagious, then I stay home regardless.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yep, this. It feels like concern trolling. “Of course *I* don’t have a problem with her posting pictures, but some other people might! Won’t somebody please think of the children junior staff!!!”

      Are there actually people who think she’s abusing her sick time because she’s posting these pictures? Maybe there are…but I would argue in that case, that the onus is on them to change their perceptions, not on this employee to change her behaviour. If she’s not actually doing anything wrong, perhaps the message from management should be “We don’t police how other people use their sick time, now please get back to work.”

    3. Eukomos*

      Totally agreed, putting on makeup and even an outfit is not necessarily a sign that someone’s planning to go out, some people just enjoy doing that in their spare time at home. And if the only time you think someone’s sick enough to stay home is when they’re so sick that they can only stagger out of their bed to the bathroom and back, you’re going to have a lot more sick people needing time off in your office because they’ll all infect each other. OP need to stop following their employees on Insta and leave it alone!

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Additionally, someone could feel they have early symptoms of Covid and call in, and do stuff at home, and I’d be far happier than if they downed a load of night nurse and then came into work.

      In fact, I’d praise anyone who keeps their germs outta the office right now…

  7. Granger*

    Does this apply when you see said employee out shopping (not the proverbial going to the store for supplies for being sick)? My spouse saw one of our employees who frequently called out when she didn’t want to work and she was doing a day of shopping with her friends on her “sick” day.

    I addressed the frequent sick days, but left the rest for natural consequences to handle – we happened to walk into the building at the same time the following Monday (because OF COURSE the sick call was on a Friday!) and I didn’t ask how she was feeling because I didn’t want to force the lie and she initiated the conversation by saying how much better she felt and how she’d been in bed for three days. I responded that I was glad she was feeling better and mentioned that something “funny” had happened – X was sure that they had seen her shopping in X (town). She was appropriately mortified.

    1. Roscoe*

      I guess it really comes down to how much you want to police sick time. If I’m sick in the morning, but feeling better by afternoon, am I supposed to just stay in the house all day? What about if I used a sick day for a doctors appointment? After I’m done, am I not allowed to live as normal? I think people just need to let sick time be sick time and not worry about what people are doing on those days

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Are you allowed to do laundry or is that too productive? What about cooking or watching a movie? Is cooking OK if you don’t like to cook but if you enjoy it you absolutely can’t do it because you shouldn’t have fun on sick days?

      2. Doctor Evil*

        YMMV, but one way to deal with this is to have a policy that doesn’t call it sick time. Instead, maybe call it “planned” vs. “unplanned.” Set a threshold of how many unplanned absences within a specific time frame rises to the level of a performance issue, and go from there.

        Otherwise, you start getting into an issue of what’s a valid reason to take an unplanned absence and that just gets sticky. Is taking unplanned time because of a sick child okay? Fine, but this happens a lot during the toddler years. If the childless co-worker picks up the slack a lot for others in the scenario, do they not have the right to take issue? Does their “mental health” days not carry equal weight? And do they have to have a diagnosed disorder for a “mental health” day to count? This gets stickier the more you get into it.

        In the end, I’d trust that your employees are adults and can make decisions about whether they can do the work of the day *on* a given day. If this crosses a pre-determined line where you have determined it has an impact on workflow – absent FMLA/ADA concerns – then you have a performance issue. Otherwise, stay the heck out of it.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          That’s what my org does. All the PTO is in one bucket, and the distinguishing factor is, did you call in same-day or did you arrange it with your manager at least one business day prior? There’s a performance policy on the former after a certain frequency, but on the latter, as long as the manager approves it (and they generally do, unless there’s legit business reasons they can’t), it doesn’t matter as long as you’re not going more into the red on your PTO than policy allows. Everyone’s allowed up to go up to 40 hours in the red, but even our starting employees still get I think 24? days of PTO per year, accrued per every-two-weeks paycheck and increasing with longevity.

          My manager will accept a late-night text as “prior arrangement” even, because my whole team is remote and we have some folks who work overnight hours. Basically, if she has a message from you about it that was sent before she logs on in the morning at 7am and checks her email, it counts as “prior arrangement” in her book.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          Last year, my company switched from calling it “sick time” to calling it “PTO,” both of which are separate from vacation time. The people in charge noticed that we were having to use sick time to take care of all kinds of things that unexpectedly took up a half day or more but didn’t involve actually being sick, like emergency vet visits, picking kids up from school super early, sitting in a mechanic’s waiting room all morning while a repair was being completed…so they decided to just call the unplanned time off what it was to erase any doubt or confusion about how it can be used.

    2. S*

      Sick days are part of compensation. Taking a day that’s owed to you to run errands (shopping), for a mental health break, or any other reason is valid. Like Alison said, if the problem is low performance, address the problem.

      1. The Grey Lady*

        I agree, but the problem here is that employee lied about being sick when she’s not.

        1. Deliliah*

          But we don’t know that she lied. She could have had a massive migraine that eventually passed and then she put on makeup. She could have had massive diarrhea or vomitting in the morning and then felt better.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            Oh, I was referring to the employee referenced in Granger’s comment, not the employee that OP wrote in about. I agree that anything could have been going on with OP’s employee and it’s not fair to make assumptions about her.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Sick days are different because they’re often unplanned and, as such, can be a higher burden on the employer. No one owes an answer about what they’re doing with vacation time, but if you call in at the last minute for a sick day and others are affected, it’s reasonable to be bothered by a lie.

        But also, if you have an employee who “frequently called out when she didn’t want to work,” at some point the manager’s job is to address that, not just be annoyed by it.

        1. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

          Agreed. The problem lies here: “don’t police (or mistrust) people’s reasoning for using a sick day” and “it’s reasonable to be bothered by a lie [that someone is using sick time for non-sick reasons].”

          If the employer is “reasonable” for wanting to ensure that time off used specifically for sickness is not abused, then the employer is put in the exact position of policing their employees’ reasoning. The dozens of comments above about taking “mental health days,” taking off even though they don’t look/sound sick but could be contagious, or feeling bad in the morning followed by gussying up and going shopping later in the day when they feel better… all of those instances are at least “reasonable” to question when you are trying to enforce a policy that has specific parameters as to the legit reasons to take off work. (For example, in my state, there is a statutory “earned paid sick leave” law, and having a “mental health day” does NOT count.) And enforcement is not just a matter of monitoring performance AT work. A good performer could still violate policy by taking a sick day without meeting the sick day criteria.

          For all these reasons, I am a huge proponent of having an all-inclusive “bucket” of time (PTO) that employees can use for whatever they want. Downsides are the unplanned nature of sick days (which you could address by designating half of the allotted time as being available whenever the employee wants it, and the other half must be scheduled in advance) and that all of that time is treated as vacation time (employers have to pay that out upon termination in my state). But it is far and away preferable to trying to actually enforce a “sick leave” policy, when the definition of what should reasonably constitute “sick” is a nightmare. It also addresses the inequity of people who have access to sick leave but don’t use it because they don’t meet the criteria and are honest about it.

          You do this, and you remove the built-in resentment (and mistrust) that comes with a sick leave policy that some people follow and others abuse.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      In your case you address the “calling out frequently when she didn’t want to work”, not the fact that someone saw her out shopping. We should be allowed to take mental health days, but if ti’s being abused, then it needs addressing.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes, I was going to have her back until you got to the part where she straight up lied about 3 days in bed. Yuck, that’s pathological.

      1. Hmm*

        I agree that lying isn’t good. But (I’ve been in this place though I wasn’t seen by a coworker) how likely is it that she would feel comfortable saying “yeah I’m feeling much better. I was more suicidal on Friday than I have been in a couple of years and shopping was the only thing that could get me out of my head. I wasn’t having fun, I was surviving. Now I’m past that crisis moment. I really appreciate you allowing me to take time off to survive.”

        I would imagine most people wouldn’t say that because they would imagine most bosses wouldn’t want to hear it.

        1. BethDH*

          But you don’t have to say that. The opposite of lying is not sharing personal health information, it’s just not lying.
          For example, “yes, thank you, I am feeling better” would cover it. If they wanted to hint at the reason, “thanks for asking, I’ve been having a rough time lately and the extra time really helped.”

  8. ScottishOnion*

    The first wrong here is having your empolyee friends with you on social media. That’s a big no for me. Anything I do on there is not relevant to my job, and I wish people would stop using other people’s personal lives and make them a work thing.

  9. ElizabethJane*

    Honestly this strikes me more as a society problem than a workplace perception problem. And yes, I realize workplace perception is a very real thing but I’d rather we, as a society, take the time to change that instead of shrugging and saying “Well, that’s just the way it is”.

    For all these people know the woman in question is playing with makeup and hair styling as a way to pass the time. For the most part it’s a time consuming process but not super physically strenuous. She also could have decided that while she’s not feeling her best getting dressed up helps with how she’s feeling mentally.

    If a man were to post a selfie of them sitting on the couch in sweats playing video games we’d be all about that self care. But a woman playing with makeup gets judgment. It’s like we can’t fathom that a woman might possibly want to put on makeup for herself. If she’s doing it it MUST be for the benefit of other people.

    And really, what does it matter? If she’s not abusing sick time (as in, taking more than is allotted) then who really cares what she is doing? The impact is the same. Sick days are not just for days when you’re too incapacitated to do more than roll over in bed. If she gets 5 days a year and takes 5 days a year because she’s totally laid out or takes 5 days a year because she’s slightly congested and wants to play with makeup your company still needs to back her up.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I think you might be onto something there. If she read books or watched tv instead, would it also be a perception problem? I often watch tv when I’m to ill to work but can’t stay in bed anymore (in many situations it’s bad for your health to spend too much time in bed), and I don’t think I need to hide it.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Is it that hard to let people enjoy themselves in whatever way works for them?

        And let’s be honest, the issue is the made up selfie. If she’d posted a picture of herself looking like crap with a dog next to her and a caption of “Sick today, at least my dog is keeping me company” nobody would care.

        It’s the “looking like she’s ready to go out” part. Because we can’t fathom that women would put on makeup for themselves, just because. And we apparently have to decide if someone “looks” sick enough.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I agree with this so much.. sometimes, even if I’m not working or even leaving my apartment I wasn’t to put on makeup and play with the curling iron. Sometimes it’s I want to try something new.
          Also, doing makeup and hair can be a big part of mental health. Maybe the employee had depression and her therapist recommends that she try “dressing up” to make herself feel better. Mental health days are sick days.
          Or she may have an invisible illness like MS, fibromyalgia, lupus or any other illness where you “don’t look sick”. She may have had a bad day in the morning, felt better that afternoon so she put some makeup on, took a selfie, and went to dinner.
          Just stop policing sick days. If someone is calling out continually then bring that up.

          1. MrsCHX*

            I have a virtual friend (met through our hobby) with CF and other chronic pain issues and she impeccably does her makeup near daily. She says it’s the ONE thing she can always do to feel better.

      2. Shergak*

        I mean, posting selfies could be part of her selfcare. This is a really weird “sickness purity” thing going on, where one must prove that they’re sick enough to take a sick day, which shouldn’t be happening.

      3. Matilda Jefferies*

        I agree with ElizabethJane. There’s nothing wrong with her posting selfies when she’s sick, makeup or no makeup. If there’s a perception problem, maybe other people should change their perception of selfies. Just because other people think she might maybe possibly be doing something wrong in a way they can’t quite identify, doesn’t mean she she actually is doing anything wrong.

        I also agree that it’s a bigger problem in society, and certainly not one we’re going to solve on this thread. But I do wish more people would consider changing the way they think about things like this, rather than encouraging other people to change their behaviour to comply with (outdated, gendered) societal norms. Be the change, etc.

      4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Why does it matter so much? I don’t post selfies and I don’t get the need to do it so often these days, but if that’s her thing, who cares? It’s not hurting you or anyone else.

      5. StudentA*

        What’s the big deal? Some people really love makeup. Like, really love it. They follow tutorials and try out different looks all the time. And they post them frequently. Others just update their selfies very frequently. It does mean they’re out partying.

      6. Eukomos*

        Why shouldn’t she post them? Frankly, it’s probably a sign that she’s not abusing sick leave, since she doesn’t think of this as something she needs to hide.

      7. MommyMD*

        Seriously. It’s kind of not smart to do when calling off and knowing coworkers have access to your feed.

      8. Kella*

        If you aren’t equating your selfie-posting with a public statement that you are lying about being sick, then you have no reason to not post them. It is hard to not post them if you see nothing wrong with posting them.

        Since she’s in a leadership position, it’s probably good for her to consider the impact of what she posts on her coworkers but it would make perfect sense to me if someone posted a selfie and didn’t jump to the conclusion that people would think she was lying as a result of putting on makeup.

    2. StudentA*

      Great points, though I think the gender pieces are misplaced. If we want to take sick time to stay home and scratch our asses all day long, we should be able to do that without fear. And if I wake up with a migraine, take medication, feel better by 2pm, I’m not dragging myself to work, depending on my work situation. I can meet a friend for lunch if I choose to.

      This is why my judgment falls under giving others the benefit of the doubt unless they prove otherwise. If I led a team and they gave some side eye for that, I’d shoot it down. If the team can’t handle one person taking a sick day, that’s a huge problem and it needs to be dealt with separately.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        The gender comment was around the makeup and “looking ready to go out” specifically. If someone looks sufficiently sick we don’t comment. If a woman wears makeup as a form of self care we have a hard time grasping that because as a society we are used to the idea of women dressing *for* someone else. It’s like we forget that women can dress for themselves too.

      2. Nanani*

        It’s not misplaced at all.
        LWs issue is entirely based on the fact that the employee posted a picture with makeup.
        There is no evidence that the employee was out partying or anything like that, just that she wore makeup.

        As many people have pointed out, it’s a real societal problem that women’s activities are policed and perceived as “frivolous.” Jumping from “wore makeup in a picture” to “wasn’t really sick” is a leap based on gendered assumptions – that she must be doing it for someone else (because apparently that’s all women are good for, decoration), and that if she’s well enough to look good, she must be well enough to work (ditto).

        1. StudentA*

          I’m sorry. It was a typo. It should read “it DOESN’T mean they were out partying.”

  10. That Deb*

    Don’t friend your employees on social media. Just don’t.
    Mention it to her this once, and also explain the situation it puts you in being friends and remove her. Also remind her how it looks to her coworkers who are her friends.

  11. Anon for work here*

    Sick days also have to cover a variety of healthcare appointments, yours and for those you may need to care for. None of that would somehow preclude doing nice hair, makeup and/or clothes. On top of that, it sounds like the OP is policing what someone looks like when they aren’t at work. Using the cover of “I understand this isn’t necessarily relevant but OTHERS MIGHT NOT” is really just that, whether she realizes that’s what she’s doing or not. Being “alarmed” at personal social media activity of this type is an overreaction and the OP needs to do a little soul searching as to that level of reaction.

    Stop looking at your coworker’s social media if you can’t separate that entirely from your professional relationship with them. Block them if you have to. That’s on you, not them.

    1. Georgina Fredrika*

      I think maybe the key is that they don’t have enough notice to re-orient the workflow, if everyone’s working late to cover it? Normally if I need time off for doctor’s appointments, I can schedule that out, but sick days by their nature aren’t planned for in a team’s schedule

      1. Anon for work here*

        True if it’s some sort of care that is reasonably predictable, but it isn’t always. There are a whole host of chronic conditions where flare ups are severe and sudden enough to need support last minute in that fashion. I’m eternally grateful for the friends I’ve had that were able to support me that way in the past, for instance.

        And another thing I didn’t mention – the OP said this has happened twice. Two times is not a pattern. At all.

        1. Kella*

          Or it could be a specialist that is booked months out in advance but they just called and said they have a cancelation at 2pm today.

  12. Ray Gillette*

    Does the company in Letter 1 offer decent PTO and/or vacation benefits? I’ve seen several cases where employees lied about being sick because they wanted to take a day off. All of them were in low-paying jobs where PTO and vacation time were unheard of. If the only way to get a day off is to lie, then people are going to lie.

  13. Georgina Fredrika*

    a couple thoughts to add to what everyone else has said:

    1) a mental health day can absolutely be what is happening here. You can be sick in the mind or heart, but not like… carrying a disease. It may be that she really needed a mental break from work, in which case it totally makes sense that she might also go out after.
    Same situation with a migraine, insomnia or other issue that might really prevent you from working 9-5 that day, but not stopping you from meeting your girlfriend for happy hour.

    Instead of asking the manager to divulge on social media that “oh yes, I’m getting dolled up BECAUSE I woke up and cried for 2 hours and needed to get away from work,” maybe it’s a good time to push back on the people tattle-telling and explain that mental health could be an obvious reason.

    2) Sick days are part of an employee’s compensation, and if an employee goes from “20 days PTO” at one company to “15 days PTO, 5 days sick” at the next company- but they’re only sick 3 of those days – do they really “owe it” to the company to work an extra 2 days? If not, isn’t this the result?

    3) I would make her aware that the underlings are following her social media because that’s just a good thing to keep in mind, but otherwise it seems like the problem is not the employee.

    1. Rayray*


      When I have “sick” hours that will be forfeited if I don’t use them, I will use them. If the company does not allow me to use those as planned PTO, the only option I am left with is to call in that morning and say I’m too sick to work. Don’t dangle benefits and perks in front of people and not allow them a reasonable way to use it.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        And this is exactly why a PTO bank is a hill I’m willing to die on. At least with a PTO bank, Rayray can take all of her time and still give the rest of the staff lead to prepare for her absence.

  14. ElizabethJane*

    To be clear there are times when I think policing an employee’s actions on a sick day are valid. For example:

    Employee requests off a specific Friday to go to a festival
    Manager denies request as it is the day of their largest event and all hands are required
    Employee calls off the morning of the event **cough cough cough oh no I’m sick!**
    Employee posts a selfie at the festival that they wanted to go to

    Then there’s a larger conversation to be had about integrity and not leaving your coworkers in the lurch. But if an employee takes a random Tuesday off and does their makeup I’d tell your junior employees to mind their own business.

  15. James*

    You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s okay to post pictures of me out and about (which may or may not be from that day, and may or may not be related to something infectious–I took a few sick days for a vasectomy, for example, and I know folks who’s companies let them take sick days for routine medical appointments), or it’s not. If my boss came to me with that script I would walk away from the meeting with the understanding that my Facebook feed is indeed being policed by my supervisors and that I’m not allowed to post on days when I’m out sick. I would draw the natural and inevitable conclusion that I’m not allowed to post anything that’s not boss-approved either–by standards which are neither fully known nor fully developed, and which may be made to operate retroactively (was the employee told about this policy in advance? doesn’t seem like it).

    Saying “I trust you, but” means you don’t trust me. Full stop. That’s the only thing this employee is going to come away with.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the employee only heard “we’re policing your social media,” then I’d say she has a big gap about how much perception matters when you’re managing people, and I’d want to work with her on that because managers need to have a more nuanced understanding of this kind of thing.

  16. blink14*

    This is the crux of the social media – what is perceived via social media is not ever really reality. The photos could be from the day of, the weekend before, a year before. Generally someone posting selfie is often going to post that selfie in real time, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s very obvious a photo is real time, and that can be problematic depending on who’s looking at the account. I had a falling out with a friend who kept bailing on me last minute, and the final time it happened, she canceled about an hour before I was supposed to meet her. Her excuse was that she wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to go out in the weather(it was snowing). About 3 hours later, she posted a very obviously real time photo out the window of a car, and I knew she had been lying earlier.

    I would follow the advice Alison gave, and maybe advise that social media relationships with co-workers may not be the best choice. I keep my private life as separate as possible from my work life, and a big part of that is not having any co-workers linked to any of my social media accounts.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Yes! Social media, especially things like Instagram, are not always real! Heck maybe the picture was taken weeks ago and she was just posting it now because she was going through her photos and was like, oh hey, that’s a good one! Let’s change my profile pic and update insta! I’ve totally done this?

      Ant the LW doesn’t say anything about a caption, which I think points more to the fact that the employee is just posting pics. If it was a night out, wouldn’t she have put more? Like night out with the girls.

      1. blink14*

        Totally agree! There are a lot of possibilities, including just totally skipping out on work for no reason, but the ultimate problem is employees following other employees on social media and then trying to glean knowledge from what they’re seeing.

      2. Dara*

        And let’s not forget the queue system that most social media has now. You can upload a bunch of pics and write up posts and set them to be automatically posted on X day/at X time. These days, a person could be dead and still appear active on social media if they have a buffer of posts queued up.

    2. Emilia Bedelia*

      Exactly. I think everyone involved would be much better off if they were not connected on social media.

      For better or for worse, connecting outside of work gives you more of a glimpse into your coworkers’ lives and gives you more information to deal with. Better to just avoid the issue and give yourself plausible deniability and the ability to give others the benefit of the doubt.

  17. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    First and foremost, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be “friends” with any of your employees on social media platforms if you manage them. But I think if and what you say depends on a few things. How does your time off work – is it separate or lumped together as PTO (is she using sick time because she ran out of vacation time)? Is this someone who abuses their sick time and calls out conveniently on Mondays and Fridays?

    I think in most cases you should ignore it because you can make a lot of assumptions when people post things and a lot of it can be taken out of context. And sometimes you need a mental health day. Sick days aren’t just for laying in bed when you feel crappy. As far as the junior employees are concerned, it’s really not their business why she’s taking off, unless it becomes frequent and causes them to be overburdened making up her work. It’s no different than an employee who may have worked out a different schedule and their co-workers get pissed because it looks like she skips out an hour early every day, yet they don’t see that she’s either coming in an hour early or working on the weekends.

  18. Buttons*

    I coach new hires, especially those who are recent grads, on this very thing. Do not friend your coworkers on social media, just don’t do it. Even the people who I have become friends with outside of work are not on my social media. I tell new leaders if they are currently friends on social media with anyone who is of a lower level that they need to correct that. We do not have an official policy about it, but I make it clear it can cause problems.

  19. employment lawyah*

    If you don’t want to have sick days and you prefer a “just get your stuff done and take a day when you need to” model, that’s fine. It can certainly work (it’s what I do, and it’s also the norm at more than a few companies). Note, however, that this requires both mutual trust and a mutual sense of responsibility, which can be hard to find. Those systems are, for obvious reasons, more vulnerable to abuse.

    But I disagree somewhat with AAM here. In my view, if you ARE going to have a rule, then IMO you should be making sure people follow the rule and you should be reasonably and fairly enforcing the rule. Doing otherwise causes a general sense of rule-breaking and distrust, which is never ideal.

    Alternatively, your company can move to a joined-up “sick day / vacation day” model in which case the only real distinction is whether things are noticed or late minute. If your culture has already devolved to “sick days are benefits which should be used” then you may as well make it official so nobody is breaking a rule.

  20. Robin*

    I very recently took a sick day because I woke up with intense jaw pain. I made an appointment at the dentist, got an x-ray and exam, and was referred to a TMJ specialist. This was all before noon. After that I took some ibuprofen and the pain was more manageable, so I decided to do my makeup for fun. Then I went to get groceries, because I had to anyways and I needed some soft foods. I didn’t “look sick” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t still feel like crap.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Maybe it’s just me, but the only thing I saw that the did wrong was post photos to social media.

      I’d see nothing wrong with what you did, Robin, but if you felt the need to taunt the staff covering for you with the illusion that your day off was in mala fide… I understand where the objection to the social media part comes from.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        …I don’t…post selfies…*at* people? I think it is a HUGE reach to suggest “posting selfies” = “taunting coworkers covering for me”. Admittedly, I am connected on social media with zero coworkers so perhaps those who “friend” their coworkers operate from a very different framework and there is a strong culture/expectation of posting passive-aggressive posts “at” your coworkers for that set of people but that…seems like a stretch.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I don’t post selfies–or use social media, period–so you may be right. I’m a relic from the dark ages, and the only way I can make sense of this situation is to apply pre-social media standards I was taught then to it.

          1. Ginger Baker*

            OK. Well, allow me to reassure you then: posting a selfie to social media is NOT the equivalent to walking up to your colleague, pulling a photo out of your wallet, and saying “look how good I looked when I did my makeup yesterday!” on your return to work. Social media posts are more closely equivalent to if everyone suddenly had their own radio station and this selfie was the host saying “hey listeners, I did my makeup today, how about that…next up, this song is perfect for those summer days…” only the host can do so from their bed while wearing PJs or nothing or while sitting at the doctor’s office (hopefully not in PJs).

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Does employee know that her coworkers are following her?

              Why is it so important to push the status update that day? Doesn’t that just create a problem (appearances) that doesn’t need to exist? Wouldn’t it be wiser to just post it three days later?

              I’m going to assume that employee is telling the truth, at least until told otherwise. Why should employee want to cast doubt upon that fact? To me this all comes across like playing in traffic. Sure, that’s your right to play in traffic, but that doesn’t automagically make playing in traffic a good idea.

              1. Ginger Baker*

                I mean…I have over 1,000 people I am connected to on Facebook. And I don’t have a large social media presence by most people’s standards. I personally would absolutely recommend this person immediately remove any and every coworker from all platforms (unfollowing or blocking as needed per platform) because I think that connecting with coworkers on social media almost always leads to issues. But I didn’t reply to the post in general, I replied specifically to your comment that “if you felt the need to taunt the staff covering for you” – a comment which suggests that “posting on social media” directly equals “direct stab at coworkers” and I think that is false on its face and wanted to address it. It is true that if I post something about how annoyed I am with my sister (for example), I would probably block my sister from seeing that specific post, because I would be thinking *specifically* of my sister when I posted it. But if I posted “ugh I hate this heat”, I would be not be thinking “oh wow, better not post this today because my sister loves summer time and would think I am taunting her since it is 40 degrees where she is right now”. Likewise, if I had done my makeup today and posted it, or posted an old photo that I liked of myself, I would hardly be thinking “oh wait, what if the 0.6% of my followers that are coworkers [based off of 6 coworkers with a measly 1,000 follower base] think this post of my face with makeup on it is a jibe at them for being fools covering for me today??”

                YMMV, if you are a person who posts a lot of passive-aggressive posts at people that will obviously change the calculus, but I think many-to-most people are not in that group.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  Purely hypothetical–I don’t use the service and have no interest in it, but I would like to understand. If you called your family with your regrets on the morning of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or a relative’s birthday because you’re sick, would you consider a dolled selfie-post the same day in poor taste or not?

                2. newgrad*

                  @Sola: I think it’s a little disingenuous to compare major US holidays or a birthday party to a random Tuesday at work.

                3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  @newgrad: When the lines are blurry, the extreme/edge cases often bring them into focus.

                4. Ginger Baker*

                  I would absolutely post selfies without any thought whatsoever to my family members being weird or taking it as some weird insult to them, since it clearly is not. I have also posted, without concern (or any weird vitriolic reaction) posts about how happy I am with a new job (despite that some of my friends are unemployed), posts about how proud I am off my kids (despite that some people in my network may at some point have tried to have kids and not been able to), and posts about what a beautiful view I have on vacation (despite that friends of mine may not have as many PTO days). I have conversely seen posts about people enjoying time with their fathers (mine is dead) and about their beautiful new homes (living in NYC, my space is definitely not nearly as nice and for a much much larger portion of my income) without feeling personally attacked. As I stated, these posts aren’t “at” me (unless, for some extremely bizarre reason, someone posted about their lovely Father’s Day brunch and tagged me and wrote “hahahaha Ginger, SUCKS TO BE YOU, bet you miss your dad HUH”…but that is obviously extremely strange and has, predictably, never happened to me.)

              2. pancakes*

                The idea that people who are sick or in pain invariably look unwell, and cast doubt on themselves if they look relatively normal, is problematic for several reasons. It’s often not true, for starters. Why make assumptions that you don’t need to make based on something as ephemeral as hair and makeup? About something as private as a coworker’s health?

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  The idea that people who are sick or in pain invariably look unwell, and cast doubt on themselves if they look relatively normal, is problematic for several reasons.

                  But given that it’s commonplace, why post any image to raise the question one way or another?

                  Pre-COVID, I well might have asked “If you don’t want people to think you intend to rob the bank, why wear a mask and carry a firearm into it?”

                2. pancakes*

                  Given that what is commonplace? I didn’t look sick in selfies when I had cancer. Sometimes I’m not even sure which photos I was wearing a wig in without checking the date, as I had a good quality wig made that looked just like my usual bob. You’re asking me a follow-up question but you haven’t answered mine: Why make assumptions about someone’s health based on how they look? If you only do it because it seems common for other people to do, why not take a moment to consider whether it’s actually worth doing?

              3. Robin*

                I’m kind of repeating my earlier reply to you, but I just got further down the thread so I wanted to add my thoughts in here too. I really don’t think most people put that much thought into social media, which can be completely fine or have unintended negative consequences (as in this case).

                As for why she felt the need to post that day, maybe she felt like absolute trash and just wanted to do something that made herself feel good.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  As for why she felt the need to post that day, maybe she felt like absolute trash and just wanted to do something that made herself feel good.

                  I can understand that.

                  I really don’t think most people put that much thought into social media, which can be completely fine or have unintended negative consequences (as in this case).

                  I think you’re 100% right.

                  I’m kind of repeating my earlier reply to you, but I just got further down the thread so I wanted to add my thoughts in here too.

                  I don’t mind the repetition; I appreciate your effort to help me understand.

                2. Tau*

                  As for why she felt the need to post that day, maybe she felt like absolute trash and just wanted to do something that made herself feel good.

                  Yeah. I’ve actually done the “post selfies of myself out and about on a sick day” thing, although the being out and about part was involuntary. I’d like to say that I weighed everything and came to the balanced conclusion that the risk of any of my coworkers seeing it and thinking I was faking was just about zero, but honestly the consideration didn’t even cross my mind. I was sick, I was miserable, I was pissed off that I had to leave my flat for a bomb disposal evacuation when I was sick*, I figured I’d at least try to get something positive out of the day by documenting my epic journey to find a place with air conditioning where I could sit down until they defused the blasted thing. That was about as far as the thinking went.

                  *because I can already hear some people going “what?!” – these are common enough to be routine in areas that were bombed heavily in WWII. I’ve actually been evacuated four or so times in the three years since I moved here, the timing on that one was just really bad.

              4. Kella*

                To answer your questions since you said you don’t use social media:

                Likely she would know if her coworkers were following her. On facebook, you have to manually approve friend requests, and on twitter and Instagram you get a notification for everyone that follows you. Provided you haven’t privated your content, your profile/feed will still be available to view by people who aren’t friends/followers but they have to specifically go looking for it.

                “Why is it so important to push the status update that day?”

                Here’s the thing. They might not have updated the status that day. Posts on social media don’t sort themselves chronologically. They are sorted by the algorithm of the platform which takes all sorts of things into account in deciding what to show you. I regularly see posts on facebook, twitter, and Instagram, that are from 3 days ago, but it’s only being shown to me now. So, I’d be curious to know if the boss checked the date and time on the post.

                There are also some platforms where there are 3rd party tools that allow you to schedule posts ahead of time so you wouldn’t have to actually be on social media at all at the time of the post, but it’s primarily folks trying to actively grow their following for their work using those tools.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  Here’s the thing. They might not have updated the status that day. Posts on social media don’t sort themselves chronologically. They are sorted by the algorithm of the platform which takes all sorts of things into account in deciding what to show you. I regularly see posts on facebook, twitter, and Instagram, that are from 3 days ago, but it’s only being shown to me now. So, I’d be curious to know if the boss checked the date and time on the post.

                  Truly? Wow. Yea, @Sam, I’m going to show myself the door from this conversation. How could anyone trust that platform?

                2. Kella*

                  Sola Lingua, I’m not able to reply to your response to my comment directly so I’m replying here:

                  When you use social media, you aren’t being promised an accurate chronical of everything that’s happening in real time so that’s not really relevant to whether you trust the platform. Dates and times are published with every post so if you want to know when it was posted, it’s easy to check, people just frequently don’t.

                  What you see depends heavily on who you interact with most, who interacts with you, and how much overall interaction an individual post gets. It’s way more complicated than that but overall, the more you interact with someone, the more of their posts you’ll see, and the more interaction a post gets, the more it will be shown to other people. The goal of these algorithms is to keep you on the platform as much as possible. You pretty much never see 100% of what your friends/folks you are following post unless you go to their profile directly. Twitter is by far the worst about this.

                  As for why things are posted when they are, only the algorithm knows the answer to that one. On average, if your posts get a high level of interaction, your posts are more likely to show up for people right away but not always? I think twitter tends to show your stuff in real time more consistently, but someone could retweet your post a week later, and it’ll show up for their followers then so you can’t count on that either.

          2. Sam*

            At this point, I think that you’re really starting to opine on things that are outside your wheelhouse! If you don’t use social media, then… maybe don’t make up assumptions about how people use it? The idea of using social media to taunt your manager that you’re capable of shopping(?!) is not something that the average person – of any age – does.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              At this point, I think that you’re really starting to opine on things that are outside your wheelhouse!

              I think you have a very good point. The more I ask, the less I understand that ecosystem.

      2. Robin*

        I see where you’re coming from, but I would argue most people don’t think that much about what they post to social media. I likely wouldn’t have posted a selfie from that day because part of my job is social media and I’m primed to think about it more critically than most people. But I wouldn’t automatically make assumptions about this employee’s intent because she did post a selfie.

  21. Treebeardette*

    As someone with Hashimoto’s, or an “invisible illness”, you really just should not assume she is all dolled up and ready to go. I have be hurting in the morning and called out. After sleep 15 hours, I fell better but I’m nothing coming into work. I also like to play with makeup because my body is a prison and sometimes that makes me feel good. It could be mental health day where she needed a break, an emergency doctor’s appointment for a UTI, horrible period cramps (which don’t always last all day for me)…ECT. Sick days aren’t just for colds and the flu.

    1. blink14*

      Totally agree – I have multiple chronic health conditions that are invisible, and I can have a brutal morning that requires a sick day, but feel a lot better in the afternoon or evening.

  22. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Ah the age old debate about how “sick” are you. And it goes back to childhood where there are parents and teachers who think if you’re not flat on your back sweating and shaking and puking, you are fine and should be in school/at work.

    But sickness is more than just puking and being laid out flat, I learned that quickly over the years.

    If someone is going to be miserable and unproductive for a good chunk of the work day, it’s not worth it having them drag their suffering body or mind into the office. There’s too many chronic illnesses we’re well aware of to start thinking everyone is “lazy” or “irresponsible” because they need a day off and can still have energy to go grocery shopping or doing something like putting on makeup at home.

    It’s really not worth it because in the end it erodes our relationships with colleagues or direct reports to get so personally involved like that. Sometimes when there’s a mental issue going on, forcing myself to get up, shower and do my hair/makeup is medicine to my aching mind. It helps refocus on myself and re-channel the energy to care about my life. It may sound outrageous but it’s not abnormal, I know plenty of people react similarly. Dwelling in my bedclothes and ratty hair is not helpful to my mental state.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      So many memories of teachers not believing crippling menstrual pain was a ‘good enough reason to miss time off’. Not to mention the manager I had who refused to believe it….

      You make an excellent point, in fact washing my hair, putting a face mask on etc. did help stop the crying at least!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have only had a few crippling period days myself, yet shockingly enough I trust people to know what their pain feels like, whereas I do not *shocked face*

        I actually have had a couple reports over the years creep up to me and whisper that they really are suffering and would it be okay for them to go home. I’m pretty appalled that these women have been made to feel like they have to be prepared to hear “suck it up, buttercup.” when in frigging pain. Grrrrrrrrrrrr grrrrrrrrr grrrrrrrrrrr.

        If someone has reliability issues and poor work product, then I’m going to address it as a performance issue. But I also have a chronic migraine sufferers in my circle of loved ones, so I’m well aware that pain is very real. Whereas my pain threshold is very high, if someone is suffering, I’m not going to start pushing on their bruises to check them out myself!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I wish you’d been my boss. Mine didn’t believe me until I threw up from the pain. On the floor. Outside her office!

          You sound like a fine, awesome manager.

    2. rayray*


      I still like to shower, brush my hair, and do a minimal-fresh-face makeup look when I don’t feel well. I may also not feel like cooking, but can go get something to eat at a drive through. I hate the idea that I have to prove how sick I am by not doing basic self-care or eating anything.

      Sometimes it really is for your mental health. If I am taking a mental health day, maybe I don’t want to sit around the house all day. Maybe I’d like to see a movie or sit at the park. Maybe I want to just get out and enjoy myself. I have always tried to plan out mental health days, but when a pto/sick policy only gives me so few days for vacations, and I can’t use “sick” time if I ask in advance, then I have to play the game and call in “sick” that morning.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I hate the idea that I have to prove how sick I am by not doing basic self-care or eating anything.

        And yet I can say this is the quickest route to being recognised.

  23. Curmudgeon in California*

    I’m torn on this one. I seldom post selfies on social media, but I am mindful of others’ perceptions on when.

    I get migraines, and have IBS-D and insomnia. These are usually treatable with medication and a few hours of sleep or time in the bathroom. I can wake up with a migraine or aura, take medication, go back to sleep, then wake up in time for a late lunch. But my brain will still be mush, so while I could go back to working from home, I might not get much done. Plus, I can post on social media in the bathroom. But if I am taking sick time because I have a medical appointment, I might go do errands afterward.

    So I guess my reaction is “it depends”. In general, I don’t post selfies, so no one can criticize whether I “look sick” or not. But I do post on social media when I’m out, because that is a low brain type of endeavor, not a detail-oriented work task.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    Just to chime in, the LW doesn’t say any junior employees are upset or confused, just that they have access to the sick employee’s social media accounts.

    I get the point about perception, but I also think that micromanaging someone’s personal social media can be perceived poorly as well.. I mean most adults (even junior ones) know what calling in sick means..

  25. Dawn*

    The days your worker is calling in sick are they missing deadlines, is it damaging their work? If there is not a pattern of them using sick days in place of not getting work done on time then its petty to go after their Instagram posts. Stop following them on all social media so you are not tempted to check out what is “really going on” because its not any of your business. I’m not saying its not bad judgement, but its bad judgement like a face tattoo. You can roll your eyes and think wow, but you don’t say anything.

  26. Bob*

    If you did not follow them on social media it would not change the subordinate perception problem, its just an ignorance is bliss move.
    I would talk to her, explain the perception problem and that your not looking to police her sick days but if they are just to recharge, she is a manager who needs to manage perceptions of her team.
    This is why your defriending her won’t solve the perception by her subordinates issue.
    You might prefer she use PTO instead of sick days or whatever your policy is when she is not sick (not to say mental health days are not a good idea) but you do need to solve this, whether its to take the odd day off as she needs (even if you decide sick days are okay for this) but not post selfies of her looking like she is on vacation, or maybe she defriends her employees (there is a case to be made there too, pro and con), or that your internal policy can be changed so that sick days and PTO and vacation days are all lumped together (not sure if this is the best policy to pursue, that you will have to think about), but ultimately that you need to come up with a solution and would appreciate her collaboration in doing so. And if your not looking at punishment make that clear, but you do have concerns you hope you can mutually resolve.

  27. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    “Mixed opinions”? Yeah, one occasion could have been a mistake or just posting photos from an old holiday or whatever, but two occurrences is definitely a pattern here. And you are right to be concerned about how this looks to “junior” employees.

    I don’t think it’s healthy to have people from all levels of the hierarchy as Facebook friends, and there’s a lot that people will say about that, but given that you do…..

    I would call her in for a “chat” about what you saw on Facebook, yeah there may be an innocent explanation in which case she can give it, but more likely she’s calling out sick and then going out on the town or whatever.

    How does she feel about committing fraud which is what taking “non-legit” sick days is, ultimately?

  28. AngryOwl*

    I’m fascinated by the idea (sprinkled amongst a few commenters) that posting a selfie is some sort of act of aggression. No one is being taunted.

    I fully agree that she should be told that junior employees are getting resentful (and I don’t think she needs to be connected to all these people). But dang, y’all.

    1. beanie gee*

      Ha, and I’m fascinated by the urge people have to post selfies when they’ve called in sick!

      I mean, to be fair, I’m fascinated by the general obsession people have with selfies, so I’m coming in with opinions already skewed.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        I think many people are coming in with your opinion, and honestly it biases you against seeing this situation objectively if you already don’t understand why someone would want to post a selfie to begin with!

  29. Nikki*

    Any thoughts about posting on Twitter while sick?

    I have a condition that sometimes leaves me bedridden with pain, and I’m in that limbo space where I’m not well enough to do serious work but I can browse the Internet. Twitter has been a big lifeline for me, but I worry that people will see my tweets when I’m out sick and think I’m “faking it.” I’m pretty public about my advocacy efforts (both for chronic illness/disability and social justice generally), so it’s important to me to post under my real name and not a pseudonym.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      In anything public facing, I’d advise you to just be honest and consistent with your past self.

      If you just told your boss today that you’re sick, don’t tweet “I feel great! Never felt better in my life!”

      If you called in dead, then you need to not tweet that day. </humor>

    2. Kella*

      I really don’t think posting on twitter on a sick day is a problem. It takes so little effort. It seems unreasonable to expect people to not use social media at all when they are sick at home. I understand the optics of posting of a picture of you out and about looks bad, but you can do twitter from bed.

      Also, want to exchange twitter handles? I also do chronic illness, disability and social justice advocacy on twitter!

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        “It seems unreasonable to expect people to not use social media at all when they are sick at home” – what?! If you are off sick from work, you are presumably not well enough to be posting on social media either!

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          The one exception to this is twitter updates (although I don’t know why people do this) in real time about e.g. “in the waiting room for x-rays right now and I’m kind of nervous” sort of thing.

          I think posting on any social media about activities on a “sick” day is pretty galling to the people who, y’know have actually showed up for work that day… absent any other more specific info.

        2. Elsajeni*

          That’s just absurd. To be “well enough to work” at a typical office job, you need to be able to commute (whether that means alert enough to drive, confident that you won’t have a bathroom emergency in the next 20 minutes, whatever), sit upright at a desk for 8 hours, and concentrate all day on doing tasks that must be done correctly. To be “well enough to post on social media,” you need to… be able to reach your phone and have the fine motor control to type a couple sentences. For about 30 seconds at a time. They don’t even have to be grammatically correct sentences.

  30. Aurora Leigh*

    I love how this blog gives me different perspectives on this issue! Growing up, if my dad used a sick day, he absolutely didn’t leave the house. He wouldn’t even go out in the yard in case a coworker drove by and saw him (he wasn’t paranoid, other people had gotten in trouble this way). So I tend to think the same way about sick days. It’s good to realize that is not the norm!

    1. pancakes*

      That is at least a bit paranoid. A scenario where employers or coworkers treat one another that way is bound to create paranoia. That’s how the Stasi operated.

  31. staceyizme*

    I think that in the case of posting on social media, it can be a problem or not. It just depends…
    a. is the photo tagged with a location, date and time that make it obvious that the person went out that day?
    b. is the culture where you work one where this managing perceptions at that level would be a “thing”?
    c. is two a pattern? (I’d argue that “two is not a pattern, unless you have other evidence of untrustworthy or imprudent judgement, in which case, that’s what you manage.” Three or more would be a pattern and worth a sit-down, in my view.

  32. Kella*

    Also a reminder: You do not control when your posts will show up on someone else’s timeline. Algorithms decide that. Sometimes facebook shows me stuff someone posted 4 days ago, for the first time today. People tend to assume the post is from right this second, but it’s frequently not.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That sorting algorithm of theirs is abysmal, and pretty much designed to throw posts with more comments or adverts into your face.

      There’s also a (UK) story of a woman who was off on sick leave but then fired because a post of her on holiday showed up on someone else’s feed. They didn’t notice the post was from a time before the sick leave.

      1. Mal*

        Would you happen to have a link? I’d love to read this. Or do you know how this ended? Thanks.

  33. Bundle*

    I rarely post selfies and my workmates immediately go to my “restricted” list in facebook. I think the employee was imprudent with her social media use. If i were her friend, I would have advised her against it, as the world is rife with judgmental bosses, who apparently include OP, as she felt she had any kind of right- worse, responsibility- to police the employee’s posting of selfie.

    If necessary, let the judgmental co workers stew on negative feelings based on unconfirmed unfair perceptions. That is the price they have to pay for their judgment.

  34. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    To say to your employee, call them into a meeting.

    “I noticed that the last two times you called out sick, you posted photos to Instagram during the work day hours — “selfies” of yourself looking all dolled up and ready to go out.

    “What’s that about?”

    Go from there and be prepared to dismiss any answers like “they were old photos on my phone I wanted to upload” as obvious lies. What’s the chances that this employee just happened to call out sick, and -oh!- came across these previous photos that they -just want to upload right now-! …. It doesn’t pass the “sniff test” does it?!

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