should I ask my employee to find her own coverage for sick calls?

A reader writes:

I have an employee who tends to call out more frequently than all the others in the organization. We work in a small 24/7 clinical-based office where technicians can all manage one another’s duties, which sometimes include on-call responsibilities. When a technician calls out sick, coverage is needed in order for us to continue functioning smoothly. Most of my other employees call out very infrequently, and when they do they’ve always had a back-up plan in place. Since taking on this position, I have always asked if technicians had coverage lined up when they call out and it has never posed an issue. If they have trouble finding it or in a dire emergency, I step in to help. But generally they have been self-sufficient with this, to the point where I rarely have to ask.

Which brings me to my employee in question. She calls out frequently with little notice. Each time it happens, she apologizes profusely — “I’m so sorry, I hate having to do this to you, I never call out but I’m just so sick.” Sometimes she gives me way more details than necessary. I try to be a caring and compassionate manager, but I also prefer not probe for too many details when it comes to employees’ personal lives. You need time off? No problem. Get coverage if you can, let me know, and we’ll be fine. This person, however, always gives me a detailed story, but no attempt to cover her shift even though she “hates doing this to me.” I always ask her if she was able to find coverage, and to that she’ll either respond “no” or “let me see.”

I ask that employees find their own coverage for two reasons:
1. We are short-staffed and I am covering my own position (director) and a vacant position (technical supervisor) who would normally be designated to handle these scenarios more directly.
2. I feel it discourages excessive sick calls to put the responsibility on the technician to find coverage when they really need it.

Is it appropriate for me to ask this person to find her own coverage? It has been discussed before with her one-on-one and she has no issue with it, she just never does it unprompted. I do have concerns about the legitimacy of her sick calls, but again, I don’t want to pry or doubt my employees. I just want them to be accountable.

I don’t think you should ask employees to find coverage when they’re sick, period — it’s a management responsibility, and it makes people think they can’t take a sick day if no one will cover for them (exactly what you don’t want right now in particular, but at other times as well), and when you’re feeling ill the last thing you want to do is call a bunch of people to try to find coverage rather than going back to bed.

You noted you feel asking employees to find their own coverage discourages excessive sick calls, but it also discourages legitimate ones. And you don’t want to design policies assuming your employees are untrustworthy and will take advantage of you; you want to design policies assuming they’re responsible professionals. If it turns out someone isn’t, you manage that situation directly.

That said, if you’re currently asking everyone else to follow this policy, it doesn’t make sense to exempt one person (and the person who seems like she might be abusing sick leave, especially). That’s not fair to other people and it’s going to cause resentment.

If you do have an “at least try to find your own coverage” policy, it’s reasonable to tell her that you need her to attempt to find her own coverage before she calls you — and that if she continues calling you without trying that, you’re going to ask her to hang up and do that first unless there are extenuating circumstances (i.e., obviously you shouldn’t require that of someone who’s seriously ill or injured).

But again, I’d re-think the policy itself. Even if you can’t right now because you’re covering a vacant job, re-think it once that position is filled.

Also, while I appreciate that you don’t want to pry into employees’ personal lives, that doesn’t obligate you to accept someone frequently calling out with no notice, if indeed it’s happening excessively. Last-minute absences are disruptive, especially in an environment that needs coverage, and it’s reasonable to put limits on them. Those limits are typically the number of paid sick days you offer (assuming you offer a sane and not-stingy number of them), plus any accommodations someone might need for an unusual situation. You didn’t say how often “frequently” is in this case, but if it’s something like every few weeks, you need to address the fact that she’s not reliably at work and it’s putting a strain on the business and other people (assuming that’s true). There’s advice here about how to do that.

{ 343 comments… read them below }

    1. The Grey Lady*

      Agreed. For goodness sake, what if there’s an emergency? Should a person who’s rushing to the hospital wait until they can find someone else to do their shift?

      Besides that, what if someone is just legitimately sick but cannot find coverage? They just have to come to work sick and potentially spread it to everyone? And that’s not even factoring in the pandemic nightmare.

      I agree that OP has a problem employee who may be abusing sick time, but that’s a separate issue. Finding coverage is management’s responsibility.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In fairness to the OP, she wrote, “If they have trouble finding it or in a dire emergency, I step in to help.” It’s still a bad policy, but I don’t want her criticized for something that doesn’t reflect what she wrote.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          Fair enough. I think I’m a tad biased on this because I’ve worked at a place that did this, and it went terribly every single time someone had to call out.

          1. Anxious cat servant*

            I share your bias with a vengeance. In college my retail job had that policy but along with finding our own coverage, we also had to gather our coworkers’ numbers on our own. Our scheduling manager likes to keep things simple so we had very consistent schedules, always with the same coworkers… which had it’s benefits but made it hard to get the numbers of people who didn’t work the same shift and thus would be able to cover. Plus this was pre-cellphones so calling around the limited numbers I could gather only got me answering machines. So not worth it for minimum wage.

        2. Evan Þ.*

          On the other hand, it depends on what counts as “trouble finding” coverage. On the one hand, it could mean “text the all-employee group chat; someone will probably reply saying yes; if not, then LW will arrange things,” and that’d be perfectly fine. On the other hand, it could mean trying to chase down each other employee individually and beg them to cover… and I think that’d be very bad. And on top of that, even if LW means the first, is she clear to each employee that they aren’t expected to try the second?

          Maybe I’m a bit oversensitive, but I think spelling out expectations like this is part of being a good boss.

      2. HoHumDrum*

        Yeah, this exact policy is how I ended up coming in to work at a restaurant while suffering from gastro issues. Well this policy + a policy regarding how much staff any one restaurant should have.

        My manager, who was very nice overall, told me I had to arrange my own coverage or it’d be a no call/no show, despite the fact that the rules state if an employee is having vomiting/diarrhea they should not be working. Found someone to cover one shift but not the other- we ran on a lean staff and the only other co-worker who could have covered had concert tickets so he didn’t want to give that up to come work for me. Finding your own coverage when there’s only 1-3 people max to choose from is basically tantamount to saying “we don’t allow people to call out sick here” imo. So yeah, I worked.

    2. Estrella the Starfish*

      Yep, agree. Being ill isn’t something you plan, and forcing ill people to call round their colleagues instead of rest seems really off to me. As Alison says, if this one person is off excessively there are ways to manage that without such an inconsiderate policy

      1. JSPA*

        Being ill isn’t something you plan, but if you’re often ill (for reasons you have every right to keep private), it makes sense to volunteer as the fill-in whenever you’re well, and someone else needs a sick day. Do that, and it becomes much easier to find fill-ins when you need them.

        A major problem here is that this is someone who’s convinced that they rarely take sick days, whereas in fact they take many. If their yardstick is miscalibrated on that, it’s probably also miscalibrated on the the need to go out of your way to help others, if you often need help yourself.

        Now, if this is something serious enough to rise to the level of needing accommodation, it may be that the extra stress of taking additional shifts isn’t possible. But that’s what a doctor’s visit, and a notice of required accommodations is for. If that were in play here, OP would presumably have written a very different letter.

        1. JelloStapler*

          I had one of those… she did not realize we were all on to her, especially the fact that she got sick (or her back hurt, or car trouble) every time it rained.

          1. Wehaf*

            I get a migraine every time it rains.

            Being fake sick every time it rains does not make sense to me.

            1. Beth Jacobs*

              I agree. Maybe with an outdoor job? I dunno, it still seems like pretty weak evidence of faking. It’s like: “she’s often sick on Mondays or Fridays”… Newsflash: that’s 40 % of working days.

            2. Quill*

              My arthritis flares more often when it rains too…

              Also if you’re “often sick mondays or fridays” there’s probably also a bias towards “if I take thursday off when I know I’m coming down with something, I’m just going to have to go back in the next day… may as well wait and see how it is, I can always call out on friday if I still feel awful.”

          2. Tisiphone*

            That happened with a former co-worker of mine. He did this for at least the few years I worked with him. Every time it was likely to rain, he called in sick. Turned out he had bone cancer.

            1. JSPA*

              That’s got to be horrifying in retrospect, if people were irked.

              But also a good reason for people who have not noticed a pattern in their absences to get professional health advice (assuming they can access it, of course!) soon. If you have a set of constraints that you realize is normal for you, but uncommon for others, finding out the reason for it can be lifesaving.

              1. Tisiphone*

                We were temps at that job so no health coverage. I don’t think people were necessarily irked, more like looking at the weather report and joking that he’d call in and sure enough he did. But he was a long time temp and good at the job, so the managers didn’t have a problem with it. There was a large enough pool of temps that the work got done.

                You’re right that it was horrifying. He died not long after the diagnosis and by then the cancer was all throughout his skeleton. If we had health coverage, he might have seen a doctor before it spread so far.

        2. Zelda*

          Your first paragraph goes to the very biggest reason find-your-own-coverage is a terrible policy: it makes covering a shift part of the politics among peers. Elinor isn’t being asked to fill in to help the boss/the business, she’s being asked to do a personal favor for Lucy. If she doesn’t *like* Lucy, or Lucy hasn’t done her enough personal favors before this, it takes a person of character to rise above and make a sacrifice for the team. Lots of people won’t. Then you get one person who reneges on a promise of future coverage or otherwise takes advantage, and it snowballs from there.

          This policy can intensify all the petty little cliques and score-settling and nastiness that flesh is heir to, at the same time that it puts legitimate business matters under the control of those personal squabbles.

          1. Tupac Coachella*

            This is probably the biggest problem I have with this. I can live with being asked to switch shifts for planned absences (especially if it’s a “try to switch, let us know if you can’t and we’ll see what we can do” system), but adding politics to getting sick coverage is gross and short sighted. The fact that employees occasionally get sick is a business issue that management should be prepared for. Covering for a sick coworker is a favor to the business, not to the employee being covered. As a manager, I don’t want to be short staffed on a moment’s notice because Fergus is a jerk, so now everyone is suddenly “busy.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Retail does a lot of this.
        I think it gets the manager off the hook for, you know, managing.

        The actual problem is the excessive and sudden absences. And that is what needs to be discussed directly with the employee.
        Coworkers get this, they get that the manager has checked out here.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      Yeah, if your employees aren’t making management-level salary, don’t make them do something that should clearly be management’s job.

      1. Clisby*

        Yes. This is why it’s on management to make sure there’s enough cross-training that backup coverage is available. When someone calls in sick, then management knows who to assign to cover for them.

        This is separate from the issue of whether someone really is calling out too often and abusing the sick leave policy.

      2. Tuckerman*

        I do feel bad for some managers, who are not allowed to hire for adequate coverage. When I worked in daycare we had 2 floaters and most workers were already full time. If more than 2 people called out sick, which was super uncommon but could happen, we’d risk being in violation of state mandated ratios.

    4. Snarkus Aurelius*

      That policy turns leave into the Hunger Games. Those who are popular will find coverage, and those who aren’t will not.

      1. The Grey Lady*

        The other thing that happens is the people who are considered “pushovers” are the ones that get roped into covering for people all the time.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Like the employee who didn’t get time off for her graduation (because of the same leave policy) so she quit instead because she was tired of filling in for everyone else. And she showed her boss proof of all the times she filled in.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            I remember that letter, and that’s exactly the kind of thing I mean. Someone spends years picking up the slack for everyone else, and then when they need someone to cover for them…crickets. And the company loses their best employee.

            1. Moral Backbone of a Chocolate Eclair*

              Agreed. I used to work at an outpatient clinic as a tech. For clinic to run smoothly all clinicians needed a tech, but our tech supervisor required us all to find coverage for our shift. Shifts had staggered start times, so it was hard to find coverage for 7am start times (everyone not working was asleep!). If you couldn’t find coverage there was no backup plan other than extreme guilt and goading about “how sick” we were, and if we could come in for just a few hours. I always covered others to increase my chances of receiving coverage in return, but it was never a guarantee. Ridiculous.

            2. The Rural Juror*

              This happened to my poor sister-in-law. She spent a LOT of time covering for others because she was the younger woman in the office and one of the only ones without kids (at the time). She was always given the short end of the stick. She was constantly covering holidays because everyone else had kids (eye roll). Then she got really sick and her doctor told her it was mostly like stress-induced. She had iritis (inflamation of the iris) and couldn’t stand to have her eyes open (!!!). She had to take off work for something like 2 or 3 weeks, but no one wanted to cover her position. Her boss wouldn’t even step in to help! That was the last straw, and luckily she got hired elsewhere almost immediately because her list of accomplishments on her resume was a mile long. Her boss and coworkers couldn’t understand why she would want to leave them…

              1. Sanini*

                OMG! I just read that letter. If it wasn’t from years ago, I would rip into LW. Bringing up the employee’s difficult past? That’s a very bad person, not just at work but most likely personally too. If you use someone’s past struggles to insult/belittle them because of their reaction to your own nonsense, then you are a bad person.

                My ex was like that. I had a very difficult past and he used certain bad things from my past to insult me all the time. So I am very aware of people like that LW and there’s no hope for them. I bet Alison and the commenters didn’t even get thru to this person and make them see how they were so soooo wrong.

                1. AntsOn*

                  The whole thing was egregious including the “she had lesser seniority.” She had been there for 6 years and yet she still got all the crap shifts because others had been there longer? At some point, if everyone stays long enough, seniority needs to be gotten rid of as a way to assign bad things.

              2. Idril Celebrindal*

                I don’t know, I think Leap Year Birthday Boss gives Graduation Boss a run for their money in that particular hall of fame. At least Graduation Boss didn’t send in an update and show up in both comment threads in order to justify why their policy made SO MUCH SENSE, and the commentariat was just too clueless to understand.

                1. Coder von Frankenstein*

                  Very good point. Though I’m not sure either of them can quite match Cheap-Ass Rolls.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Leap Year Birthday Boss was a walking parody. The double-down on such an absurd position – for ONE DAY of leave and, what, a gift card? – was Onionesque. It’s hard to take criticism for someone with that much of a logical skills deficit seriously.

              3. NotAnotherManager!*

                That letter made my blood boil, and I really hope it was a fake because, holy crap, I hate to think that poor employee was treated that way. I know it’s realistic and worse things are sent in to this site, but oh, gosh, so, so, so tone-deaf and just jackassy.

                1. Coder von Frankenstein*

                  Even now, I’m still hoping the graduated employee comes across that letter and writes in with an update.

                  In the absence of an actual update, I like to imagine that a) the graduated employee has since gone on to a wonderful and lucrative career, and b) her old employer went bust because all their best people quit over their terrible personnel policies, and c) the concert was canceled without notice and the ticketholders did not get a refund.

                  c) is kind of petty, I guess.

              4. JB*

                I always had a hard time believing that letter was real; that it wasn’t just someone submitting a fake question. No doubt there are managers out there truly that bad. But to literally write that to be published on a public site seeking affirmation? It’s possible. Anything is possible. But it sounded fake to me. Makes a good story!

          2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            That letter was memorable. I always wonder about that kid and hope she is doing well somewhere.

      2. EnfysNest*

        Seriously! I hated it so much when I worked retail – it was already bad enough that I was sick, but now I have to fight my discomfort with asking for favors, fight my general shy-ness, fight my discomfort with phone calls, grapple with the fact that I’ve had trouble making friends with most of my coworkers because they already have their own cliques and I am an awkward introvert, AND hope to stumble on someone who is actually free and can be convinced to take my shift. All while I’m on the verge of or actively throwing up. Bonus awful points if I had an early shift so I’m worried that I might be waking people up to make these calls, too. Uuuuugh, please no!

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Popular people will find coverage….

        I remember at one place I covered a LOT. Some weeks my hours were doubled. But it was normal to pick up at least 50% more hours. There was one person who oddly said to me, “Every time I ask you to cover for me you always say NO.”
        Uh, she never asked me to cover for her. Never. So it was very odd that she threw this at me. She went on to say that only certain people cover for other certain people. This leans towards the idea of cliques or popularity, I didn’t really see that until she pointed out. I do think that level of need and frequency of requests did factor in to how quickly cohorts would fill in for each other. The people who made out the best in finding coverage were the harder working folks who were known to have children or elderly loved ones they were caring for or if they themselves had difficulty.

        If a workplace has shift work then timing will be a factor also. Not many people want to work until close then turn around and open the next morning. A person’s choices for coverage can end up being just the people who cover the same shift because of the time frames involved.

      4. Temperance*

        I worked a CS job where we refused to cover the people who used their kids as a reason to skip holidays and not work nights or weekends. They certainly weren’t team players, so why help?

      5. Wintermute*

        and what’s even more problematic, people who share attributes find it easier too. Church-goers are more likely to cover for a church event, etc.

        Another negative side effect there is that people will be obliged to share more reasons than they might otherwise. In a bid to get sympathy they might feel obligated to share more information than they’re comfortable with to try to demonstrate to coworkers why they “deserve” them working overtime for them.

    5. Amy Sly*

      Eh, it’s not a bad policy in situation where 1) coverage is important, 2) multiple people are scheduled less than full time so there are no overtime issues, 3) the staff have good rapport with each other, and 4) it’s done for absences at least a few hours in advance but weren’t taken into account when the schedule was made.

      e.g. “Hey Boss, I just found out that I can’t work Saturday because my Dad is getting re-married*, but I talked to Wakeen and he’ll cover my shift.”

      *My husband actually had to say this to his boss.

      For true emergency calls, agreed, that’s a manager responsibility to sort out the problem. If the employee has a bit of notice, they should at least try to find someone.

      1. Dan*

        Context matters…

        I used to do hourly shift work with designated paid sick time and paid vacation time. You got dinged for taking sick days, and vacation was approved in seniority order. But we also had another formal way to get time off — “shift trades”. An actual trade wasn’t required, but if you wanted more time off than you had in the bank, you could have someone cover for you… there was even a form for it, so there were no misunderstandings.

        So when you showed up for roll call, you just said you were there for Wakeen. If you didn’t show up, and Wakeen got dinged for “no call/no show”, if he could produce the paperwork, you took the NC/NS hit.

        Shift trades to me was a very reasonable system, and they were paid IAW state over time laws, so there was an incentive to pick up the shifts if you wanted the money.

        But that’s entirely parallel to taking a last-minute sick time. Yes, you *could* get someone to do a shift trade for you last minute, but that’s not the same as “calling in sick”. Sick calls came out of your sick time, and I think you took the attendance hit for that. (*That* was a stupid policy, but I digress.)

        1. PeanutButter*

          This is the way most of my hospital jobs have been. If you wanted time off for something and your request wasn’t approved or you didn’t have PTO in the bank, a shift trade was done, or sometimes someone would just cover for the extra hours. We weren’t supposed to go over 40 hours in a week, but since full time at the hospitals was under 40 hrs/week, there was plenty of wiggle room.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        5) You have enough staff to cover.

        We had this policy at one of my former jobs and we only had enough staff to cover if everyone was available. Some of our employees were part-time (students) and some were full-time but we weren’t allowed to get overtime, and even if we had been in was a tiring job and working 48 hours of it was a lot to ask. So there was never anyone available to cover for you.

        IT SUCKED. I hated that place. We all knew how little management thought of us.

        1. Dan*

          IMHO, the *only* way you can get people to be happy with a “find your own coverage” policy is to pay (and budget) for overtime. In those situations, enough people are almost always willing to pick up more shifts for more money, and popularity contests take a back seat. But under “no extra over time” policies, these things just start getting really difficult. Full time employees are already scheduled full time, part time employees probably have other obligations with their time, and so then trades or whatever become more of an inconvenience that people say no to.

          And for those who say there’s no budget for overtime, clearly costs are getting incurred in other ways.

        2. New Grad*

          I’ve always struggled with understanding this sort of thing. I worked a summer job after high school where we had maybe eight people, and we’d have around six people in per day with two off. We also had strict overtime laws and were all scheduled full-time, yet we were expected to find coverage. I didn’t get sick while I was there, luckily, since I have absolutely no clue what would have happened.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        The thing is, there’s more to management scheduling than warm bodies in seats (or should be). For instance, maybe if Wakeen takes that extra shift for you it’ll push him into overtime for the pay period, or Julia is on shift that day and has quietly asked not to be scheduled with him, or Alex who is being mentored by Wakeen still struggles in his absence, or any number of factors that go into the roster in the first place.

        I can see that it’s more helpful to be able to say “I need to take this particular day off but Jeff has said he will swap his shift the day before” just as it’s helpful to give as much notice as possible. I’ve worked at places where you couldn’t schedule PTO leaving a particular role uncovered, and where a single person’s sick absence could feel disastrous even with dozens of other employees in the building. And yet.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Eh, depends on the work and the workplace. Anyplace I’ve done coverage-based shift work (department store retail and boutique retail) the employees were fungible — everyone in the department/store was trained to perform all the tasks needed, so it didn’t matter who opened or closed. In fact, one of the smaller chain stores I worked for was trying to eliminate customers having “favorite employees” to make us even more fungible. One of the techniques was to constantly be changing employee’s scheduled hours so customers couldn’t learn when “their” person would be there.

          Well, if the company is constantly telling you that you’re an interchangeable cog, why shouldn’t the interchangeable cogs get to swap themselves on occasion?

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Were they fungible from the perspective of who’s closer to crossing over the overtime threshold, though?

            Similarly, even though everyone was trained on everything, was everyone equally efficient? Especially in the department store situation, would your manager have seen everyone as equally capable of handling a particularly high-volume shift?

      4. Littorally*

        That’s a whole lot of factors, and the rapport one is particularly an issue. Why should coverage be a popularity contest?

        1. Amy Sly*

          I’m saying that it’s only a good idea to have employees contact each other to swap shifts to maintain coverage when the employees get along.

          If the workplace is a dysfunctional mess where people don’t get along, then finding coverage cannot be delegated to the employees and needs to remain the management’s responsibility. Of course, management is often the reason the workplace would be a dysfunctional mess, it’s even more important that they ought to bear the burden of dealing with their mess.

          1. Observer*

            Well, a policy like this can turn a functional workplace into a non-functional one. Because if someone is not well liked, it’s quite possible that they will have problems finding coverage without it being bullying or anyone being mean. But, regardless of the reason that kind of disparity can create some pretty major issues.

          2. Catherine*

            “Getting along” doesn’t mean you can count on people for coverage. I found out the hard way in retail that I could have amiable, warm relationships with my coworkers when we were on shift together, cover for them regularly when they were ill, and still not have anyone willing to cover for me when I had the flu.

          3. Wintermute*

            The problem is that people feel obliged to one another and it can rapidly degrade relationships, especially if not everyone has the same amount of PTO or PTO needs. Nothing destroys goodwill like resentment, and people almost are forced to start keeping tally and treating favors in a very transactional way that’s not good for building strong team relationships. People can resent having to disclose the reasons for their PTO and may feel coworkers are treating them differently because of it, too.

            It’s a recipe for CREATING dysfunction even if there was none.

      5. Michael*

        I agree with this — “find your own sub” is an OK policy to have for many shift-based jobs like healthcare or customer service, and shouldn’t be written off so quickly. It should certainly be paired with reasonableness, compassion, and ways to accommodate emergencies (like providing an after-visit summary from urgent or the email from the child care provider). But there are so many industries where calling it a “management responsibility” means staff will blow off shifts and potentially create more issues for patients or customers.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Naw, it’s still a management responsibility. You manage and/or fire people who can’t be bothered to show up.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Agreed. TPTB need to set up standard operating procedures that allow managers to actually manage their people. Unfortunately, many places are caught in doing a lot of unnecessary work and unnecessary reporting.

            I just took a friend to the ER last week. I had not been in a while and it was An Experience. As we went through the rabbit warren of hallways, we came to a cluster of people just sitting at computers. There was at least 18 people JUST sitting there. Then we zigged and zagged through more hallways and there was another cluster of people JUST sitting at the computers. I’d guess at least 12 people in the second batch. And this is all in the ER. Meanwhile, my friend laid on a gurney for HOURS waiting for help. We figured out that none of the computer people were direct care people, they were just typing things in to the computer. I’d say all total there were probably 5 or 6 direct care people including the PA and the doc for our entire section.

            It’s in this type of environment that it’s a disaster if an employee calls in sick. Our systems are so encumbered. My friend was lucky he got out after 8 hours. Another friend went to the ER and at hour number 16 she still had not seen a doc. (No food, no water for 16 hours.) So she just left. Managers can’t even begin to manage in a system crushed by its own workloads.

            1. Lady Heather*

              Your ER story reminds me of these two sketches over on YouTube:
              How To Run A Hospital | Yes Minister | BBC Comedy Greats
              Get some patients – Yes, Minister – BBC

              Look them up if you want a laugh.

        2. Observer*

          If the only way to keep people from blowing off shifts is to keep anyone but the most popular people from taking sick time for anything but the most dire emergencies – and that is EXACTLY what policies like that do (in fact that’s what they are INTENDED to do, except that they are not intended to give the “cool kids” extra flexibility) then the problem is management. If it’s an industry-wide problem that’s an indicator that bad management is an industry wide problem.

      6. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        2) multiple people are scheduled less than full time so there are no overtime issues

        And that those people have open availability beyond their scheduled hours, which isn’t always a given. Even so, a policy like this gets tricky because it might not be reasonable to expect employees to know about or fully appreciate the big picture issues with scheduling and factor that into who they call to cover their shifts.

        1. Wintermute*

          Plus, with “open availability” you then also you get into the complex issue of how free is free and how people will judge one another. If a person needs off because they’re sick and the three coverage options are person A who can’t find childcare short notice, person B who just wants to spend time with their family, and person C who doesn’t have any set obligations, but is burnt out and needs their days off to be days OFF, and person D who works another job then person A and B can feel resentful towards C if they can’t do it, everyone else resents person A and D because they are never able to cover for anyone, people start making snide comments about person A’s inability to find child care and feel entitled to pry into their lives about why because it’s impacting them, and so on.

      7. Lady Heather*

        Can you clarify what you mean by 2) multiple people are scheduled less than full time so there are no overtime issues? Eight (unplanned-for) hours is eight (unplanned-for) hours whether you are part-time or full-time, the only difference is that a full-timer that works eight extra hours gets paid for twelve and a part-timer that works eight extra hours gets paid for eigth. Given this, wouldn’t it be a more workable policy if few staff was part-time so overtime was an issue, so that employees would have an easier time finding cover because the covering employee is incentivized to say yes?

        1. Jade*

          Although it wasn’t my comment – every company I have worked for where we had these scenarios (mostly retail), the policy would basically be you’re not allowed to work overtime. So if everyone is full time, then you couldn’t call them to work the shift because they’re not allowed.

        2. Amy Sly*

          I’m referring to situations in retail where multiple people are only scheduled for 32 or fewer hours a week. In that case, part time Betty can swap a four hour shift on Friday with part-time Cathy who has a four hour shift on Saturday. Or Cathy can’t come in at all, so Betty gets four hours more on her paycheck and Cathy gets four hours less, keeping the store’s payroll the same.

          Most of my time working retail, Saturday was the only day where I could count on getting an eight hour shift at all, and my husband’s restaurant work is the same way. My observation is that the only way to get eight hour shifts in those industries is to become a manager, and of course then, you’re working 10-12 hour shifts 5 or 6 days a week.

          1. Xarcady*

            The store I worked at, a large national chain, considered full-time to be 32 hours a week. This was mostly for benefits—full-time employees had to average a minimum of 32 hours a week in order to get health and other benefits. If the location was doing badly or it was a slow season, they get less than 32 hours a week on their schedule and would have to scramble to find unscheduled hours or to find someone who wanted to give away hours.

            All the sales associates knew who would pick up any extra hours and who would try to get rid of shifts they didn’t want. The scheduling system was set up so that you could message people directly to ask them to pick up your shift.

      8. EventPlannerGal*

        Eh, I think it’s a bad idea to built a leave policy that relies on staff having a good rapport with each other. That’s so dependent on the specific group of people and can change over time, or even vary between departments in the same company – my department hangs out on the weekends, other departments clock in clock out and seem to barely talk to each other. And honestly, even if Lucinda in Development is a raging asshole that nobody likes and has no rapport with anyone, she still should be able to stay off work when sick.

    6. Public Sector Manager*

      I’ve been a manager for a decade and I find the OP’s policy unconscionable. Appropriate staffing is literally one of the job responsibilities of any manager.

      A manager should always find coverage for an employee except when the employee wants a non-emergency day off but that employee is your coverage, e.g.:

      Employee: “Hey, I know it’s last minute, but can I have Friday off?”
      Manager: “Well, I scheduled you months ago to cover overtime calls starting COB Friday. So you need to find a replacement for yourself or you need to cover your weekend.”

      But if the employee is sick, has a family emergency, has a personal emergency, etc., appropriate coverage should be something the manager is taking on. I’ll even go so far as to handle the one-off last minute surprise, like one employee whose dad was getting married at the last minute to the dad’s new girlfriend and my employee just found out about it.

      1. Cj*

        I thought for sure that you are amy sly’s husband’s boss when I read about the dads wedding. But Amy said her husband found coverage for himself, and you’re saying that you did it for your employee.

      2. doreen*

        I think there are additional times when it’s not inappropriate to expect someone to find their own coverage – for example, in my field coverage does not involve working a different or an additional shift. It involves someone else handling anything that can’t wait until you return from pre-planned time off. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to expect someone to find their own coverage in these cases , even if it’s a pre-planned medical appointment.

        But that’s completely different from expecting someone to find coverage for a last minute emergency/sick day. I wasn’t expected to do that even in my fast-food days.

        1. Anononon*

          Yeah, that’s how it is at my job, and I think it’s fine. Generally, we manage our own workload with very little oversight, so we know what needs backup and what doesn’t. Also, they’re generally pretty flexible with days off because they trust us to be responsible about it and make sure our work gets done.

    7. Catabodua*

      I HATED that the most when I worked in retail. I mean seriously, retail sucks, but that is the suckiest part imho.

      1. Nanani*

        Especially when you told them ahead of time that you absolutely could not work X time/day (because of exams or something), they schedule you anyway, and you have to solve -their- planning fuckup x-x

        1. pope suburban*

          I maliciously complied with a job that did that once. I had brought them my college class schedule and finals schedule at the interview, because I was a junior and taking some of my major-required seminars that semester. They still scheduled me during the final for my capstone seminar, at which point I told them that I would come in as soon as I was done, but I could not miss the exam, which I’d been clear about before they hired me. My coworkers assured me they had it covered, and I went to my final. During a blizzard that would eventually shut down the state (This never happens; every winter was full of snow and nothing ever stopped), and that shut down my campus mid-exam. I could hear my phone buzzing off the hook during the exam, but figured I’d get to it when I was done, since it was probably just my parents calling to check in.

          It was not my parents. My then-boss had blown up my phone with progressively more hostile messages telling me I had to be there. That I should care more about a part-time, probably-seasonal job wrapping gifts at a bougie toy store. That the job was more important (Than my exam, than my education- your guess is as good as mine). That I was disappointing, and “not to bother coming in” if that was how I was going to prioritize. So…I didn’t bother! Ever again. No way was I going back to someone who expected me to risk my safety and graduation to sit in an empty shop because people were either at home, or only leaving to get essential supplies. I found out later that that store was notorious for that kind of thing, and that what felt like half the students in town had cycled through there and fled in terror. The owner probably *was* disappointed in me, sure, but no other employer ever has been, so…it is what it is. No regrets.

    8. Sanini*

      I agree a million percent. Before I got into the professional world, I was an entry level caretaker in a group home (owned by a medium size company). Because group homes are 24/7, just like your facility, we had to find our own coverage when we called out. One night, my dad had a massive heart attack and I had to call out. Guess what? They asked me to find my own coverage because that’s their policy. I didn’t have time for that! My dad was having a medical emergency! Or sometimes you just can’t find anyone who can cover your shift, especially overnights. Then what? Should they still come in, vomiting their brains out? Not giving their all because they have a stomach virus?

      Having staff find their own coverage is a crappy policy. I understand you may not have created this asinine policy, but if there’s a way you can change it, please do so. Don’t put the burden of finding coverage on sick employees, or employees who may have to tend to a family emergency. You’re the manager, and it’s your job to find coverage, or delegate someone to do that for you if you’re overwhelmed.

      And as Alison said in her response, treat your employees like professionals and deal with individual cases where someone isn’t being responsible. It sounds like your company doesn’t think highly of the techs and assumes they will call out all the time for frivolous thing.

      1. JKateM*

        We staff in home caregivers and we have on call managers at all times to find coverage. Employees who know each other and work with the same clients sometimes find their own coverage or swap shifts but they still have to call in to let us know. And when we’re on call we are responsible to cover if someone calls out and we can’t find a replacement (like when someone calls at 5am for their 6am shift). I don’t think a “find your own coverage” policy would work AT ALL in this field. People would end up going in to work sick a lot and that would be very bad for the clients they are caring for.

    9. HailRobonia*

      My boss has started making us do this for vacations; we suspect it’s because she has little idea of what we actually do and she’s pretty neglectful of our roles and duties.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        I mean, it depends on the specifics. If you have say 60 employees and you need 20 in the store at any given time, it makes complete sense to have one scheduled as on-call, because with 20 people, chances are one will call out. If you have 4 and you need 2 in the store, it really doesn’t make much sense and would really cut into employee’s time off (since they’d be on call all the time). But you can’t really justify hiring a fith person just because of a couple of sick days a year.

    10. allathian*

      Yeah, I agree. This has never happened to me, not even in my first retail jobs as a student. I actually think that requiring employees to find their own coverage for sick leave is illegal here, but I’m not 100 percent sure about that. Asking a friendly coworker to swap shifts for non-emergency reasons was very common, though. I almost always did that if I could fit it into my schedule and got a lot of goodwill that way. I never had trouble finding someone else to cover a shift when I needed it because of this.

  1. Roscoe*

    Yeah, your policy is pretty bad. It reminds me of when I as a teacher. If we called in sick, they pulled one of the “specials” teachers (Music, art, technology, etc) to cover your class. That meant that any other teachers who had that class that day, didn’t get a prep period. So it basically guilted you into not taking a day off.

    But the thing is, her calling in sick isn’t her problem, its yours. You are management. No matter how hard your job is, the fact that you are short staffed isn’t her issue to solve. You are basically pushing your responsibility onto your employees. Now, if she is abusing it, that is a separate issue that you need to deal with. But in general, no, you shouldn’t make her find coverage.

    1. not today Satan*

      My Dean (large University) just asked faculty, who will be teaching f2f (yup) to find a “colleague/alternate to help teach the course this semester, should the need arise and b) has (or will) provide access in XXX so that colleague can access the requisite course materials.”

      They basically just asked us to name a successor should we die. Classy!

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I’m not surprised at all to hear this. I just wonder what happens when both professors come down with it.

        1. Locket*

          The second professor’s successor takes over both the others’ courses, and so on! It’s fool proof.

    2. Bridget the Elephant*

      We had a similar system in the school where I taught, but Abby teacher could be pulled out of their non-teaching time (I think we had 2 half hour periods a week we could schedule as uninterruptible prep time). We also had to assign work for the classes to do if we were out sick. It’s really hard to prep the materials for a lesson, let alone up to six or seven of them, from home (maybe without your textbooks because they’re at work), with the flu, in the hour between calling your boss and school starting.

    3. Quill*

      With our school district substitutes were plentiful and unless an illness was last minute, no other teachers had to cover… but teachers still ran around finding their own coverage and secretly arranging which subs would take their classes (in a first come first serve call in claim-a-spot system) because if the choice is between a sub who can be trusted to do a clearly laid out math review and the guy who spends all day on his phone watching youtube and getting cheeto dust on your grade book while the kids jump on their desks, you know which one you want.

  2. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

    As one who rarely calls off, although I did 3 days last week for an emergency, I would be extremely put off by a manager who asked me to find coverage. If one of my direct reports calls out, I find someone to do the work for them, as well. I think it’s management’s responsibility to ensure coverage and make sure the work gets done. If I’m already not feeling well, in the middle of an emergency, whatever, the last thing I want to be doing is calling all my coworkers. I also don’t want all my coworkers having my number.

    I also kind of feel that one or two people are always going to say “yes” when asked to cover, and over time this is going to build resentment. Or Sue always needs me to cover, but never wants to cover for me. A manager can make sure this is done more fairly, and work is distributed to the people who can do the task the best.

    I do expect my staff to let me know if they have anything urgent going on while they’re out. Sometimes their work can just sit for a day. Other times, there may be a call or meeting or whatever that needs to be handled ASAP.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, in addition to unfairly putting the hassle on employees, they seem to be trying to use coworkers’ potential resentment as a discouraging factor in whether or not people call out sick. It’s really poor management all around.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      Very much this. What happens when you have to find your own coverage is that you turn to your allies at work and you turn to the people who always say yes. It turns into a favor system–I covered for Jane so Jane owes me one, etc. This isn’t automatically terrible but is in fact an unofficial layer of management, usually invisible to official management. You have whole systems going on you know nothing about, and people can be rewarded and penalized by those systems, same as the official ones. If you are asking your employees to manage this, you have a whole structure in place that you are not a part of. Do you want that? You shouldn’t.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Employees can go into a “survival mentality” where they cover all kinds of things for each other, not just time off.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      Although I’m not a huge fan of it, I’m okay with a policy requiring employees to find their own coverage for planned time off. In my experience most places with such a policy are very permissive about shift-swapping anyways (and have very little PTO). Being able to arrange your own coverage and just get the boss’s stamp of approval has some advantages for an employee.

      Sick time is completely different. If I call in sick, I shouldn’t have to deal with the extra stress of looking for coverage at the last minute. And what if it’s not to be found? It’s not like you can decide to not be sick that day if no one else is available!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Even that is sketchy and punishes people who might not be as sociable or well liked.

  3. Carlie*

    At an absolute minimum, thst policy functionally means that every employee needs to have the personal contact information of every other employee, which, NO.

    1. Kathlynn (canada)*

      as a retail employee, this is very true. I left one job in part because this became the policy. But they didn’t have everyone’s contact information available. Current job tries to do this depending on the manager. Also, you know demanding doctor notes. Once, instead of paying for a doctor’s note, I sent my boss a picture of my hospital bracelet before she could ask for a note.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Wait, you have to pay for a doctor’s note? Like if you were already in the hospital why would you need to pay extra?

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          It’s an administrative burden for the hospital so they charge accordingly. Last time I was in the hospital, they wouldn’t even give me a general note and suggested I just give my boss the medical documentation to prove I was hospitalized… nope! Luckily, my boss didn’t ask for proof.

    2. Stormy Weather*

      This x100. It’s not a reasonable expectation.

      People shouldn’t suffer for being sick. That’s how you get more sick employees because people are afraid to call out.

    3. Grey Coder*

      That was my thought too. And they need to have this information at home, in a completely uncontrolled/insecure environment. Oh hell no.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      It’s pretty normal in retail to be given a list of your cohorts phone numbers so you have it when you need it.

      1. Kathlynn (canada)*

        While I haven’t worked a ton of different jobs (I am rather lucky in that), I have never been given a list of my coworkers numbers. Even when the managers had a “find your own replacement” policy. Sometimes the list was available in the office by the managers desk (which is in the back stock area, given there wasn’t enough space). But never “here is the number of your coworkers put them in your phone in case you get sick” or some equivalency. As I said above, on job instituted this, without even having a similar list. And only management had their phone numbers of the new employees (change in ownership. so there technically was an old list, but more then half the numbers were of former employees, and the new employees weren’t there)

      2. Ellen Ripley*

        These days clocking-in and schedules are usually done via an app which everyone has on their phone, so you can message coworkers and offer up shifts without having to actually have their phone number.

    5. On a pale mouse*

      Where I work (large grocery) it wouldn’t even be practical. Probably 50 people in my department, and lots of turnover, plus some newer people won’t know who actually has the training to cover for them.

    6. Pomona Sprout*

      My first semester in college, I got a part time job in the dorm cafeteria. Sounded great, what could be more convenient than just nipping down to the cafeteria for a few hours then right back up to my room. However, they had the kind of “find your own coverage if you can’t come in” policy that we’re discussing here. They gave each of us a list of every student employee working in campus food service, at any of the dorms on campus, indicating what positions each person was qualified to cover. Can’t remember if it had addresses or it was just names and phone numbers, but if you woke up too sick to feel like working, you were expected to go down that list and call people till you found someone willing to cover your shift. I HATED it, and I bailed as soon as I found another campus job with less onerous requirements.

      1. Ashley*

        Ugh! And how terrible to be the first person on the list getting a call every single time.

  4. IrishEm*

    It’s a management job to locate cover not a sick employee’s. Do you know how awful it is calling in sick after spending the night dealing with norovirus? And to add trying and failing to get colleagues to cover for you? Em, no. I will not be doing that for any employer.

    1. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

      Calling from a hospital in hysterical tears is also super fun, too. Won’t happen.

      1. IrishEm*

        When I worked in retail hell one girl got pulled up because her mother phoned in for her when her appendix burst and she was on the operating table. *full body shudder*

    2. MistOrMister*

      I’ve had a recurring stomach thing for years and it is all I can do to call my boss to say I can’t make it in. There is no way on God’s green earth I would be calling bunches of my peers trying to find coverage. If they want to request that for planned absences….I still don’t love it, but it’s a more reasonable ask. But not for sick days!! Plus, it really seems that part of OP’s problem here is that they don’t believe this person is actually sick and she is calling out all the time. But that is a whole other issue to address!!

      1. IrishEm*

        That whole attitude of not believing sick people when they are sick is a terrible thing – it is literally going to get people killed under Covid-19, and I’m sure it already has, too.

        Maybe for a planned absence, e.g. an elective surgery, but I still find it quite skeevy as a policy.

  5. SaffyTaffy*

    My thoughts every time I have had to do find my own coverage: “Great- I’m sick, and now I have to manage the small project of texting everyone I work with to find coverage. Because my boss won’t do her job.”

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      If it were me, I’d send one huge group text asking someone to step in and making sure the manager was on the text too, then go back to bed. Maybe they find coverage, maybe not, but at least I tried and the boss can see that.

    2. sofar*

      Back in the day, I worked for a restaurant that had a great policy. If you were trying to earn extra money and wanted to receive calls to cover shifts, you put your name on a list in the break room. If someone needed to call in sick, they called the manager, and the manager worked through the people on the list. You could take your name OFF the list whenever you wanted, but it back on whenever you wanted.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        We had that at one place. It’s tough to read that list from home. So then they started passing out the sheet to everyone.

        1. PhysicsTeacher*

          Sounds like the manager reads the list and makes the calls anyway, so the at home employees don’t need it.

      2. Kiitemso*

        Yeah, at my old job we had an “extra coverage” text circle where the shift manager could text like, “Extra shift today from 3 until 8” or whatever and 15-20 people could get the text and if one of them got the shift, the next text would go out “3 til 8 shift filled”. There would also be chances to extend your shifts so instead of coming in at 10, you could come in at 8, up to 8 hours. Worked great usually.

        Then we got a new shift manager who did this annoying thing of texting employees with certain shifts and asked for extensions or to come in earlier or to stay later. I was part-time so I was always on the extension list even though I didn’t ask to me. One of the many reasons why I left.

      3. SweetestCin*

        Retail job in HS.
        Same policy.
        Worked like a DREAM! Our manager had us put our standing days/times we were available (most of our department were teenagers, so still in school, various ability to get there by certain times in the evening)

      4. boop the first*

        I like this policy. Even if management is making the calls, what usually happens is they always call their most efficient/accommodating employees on their days off, annoying and guilting them into leaving their family events to come into work, and no one else.

        So the best staff feel frustrated and used, and the worst staff get to take all the last minute days off they want because management is just happy they’re out.

  6. hmmmm*

    Alison’s right it is management’s job to figure out coverage. Maybe you as a manager can make it a department plan to speak with each person to make sure coverage is in place or a manual is written in case of emergency call outs. Yes, by all means speak to the employee about being reliable. You can bring backup to all her call outs with examples. As always, Alison has given you great advice.

    I know this is a totally different scenario but I can’t help but to think of the AAM letter about the boss who wouldn’t let his employee go to her graduation because she couldn’t find coverage. I know this doesn’t sound like the same extreme and I do think your employee is taking advantage of the situation, but….. as in that graduation letter, I feel like making someone find their own coverage is penalizing an employee who just there to work and not socialize. It makes it a popularity contest.

    1. Darin*

      “I feel like making someone find their own coverage is penalizing an employee who just there to work and not socialize. It makes it a popularity contest.”

      That’s an interesting point that asking for coverage is kind of a social thing! I hate asking people I don’ t know well to cover for me because it feels like I’m asking them for a personal favor. I’d prefer for a manager to ask them because then it’s more like “I need you to do this as part of your job” rather than “could you please do me a this personal favor?”

      1. The Grey Lady*

        I agree that it is kind of a popularity thing though. I’ve gotten along with all of my coworkers but we’re not really…friends? And I’m one of those people who just comes to work to do my job and take home a paycheck. If I’m looking to expand my social circle, I don’t go to work. I’m kind of just the office geek.

        1. doreen*

          It’s not always a popularity thing. I’m sure it is sometimes, but most of the time when I’ve seen problems with a shift-trading situation it’s been less popularity contest, more tit-for-tat. For example, I had an acquaintance, let’s call him Marty. The short version is after trading shifts a few times Marty realized that if he didn’t trade and forced the coworker to call in sick, management would call him anyway and he’d get time and a half. Once they figured it out , Marty couldn’t get anyone to trade with him – but I wouldn’t exactly call it a popularity thing.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah, the personal favor thing becomes a stew of popularity, perceived value of the time off (You’re always sick! vs. You chose to have a second job / kids / a school schedule)

      2. hmmmm*

        That graduation letter was the first thing that came to mind when reading OP’s letter. I’ve always gotten along with coworkers but am also the quiet one. Like The Grey Lady said below….I would say we are good acquaintances but not fast forming friends. I would feel so awkward having to ask for coverage and it would probably add more stress to my reason for having to call out.

        Again the two letters are by no means the same situation but both managers seem to be leaning towards making their employees find a solution. That’s why I think the OP should set up a department standard to have coverage. It doesn’t single out said employee but does address an overall issue. Of course this sounds like the employee is calling out more often than not and as a separate issue OP needs to speak with employee about being responsible.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Then there’s the whole thing of people saying no to a cohort, but won’t refuse a boss.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s a gross story:

    When I was in high school and didn’t know any better, I worked a restaurant job that was rife with abuse. We had to find people to cover our shifts for vacation or sick leave. Management made no exceptions unless you were unconscious or in the hospital. If you failed, you were punished.

    One Sunday night, I got the flu. I was vomiting in the bathroom. No one wanted to come in and cover for me. I was working, vomiting, and trying to find a sub all at once. The only feedback my boss gave me was that I couldn’t leave without coverage, and if I did, I might as well not come back.

    After hearing nothing but no, I figured it was easier to just work the rest of my shift and try not to vomit than keep wasting time calling people. And I did! I made food. I served beverages. I touched clean dishes and served them to people. I vomited into the trash can near the food prep area. I dripped sweat everywhere. My superiors said nothing.

    When I hear of managers who require employees to find their own coverage should they need time off, I tell that story because that’s what will ultimately happen at some point.

    1. hmmmm*

      I hope you left there soon after. It may have been long ago, but I’m sorry you had such a terrible night.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Six months later, I did, but only because I was headed to college. :)

        It was horrifying that management would rather have me there spreading germs and working instead of leaving immediately and grabbing someone else to cover. I wonder how many people I infected.

        They, like the OP, made it clear they had their own work to do and did not have time to do their job and mine. That’s what they always said when we screwed up.

    2. Mama Bear*

      Several years ago we stopped on a road trip for food, and it wasn’t until it was too late that I noticed that one of the employees was sick. Sure enough within a few days my entire family got the same cold the employee seemed to have. Bad sick leave policies mean sick customers. I’m so sorry you had terrible management like that.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      That’s awful! It must have been so miserable, plus you probably got a lot of people sick. (I don’t blame you for that, it’s bad managers who force employees to make an impossible decision who are at fault.)

    4. The Grey Lady*

      Oh boy. Your management really was terrible, not only because of the coverage policy, but because no half-decent restaurant manager would let an obviously sick person serve and handle the food. The health department would slap them into next Tuesday.

      1. boop the first*

        The health department would hand them a paper to sign and schedule a visit next week to check in and see if the employee is still sick, and nothing more.

        Lol, sorry to sound discouraging. I know what you’re really trying to say, I just think people’s idea of health inspection procedures are very often overly optimistic :(

    5. AnotherAlison*

      Gross. My mom had some interesting ideas about sending me to school sick so I had it ingrained into my psyche to never be sick. 16 years ago, when my son was a newborn and I had returned from leave, I had a stomach bug and no sick time. Threw up in the bathroom a few times and spent the day staring at my cube wall, but I was there, gosh darn it. These were the same people who made me work mandatory 10’s when I came back from my 7 weeks of maternity leave, too, so I wasn’t comfortable making waves.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        My parents were the same way. They were raised to believe if you weren’t at work or school, you were being lazy. My mom never took sick time – not when she was sick, not when we were sick, and not even when I was in the hospital with an infection.

        Coincidentally, my parents didn’t believe in taking vacations either. Waste of money and too self-indulgent.

        Only when old age forced them into retirement and they couldn’t physically get around anymore, they regretted it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          We are probably distant cousins. (joking) No cut flowers and no jewelry because waste of money, right? I always thought with so much self-deprivation going on there really seemed to be no point to working.

          But it’s true, work until you drop. I remember a family member came home from work early one day. Their daughter instantly asked if the family member was going to die. Yep, you guessed it. They never returned to work and died a few months later.

    6. DogTrainer*

      Yes! I remember, with some shame, almost the exact same scenario as a waitress back in college. Except I was not vomiting but had a horrible cough, and no one would cover my shift (and if you didn’t show up, you were fired). Usually I could control my coughing by just sucking on cough drops all night, but eventually all that talking catches up with you. So I was taking the order of a table and started coughing so hard that I couldn’t catch by my breath for about 30 seconds to the point where the customers were offering me their water glasses and watching in horror. I eventually had to walk away and come back several minutes later, where I continued to take their order, serve their drinks, serve their food, etc. Can you imagine?!

      I’m so embarrassed to remember this, and I’m sure the customers were completely grossed out, but there really was no choice on my part. It was awful.

    7. Kage*

      Oh restaurants… I have a similar sort of story where they took an alternative, also crappy method of handling coverage. Their method was that if someone called off, they would call and DEMAND the next person on the list to come in. It didn’t matter if that person had other commitments or anything. As long as they called you with more than 4 hours notice, they expected you to come in. I was hired there to work a max of 2 nights/week as it was my side-job and I was already working 40+ hours in an office. When they called me mid-morning (while I was at my day job) for the 9th day in a row for “emergency coverage” to demand me to come in, I flipped and said no way – I was not working that night as I physically didn’t have my uniform/needed to do laundry that night and it was WAY more than what I had been hired for. I said they were welcome to fire me if they wanted, but I wasn’t coming in again before my next regularly scheduled shift. Not surprisingly I wasn’t fired, but I also didn’t put up with that job for much longer.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Ugh. Restaurants. I worked at several in college, but one in particular was badly managed. The schedule was done on an Excel spreadsheet, but they way they formatted it was difficult to read. I misread the schedule once and thought I wasn’t scheduled to work on a Thursday. I had requested off Friday because I was leaving for a holiday weekend, so I thought maybe they had misunderstood and gave me too many days off. I posted a note on the schedule board that I was willing to pick up someone’s Thursday shift, but no one replied.

        So, thinking I didn’t have to work on Thursday, I left for my trip early. I was about 200 miles away from town when I got a call from one of my coworkers. The manager was livid because 3 people had no-showed before the holiday weekend and I was one of the ones they named. My coworker checked the schedule because they knew I had requested off days, and lo and behold, I had misread the spreadsheet. Then they saw my note about wanting to pick up a shift on that same day, so they took it to the manager and showed it to them trying to explain that I had made an honest mistake. She was such a nice person, trying to help me!

        I called the restaurant later that evening (I knew better than to call during the dinner rush). The manager suspended me for 2 weeks. He didn’t care that I had made an honest mistake, he berated me for waiting too long to call him (even though I explained I didn’t want to call during dinner rush), and accused the other coworker of making up the story about my note trying to pick up a shift. So I never went back, even though they put me back on the shift after 2 weeks. He called me to see why I didn’t show up and I gave him have an earful about how he’d have a hard time keeping good employees if he treated them all like criminals.

    8. blaise zamboni*

      +1. I worked retail, so it wasn’t as dire as a restaurant setting, but…still. I was new to the job and couldn’t find any coverage for the severe stomach bug that I developed (from the job, it turned out). I was a cashier on the first floor. We only had bathrooms on the second floor. The bathrooms had a code-activated lock on them, and I was new enough to frequently forget the bathroom code.

      I was trying to stay calm and work as normal, but I had SERIOUS and IMMEDIATE warning signs that my body was about to vomit…oh, once an hour at least, if not more. I ran away from some poor woman in the middle of her transaction because I broke out in a sweat and was about to puke all over her. I managed to get to a trash can out of sight, but it was the trash can in our break room (where my coworkers were eating their lunches) so I felt awful for it.

      I eventually made my way into the bathroom, where I slumped against a toilet puking until I had nothing left in my system. I turned off my radio because I could hear my managers getting frustrated that I was gone, and eventually dozed off on the ground, too weak to get back up. One of the managers finally found me and sent me home because I almost got sick on her shoes. I drove home, puking into my car’s trash can the entire time, and was back to work 2 days later. I got written up. I ended up pulling OT the following week when half my team got the same f-ing bug (including three managers who took a leisurely 2 weeks off apiece – they didn’t find any coverage for themselves, in case you’re curious.) I have no idea how many customers I probably exposed/endangered, but I imagine it’s a non-zero number.

      Policies that encourage people to come to work sick because it’s embarrassing or difficult for them to take time off are garbage and will never inspire loyalty to your clinic. People who abuse sick leave will still do that, and the employees who don’t abuse sick leave will eventually notice and resent the double-standard. It’s the manager’s responsibility to either find coverage or reassign work/prioritize things differently. The manager ultimately has the best sense of who is available on what days, who is able to take on extra work, who is trustworthy for a certain task. It’s annoying but that’s management. Your staff isn’t paid enough to do your job for you.

      1. Batgirl*

        You’ve got to wonder how dumb a manager can be when you are passed out and you still get written up.
        OP, you’re clearly an intelligent, questioning manager, but you definitely inherited a lazy management policy though.

          1. Quill*

            I mean, the perpetuation of an abusive system is entirely based on whether the people running it are deriving any sort of benefit from it.

            A business that stays afloat is a great example of something that can easily breed abusive systems because “that’s what works” and also because of a pervasive bootstraps mentality.

    9. Gazebo Slayer*

      That restaurant should have been shut down as a health hazard for doing that. I’m really sorry.

    10. soon to be former fed really*

      When I see an obviously sick employee in a food establishment, let alone waiting on me, I leave and may never return.

  8. Darin*

    Not the same thing, but I had to train three people in a few of my responsibilities so they could serve as backups on a few quick but important tasks if I was ever out, and when I was planning to be out or randomly needed to stay home sick, I had to go through them until I found someone who would cover for me. I would tell my manager who was covering, and then she’d send them an e-mail (CC’ing me), asking them to confirm if they could cover me. That felt stupid. If she’s going to ask them if they’re *really* covering for me, why couldn’t she just handle finding coverage to begin with?

  9. Mama Bear*

    Also, how long has everyone worked there and what is her relationship like with everyone else? If she does OK work but isn’t friends with coworkers, she may not 1. have the contact info for, or 2. feel close enough to a coworker to ask that favor. Which is another reason it should be management and not the employee. Secondarily, management could keep a list of N+1 people so they know who to call for what kinds of backup.

  10. Kierson*

    In a previous role, I managed a residential site that provided 24/7 support for adults with disabilities. Because of the round-the-clock nature of the job, the organization strongly encouraged employees to attempt to find their own coverage plans before calling out. If they were not able to, the manager would obviously have to step in and fill the shift. However, this was not ideal, since the manager often worked 50-60 hours per week trying to complete normal duties, in addition to providing 24/7 on-call support. If the manager was also expected to physically fill openings from call-ins, that could bring their work hours to nearly 70-80 per week.

    In a perfect world, managers should step in and fill openings, but not all industries are able to sustain those types of operations. At least in my experience.

    1. Niktike*

      More industries could, but choose not to. The best job I ever had was a privately owned catering company where the owner worked with us day-to-day. We always staffed one extra person on every shift. Then if somebody came in sick, it was no big deal. I’m sure this ate into profits, but the owner preferred to have a not-stressed out staff who felt valued rather than exploited.

      Most jobs can afford to overstaff if they are willing to eat into the profit margin.

      1. Niktike*

        Edit: CALLED* in sick, not came in sick. Nobody ever came in sick to that job with anything worse than the sniffles.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Thing is, that isn’t really overstaffing, but realistic staffing. Ordinary unremarkable absence probably runs at up to 5% even with low PTO allowance, so it has to be a pretty small workplace before one person is actually surplus to requirements.

    2. Forrest*

      That’s a really dysfunctional and u stainable workplace, and it sounds like a crappy place for or anyone to work. :-(

    3. Littorally*

      That seems like it’s missing an enormous step in the middle, though, which is managers calling employees to ask for coverage. That would be more sensible than the manager doing it themselves.

    4. Koala dreams*

      There are many other methods to fill shifts. You could have a temp pool, where people are scheduled to fill in wherever you need cover, and do other tasks on the days nobody needs cover. You could schedule employees to be on call and fill in if needed on their on-call days. Someone who isn’t sick could look for coverage for the person who is sick.

      I remember in school, our school had one person on staff who filled in for teachers in any subject. In retrospect, I think they had a hard job, showing up to a new class every time, with no idea what to teach and hearing complaints from students all the time. For long teacher absences, the school tried to find a temp to fill in for the rest of the term.

    5. Batgirl*

      The first person to be exploited is the manager which then ensures the staff will be too? Yes we know; the fish always rots from the head.

    6. Observer*

      but not all industries are able to sustain those types of operations.

      That’s nonsense. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that they do not WANT TO.

      1. Kierson*

        Honestly, it was the system I was working under. I had no choice but to cover the shift in addition to being on-call and working weekly overtime for pennies. It had nothing to do with me not wanting to.

        When I told my boss I was burned out and couldn’t sustain this life, I was told I would either be demoted or could resign with severance.

        Yeah, the system sucked.

        1. Observer*

          You said that the “industries cannot” do this. And that’s not true. YOU as a lower level individual employee may not had a choice, but your employer DID. And they CHOSE to staff this way.

  11. nnn*

    I wonder if this could be addressed (or at least helped) by some sort of system to make finding coverage easier? Some kind of list or spreadsheet or app that will show who isn’t working that day, who’s interested in picking up an extra shift, etc. (Someone may well have already invented one, I haven’t checked)

    Maybe a system that takes an individual asking an individual out of the equation would help. Instead of you as an individual having to convince me as an individual to cover a shift (which brings interpersonal dynamics into the equation) what if every possible candidate got an automatically-generated message saying “Would you like to work this shift? (Y/N)” and the first person to click on Yes gets the shift. (That could also take the problem of individual workers having other individual workers’ contact info out of the equation)

    Even if you don’t have an automated system, a group email or group text (whatever’s most suitable to your workplace culture) saying “Who wants this shift?” would be less time-consuming and would eliminate the problem of people who don’t want the shift having to say no. (All you have to do is nothing.) Although this option would have the problem of everyone having every else’s contact info.

    In any case, the core problem here is that finding coverage is a Whole Big Thing, and if it could be made less of a Whole Big Thing that would make it less time-consuming for the manager to find coverage, and/or let the employee initiate the coverage request at the push of a button rather than having to do a bunch of interpersonal work.

    1. MommaCat*

      That’s essentially how it works with our stagehand union local. I’m not union, though I’ll take permit work when there aren’t enough union stagehands, and it’s all through text now. Dispatch will go down the list and text the right number of people, then text more depending on how many answer “no.” It works really well.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I commented below about the solution when I worked retail. Scheduled on-call shifts in which employees were told from the time they were hired to treat the on-call shift like a scheduled shift and be prepared to come into work. We never needed to use the on-call shifts about 85-90% of the time, but this way, someone was always on-call should someone be sick or have a family emergency.

      1. nooncallretail*

        I want to push back a bit against having employees “on call” for work like retail, etc. (obviously the medical field is a somewhat different beast) – it’s really a terrible policy. It means your workers can’t have second jobs, can’t schedule things like dentist appointments, etc. because they *may* have to go into work. They *may* make some money then, but they probably won’t, but if they desperately need that money…well…then they’re in big trouble.
        Unless you’re paying them, having employees “on call” is not the solution. Please don’t do this to your employees, it makes life so much harder (especially when many retail jobs are already paying non-livable wages, at least in my experience).

        1. Koala dreams*

          In the situation in the question, it seems like they have an informal on-call system already. The advantage of formalizing it is that instead of being on-call all the time, the employees will have truly free time when they aren’t scheduled (for a regular shift or on-call).

          1. Littorally*

            Nah, I think nooncallretail has a point. If the employees are told that they need to be prepared to go into work during the on-call periods, that puts a freeze on their ability to do other things. In a normal situation where there is no on-call, an employee who gets a call to cover a shift can say no, they’re busy, they’re unavailable.

            1. Koala dreams*

              The pressure has a different flavour, perhaps. Either way you can say you are unavailable, but it’s different to say no in advance and to say no to your sick co-worker last minute. Also, usually the people who are unavailable too often get penalized. If you need the shifts and need to get along with your co-workers, you don’t really have the freedom to say no anytime you want. (It’s nice to hear there are workplaces where you can say no, of course, but I hope a formalized on-call system wouldn’t change that.)

              1. Littorally*

                What Former Retail Manager described was “employees were told from the time they were hired to treat the on-call shift like a scheduled shift and be prepared to come into work.” In other words, no, they can’t say no to be called up when they’re “on call.” Whereas if it’s a normal day off, they can work a second job, go to school, do whatever.

                1. Koala dreams*

                  You seem to have misunderstood the on-call suggestion. There’s more information in another thread further down.

                  The system where employees call around to find coverage when ill only works if people bring their phone and answers. If everybody works a second job, go to school or leave the phone off when they aren’t scheduled, the system wouldn’t work. It’s a question of relying on unspoken expectations, or making the expectations explicit. Either way, employees can be penalized for refusing to cover shifts. (Or not.) However, it’s a mistake to assume that in a system with unspoken expectations, employees are freer than in a system with explicit expectations. There are many workplaces out there where it’s discouraged to say no to extra shifts, even without a on-call schedule. I’m sorry to hear that you have a bad experience with on-call schedules, but that isn’t inherent in the schedule.

                  To make an analogy, if I go to school and the professor schedules a surprise lecture on Friday, it’s just as annoying if I learn about it in a phone call from another student or if I read the official announcement. Will I be able to opt out? It depends, if the course has obligatory lectures I need to go, if the lectures are optional I don’t.

                  Sorry for the long text, I tried to explain shorter but it’s hard when I don’t know where you lost the thread.

                2. Littorally*

                  Ah, I see where we’re missing each other. You’re assuming that when a manager or a coworker asks if you can cover a shift, you are not able to say no without being penalized, regardless of whether or not there is a formal arrangement for on-call coverage in place.

                  And my life experience is that you can say no to working on your day off. The retail managers I’ve had have generally understood things like their employees working second jobs or going out of state on days they aren’t scheduled to work. So having them formally reserve your time to prevent second jobs without paying you for the time is an added imposition.

                  If your boss already thinks they own all your waking hours, then sure, having them agree to only own some of your waking hours while going unpaid is a step up. But if a boss understands that they don’t own any hours they aren’t paying you for, then having them claim some of those hours without paying you for them is bullshit.

            2. GothicBee*

              Agreed. I’d say it’s one thing to have on call shifts for work where you’re full time and at least paid a decent enough wage that most people aren’t going to need a second job (especially if on-call shifts are treated as overtime when you do have to come in). Whereas retail is generally minimum wage, so on-call shifts suck because it’s usually a whole day where you’re expected to be free for work, but you will more than likely not be making any money.

        2. A Genuine Scientician*

          Agreed. Particularly for part time jobs, having an on call system where someone is not paid for it is kind of abusive.

          The only job I’ve had where anyone is on call without being paid for it is actually my current one, but it’s done in a fashion that is even-handed and predictable enough that I don’t actually have a problem with it. For the university lab course I teach, any given instructor has from 2 to 4 lab sections per week (depending on whether they’re a grad student or faculty, and if faculty, whether they have additional duties beyond the lab course). At the start of the term, we each sign up to be backup instructor for as many sections as we ourselves are teaching, the first priority in signups going to those who teach the most sections. If someone is going to miss a section they would normally teach, the procedure is to first contact their designated backup, then if they can’t be reached contact the backup for the other section that meets at the same time, and if they can’t be reached then contact a specific long-term employee. We make sure to get the phone numbers and email addresses of our designated backups at that first meeting when we sign up for slots. In several years, I’ve yet to see someone miss more than 2 sessions for a semester, and even that many is fairly rare (and usually due to either people having interviews for jobs in other states, or a week long scientific conference during the term.)

          All of the faculty are already full time employees, and the university has contractual language that we are not allowed to have additional jobs during the academic terms without express permission from our director. All of the graduate students are technically half time employees, but with similar stipulations about how they cannot work more than 9 more hours / week than our role pays them for.

    3. Barefoot Librarian*

      This software exists! We have a library specific one by Springshare for our library student workers, and my daughter has a different one (restaurant/retail focused) that’s a cell phone app at the restaurant she works for. It let’s you “release” a shift you can’t do and someone else pick it up.

      1. anonlib*

        My library uses Springshare but all of our department chairs are so resistant to new technology that they don’t use the scheduling feature. Our front desk schedule is kept on a Word document…

      2. Swiper*

        The bar I work at uses Homebase. It’s great. No exchanging contact info with coworkers is needed, you can message in the app and it’s super easy to release/pick up shifts. I think the best feature is being able to see who else is working that day so you can decide without coming right out and asking “who else is going to be there,” though, because if you want me to take your closing shift with Dave and his crappy music taste and bad attitude, unless you’re sick I am extorting you big time before I agree.

      3. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        Near the end of my time at my last fast food job, we switched to a scheduling software that would message everybody about available shifts. I can’t remember what it was called, but it was amazing and everybody loved it. Probably there are several competitors you can choose from. If I was in charge of scheduling a coverage based job, I would most DEFINITELY be getting one of them if at all possible.

  12. QuinleyThorne*

    It’s not a great policy for reasons already stated by Alison, but especially in a situation where someone might be abusing their sick leave. If the rest of the team suspects this person is abusing her sick leave and are regularly having to pick up her slack last minute, you run the potential risk of them refusing to cover her shifts out of resentment, which means you’d end up covering the shift anyway, so you might as well just revise the policy and assign the coverage yourself. It still might build resentment from team members knowing they have to cover her shift, which should definitely be addressed, but you would at least have guaranteed coverage in the meantime.

    1. New Senior Manager*

      +10,000. It builds resentment and pits that coworker against the other coworkers who already resent her for what they perceive to be abuse of policy. You’re killing morale.

    2. Lady Heather*

      Yes, this – and if it’s an employee with a disability who you expect to arrange their own coverage for disability-related call-outs, as a manager, you’re going to be losing control of legal compliance. Once enough team members start whispering ‘so-and-so called in again, she didn’t even sound that sick’ or if one or a few start playing the ‘I won’t cover your shift unless you tell me what condition is making you call out’ game, you might find yourself in legal hot water. That might count as harassment. (Check with your lawyer. I am not your lawyer. I am not even a lawyer.)

      As a manager, your mere presence – “So-and-so won’t be in today” said matter-of-factly without judgement, “can you cover?” adds legitimacy to so-and-so’s absence and can be a powerful nudge for employees to accept this, too, without judgement or suspicion.

      This might or might not apply to OP’s currenet frequent sick-caller, but it can certainly be a result of this policy.

    3. Quill*

      Not to mention this kind of policy encourages people to think that other employees are abusing sick leave, which leads to increased hostility towards the sick and disabled.

      “Why did SHE take 3 days this month I didn’t even take one?”

  13. pcake*

    In these pandemic days, I wouldn’t want to do ANYTHING that might discourage people from calling in sick. Keep in mind that Covid-19 sometimes has symptoms like a cold, yet those who catch it from them could get very ill, causing you more short staffedness and other issues – some people who catch it from them or one of their relatives could even die. So you really don’t want anyone coming in while sick!

  14. Sue*

    I volunteer someplace where we are asked to get coverage for shifts we will miss due to sick or vacation – obviously if its a last minute emergency management takes care of it, but if you know you’ve got a sore throat and are scheduled for tomorrow they ask you try to get someone to cover you by making a few calls or emails. Generally this works as we have a large volunteer base and someone is willing to help out almost all the time. (I should note this is a volunteer position that is essential as in the organization’s operations will come to a halt if someone does not show up.)

    HOWEVER when the pandemic started, the board and management immediately suspended this policy and said no questions asked, no worries, no hard feelings – if you have any tiny symptom at all, or need to quarantine, just let management know and we will take care of finding coverage for your shift. They also allowed anyone to opt out of shifts and take a leave for as long as they wish if they did not feel comfortable volunteering during the pandemic. As a result, we have had no one associated with our organization get sick so far, and have not needed to shut down at any point due to an exposure. It also has made volunteers even more loyal knowing they are valued and management wants to keep us all safe. I highly recommend this approach.

    1. Sabina*

      About a year ago I turned down a volunteer position because they had the same policy of either show up or find someone to show up for you. I don’t need that level of stress for something I’m doing for fun, not pay, and to help the community. I did one two hour training shift before I found out about this policy. The person conducting the training, another volunteer, had a horrible cold. It was not a comfortable situation.

      1. Lady Heather*

        I have an acquintance whose ‘lifelong dream’ of volunteering for [charity that provides free housing near hospitals for families who have a hospitalized child] came to a quick end once they realized that you have to sign up for a three-hour ‘time slot’ and then make that time slot every week or find someone to cover it for you. The three-hour is apparently because they are afraid that you won’t be able to ‘give it all’ if you work longer shifts – which might be valid, I don’t know, but somehow it feels more of an imposition to commit to working every Thursday from 12 to 15 than every Thursday from 9 to 15. Signing your day away for 3 hours of doing good is worse than for 6 hours of doing good.
        And the cover thing. And the inflexible scheduling.

        It makes sense to fire unreliable volunteers and to have a clear policy on that. But this way you’re chasing away reliable volunteers who want to be able to go on planned vacations without having to ask their coworkers for permission first.

        1. Sabina*

          Yeah, in the organization I considered volunteering with most volunteers never meet each other. So you are expected to call a bunch of random strangers and beg them to work for you when they aren’t getting paid either.

          I now volunteer with a great group that allows on-line scheduling for most positions up to 24 hours before one’s shift. If you can’t make it at the last moment you just message the volunteer coordinator and it’s handled.

          1. Cuckoo for Corona*

            That’s why we stopped using online scheduling for volunteers. It become too much for us to manage coverage for volunteers. So we have our long-term core people, but stopped investing effort into recruiting new volunteers. It’s a bummer, but it works out for everyone in the end; I’m glad we could make this call based on experience and capacity, even though it sounds counter-productive.

          2. Lady Heather*

            I hadn’t even thought about that. In my acq’s situation, this would also fly – they would only have frequent contact with the shift before them, their own shift (if there is more than one person on at a time – not sure about that), and the shift after them. Their fellow ‘Thursday from 12 to 15’ can’t cover because they’d have to clone themselves, and ‘Thursday from 9 to 12’ and ‘Thursday from 15 to 18’ can’t work six hours in a row.. so everything is about the connections you make at the volunteer appreciation Christmas party?

            Ew, this is sounding more horrible by the second.

            I’m glad you found a good volunteer group! Sometimes it seems like it’s harder to find a good volunteer place than actual paid employment – and it’s great that you found something.

          3. Bubble teacher*

            Back in college, I had a similar volunteer gig and since there was only one person on at a time and very little oversight. I only ever met the people before and after me (and even then, it was mostly a smile and nod situation). I worked Fridays from 4-6 and was supposed to find coverage, but who wants to call total strangers and ask them to cover a shift like that (work, dinner, childcare pick-ups were all issues)? The job consisted of offering to read to kids who were waiting in the emergency room, which was fantastic, but not essential for the hospital so, being young and less conscientious, I just didn’t go if something came up. I would probably do things differently now, but having to pester strangers to make sure someone’s there to read the Gruafflo still seems foolish.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Thanks for sharing a positive experience! It makes me happy that some places are doing good things during the pandemic.

  15. Black Horse Dancing*

    OP, if you can’t eliminate the policy, then try to have the sick person call you and you do a group text. “Team, K can’t come in as they are ill. Who is available to cover? Please answer yes or no so I know everyone got this message.” For your person constantly calling in, definitely speak to her. Ask about the frequency of the sick days. “Hey, you called in 6 times in 90 days. This is rather excessive. If there is an issue where you need FMLA, please let me or HR know.”

    1. Dan*

      “For your person constantly calling in, definitely speak to her.”

      OP’s problem is that OP comes across as not wanting to manage. She doesn’t seem to want to manage coverage, and she doesn’t seem to want to manage a problem employee.

      Employee abusing sick leave isn’t a sick leave problem to fix, it’s a bad employee problem to fix.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        That’s… really not that many times for some people with chronic illnesses. Which is one of the reasons why illness in the US often leads to financial ruin.

  16. Observer*

    OP “I feel it discourages excessive sick calls to put the responsibility on the technician to find coverage when they really need it.”

    This is where you lost me. And honestly, it’s making it very, very hard for me to keep to the commenting rules.

    Let’s just put it this way. You are not keeping people from taking “excessive” sick calls. It’s keeping people from taking ANY sick time, even *when it is needed*.

    There was a long discussion yesterday about a worker in a nursim home who came in to work after having been exposed to Covid – and it turned out that she was positive. A lot of people were asking why she would do that. Well, part of it is *managers like you*. Managers who think that putting obstacles in the way of people taking sick time is a reasonable way to manage.

    If you want people to stay home when they are potentially contagious or not fit to work you need to stop discouraging people from taking sick time as a way to keep people from taking “excessive” time.

    If someone is REALLY taking excessive time, you need to deal with it directly. You don’t deal with it by essentially keeping people from taking off.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Yup. See below. Also, we can’t see our parents right now in part because just as quarantine was going to be lifted, 2 more staff were found to be positive. Not only is it a vulnerable population, but we haven’t been able to see them face to face since March. I’m terrified we’ll never get to see them again. We can’t get this time back.

    2. tinybutfierce*

      This. In the 10 years I worked in customer service, I can’t tell you how many times I went to work sick because of policies like this.

  17. Mama Bear*

    And FYI, for anyone in healthcare in any capacity, please have better sick leave policies. I am aware of a hospice patient who has lost several levels of medical and familial support because someone went to work with a fever and spread COVID. Patient may have lost the ability to say good bye to their mother due to the situation.

    1. HairApparent*

      Agree 100%. My family is experiencing the situation you described in a comment above with a relative, who we also haven’t been able to see since March, in assisted living. Basically, an aide came to work sick and it turned out to be COVID-19. The “quarantined” sign was posted on my relative’s door two days ago. Still trying to get a straight answer from the facility what the plan of action is. It’s a crushing situation, but I don’t fault the aide at all. Many medical personnel are being denied sick time and are threatened with unemployment. Stay strong, and I hope your situation improves! :)

  18. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Is she getting paid sick leave or is she taking this time off unpaid?

    I worked places where we had a similar policy (get your own coverage, no paid sick time) and we tended to get last minute call-ins from our staff who could not afford to miss a shift. They would get sick, and think, “I can’t afford to miss work!” and then try to force and drag themselves to work to avoid missing their shift. Which meant they were usually realizing at the very last minute before heading out the door, that they literally, physically could not get out of bed/drive their car/leave the toilet to go to work, and then calling out at the very last minute. Because going without the day’s pay, was life and death to them, and they couldn’t risk calling out on the off chance they’d be feeling better in half an hour.

    Whereas, the employees who had paid sick time, or even just enough of a safety net in their personal lives to miss a day or two’s pay, would call in with plenty of notice. If they were feeling better by the time shift was coming around, oh well, they could use the rest anyway.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I get what you’re saying, but calling out sick is never not last minute. It’s up to management to have contingency plans in place because people get sick, or have emergencies that keep them from coming to work. Being short staffed is not a problem you lay at the employee’s laps.

  19. Observer*

    On a separate note, I’m trying to figure out why you think that making it hard for people to take sick time that they actually need is in any way better or more reasonable than having a conversation with s SPECIFIC individual about the issue of THEIR particular attendance policy.

    I’d also think very carefully about whether there really are signals that she’s abusing her sick time vs your assumption that anyone who takes more than the “typical” amount of time must be gaming the system (or annoaynce that she won’t do your job for you.)

    By the way, finding coverage does not mean that YOU have to cover. If you really are short staffed, you should be talking to your bosses about increasing coverage, or at least finding some temp / “casual” staff that can be called on short notice. And in the meantime, you can make calls to other workers if need be.

  20. Former Retail Manager*

    Apologies if this suggestion is already mentioned above (no time to read all the comments) but a potential solution is to have scheduled “on call” shifts. When I was a retail manager, we had the issue of people calling in frequently, which is to be expected in low-paid, no benefits, retail jobs (at least in my experience). Almost anything was more important and more fun than coming to work (no shade…I felt the same). Scheduled “on call” shifts was the solution. Some days we only had a single on call shift and some days we had one for morning and one for evening. All of our associates were part-time, so we didn’t have to worry about overtime should we need to utilize someone for an on call shift. If overtime is a concern for you, then quite frankly, I think you need to either hire more people, maybe a part-time person with great flexibility or suck it up and pay the overtime if you need to utilize the on call shift.

    People were much less upset about having to cover when they knew they were on call. We had it set up to where they would have to call in 30 mins after the latest shift start, so if the latest night employee arrived at 5:00, they had to call at 5:30 to see if they were needed. If we knew sooner, we’d obviously contact them as soon as we knew so they could plan accordingly. We had enough employees that everyone got 1 on-call shift per week unless they wanted more.

    And to echo what a few others have said, finding coverage is not the job of the employees, no matter how much you are doing. Scheduling and ensuring labor is utilized effectively is your job. If you have employees who are willing to do part of this for you, consider yourself lucky, but they shouldn’t be required to do so.

    1. mf*

      This is a great idea. It ensures that the system of having to cover shifts for sick coworkers is done in a more equitable/unbiased manner. Otherwise, the people who are pushovers, newbies, or don’t have family/kids are the ones who will unfairly bear the burden.

    2. Alex*

      Presumably there was some kind of financial benefit for being on call? If you were expecting a load of, mostly young an inexperienced people who wouldn’t know better, to spend a day a week hanging next to the phone in case of being needed at work with no notice for no benefit that was appalling management. If a business requires people to be on call and those people aren’t highly paid salaried employees (even if they are it should be made clear up front so that they can take it into account when negotiating salary) it should pay them to be so, as it isn’t acceptable for a business to expect people to spend significant time unable to travel more than a few miles, drink alcoholic beverages, or otherwise do anything that will mean they aren’t ready to work at a moments notice.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        No, there was no financial benefit to being on call. They weren’t paid unless they actually came into work, but they also weren’t expected to sit by the phone all day. If they were on call for evening, they called in at a designated time, say 5:30pm, and if they were needed they came in. If not, they were free to enjoy their evening, as well as whatever they may have done during the day. If someone went home sick at 6:00pm, 30 mins after they called, then too bad. That wasn’t their problem and they weren’t expected to come in.

        There was also no expectation that they report to work immediately. I would have people tell me their daytime activity (trip to the zoo, mall, etc.) ran over and it would be an hour or two before they could get there. Okay, no big deal. There also weren’t consequences if you couldn’t come in for an on-call shift. Life happens…I get it.

        I didn’t like doing on-call, but it was the only way that I found to equitably spread around the possibility of having to work if someone called in. We also had folks who would make it known that they needed more hours. If someone called in, I’d ask the on call person if they wanted the hours or did they want me to check with Bob, who said he needed hours. If Bob wanted the shift, great. If not, on call person was on the hook.

        Retail sucks for many reasons…this is just one of them. When I left, I vowed to never work another job in which my being unable to be there meant that someone else had to be.

      2. Koala dreams*

        Expecting people to stay near the phone seven days a week for no pay is a lot worse, though.

        I commented above, so I won’t comment again down here.

    3. nooncallretail*

      Apologies for posting this in two different spots, but I just can’t stop myself as I had such a terrible experience with “on call” expectations…To quote myself from above:

      I want to push back a bit against having employees “on call” for work like retail, etc. (obviously the medical field is a somewhat different beast) – it’s really a terrible policy. It means your workers can’t have second jobs, can’t schedule things like dentist appointments, etc. because they *may* have to go into work. They *may* make some money then, but they probably won’t, but if they desperately need that money…well…then they’re in big trouble.
      Unless you’re paying them (I’ve never been paid for on call work nor have I encountered anyone in the service industry who was paid for it either…), having employees “on call” is not the solution. Please don’t do this to your employees, it makes life so much harder (especially when many retail jobs are *already* paying non-livable wages, at least in my experience).

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Well, I don’t disagree with many of your beefs with the on-call system or retail in general, and I’m no longer a retail manager (for many reasons but the crappy pay, benefits and work environment are among the top reasons), but at the end of the day it was the lesser of all of the evils. No one was paid for being on-call, but they also weren’t expected to sit by the phone all day. If you were on call for the evening shift, you called at a designated time, say 5:30, and if you weren’t needed, then off to enjoy your evening. Most of our employees only worked 20-25 hours a week, so no one was being put out by working an extra 5-6 hour shift, nor were they giving up one of their 2 days off to work. Most of our employees only worked 3-4 days per week anyway, so with an on-call, they’d still only be at 5, max. If someone absolutely couldn’t be on-call on a certain day, I’d happily move it around and of course, sometimes the on-call person had something come up and couldn’t come in. It wasn’t the end of the world and there were no consequences for not coming in for an on-call shift. I was a retail manager for over a decade, and this was the only system that halfway worked to allow for employees to take time off unexpectedly without sacrificing coverage. Calling and asking college kids, who make slightly more than minimum wage, to give up their Saturday night to run a cash register is not going to get you many volunteers. I agree it’s not the greatest system, but I don’t know of a more equitable alternative either.

        1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          The question is are they Waiting to be Engaged or Engaged to Wait. If you’re asking people to be by a phone for 30 minutes to see if you might need them, the truly fair approach would be… pay them for the 30 minutes. If they need to come in, you’re paying them already. If they aren’t needed, it’s a 30 minute add on to every shift which should be budgetable.

          1. Beth*

            Even if you’re only asking people to physically be at the phone waiting for a call for those first 30 mins, you’re still asking them to hold the day as potential work time. They can’t, say, plan to be the at-home parent that day, or be the designated driver for getting their parent to a doctor’s appointment, or plan a day trip to the beach with friends. Payment wise, there are probably a lot of ways to account for it, but it’s worth noting that “you only had to wait 30 mins to see if a call came so we’re only going to pay you for 30 mins” doesn’t really account for the impact to people’s lives.

    4. nnn*

      I’ve seen on-call work in cases where it was paid and voluntary.

      At one of my old jobs, there were workers (in a different role from mine) who were paid a nominal amount for being on-call, something like an hour’s pay for every five hours on call, plus time and a half (of your regular pay, not of the on-call rate) if you’re called in. (I’m not sure the legality of paying less for on-call if it ends up being less than minimum wage – this was some time ago, and the provisions were set out in a collective agreement that I wasn’t a member of.)

      When on-call, you could do whatever you want as long as you agreed to report into the workplace within a certain time of being called. Some people thought this was a fantastic way to make some extra money, and some thought it was unworkable, so the employer asked for volunteers and had people who were interested do all the on-call work.

      One woman volunteered to do all the overnight on-call. She was quite open about the fact that she slept during her on-call time (keeping the phone on her nightstand), and got basically an extra day’s pay each week for her trouble. She got called maybe 2 or 3 times a year, the employer treated her like a hero for coming in in the middle of the night, and everyone felt it was a win-win situation.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I definitely think on-call time should be paid, even if a nominal amount for a couple of hours.

  21. Hellow Sweetie!*

    When I was in high school I worked at a small little grocery store – only Saturdays (it was my first job that wasn’t babysitting). They had this same policy that you had to find your own coverage. But I only worked Saturday, so all the people I knew at the store also worked Saturday and I didn’t know any one who didn’t already work Saturday. They didn’t provide any list to use for this kind of situation so I couldn’t even call someone I didn’t know (which I was terrified about doing anyway).

    I hated that job…

  22. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    What would be a sane and not-stingy amount of PTO?

    Just curious, since Alison mentioned sick time but no specific numbers… what would be considered a sane amount of sick time? (Should this be changing in the wake of Covid?)

    Should traditionally butt-in-seats offices make adjustments for people to WFH when they’re feeling slightly under the weather but capable of putting in a full days’ work (or when schools inevitably need to shut down for two weeks at a time because someone tests positive for Covid and working parents are in a bind…)?

    My employer provides 10 days vacation, 5 days of personal/sick time per year. That amount doesn’t get bumped up until you’ve been with the company for 6 years. This seems pretty standard for American companies, but I’m interested in what others have encountered.

    1. Alex*

      That seems pretty low to me, even by US standards.

      My company’s policy for hourly workers is 20 days vacation and 12 sick/personal days. Vacation has an accrual cap, but sick time does not. Vacation gets paid out if you leave, sick time does not.

      I think this is a really great policy. You are encouraged to take vacation, as it will eventually hit the accrual cap, but you can also save significant amounts for big trips, etc. And for sick time, since you can’t get it paid out and it is separate from your vacation time, you aren’t discouraged from taking it when you need it.

    2. Temporarily Anonymous*

      (Anon for this since it’s getting specific) At my non-USA government workplace we earn 14 days of sick leave per year. I have some chronic health conditions so I generally use most or all of it up in a year. My healthier coworkers carry theirs over and have a ton of it saved up (we don’t ever lose it). This same bucket is used for family leave too so the parents at my workplace can use it for care of sick children, etc, as long as they have a certain amount of hours left (not sure of the minimum but it only applies to family leave not personal sick days). I think the sick leave we get is a decent amount.

      1. Temporarily Anonymous*

        Since everyone is including vacation time I’ll addit:
        We start out with 3 weeks (15 days) VL and then get an additional 5 days each after 9 years, 15 years, and 25 years of service. So the maximum vacation leave is 6 weeks. If we are short on sick leave we can use up vacation time or banked overtime but may still get in trouble for exceeding our sick leave (although having a doctor’s note on file for chronic issues seems to help with that).

    3. JimmyJab*

      Everyone in the union (everyone non-management) in my workplace gets extensive sick leave regardless of tenure (vacation increases with tenure). I think sick time is close to 2 days per month. I get that unions make it a different story but 5 sick days seems low to me.

    4. Another anon*

      Anon for this – my large non-profit employer gives all full-time staff 1 sick day a month. Vacation is pro-rated by seniority, but everyone starts by earning 10 vacation days a year (bumped up to 15 your second year and up to 20 once you’ve been there for 10 years). We can also carry those over from year to year. There’s an accrual cap for vacation time, but not for sick time. We also get the big federal holidays off. Hope this helps!

    5. Third or Nothing!*

      My company has 10 days of PTO, which is how they classify unscheduled absences, and 10 days of vacation when starting out and it gets bumped up by an additional 5 days for every 5 years you’ve been there. I’m currently at 15 days vacation and will soon get 20. PTO never increases and doesn’t roll over, which stinks, but at least we’ve got vacation time, short term disability partially paid by the company, FMLA, etc we can use to cover any additional leave we might need.

      I remember when my teammate had a difficult pregnancy and birth. She was out for about 5 months straight I think between bedrest and recuperating and maternity leave, not to mention all the times she had to be out earlier for half day doctor’s appointments and general malaise. My company converted her from salary to hourly just for that year, since they really couldn’t keep paying for that level of hours not worked and not earned as part of our benefits package. But they converted her right back as soon as possible lest y’all think I work for monsters.

      I use up every last bit of my sick leave every year due to a chronic illness. Since starting WFH in March, I haven’t called out once because while flare-ups make it very difficult to work in an office, I usually feel OK enough to do some of my more mindless tasks from a laptop on the couch. I’d love to see companies offer WFH as a viable alternative to taking sick leave if the situation warrants it and I hope mine makes my situation permanent.

    6. Picard*

      I’m sure there are stats somewhere but thats about the same as my company. 10 holidays, 7 sick days and 10 vacation days. Another 5 vacation days once you’ve been here 5 years and another 5 vacation days once youve been here 10 years. shrug. I’ve been in the workforce for over 30 years and thats pretty typical in my experience.

    7. Batgirl*

      How can five days of sick leave be sane when at least one employee is going to get one of those two-week flu bugs?

    8. Morning reader*

      5 sick days is unreasonably low. I had 12 per year, and when my kid was young, I used it all every year on just routine things. If you have only 5 sick days per year, assume people are coming to work sick.

      1. Dutch person*

        This is interesting to me – we have generous sick leave here in the Netherlands. I think you’re paid 70 per cent the first two years you are sick, though the first day you are sick might be unpaid. (That first day might be covered by union contracts, and union contracts might also negotiate you’re paid 100% the first year.) After two years, you can be fired.
        Your employer can force you to see an occupational health doctor if you’re out sick for longer than a couple of weeks, who can then recommend things you can do, and if you refuse those things, you can be fired. If you call in sick so much as to be unreliable, you can be fired for that. Said firings go through a judge.

        But – you can’t take sick days to look after a child. Basically, if your child’s school calls to say your child is sick, you have to be paid for the time it takes to pick him up and go home and make arrangements for their care (because that’s an unforeseen act-of-god thing) – but if said arrangement is ‘I’m staying home to look after him’, that’s unpaid time off or vacation days.

        You also can’t take sick time for medical appointments if you aren’t sick. The standard for being sick is being incapable of working. If the only reason you aren’t capable of working is because you are in hospital, you aren’t sick. E.g. minor surgeries aren’t sick leave.

        On the other hand, if you are on vacation and you fall ill, you can call in sick and it’ll count as sick leave, not as vacation leave. (You do need to prove you are sick.)

        (Don’t go cheering for us yet. Independent contractors can do the ‘essential tasks’ of a business (independent contractor nurses working 36 hours a week alongside employee nurses), and in between that, temp agencies, payroll companies, secondment agencies and more, there is only about a trillion ways to avoid having to deal with pesky employment laws.)

        Oh, and our unions are weird. Weird. We have the secular union, the Christian union, and a couple of small unions. I think most other countries organize their unions by industry, by occupation, or even by company (by company seems really strange to me) – but not the Dutch, we organize by religious affiliation.

    9. Annika Hansen*

      We start out with:
      15 days combined vacation and personal days
      16 days of sick leave
      9 legal holidays

      I think that is reasonable.

      After working 20 years, I now have 31.5 days combined vacation and personal days.
      Our sick leaves rolls over ever year which is nice so I have almost a year’s worth of leave saved.

    10. Anon Annie*

      I think sick time should absolutely change in the wake of COVID. Every place I’ve worked has been only 5 days which is never enough (for reference, I’m in Canada and I thought our sick leave was supposed to be better than the US… guess not! Maybe it’s just my industry, who knows). I have no paid vacation days because I work in an industry where a majority of workers accept temporary contracts that add a vacation percentage to each paycheque.

      I’ve never felt 5 days is enough. I don’t get sick that often and I still need 8-10 days a year. I once had strep throat for two weeks and I ended up coming into work for half of that because I didn’t want to take so many days off early in the year. Guess what happened? Multiple other people caught it and were out to the point that one person was gone for a month. This same company’s HR team once complained to me about how to get people to stay home when they were sick. When I suggested increasing sick days so people didn’t have to choose between their paycheque and infecting others, I was essentially given the side eye and told that workers needed to be more responsible.

      I personally feel companies should offer unlimited sick days (or very high, like 15-20 days) because otherwise people will come in when they are sick and they will get other employees sick. It makes more sense financially and morally to just pay people to stay home as it will ultimately reduce the amount of sick days taken across the entire office. If someone seems to be abusing the system, they can be dealt with individually. I’m strongly against companies campaigning that workers need to stay home when sick if that time is not paid for.

    11. Senor Montoya*

      I have two days of vacation / month, 1 sick day / month, 8 hours of volunteer leave. Sick and vacation accrue and roll over, volunteer does not, up to a rather large amount, which pays out on leaving or retiring. We also occasionally get bonus leave.

      Health insurance is good (and free upon retirement if you put in enough time), retirement good if you stay out of the pension. State employee, not unionized (a so call right to work state).

      This is because we don’t get many raises and the salary is meh. All you need is one serious illness in the family and it’s worth it, though.

    12. Cheesecake2.0*

      My workplace provides 12 days a year of sick time, 1 personal day, 14 paid holidays, and vacation is based on seniority (I currently get 17 days a year). However for COVID, we get an additional 256 paid hours if we are sick or a family member is sick with COVID-19. Unions are great!

    13. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Most of my jobs started with 2 weeks vacation and didn’t increase until 5 years (for the ones that separated vacation & sick time). But 5 days of sick leave when separate seems low to me. My current job started with 4 weeks PTO and increased after 2 years (now I get 5 weeks). We were purchased in October by a parent company, and while I earn the same amount of PTO as before, they have a use it or lose it policy, whereas before we could accrue up to 200 hours. They do this to encourage people to take time off, but I hate it. Some years I take more vacation, and other years (like now) I can’t go anywhere so I’ve had to take time off to do nothing.

  23. Ashley*

    I don’t work in the same type of environment as the OP. I’m a remote worker in a more administrative type of role, but I got sick last night went to urgent care and emailed my manager that I was too sick to work today.

    I had to cancel a meeting and will be getting some client tasks done a little later than I said and I’m grateful that I have that type of flexibility. I truly didn’t have the physical or emotional energy to try to find someone to cover for me. I had a painful eye infection and it was a hassle to email my boss and clients with literally only one eye open.

    Now I’m feeling better and playing catch up even though I technically took the day off, le sigh.

  24. Alex*

    One reason finding back-up isn’t the responsibility of the employee is that it is much different to be asked by your colleague “Hey, can you cover me today?” than it is to be asked by your boss “Hey, can you come in today?” When it is critical that you get someone to say yes, that request needs to come from a person with authority.

    1. On a pale mouse*

      In my experience it doesn’t make that much difference. There are people who might be more or less likely to agree based on whether they like the co-worker who’s asking, though. But in my workplace, we don’t ask people to find their own coverage if they call in with a legitimate illness or emergency. So it’s usually your own fault if you’re having to ask – you forgot to ask for the time off or something like that.

    2. boop the first*

      Oof, I remember one time when I was 19, I finally had a day off after working 8 days straight (gotta love week-by-week scheduling, eh), and my bf and I were planning our day, when a coworker called and straight up BEGGED me to come in so she could celebrate her 6-month “anniversary” with her boyfriend. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and me being a pushover with zero self-worth, I went back to work, angry. I’m pretty sure I cried while setting up my float.

      Manager immediately came in to ask wtf I was doing there and I told him the story. His story is that coworker demanded that he called me in, I guess knowing I was a pushover, he refused, she demanded my phone number so she could do it herself, and he relented thinking that I would be able to say no to her because she wasn’t management. Welp, he was wrong.

      Otherwise, I totally agree with you from the perspective of someone who would not be able to ask coworkers for anything.

  25. Blaise*

    Yet another time that I reeeaaaallllllllllllyyy wish education was held to the same standards that eeeeeevery other profession seems to hold to… I’ve only ever taught at ONE school where I was allowed to stay home sick even if I couldn’t find a sub. Anywhere else, you better just suck it up. It’s horrible.

    1. Batgirl*

      This is one of the reasons I switched out from full time teaching on staff to coming in to schools on rota as a literacy specialist. You know what, when I’m sick they just manage.. I have no idea why unions never tackle this.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Every other profession? On the contrary, pressuring employees to work sick is all too common in many places. It’s far from unique to the world of teaching. It’s really horrible.

      1. Blaise*

        I was referring to forcing employees to find their own coverage, not pressuring them to work sick.

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          Retail, food service, healthcare… I’m not defending the practice, but it certainly isn’t unique to education.

    3. Bubble teacher*

      I’m not one for making predictions, but the education system is about to get slammed with this issue as schools come back in person. I have a really good amount of sick time, but between the fact that subs often couldn’t be found in the before times (which forces other teachers to give up their prep time to cover your classes) and it is a ton of extra work to prepare a good sub plan, almost every teacher I know regularly goes to school with, well, the early symptoms of covid. I haven’t seen a single back to school plan that accounts for this.

  26. Amethystmoon*

    That is a terrible policy. What if someone was on the hospital for COVID? From what I’ve been seeing in the news, it doesn’t always start small for everyone. Or they think it’s hay fever at first and then suddenly are struggling to breathe. There isn’t always a huge grace period for symptoms.

  27. NW Mossy*

    These kinds of policies also tend to overlap with other policies that create terrible Catch-22s for employees. If you’re taking this approach and also not paying for sick time, offering minimal to no health care benefits, resetting the days/times people are scheduled frequently, and/or below-market pay, you’re creating the bed you’re lying in.

    Fine if that’s what your industry will bear, as is often the case in caring occupations in the US. But part of what you put up with to get low-wage labor is an unstable, high turnover workforce.

  28. Volunteer Enforcer*

    This reminds me of a situation in an earlier version of my job (has now changed to not include reception desk coverage thank goodness). If I was too sick to finish the work day I had to find coverage. I couldn’t take annual leave, attend meetings or attend training if I couldn’t find my own coverage. Later on, whilst it wasn’t my responsibility to play receptionist, it was my responsibility to ensure there was sufficient reception desk coverage (on a part time individual contributor salary no less). My old boss used to deal with this but passed it to me when I increased my hours on that team, then it got passed to my new boss when she was on boarded. I just hope it isn’t passed to me again. The old boss would only step in if I could not find coverage from my regular volunteer receptionists.

  29. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    I feel it discourages excessive sick calls
    I do have concerns about the legitimacy of her sick calls,
    I don’t want to pry or doubt my employees.
    You do. You doubt and you wonder.
    I just want them to be accountable.
    Again. If they have sick time, and use that sick time, why do you feel you need to police it?
    Does your company not have sick days?
    Is this sick time taken unpaid?
    If so, absenteeism is the issue to discuss.
    I think that your department is simply understaffed and the fix for that has been to put management duties onto the employees. Like you said, you are doing two jobs already so you have to cut where you can. It’s not your fault that company is understaffed. You are doing the best you can and so is your staff. But in the end, staffing isn’t in their job description.But it’s a crap plan by the company, overall.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      Just a head’s up that your reply is hard to read without some kind of punctuation to indicate when you’re speaking and when you’re quoting the OP.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Thanks, I appreciate the comment. I will definitely keep that in mind for next time. I am trying to AVOID rambling!

  30. Treebeardette*

    My stress level increased as I read your letter. Your policy set the employee for this exact situation to happen. Of course she is giving details because I would too if I had a supervisor who pushed for people to find coverage. I was on vacation and had a family emergency (never had one in 3 years) and she wrote me up because I couldn’t find coverage and made me come in after being severely jet lagged. This was after a coworker called out who was supposed to cover for me.
    Still flames my boat when I think of it. You need to manage up and stop shrinking from your duties.
    Of course if the employee is calling out every week, that’s a different issue and she should get a doctor’s note.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Yes, not only does the policy encourage coming to work sick, it also encourages giving details about the illness (to make it seem serious “enough” and coming up with arguments like “I never would call in sick, but…).

  31. Grim*

    +100%. Being denied time off when you’re sick is fairly common, even in places you would think they would know better.

    I know a police officer, who is also a field training officer. He takes young, new recruits and spends their first several weeks together in a car for upto 8 hours per shift.

    He was exposed to the Coronavirus by a new recruit after 3 days together and he was not allowed to take time off to self isolate. He had to continue going to work and working with other new recruits. It took 7 days for the recuit’s positive test result to return.

    But get this. He is still working while waiting for the results of his own Coronavirus test. He asked the sergeant for time off or to stop working with recruits in general until he has his test result. Nope, you still gotta work.

    He also mentioned that the cops are taking Coronavirus very lightly; many not wearing masks at the station house and sitting together chatting at the morning meetings. He mentioned something about cop’s macho individualism and not being a pussy with regards to wearing masks.

    If you come into contact with the police, ask that they wear a mask or stay at least 10′ away from you at all times.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Ugh, that does NOT surprise me. I went to a BLM protest; almost all the protesters were wearing masks, but the cops were not. Riot gear and Humvees, yes; masks, no.

    2. tinybutfierce*

      Most of the grocery stores in my area have an actual cop around for security. I haven’t seen a single one wearing a mask since March.

  32. H.C.*

    Hm, in blue collar shift-based jobs (foodservice, retail) this set up is fairly common; worker needing unscheduled time off asks around to get shift covered if possible, then notifies manager / supervisor on their needing time off and whether they were able to find someone to cover.

    1. Dog Coordinator*

      Came here to say the same thing. When I worked retail, it was very common to try to find coverage first before letting management know you couldn’t work the shift. Granted, it wasn’t a great retail setting, and I was pretty young, so perhaps I didn’t have a good understanding of workplace norms at the time.

      Even when I worked in event staffing, it was and is very common to find replacements before backing out of a a shift.

      I can understand why the majority of the commenters are agreeing with Alison, but I also think this policy is a lot more common than the comment section indicates. Not saying it’s the best plan, I just don’t see it as nearly as much of a deal breaker I suppose (saw a few comments about turning down a job because they have this policy).

      1. Littorally*

        We know it’s common. That doesn’t change the fact that it sucks and should be discouraged.

    2. Batgirl*

      Oh its common. Worked under this expectation myself in retail. That’s how you get to know how much it sucks.

    3. Observer*

      Yes, it’s common. And it stinks. And it’s one of the reasons why so many outbreaks of disease happen in these kinds of workplaces.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        One great way to change this might be making employers legally liable for disease outbreaks on their premises. Make your employees go to work with flu or norovirus or strep or COVID? Pay big bucks in settlements.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, it’s common and it’s shitty. I’ve done my share of retail shifts ducking into the staff bathroom to throw up between customers. The fact that it’s common is why I wanted to get tf out of those jobs as soon as possible.

  33. Wintergreen*

    Something that reflects my way of thinking that I didn’t see mentioned yet (no I haven’t read all the comments) was the fact that if she has called in multiple times without finding coverage, and especially because you mentioned speaking with about finding coverage at other times, that there is more going on than just finding coverage. Possible explanations that popped into my mind were: 1) She’s shy and has difficulty calling people on the phone 2) She is not one of the “popular” people so has fewer, or feels she has fewer, options for coverage 3) When she has tried in the past, no one would cover for her so now is reluctant to ask 4) She feels like she is asking for big favors or intruding upon the coworker by asking since she is just a coworker and not a manager/supervisor. Or some mix of these/or other reasons that she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to bring up.

    I know, for me, just calling in sick to my manager almost sends me into a panic attack. (My anxiety is harder to manage when I don’t feel well) I truly could not work in a place where I would have to find my own coverage.

    The other thing that bothers me about this post is you indicate that you think this is a good policy BECAUSE you are short-staffed !!?? How is putting the burden on finding coverage from a too-limited number of people on an employee who is not feeling well, and probably not thinking the most clearly, a good thing? In my mind, it just makes this policy that much worse.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Thanks for eloquating what I couldn’t.

      I’d experience all those same things. At an old volunteer job – where I could call out with little consequence to the org – I was so afraid of calling in sick that I’d just come anyway, fail to be useful, succeed in being miserable, and go home halfway during the day (or halfway during the morning), sometimes only when prompted by coworkers.
      I had a thing of ‘they can’t possibly believe me if I call in sick, I called in sick last month’ and at least, by showing up, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I was sick.

      I have matured since – I still have the feelings and thoughts and anxiety when I have to call sick, but I do now call, rather than come and go home.

      (N.b. my sick was the ‘chronic illness playing up’, not the ‘bug that I can pass around’.)

  34. prof*

    I find the idea that someone can use “excessive” sick time absurd. If they’re literally using the time allotted, that’s part of normal compensation. And goodness knows, in the US we get so few days anyhow. If this employee still has sick leave left, it’s not excessive and should have been accounted for.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I get what you’re saying, but if Sally is always calling out on Mondays and/or Fridays, it’s clear that she’s not really sick, and while she’s using the time allotted to her, she’s also abusing the policy by taking off last minute because she wants to extend her weekend.

  35. Ann Cognito*

    I’ve skimmed all of the comments and didn’t see this anywhere, but there are some places, e.g. California, where it’s illegal for the employer to require the employee to find a replacement when they’re out sick. OP doesn’t say where she’s located, but just in case…

  36. Jady*

    Couldn’t you have some kind of rotating employee(s) on-call for coverage? That way if someone calls in sick, you already know who is available to take over. Take volunteers first and then assign it out evenly among all the employees.

    This way too employees don’t suddenly have to change their plans too if someone calls out sick.

  37. sswj*

    I think this policy depends a LOT on the individual scenario, and the manager.

    My work has this, and it works well and no hard feelings or pressure to come in sick. That said, we are niche retail, with a small staff and a manager who will absolutely have your back and cover your shift if it’s possible. The find-your-own-coverage rule applies mostly to non-illness schedule swaps, but there’s also the unwritten guideline that if you’re just feeling a little under the weather and would like to take the day, find someone to cover and it’s all good. On the other hand, if you wake up dizzy and leaking at both ends, call the manager and she’ll sort it out for you without any pressure or feedback other than that she genuinely hopes you feel better.

  38. Mayflower*

    Just to address this small part: I always ask her if she was able to find coverage, and to that she’ll either respond “no” or “let me see.”

    The magic phrase is: what have you tried so far?

    It works absolute magic to get people to start taking initiative.

      1. sswj*

        “Sick” is a pretty broad term. With a cold that makes you feel draggy and you don’t want to pass around it’s not hard to send a group text or make a call or two. Migraines and chronic pain flare-ups are a different story. Personally I don’t want to assume in either direction, so I think a simple “Have you contacted anyone to cover for you?” is not an intrusive question and lets the person know that that is the preferred procedure. If the answer is anything other than “Yes, and Pat said they’d take my shift” then the manager should to deal with it.

    1. Lady Heather*

      This phrase instantly gets my heckles up.

      For context, this is the same phrase that is asked on the form from the gov’t agency that adminstrates disability relief where I live – like home health care or a wheelchair. For some types of relief, like ‘unskilled’ home health care, it’s a legit question (‘I’ve tried asking my husband to help me shower, but give his health situation he’s not able to’) but for stuff like needing a wheelchair the only real answer to that question is “I placed an ad in the church newspaper asking for twelve strong men to carry me everywhere in a gestatorial chair, but I got no replies, and I don’t have a gestatorial chair.”

      It can be a good phrase – but it can also be really tone-deaf and patronizing if the person isn’t able to do something about it. If you have a migraine so bad you’re whimpering on the phone and can’t make a ton of phone calls to find coverage, if you’re dealing with a workplace bully that needs management intervention not ‘you just need to learn to get along’, when reporting certain things to authorities like police (although they’ll likely use the phrase on the other side of the coin, “well, what do you want me to do about it?”), etc.

      It’s a good phrase, and it has a lot of uses, but it’s definitely not a fits-all-situations kind of thing.

    2. Beth*

      Someone who is out (and therefore either using PTO or not being paid) should not, generally speaking, be doing work tasks.

      I think that includes calling around to find coverage. That’s a thing that’s needed for work reasons, and therefore a thing that someone who’s currently at work should be doing. Either it’s minor enough time-wise that it’s not a big deal for someone in the office to tack it on, or it’s a big enough deal that really it’s not right to be asking it of someone who is using PTO or unpaid leave. There are exceptions, but in most circumstances, this isn’t something your average employee should be asked or expected to ‘take initiative’ or ‘try things’ for.

      1. Lady Heather*

        I hadn’t considered it from that angle, but I do agree! Now wondering what the implications for something like this are when it’s an hourly employee and it’s not PTO – should they be paid for calling around trying to swap shifts, for example?

        1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

          It is absolutely working off the clock, and unless you add that time to their paycheck it is completely illegal. In some jurisdictions if you ask an employee to work on a day they are not scheduled without 24 hours notice, you are required to pay them a minimum of four hours of “reporting time”, even if they only worked for an hour, or ten minutes. This includes calling them at home while they are off the clock, either out sick or on a scheduled day off.

  39. Cynical B*****

    I find myself wondering just what ‘frequently’ is. Is this person over what they’ve accrued? Is the PTO policy actually reasonable?

    I’ve had one job allot 5 sick days and encouraged us to schedule them. Sure, you can schedule annual or semi-annual things like a dental cleaning or a cancer screening, but a virus doesn’t work on anyone’s schedule. Neither does cancer.

    Another job gave us a PTO bank where we’d use it for whatever purpose, BUT you got dinged on your review if you used more than half of it.

    One thing businesses need to do is stop short-staffing departments that are classified as cost centers, that way an absence won’t hurt everyone.

    1. Might be Spam*

      I had a job where our review dropped a point if you used half of your sick days. I only had 5 sick days.

  40. E Liz*

    I think it’s reasonable to have a procedure in place that people need to follow to attempt to find coverage – posting on your company Slack, sending an email to the team, or whatever method you normally use to communicate (unless it’s a dire emergency). But it’s not reasonable to require that people actually find coverage – the sick employee can’t control whether their colleagues will be able to cover for them. And if they’re required to find coverage but nobody can cover, then what? They’re supposed to come to work sick? This has always puzzled me when I hear of places with this rule!

  41. Green Door*

    This whole policy starts from a position of not trusting your staff and assuming they are lying or cheating the system.

    It’s horrible. THe better way to handle absences is to make sure your team is cross-trained so that there’s at least one other person who can step in and keep work moving. The other thing to do is foster a culture where the attitude is “when one of us is down, the rest of us pitch in” again, to keep work moving, but also so that people know it is 100% OK to have an emergency or be out sick.

    I’m curious, though. With the current policy, what would you do if an employee needed to be out long-term for FMLA leave or a short-term disability? Do you expect your people to find their own coverage to, say have a baby, or recover from a surgery?

  42. Viva*

    I hate my job. So much. But sometimes I read these letters and I think, wow, I am so glad I don’t have to put up with this. I work in a restaurant, which is not an environment generally known for having sensible policies of any kind, and even we don’t do this. Because if someone comes to work sick we’ll spend the next six weeks passing the flu back and forth and then we’re ALL calling out (ask me how I know). If you can change this policy, you absolutely should!

    Do we have people who call out excessively? Sure. That’s an issue that we address one-on-one when it happens. We sit down with the person in question and have a conversation along the lines of, “we wanted to check in with you because you’ve called off once a week for the last month. Is this a pattern that you’re aware of? Can we work with you on scheduling?” and so on, and my boss usually gives them the goal of reducing their unplanned absences by half over the next 6-8 weeks. Sometimes bringing the pattern to their attention helps. Sometimes they need an extra day off a week to take care of whatever’s going on in their life/recover from burnout/whatever. The only time we ask people to find their own coverage is in situations like “I didn’t ask for Saturday off but I really want to go to Six Flags that day so can Jane take my shift?” (The shift manager on the day in question has final say on yes/no but assuming Jane isn’t a trainee on her first day or something, the answer is yes 99% of the time. As long as someone shows up to work the shift, we don’t really care.)

    1. Forrest*

      “I want a planned absence for a fun reason but with relatively little notice” is the place where “sort your own cover” does make sense to me. Firstly, you have the opportunity to ask your colleagues when you’re actually at work instead of bugging people on their personal time; secondly, you are genuinely asking a favour of them which makes it a little more reasonable that those people who are good team members and colleagues will find it easier; and thirdly, it creates an incentive for staff to organise their holiday time further in advance, which is a much more rational thing for a business to incentivise than “come to work when you’re sick”.

  43. Beth*

    OP, I want to gently let you know that actually I think the problem one here is you and your policy. I hear you that you’re in a rock and a hard place scenario here–you’re already short on coverage, this is a role that needs SOMEONE there to do it, and you’re so swamped that it’s a real problem to take time out of your day to find coverage. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to offload that dilemma to your employees.

    Your tone throughout here seems to be assuming that employees are more responsible if 1. they don’t get sick/don’t call out, and 2. when they do have to call out, they take on all the strain of addressing coverage without making it your problem. But first, it’s not irresponsible to need time off. That’s part of being human–and yes, some people do end up needing it more often than others. There may be a point where it’s excessive and unworkable for your business, but “takes it more than others” isn’t the defining marker of that–if Sally only took one sick day in a given year while Bob took six, that doesn’t mean averaging one sick day every other month is excessive, it just means that Sally has been very lucky with her and her family’s health.

    And second, when this comes up, it should be your problem! That’s part of managing, is figuring out how to address predictable business needs on your team. (I know these are unplanned absences, but as long as you’re employing human beings and not running a factory of indestructible robots, it’s predictable that you will have days where your employee needs to be out without prior notice.) If it’s a very stressful problem given the circumstances of your team, that’s your stress to handle. Responsibilities like these are why managers and directors are usually paid a decent bit more than the people below them!

    It’s possible that this specific employee is unreliable to a degree that you can’t work with, and if that’s the case, you may need to address her frequency of calling out as a performance issue. But it sounds like the real underlying problem here is that you’re so insufficiently staffed for your needs that someone calling out for the day is a giant issue for your team. Asking the sick person to be the one finding coverage is unreasonable. First, if they’re sick, they should be resting, not calling all their coworkers. And second, they shouldn’t be doing a work task for you while on either PTO or unpaid time off. If there truly isn’t anyone else in your office right now who can be assigned the task of finding coverage, you should do it yourself before asking the sick employee to take it on. It might help to frame this in your mind less as “ugh this irresponsible employee is calling out, how can they do this to me, they better at least find coverage,” and more as “an urgent work need has come up, I need to adjust my plan for the day to address it, that’s a reasonable thing for the person in charge to do when an urgent need comes up unexpectedly.”

  44. I Need That Pen*

    Hence why people come to work with the flu.

    Outages are part of business and managers need to plan for them. To that end as an employee and “team player” type coworker, you’re going to have to put up with the call-outs (to a reasonable degree of course). Finding coverage when I’m burning up at 103 is not going to be top of mind for me. Yes I will be sorry, and grateful for everyone’s help but I’m going to be focusing on wellness first and business second.

    If there’s someone who’s doing it too often, that’s the issue to address not the “you better find coverage next time,” issue. Because you’ll get a hacking, coughing, feverish employee answering your phones and touching the number buttons on the Xerox machine if you do.

  45. QA Mini*

    I would be interested in knowing if this is an issue where she calls out more than others she works with or if she really does call out a lot. If this is impacting your operations that is an different issue but I used to work in a job where my desk was in a public waiting area. I got sick way more than everyone else as a result as I was just exposed to so many germs. People also have different immune systems and underlying conditions. The standard of taking issue when someone calls our more than other people is not a fair one. People can’t control how much they get sick and it’s not a competition. If you have policies that encourage people to come in sick you will also get more people in your office getting sick and that is just gross.

  46. CastIrony*

    I used to work for a place where this was the rule, and on top of that, my supervisor told me that if we don’t find coverage, we have to come in, and if not, we will be written up.

  47. Mami21*

    I once worked at a small gym that had a very ‘we’re all family here!’ vibe. All employees were in a group chat with the assistant manager where we were supposed to find coverage for each other without bothering the actual manager.
    I remember that I had to check the chat CONSTANTLY, because if someone asked for coverage, you had to be one of the first to reply ‘not me!’ or be left holding the baby so to speak. The assistant manager was on the hook to run any uncovered classes, so if you were the last one standing, you’d get a bunch of wheedling about how it would really help him out, etc, and I was always like… it’s not even my class? I’m not the one cancelling? Why am I getting all the pressure just because everyone else said no first? It was so messed up. Also we were laughably underpaid so there was really no incentive to take on extra work.

    That system was probably the least weird thing about working there, though.

  48. D'Arcy*

    When I was working as an EMT, the rule was that it was our responsibility to arrange coverage *if* we were calling out with less than 48 hours notice. Above 48 hours notice, it was the responsibility of the scheduling department. And that was for a job where coverage was an absolute mandate — you can’t not have ambulances on the street.

    For any job where *lives aren’t on the line*, I would consider it unreasonable to put *any* responsibility on the employee to find coverage. An employee with unreasonably poor attendance should be PIPed and/or terminated, but coverage is a management/boss problem.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, when lives are on the line, it’s an even WORSE policy. Because the last thing you need is someone coming in sick and being unable to perform their mission critical job.

      1. Scarlet2*

        You also REALLY don’t want someone coming to work with even a mild cold when their job is taking care of critically-ill patients.

      2. Lady Heather*

        That, and healthcare workers are often already underpaid for the amount of work they do and the skill and stress that comes with the work. And there’s a healthcare staff shortage pretty much everywhere (pre-covid, I imagine it hasn’t gotten better since). Don’t give your employees yet another reason to leave the industry.

  49. My 2 cents*

    I remember a time when I was working as a nurse in an ER. A coworker asked me to take one of her shifts the following week and I agreed. When she went to put in the paperwork, the manager said no we are already short that day so both of you can work. I told the manager “no, I was picking up the shift to help coworker out but I have no interest in picking up extra “just cause.” That was the beginning of the end for me at job.

  50. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but did anybody mention that if these are hourly employees, this is not only a terrible policy but it is also ILLEGAL? It is completely working off the clock, doing your manager’s job by spending time calling around to coworkers. Is OP paying them for that time? In some jurisdictions it is required to pay up to four hours of “reporting time”, even I the employee only worked a few minutes.

  51. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m not sure if this would work, but Could you set up a designated backup. I work in a counseling department at a university and each day we have urgent hours where students can drop in if they are in a mental health crisis. The therapist rotate each day but there is a backup. So if Amy cant make it Joe steps in.

  52. Another Mom working at Home*

    My daughter worked retail at the same store through college. She had mono, was out over a week, and couldn’t get anyone to take her shifts. She notified the manager that she was sick, couldn’t cover her shift or get anyone else to cover her shifts, and was Written Up! because she didn’t get cover.

  53. LizM*

    When I worked retail, they had this policy. I get migraines and I remember a manager threatening to write me up if I couldn’t find someone to cover my shift 2 hours before it was supposed to start. I had to call 13 people from the bathroom because the light was making me sick, and could barely read the phone list.

    I was still written up because the person who agrees to cover couldn’t be there until an hour after my shift was scheduled to start.

    That was the same job that “accidentally” scheduled me for 34 hours after my manager forgot to enter that I only worked 12 hours a week into the new scheduling software. I was a student at the time that happened the same week as midterms. I was told they wouldn’t require me to work if I found someone to cover the shifts. I quit instead. I honestly don’t remember if I told them or I just didn’t show for the first shift that week. Either way, I was pissed.

    People get sick. It happens. Managers should plan for that and schedule and staff accordingly.

    1. Luna*

      As someone who ended up getting a migraine on her second day of work at a new job, they suck. It’s kind of silly to expect someone suffering from migraines, along with the nausea and sensitivity to light and/or noise, to do anything but let them crawl into bed in a darkened room and try to nap.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        People who don’t get migraines think they’re just bad headaches. It’s infuriating.

  54. The Other Dawn*

    The only time I agree with having employees find their own coverage is when it’s a job that requires coverage when someone is out AND it’s a regular PTO day, needing to switch shifts because you want to attend an event, etc. Otherwise, I think it’s a terrible policy to make people do that when they’re sick. They’re already stressed from being sick and having to call in, and now they need to call multiple people and hope they’ll cover for them? It especially sucks when you have people who feel pressured to cover for someone, either because the person calling is pressuring them or because they feel guilty if they don’t, or people who will never cover for anyone ever. Either way, the same people tend to get stuck covering for the person calling out.

    OP, please rethink your policy. My guess is some people are coming in sick because they don’t want to have to make all these phone calls at the last minute.

  55. EventPlannerGal*

    OP…….. I mean……………. do you watch the news? At all? Have you heard about this bug that’s going around? And you want to make it HARDER for your employees to call in sick? Like, I am trying to phrase this in a way that does not fall afoul of the commenting rules but it’s really really hard! I get that it’s annoying to have to find coverage but, with respect, you’re the manager. That’s why you get the extra money and the line saying “Manager” on your CV, because it is your job to sometimes do stuff that is annoying. And now, really, of all times in recent human history, is a really really really really bad time to start trying to make it harder for your employees to call in sick when they need to.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Seriously, I swear sometimes that there are people who WANT those they consider beneath them, like retail workers, to get sick and possibly die. Certain of the capitalist class are using the pandemic as a tool of terror against workers.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This policy is bad without the pandemic out there right now. If I’m sick the last thing I want to be responsible for is finding coverage for my job. People get sick, and it’s up to management to put contingency plans into place. It’s not the responsibility of employees to figure it out.

  56. Wintermute*

    I’m going to put it bluntly– a policy of requiring people to find their own coverage for sick time is a de facto policy of not offering sick time.

    In general, I find a policy of requiring people to find their own coverage for ANYTHING is restrictive as heck and causes bad dynamics among co-workers: people feel obligated to one another, people get resentful of people that need more time off or have more PTO (even faster than they would otherwise). It causes office politics to degenerate into score-keeping favor-trading and favor-sharking. It also leads to people that are just likable or good with their coworkers OR, and this is a HUGE OR, who share common traits (including in ways that might implicate discrimination) finding it much, much easier to get time than others.

    Managers are paid to deal with these sorts of things, passing the buck in ways that poison working relationships is abdicating a massive part of a manager’s responsibility.

  57. Luna*

    I never understood why some managers expect their employees to find their own coverage for sick leave.
    It’s not their job, period.
    It’s the manager’s.

  58. Ellie May*

    “We are short-staffed and I am covering my own position (director) and a vacant position (technical supervisor) who would normally be designated to handle these scenarios more directly.”

    In addition to Alison’s comments, the fact that OP is also covering a vacant position is also a management responsibility and shouldn’t be influencing policy.

  59. What the What*

    I always went to work sick when I worked a job with this policy. At my workplace we not only had to find our own coverage, but we were required to offer the shift to the most senior people first.

    So you had to call 40 people you knew didn’t want your shift but were required to call, before getting to the people who actually had flexibility and willingness. If you didn’t call every person in order, you got written up.

    Oh, and the list changed often because of turnover. So usually you’d have to go into work and get the most up to date list.

    So by the time I go to work, get the list, call 50 people… I just went to work with the Flu.

    In retrospect… what an awful policy.

  60. Another JD*

    Check the laws that apply to your jurisdiction. In Maryland, it’s illegal to require an employee requesting sick and safe leave to search for or find a replacement while the employee is taking leave.

  61. boop the first*

    Scheduling sounds like the hardest part of management and is why I would never willingly be in management.
    I have, however, been conned into doing my manager’s work for him on a regular basis while also being paid significantly less than my peers who weren’t burdened with this extra work, all so my manager had more time to sit in the office and play online poker.

    I’m glad you’re busy and mean well, but what you have is a bunch of staff who perhaps thought you were so unreliable that they had to take it upon themselves to solve their own problems. Lucky! So they took a bunch of work off your plate, and now that it’s been a while, you feel entitled to never having to do your own work ever again. It’s understandable from your perspective, but it sucks for everyone else.

    Decisions like this is the reason why the only reward for hard work is more hard work for less pay.

  62. pcake*

    It occurs to me that someone who’s been up all night vomiting from illness or a medical treatment or someone who can’t stop coughing or who’s been up all might with a sick baby who is crying and uncomfortable may not really be able to contact people to fill their shifts. I used to get migraines where I literally couldn’t do a thing but lie there in a dark room, full of painkillers and with a hot cloth on my forehead. I couldn’t imagine being able to call or email anyone for any reason. I also feel it would be unreasonable to expect them to do so in those circumstances.

  63. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    The only time I think it’s acceptable to make employees find coverage is if you make up the schedule on say, a monthly basis, someone is scheduled to work but wants to take the day off. Then they have to find someone to cover their shift. But is someone is sick or everyone works the same shift and they want to take vacation, then it’s up to management to figure it out. If you have an employee abusing the leave policy, you deal with that issue, but forcing someone to find coverage when they feel like crap, or in an emergency situation, is not a good policy at all.

  64. Aisling*

    Posting way late so OP may not see it, but in my last job, my manager also expected us to find our own coverage for vacations, sick leave, any time off. It was one of the things her manager flagged her for in her own reviews: abdicating her responsibility as a manager. It is absolutely your job to find coverage.

Comments are closed.