my boss won’t leave me alone when I’m sick or on vacation

A reader writes:

Every time I have ever had a day off, whether it is a scheduled vacation day or a day I’ve had to call out sick, my boss calls and texts me with questions, many, many times throughout the day.

It wouldn’t be bothersome if his questions were ones that only I would know the answer to, but they are not. He will call and ask me about tasks completed where he could just look in the log we keep in the office and see for himself. Often he will ask about something very minor (which he could still see for himself in this log) that I cannot even remember.

I’ve told him multiple times that I can’t remember these things off the top of my head and that since I’m not in the office to look myself, I don’t know and couldn’t tell him, and even where to look to find the info himself. All of this to no avail.

I’ve tried not answering is texts and calls, but he just gets angry and calls and texts more, telling me it’s extremely urgent.

I don’t want to tell him flat out “please do not contact me when I am not in unless it is a serious emergency” because that feels out-of-line since he’s my boss. I’m at a loss here. Do I just sit and deal with the calls and texts even though I’m off?

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

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. IrishEm*

    This is not going to be remotely helpful unless your manager is one you can banter with but there’s too little words, the latter is off and the first autocorrects to duck that might get the point across. BUT ONLY IF YOUR BOSS IS SOUND. THIS POST IS MOSTLY TONGUE IN CHEEK.

  2. the cat's ass*

    This week is the first time in years where I’ve taken time off and said, “I will not be near a computer (to do work), so please do not contact me BECAUSE I AM ON VACATION.” Feels good! Boundaries are beautiful.

  3. Boop*

    Also if OP is non-exempt they should submit a timesheet for 15 minutes of work for each interaction while on leave – might get the message across!

    1. Butter Makes Things Better*

      Yes! This is genius and I hope if it applies, the OP (or someone with a similarly ridiculous boos) uses it.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      If they are exempt they could try nullifying the PTO too; as an exempt person, my PTO is only in full-day increments not hours, so if I work any part of the day it counts as having worked the day. But that doesn’t really solve the problem that the OP is entitled to undisturbed time off. It’s time to stop answering the phone full stop. But this boss doesn’t sound at all reasonable if he gets angry and more persistent when ignored, so she should find a new job ASAP.

      1. On Fire*

        Re: stop answering the phone — OP, this is important. So far, you’ve trained your boss that if he calls/texts 10 times, you won’t answer. But you’ll finally respond to the 11th, or 15th message. So just … don’t. Turn the phone off. Set it to airplane mode/DND/whatever, or turn his ring/text tone to silent for the day. That way, you don’t see the calls/texts coming in, so you’re not pressured to answer.

        Also, I sympathize. Years ago, I finally took a week off and was sitting on the beach when my job called to ask me how to spell a word. I don’t remember the word, but I do remember my annoyance that they’d interrupted my rare vacation for something so unnecessary.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          Was the years ago more than 25? Because unless the word was incredibly industry specific, I am annoyed on your behalf that your coworkers were apparently incapable of using Goggle!

          1. Student Affairs Sally*

            lol @ the irony of you misspelling Google in a comment about spelling a word :)

        2. LCH*

          did you say, “are you joking?” and hang up? i mean, what the heck? how did that person call to ask that without any shame?

        3. Librarian1*

          Maybe just temporarily block the number? I wouldn’t want to turn my phone off or to airplane mode because I want/need to use it for other reasons.

    3. Beaka*

      I’m very curious if this person is exempt (or categorized as exempt by employer). Maybe if a junior “professional,” but this does not sound like “executive” or an exempt “administrative” (which I believe to be exempt requires that significant component is exercising independent judgment and discretion.)

  4. Elenia*

    I hope this person comes back and updates. I would like to hear how the conversation went. My company constantly leans toward “available all the time”. Thankfully the bosses don’t push it but the mid level management – of which I am one – seem to always be working. I don’t know if they understand what a bad example this sets to their employees, the field staff.
    Me, I take vacations and sick days and don’t even check in. Nothing in my work is SO urgent it can’t wait a day or someone else can’t handle it.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah I am in a similar position to yours and I try really hard to make sure I talk openly about setting boundaries around my time off, not just for my reports, but for my colleagues. I feel like a lot of that creeps into a workplace culture because it’s really easy to see the people who respond to emails at all hours or come in on their day off “just to do something really quick” but people who have solid work-life boundaries tend to be fairly quiet about it.

      1. Elenia*

        Yes, I tell my staff not to answer emails. I tell them if they MUST check them, fine, but do not answer, because I need the volunteers also to understand this is a job and we get vacation.

    2. vlookup*

      Ugh, I hate this kind of culture.

      I successfully trained my boss and colleagues at a new job that was like this to leave me tf alone after hours by simply refusing to respond to anything on nights and weekends. At first I monitored my email to make sure there wasn’t anything truly urgent, but I knew I had won the war when a bunch of people were emailing up a storm late at night and my boss replied “vlookup will take care of this in the morning.”

      Of course, I was senior enough to take the risk and to get away with it. I think it’s smart to set a better example when you have the power to do so, and to make explicit to direct reports and junior teammates that you don’t expect a response outside of business hours or when they’re on PTO.

  5. Thursdaysgeek*

    I was wondering if the boss needed constant hand-holding when the OP was in the office too. And so, this was just normal, except boss has to use the phone when the OP is out. If boss is so used to having an instant answer to whatever little thing pops into his head at the moment, boss probably isn’t able to stand alone when the OP is legitimately out.

    1. Threeve*

      I had a boss do something like this, and I initially took it for a kind of out-of-touch learned helplessness, but it turned out to be a power play. He was just that kind of jerk–he would constantly do things like leave a file on my desk with a note to give it to someone else in the office, when he had to pass their desk on the way to mine. He just constantly had to be flexing his authority.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        This was what I was thinking the case was. I figured Boss was trying to make it unattractive for LW to take the time off. What’s the point of scheduling a relaxing vacation if Boss will call every day, maybe multiple times, with nuisance questions? Every sick day, LW will have to weigh if they feel sick enough that staying home will be worth the constant questioning.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          This is what I was leaning towards. Boss likely wants to make it as miserable as possible for LW to take days off because Boss doesn’t like people taking days off.

          Either that or maybe a few times he did need his hand held, and since LW was so ‘helpful’, he never bothered learning for himself. Why? LW is there to fix things for him! Either way, crappy Boss.

      2. Elbe*

        This was my gut instinct, too. Either he’s completely helpless or he’s doing it intentionally.

        If he’s doing it intentionally, it’s either because he just gets a kick out of making demands of the LW or because he’s trying to encourage the LW not to take PTO.

        1. ArtsyGirl*

          I vote for intentionality. He is punishing the OP for not being in the office by asking inane, non essential questions and getting angry when she doesn’t respond. It sounds like a massive power trip. I would be ready to escalate this to HR if the sit down with him does not work because I imagine he will not change his behavior and might even retaliate.

          1. LCH*

            same except something about this letter made me think boss was probably the owner and it was a very small office/business, therefore no HR.

      3. pope suburban*

        I work with someone like this right now. Every time I request a day off, she leaves me a completely avoidable, unnecessary mess she expects me to clean up for her. She doesn’t like having to do things she considers “beneath her,” even though they’re a) not, b) things we are all expected to do, and c) things that our shared supervisor readily does all the time, because that’s how our culture is. She just likes to punish people for “making” her do things she doesn’t like to do, and she really enjoys punching down. I hope this letter writer’s boss isn’t like that, because it’s an absolute pain to handle and it’s generally not the kind of thing you can talk through and resolve with the person, because if they were reasonable, they wouldn’t constantly be power-tripping in the first place.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          The ‘punishing people for making her do things’ really hit home for me. I had a coworker like that. And it was a bummer, because outside of work she was just fine. She just hated having to do things she hated and she’d make everyone miserable until she only got to do the things she liked. I laid the blame mostly on my boss because he tolerated and indulged that behavior instead of nipping it.

          1. pope suburban*

            Oof, I’m sorry you had to ride on that particular rollercoaster of suck. I can relate to an extent to the enabling from above too. Our immediate supervisor knows about this behavior and abhors it, but he doesn’t seem to actually *do* much when it comes to pushing this with upper management. She’s been on probation a handful of times in the last few years, and just kind of squeaks through every time, then gets worse once she feels safe again. There are definitely options there that are a little more serious, since she’s falsified time logs (I know this to be fact, because I saw her write down a 45-minute lunch when it was 2.5 hours; that kind of thing happened multiple times a week) and provably not done essential tasks. but there’s just no will to actually deal with it from management. It’s at least partially sucking up, but it’s also that management finds it easier to let her get her way than it does to insist she meet the same standard as the rest of us. I’m looking to get out, but it’s still an occasional pain and it’s unfortunately made me averse to requesting even one day off because I dread finding out what she’s done. I’m working on it, but boy, after the last year, I am fried and it’s not always easy.

            1. David*

              I don’t say this lightly, but just get her fired for falsifying her timesheets. Document the next five or six instances and drop that bomb on her.

              If someone is shirking job responsibilities to the extent that it’s driving others to leave jobs they like and are good at, they deserve it.

              You’re under no obligation to protect anyone under these circumstances.

      4. CheeseHead*

        Yes so much this!! So much. No boundaries and everything was an emergency to the highest of degrees.

    2. Mockingjay*

      This is what I wondered too. Sounds like the culture is one of instantaneous readiness. Rather than remembering details himself, the Boss concerns himself with big picture items (which, to be fair, is mostly what a boss is supposed to do). But that seems to have morphed into personal services for each and every little thing. It’s just plain laziness to not look into the log for info when someone is out.

      I know this is an older letter, but this is the kind of situation where you might have to expend some effort to “retrain” the boss, after a conversation like Alison suggested. Rather than fetching info immediately, respond with its location. “Sent that to you yesterday, it’s in your Inbox.” “Last week’s teapot sales receipts are in the logbook.”

      Even pausing 5 minutes before responding will help lessen immediate expectations. “Let me finish this call, then I’ll get you those figures.”

      1. MissBliss*

        I would opt for “I made sure to enter all of the data into the logbook before I left for vacation,” personally.

    3. BarnacleGirl*

      This is where my mind went too. OP might be the one keeping the balls in the air for her manager so he panics when she’s not there to prop him up. Or maybe he’s just a garden variety troll.
      Either way I’d pretend I didn’t see his requests until I’m back in the office.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Right? “Oh I turned my phone off since I was sick and resting.” or “Oh I didn’t even check my emails since I was sick and resting.”

    4. Ama*

      I had a boss at a previous job who just defaulted to asking her reports questions rather than looking to see if she could find the answer herself. Every time I went on vacation the moment I got off the plane, I’d have two texts from her “Hey where is X file?” and then five minutes later “nm, found it.”

      Thankfully she never escalated the way this OP’s boss did, but I told a coworker I could trust that if anything was ever actually an emergency, coworker should text me and then I’d know I really did need to respond.

      1. Chas*

        I’ve been in my current position so long I can understand why other people in my group will run any questions they have past me (even if they’re not really part of my project/field) because I’ve often picked up the answer from cowrokers through osmosis. But there’s one coworker who I couldn’t wait to see the back of, partly because she’d do something similar on my days off- ask where something was, then 5 minutes later text ‘Nvm, Aerith was able to tell me’… which meant that she hadn’t even tried asking the other people in the room before interrupting my day off. Contacting someone’s who’s off work should be the very last resort when you have a problem, not the first thing you try!

  6. Jessica*

    If you got paid a salary but then your boss wanted a debit card for your checking account so he could spend some of it himself, would you comply? Vacation time is part of your compensation package and this conduct is effectively stealing it back from you.

    Block his number and brace yourself for the extinction burst.

    1. Victoria Paterek*

      He seems like the type to call from another number to circumvent blocking and/or caller id.

      1. TiffIf*

        I never answer calls from unknown/unidentified numbers–if a call comes in to my phone that doesn’t have a contact name attached I let it go to vm.

        1. allathian*

          Same here. I also pretty much never listen to my vm. On my personal phone, that is, I do use professional standards on my work phone. My organization is big, so not all employees are on my work phone contact list (only those who are in my favorites in Skype). If I answer and it’s a sales call, I just say something like “this is my work phone, take me off your contact list” and hang up before they have a chance to ask for my private phone number. If someone really needs to contact me, they can text me first.

          Now I’m using our Covid exposure tracker app, and if I get a notification that I’ve been exposed, I’ll have to change my policy until I get a call from a contact tracer. So far that hasn’t happened.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      That’s a good analogy! Vacation time is included as part of the OP’s compensation package and he’s taking it back one text and phone call at a time!

  7. CheeseHead*

    I am very familiar with this type of pain. What fixed it is that the boss retired. No more phone calls while not in the office and the person that succeeded him promised not to do that as a matter of personal decency.

    Previous boss had a ton of tribal knowledge (that he didn’t share, shame on him) and needed a ton of hand holding from everyone around him. Tons of walking on egg shells. His retirement was beneficial all around.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Isn’t it amazing how when these “indispensable” employees finally leave the whole world gets easier?

      1. CheeseHead*

        Yes, there has been a noticeable change in the office atmosphere. Previous boss had plenty of good intentions and thought he was doing his “due dilligence” but ended up making things a lot more complicated than necessary and added a bunch of stress to his own life. So why not spread that around? (I’m glad those days are over.)

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        Have also noticed that. “Indispensable” employee left, suddenly the atmosphere was totally different. Turns out they had taken ‘indispensable’ to mean ‘be a tyrant’.

      3. Avi*

        Amazing and wonderful. I had a coworker who, along with just being an all-around toxic person, was a knowledge hoarder and schemer who spent years trying to position herself as the lynchpin of the organization. We spent so long having to work around her to get any work done that once she finally did retire we didn’t actually need any of the stuff she hed been using to make herself seem more important. The only real consequence of her leaving was that we didn’t have to worry about her sabotaging us anymore.

    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I would have been tempted to call old boss in his retirement every day with questions but I’m petty like that…

  8. pleaset cheap rolls*

    ‘I don’t want to tell him flat out “please do not contact me when I am not in unless it is a serious emergency” because that feels out-of-line since he’s my boss.’

    He’s not the boss of your time when you’re on vacation or out sick. He’s not.

      1. Lobsterman*

        I think it’s the regular kind of harassment, where you blow up a person’s phone for the sake of blowing it up.

        1. Lobsterman*

          I understand that a lot of AAM boils down to, “Your boss is bad and you have no recourse, so suck it up until you can get a new job which may be never,” but also laws vary by country, state, and town, and I have to think it’s worth wasting a half-hour of an attorney’s time, just so you can get a final answer on your options.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This one is pretty clear; it’s not illegal in the U.S. I can’t speak to other countries. But fortunately, it doesn’t really matter because there are more effective ways of handling it anyway!

            1. Freya*

              In Australia, the Victorian Police recently won the “right to disconnect” as part of union negotiations. We’re expecting that to have some flow on effects, although the extent is still to be seen.

  9. sofar*

    This is why I often exaggerate my inability to use technology when I’m out sick or on vacation. Even if my boss is reasonable, I have some coworkers who don’t think the OOO reply or muted slack + red slash icon applies to them and expect answers in real time.

    If I’m on vacation, I am “camping in a remote area.” I have never in my LIFE camped on my vacation. But that’s what some of my coworkers think I do every vacation. I warn them in advance. I put up a very clear OOO response on email. I let their messages pile up. When I get back, I say, “Sorry to miss these! I was without internet until just now! Camping!”

    I once did have a boss who would message me a few days into vacation to ask me how my vacation was going, to see if I’d respond and, if so, ask me questions. I ignored them. Because “camping.”

    If I’m sick, I’m “going to be at the hospital for tests, so won’t be able to answer or check messages.” Even if I’m recovering comfortably at home.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I “camp” in very nice lodges. Which happen to have very spotty internet access. I highly recommend it.

      1. Annika Hansen*

        I’ve been to many hotels that have terrible WiFi. I am too cheap to pay for the hotel’s enhanced WiFi. Depending on my location in the hotel, I may not even have that great of data speed on my phone.

        1. anonymouse*

          It’s really funny to me how these people in management think their needs are so important that employees should be accessing work things through public wifi. We aren’t allowed to work at Starbucks, much less log on through some shared wifi at the Holiday Inn in a resort city.

      2. Tess*

        In a former job, I used to always vacation on a boat somewhere in the middle of a given ocean, so no, can’t be reached.

        Funny, that…

        1. TiffIf*

          I’ve never had a workplace that was as intrusive as this but there have been a number of times where I have literally vacationed on a boat in the middle of an ocean (or, well, the Mediterranean Sea). I really do love cruises. And if my employer still demanded I work–I would be expensing the pay per minute internet fees on board.

    2. James*

      I have colleagues who legitimately go to places with no internet access–such as scuba diving in the middle of the ocean, or on jungle hikes, or mountain climbing (and have photos to prove it), in part because of this issue. It’s not just the external aspects; they can’t disconnect if they can connect, if that makes sense. The only way to shut off work is to avoid it entirely.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Ours too, and they are fantastic. One campground we frequent, there’s only cell signal if you climb on top of *scary ancient play structure*. That’s a no, I’m not doing that as its going to hurt if I fall, I’m not ten anymore.

          My spouse owns his own business, and they’re great for him on the planning end of things (while we’re gone) because he has to make the conscious effort to drive 30 minutes to get reliable wi-fi at a coffee shop. The first year was rough (every morning and every other afternoon), but its gotten better and its to the point now where he literally will go twice in ten days for an hour each. I’m not sure if its planning, management, or just the correct people in place, but its gotten better!

    3. GiantPanda*

      I recommend chess tournaments.
      No electronic devices permitted in the playing area. Players will be immediately disqualified for having an accessible cell phone, with further sanctions in official events.

      1. JanetM*

        Way off topic, but the Cracking the Cryptic channel on YouTube did a short piece about someone who was believed to have cheated in a Sudoku tournament and was also suspected of cheating in a chess tournament a few years before. The video title is “The Great Sudoku ‘Cheat’ Scandal.”

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      Samesies! I don’t fib that I’m camping, but it’s true-ish that my favorite vacation spot’s wifi is on the weak side, so I’ve played that up.

    5. hiker*

      I usually actually am camping when I’m on vacation and it’s both a great excuse and has trained my colleagues (and me!) to not expect me to respond.

      I would highly recommend to anyone to try taking a vacation where you’re genuinely unreachable for real or (if necessary) imagined reasons.

    6. Apocalypse How*

      When I went on a mission trip to Cuba, I put in my OOO message that I was going to be out of the country and without internet access. Apparently colleagues saw that and wondered, “Where could she be in the world that doesn’t have internet access?” The truth is that Cuba does have internet, but they don’t have free wi-fi–you have to pay the internet company directly, by the hour. I just used it as an excuse not to check my work e-mail.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s amazing how many buildings I stay in have enough metal and brick in their walls to act like faraway cages…..

      (Least that’s what I told my boss when he tried that. I’d actually blocked all work numbers on my phone while on leave)

      1. Tessa Ryan*

        I’ve had this problem too, OP, and I feel for you. Even when I’ve been legitimately camping on vacation, I’ve had my boss contact me. A couple years back I was on a hiking trip in Canada. There was an area that had like one bar of reception. My phone started pinging with dozens of missed calls and voicemails, each more frantic than last. One voicemail heavily implied I would be in a lot of trouble if I didn’t respond immediately. Turns out they wanted me to make minor changes to our website, nothing urgent. I tried to explain to my boss that I couldn’t make those changes on my cellphone (this was before the days where everyone had a smart phone, and even if I had one I was in the middle of nowhere) so I ended up verbally walking another coworker through how to make the changes. It was painful. Before my next vacation, I created a detailed guide of my daily responsibilities, cross-trained several other coworkers, and made a list of who could be contacted if various problems occurred. I also firmly told my boss that they wouldn’t be able to reach me during that vacation. It worked like a charm! I had a wonderful trip, was praised by my boss for my detailed instructions when I got home, and never had to worry about them trying to contact me during a vacation again.

        Unrelated: Whenever I think of faraday cages, I think of that one Ghost Spaceship episode of Doctor Who.

  10. Tess*

    Some bosses and companies are just so dull-minded and dim-witted when it comes to time off. No one should be working when they’re sick or on vacation. Are the concepts of rest and recharge really so difficult to manage?

    I mean, honestly…

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Sadly, I know both from reading this blog and from personal experience that there are bosses who really don’t understand the concepts of rest and recharge, at least where those things pertain to their reports. The boss in this post is perhaps a particularly annoying example, but he is far from alone in his awfulness.

      I myself once worked for a boss who rated my attendance as “marginal” on an annual performance evaluation, because I had the unmitigated audacity to use all of my allotted sick days that particular year. Never mind that those days were ALL excused absences and at least half of them were due to my daughter coming down with chicken pox (this was before the vaccine for chicken pox was available) and her daycare not allowing her back until all the lesions were completely scabbed over, which takes about a week. (That dude was a prize in a multitude of ways, but that is my single “favorite” story from that chapter of my career.) I’m pretty sure there are many stories as bad or worse in the AAM archives.

      I say all this not to excuse any of these awful bosses but to point up that this kind of garbage happens a lot more than it should and is just one reason why “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” is a popular catchphrase here at AAM.

  11. Elbe*

    Ugh, this is such a pain. I’m sorry the LW is dealing with this.

    Employees should be able to draw reasonable boundaries with their employer and “I am not on call while I’m taking PTO” is absolutely a reasonable boundary to have.

    If this boss is so unreasonable that mentioning this reality makes him upset, the LW has a much different problem to deal with – one that will likely only be solved by a) going over his head to a reasonable person with power or b) finding a new job. Neither of those options are good, of course.

    If Alison’s scripts don’t work, the LW should start looking for other jobs and start investigating if there’s anyone within the company that could help with the situation. Being able to detach from work is essential for an employee’s well being and it’s not something that the company should be taking away from the LW.

    1. Elbe*

      Also, anyone who has the gall to get angry that someone out sick wouldn’t be responsive deserves an IN DEPTH explanation of why, exactly the LW couldn’t get to the phone. Do detail should be spared. No TMI is really too much. He should walk away from that conversation regretting his life choices.

      1. EmKay*

        If it were me, I might be tempted to embellish. A lot. And I’ve watched a lot of medical shows lol

  12. Bagpuss*

    The other thing which might be helpful would be to create a cheat sheet with basic guidance as to what lives where – not just or Boss but also to assist any temp or other staff members.

    Obviously how useful it would be would depend on the types of information being requested. On days when you know in advance you’ll be out, tell him you aren’t going to be contactable, remind him about the log and that everything else is filed alphabetically / by star sign / whatever system you use.

    It may also be useful to lave a brief note – e.g. – task A not complete as waiting until Mercury is in the ascendant, Task B complete but client doesn’t know as he won’t use e-mail or voicemail and didn’t answer when I called him, Task C is waiting for client to pay her outstanding invoice

    Not for every possible thing, but the things that are most likely to come up.

    The other thing which may help is to be less helpful. If what happens when he calls / texts you at whom is that you ignore it for an hour then send a message ” I was sleeping / out of range . I don’t know / can’t remember off the top of my head, I’m not in work mode” –

    But as Alison says, I think you do need to have the conversation with

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I don’t think that would help. OP says he’s not looking in the log, so why would he look at a cheat sheet. I think he is lazy and this is a power move for him.

    2. SeanT*

      People like this won’t read cheat sheets or job aids or any other sort of documentation when their usual default is “call 1st before trying to figure out on own or look up” they already are not looking at what is already out there, why would they go look at cheat sheets?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        But you can just text back with “Just saw you called, sorry I missed it, I was having my leg stitched up. Now I’m about to fall asleep because they pumped me full of morphine. As for why you called, the answer is either in the cheat sheet or “I don’t know”.

  13. blink14*

    LW – the more you respond, the more you are inadvertently encouraging your boss’ behavior. Unless your job has a requirement that you are available to be reached at all times or set hours of the day, even when technically on a sick or vacation day, your boss shouldn’t be doing this, only if it’s a real, true emergency.

    You have to train this person to not contact you, and the best way to do that is to be very specific to remind your boss that you have X days off, you’ve prepped all the materials and work that may be needed while you’re gone, and you won’t be available. Then, if your boss still tries to contact you – and in this case, sounds like they will – don’t respond. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, stretch out the time until your response. If you are responding right away, start by waiting for a few hours. The less you respond, and less you respond immediately, the more likely it is that this will stop or become very sporadic.

    Again, unless your job very specifically dictates this kind of availability, you aren’t being paid to work 24/7. Why give away your time that you’ve earned? Your boss has a bad habit, and you have a right to push back on that.

    1. Workerbee*

      A risk with stretching out response time but then responding anyway is that it can teach the person that they still will get a response from you, so there is no need for them to stop being a boor.

      1. blink14*

        I agree, but I think in some cases having a delayed response vs no response can have a better effect, and may be the only choice for some people.

    2. Richard*

      You have to be careful, though, because you might just train yourself out of a job. There’s no guarantee that the boss will take the hint, and might just say that you’re lazy/intransigent/rude/dramatic/hysterical/whatever and treat you accordingly.

      1. Jackalope*

        Which could be a result, but often it won’t be. Not to say that it’s a 100% safe way to deal with things but there’s a good chance that it will work. And the consequences of working all day when you’re sick or on vacation are nontrivial as well.

      2. blink14*

        It’s about setting boundaries – every job I’ve had I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I am not available at nights or on weekends, unless specifically required for an event or some other very specific reason (maybe a few times a year). And I’ve done this by not responding to emails in off hours, not giving my personal number out to co-workers, and letting my co-workers and supervisors know that I am not available while on vacation. For sick days, if I feel that I’m up to checking email from time to time, I will let my manager know that.

        You have to stick up for yourself and create personal boundaries, regardless of what the work culture is. That boundary may be responding but having a very delayed response time, or saying you’ll only check email once a day on vacation, etc, or it could be that you will have no contact on your time off. There is a range depending on the job needs and work load.

  14. The Rafters*

    Camping works, even if camping is in your own living room. “Sorry, just got back, didn’t see your 5,000 texts until now.” Rinse, repeat.

  15. TWW*

    “I’ve tried not answering his texts and calls, but he just gets angry and calls and texts more, telling me it’s extremely urgent.”

    Maybe I’m unusually coldhearted, but I don’t see why this would be a problem? Just don’t read/listen to the messages until you’re back on duty. Set his ringtone to “silent”. You’ll have no idea whether or not he’s becoming increasingly angry.

      1. Elenia*

        “I really don’t like the cellphone that much, so I rarely check it when I am off.”
        We are still early enough into cellphones that I can use this excuse. My age helps too, as I am middle aged and thus remember a time when these things weren’t attached to us. But even if you are young it is ok to dislike an electronic device that demands your attention.
        My thinking is, I bought the phone. I pay the bills. That means it is mine to ignore as I will. And if I choose to use it as mainly a thing to browse reddit and find directions and play games, so be it.

        Since you have been answering, I’d probably say the next time you are out sick or on vacation, “I realized I was on this darn thing all the time and not relaxing/getting better. I decided to try to do without it and I feel so refreshed!”
        I’ve also used my husband as an excuse. “Oh, my husband really wanted all of my focus.” He doesn’t mind.

        1. TiffIf*

          We are still early enough into cellphones that I can use this excuse. My age helps too, as I am middle aged and thus remember a time when these things weren’t attached to us. But even if you are young it is ok to dislike an electronic device that demands your attention.

          THIS! I’m on the older end of Millennials and I don’t have a problem with cellphones themselves but I resent the expectation of always being reachable (not just by work–by friends or family too). I will go hours without looking at my phone. I will leave it in my bedroom (on silent-I never ever have the ringer turned up) when I am watching a movie or cooking. I will go to the gym and leave my phone in the locker. I don’t need to always be connected or reachable.

          I used to leave my phone at home when I went biking. Then I got a flat tire and didn’t have a repair kit/replacement tube, so I now bring my phone with me when I ride. But even then it is in a pocket/bag not easily visible or accessible while riding.

        2. Esmeralda*

          I’m a boomer and I don’t answer non-emergency email or texts from work when it’s not work hours. But then, my mom (born in 1939) insisted that the phone was there for HER convenience and it wasn’t convenient for her to pick it up during dinner / while watching tv/ when she didn’t care to talk to anyone. I learned “the phone is not the boss” when I was quite a small child.

          A wise woman, my mom.

          1. allathian*

            My mom, also a boomer, did the same thing. Only when we had Sunday dinner, which was sacrosanct in our house, she’d take the phone off the hook. The ringing annoyed her so much that she couldn’t just let it ring. For some reason, we never had an answerphone either.

            I don’t like ignoring the phone when it rings, so if I don’t feel like answering it, I simply reject the call, i.e. send it to voicemail.

            My husband and I aren’t quite so strict, but when we have family meals, electronic devices are banned from the table.

          2. Jlynn*

            Funny….I had to use that line once. my phone is for My convenience. The person bothering me didn’t even have a cell phone so that shut them up. Now I have a phone paid for by my job and a personal phone. But I still don’t constantly answer mine. And even today I emailed a coworker who was out of the office but specifically added, “don’t need to answer until you get back, I just didn’t want to forget….Have a great trip!”

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      My life got exponentially better when I gave myself permission to not answer calls or texts if it doesn’t suit me. Now, none of these people are my boss. But those family members who call and keep you on the phone forever when you don’t have time? Don’t answer. Call them back when you’d like. Acquaintance you have that only calls or texts when they want your help moving or something? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.

      No response is a response.

      And it’s not an unreasonable, unheard of, shock and dismay boundary to not respond to your boss when you’re not on the clock

    2. LCH*

      same, but i have my phone on silent all the time anyway. i miss a lot of evening calls (from whoever!) because it’s just sitting silently in my bag. the world has never ended.

  16. Sharon*

    Who is your backup while you are out? Make sure your boss knows who that person is. Then don’t respond to messages for at least an hour, and no more than twice a day. If your boss is the type that wants answers immediately, this will train him/her to go to your backup person instead of waiting for a callback from you.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      The boss would probably say that they already talked to Alternate Contact Person and/or looked at the documentation, but still called you because “I just wanted to make sure.”

  17. Eether, Either*

    Depending on whether LW is non-exempt or exempt could impact the company’s expectation re availability–at least in California. But I would have a chat with HR, if there is one, to clarify. Either way it’s crappy that he’s being such a jerk no matter her employment status.

  18. TimeTravlR*

    I’ve said it! You can call me if someone is dying and there is something I can do. (But it’s doubtful there is, so leave me alone!) My boss has great boundaries though!

  19. Fixed It*

    At one Old Job there were NO BOUNDARIES so when I was on PTO / Sick etc… I “accidentally” left my work cell phone in the office on my desk.

    No one had my personal phone number… Ooopps !!!

  20. Massive Dynamic*

    Sorry that you are going through this, LW. Personally, when I get the feeling that someone I work for or with is starting in on this dynamic, I immediately go to “friendly but unhelpful” mode. This can mean any of the below:

    Answer the call or call right back with a lot of background noise, yell into phone that you can’t hear and you’re so sorry, talk later, CLICK bye.
    If you have kids, call back or answer when someone is whining or crying, be right next to the kid when talking on the phone.
    If sick, answer in a spacey, confused mode. Audibly yawn. Mention painkillers/cold meds and sleepiness.
    Fake bad reception, end call.
    Fake a coughing fit, end call.
    Ask them questions back: “Hi LW1, can you tell me where X file is?” “Hi boss, I can’t remember without seeing it; can you read me all of the folder names and that might jog my memory?”
    Pretend you don’t know the answer and suggest someone who would. Triple bonus points to you if the question is one that can be answered be someone higher up than your boss.

    Basically, stop rewarding boss with helpful service, but in a CYA way that shows goshdarnit you TRIED.

  21. AnonEMoose*

    If I’m home sick, I’m probably asleep with my phone on silent. So I wouldn’t be answering my phone anyway. But then, my boss is a reasonable human who doesn’t want us working extra hours most of the time, and wants us to be able to disconnect from work when on PTO. Even if he wasn’t, though, at least when home sick, I’d think “sorry, I was sleeping and had the phone on silent” would be a pretty solid reason for not answering calls or texts.

  22. Frenchie Too*

    Check your phone’s auto reply feature. “Sorry, I’m in an area with no cell reception. I will read your message when I’m within range again. Thank you!”
    Also set calls to go straight to voice-mail.
    But, most of all, look for a job with normal people. This boss is a jerk.

  23. BlueBelle*

    If there are common questions or information he needs to access while you are away could you make him a FAQ and links to the correct information. Status on X Project Link, Budget numbers for Y, Link. Contract for Z, Link.

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      LW said the boss won’t look at the existing file log, so I doubt he’d look at anything else. Boss thinks that’s what The Help is for, whether they’re in the office or not. Hmm, that reminds me, I wonder if Boss likes chocolate pie?

  24. Pumpkin215*

    I didn’t even read the response but here is mine: Turn off your phone. Or, don’t you have a silent button? By answering him, you have allowed the behavior to continue. Don’t answer and don’t explain anything other than “I was sick/unavailable”.

  25. staceyizme*

    You can try this mild form of sabotage if Alison’s excellent advice has already been tried or doesn’t solve it. Your boss is coming across as very entitled but may, in fact, be very anxious. So- reflect it back to him. Treat each and every text or inquiry as an opportunity to inquire on how he’s managing the concern in question. It’s a fine distinction between managing up using this technique and actually mocking him, so you’ll have to adapt your language and tone to bump up the solicitation and level of concern for each inquiry that you choose to field. Follow up when you’re back in the office by reiterating what you said about the location of the data, other people that he can check in with for that data or other places that he can check in to find it. Make a modest-but-outsized production of your reminders. You should stop JUST short of him concluding that you’ve decided that he’s stupid/ hopeless/ under duress. The negative feedback loop should decrease the reward factor for him somewhat, easing the number of attempts to contact you by dragging out the process of closing the loop on whatever the question was and making a point of the necessary/ recommended “fix”. Feel free to use an occasional quantifier such as “I remember that you’ve asked me for that information six out of the last ten times you’ve reached out when I’ve been out of the office, so I’ve put together a ‘cheat sheet’ on how to find the current version of that (data… document… whatever).” If he digs in his heels, grey rock him with solicitation and with reminders-for-the-willfully-obtuse. It’s a little bit of dirty pool, but it’s an acceptable next step for someone who won’t be reasonable.

  26. Random Worker*

    I’d bet money this is a jerk boss punishing his employee for taking time off. Especially given this always happens and he gets angry and esclates if he doesn’t get responses. I’m also guessing the OP is a woman, and that this boss does not do this to male direct reports. Perhaps that’s going too far with assumptions…but I’ve seen this happen many times and it’s usually directed at women but not men.

    1. Lobsterman*

      If the boss only does this to women reports . . . I’d consult a labor attorney.

    2. Phoenix from the ashes*

      Yes, I worked somewhere where the (male) managers openly colluded whenever the female manager was having days off, to find some reason to call her in. Usually they’d got her back at work by about 10.30, 11am. Worked every time, and she never seemed to see the pattern. What was worse was she thought she was friends with at least one of them, so there’s no way she would have believed what was happening if anyone had pointed it out to her.

  27. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

    Question: if you work for a company with “Unlimited Vacation” (which actually means that a set amount of vacation time is not part of your compensation ) – how does this change pushing back on the expectation that you are always available?

    1. Liz case*

      It shouldn’t change anything. If you are on scheduled time off, whether vacation or on sick leave, then you are not working. Whether you can schedule 5 days off a year or 20 doesn’t matter: time off should be time off.

      If you are taking “too much” unlimited vacation, that’s a different concern.

      1. Alexis Rose*

        This is how it should work in theory, but I’ve heard in practice that ‘unlimited vacation’ makes it harder to push back against work impinging on vacation time.

  28. Nesprin*

    I have a coworker who is a bit neurodivergent and has no ability to remember to leave something for later- if they need input they will immediately email/text/call because otherwise they will forget, regardless of where I am and what I’m doing. I could ask them to try to contact less with less urgent things, but it is so much easier just to screen calls and ignore texts/emails until I am on work hours to deal with the thing. We have a good working relationship because I accept that’s just how coworker is, and they accept that I will deal with thing when I’m available.

    Is there any chance your boss is emailing/texting with non-urgent things as a way to setup your todo list for when you’re back?

    1. Yvette*

      I don’t think that is the case, he seems to expect an immediate response, and escalating when one was not forthcoming.

  29. Lacey*

    My husband’s job, which he is leaving, ALWAYS contacts him while he’s off work. The only time we’ve had a vacation that wasn’t interrupted we were literally unreachable, in the middle of the ocean. It was glorious.

    1. Liz*

      My husband is a retail manager and deals with the same thing. If it were urgent calls, that’d be one thing, but he gets one or two after-hours calls almost every day. Usually something like “hey the cash drawer is $10 over… no, we haven’t counted down the other two yet… yeah OK we’ll let you know” and then another call 10 minutes later, “we found it!” Now when the phone rings at 9:05, I yell “DON’T ANSWER THAT!” Shockingly, the caller usually doesn’t call back.

      I’m glad to see that my “stop it — you’re training them to treat you this way” advice is rooted in logic, even if DH doesn’t always take it. :) (It was quickly made clear to me that the manager-in-training and employees saw “call DH” as the first option when they ran into a problem, when it should be close to the last.) Hopefully the LW can put their foot down.

  30. Just a Thought*

    What would happen if you hold your ground and ignore the calls & texts, and just face him on your next day back to work? I wonder if he’s still as “angry” after the fact. I’ve had employers escalate that kind of thing on me, only to be told to my face the next day “It was not a problem, it was just easier for me to call YOU.” Yep, never worried about it again. Maybe you could try returning to work and ignore his “feelings”. If you followed the call-out procedures to utilize your own earned benefits, then his feelings are his own to deal with.

  31. HermioneMe*

    If I was home sick, my “evil twin “ self would run to the bathroom with phone in hand, answer phone, pretend to vomit violently, flush the toilet then hang up the phone.

  32. A Poster Has No Name*

    I sincerely hope, at the very least, that the OP was rescinding their vacation & sick days and not burning those while working all day.


  33. Alexis Rose*

    I had an employee who treated me like this. I blocked her on my personal phone, told her my number had changed, gave her a Google Voice number, and when I’m on vacation I uninstall Google Voice from my phone.

    People learn to be more self-sufficient when they don’t get immediate answers.

  34. Ada*

    My company is awful about this. One of my coworkers in another department was expected to be available to do certain tasks when she was traveling… TO MECCA!!! I was recently praised for working nearly around the clock to get deliverables out on time in-between caring for my dying cat. I’ve been scolded for choosing to working from home overnight instead of going to the office at a time when I was preparing for the possibility of needing to evacuate my home for an incoming natural disaster (we had other offices outside the path of the disaster that I feel could have jumped in to help, btw). While I’m here, I feel like I need to choose between taking time off properly and advancing my career. When I do put down boundaries, they seem to take it as a sign this is “just a job to me.” Well now it is, because you won’t let me rest!

  35. Yenda*

    In all seriousness, do conversations like this actually work in the real world? Because at my job, that’s a really good way to get yourself fired.

      1. Yenda*

        It’s definitely not a good company to work for, and I’m counting down the days until I can finish my degree and start the job search. They have a 100% tuition reimbursement plan, which right now is THE only reason I’m still working there.

  36. Workfromhome*

    When on vacation for more than a day I would create a folder in outlook and a rule that sent all emails to the folder for the duration of vacation (with no notifications popping up). I’d set my out of office to “I have no access to email whole on vacation”.

    When I came back I’d scroll through the folder and find most emails were just group emails or if they were “urgent” that they had gotten someone else to handle it or figured it out.

    I did this after I had glanced at my phone while on vacation and made the mistake of reading an email that really ticked me off. (Someone disregarding my advice and creating a big mess for me to clean up when I got back). I was ticked off for days and it ruined my vacation.

    Unless you are in an on call job all that stuff will be there to greet you when you get back. I would use your next week long vacation to test things out. Make sure you do go over a list with your boss before you leave of who to go to while you are gone or where to look. Then put it in an email to confirm he got it.
    Then do not respond to anything for that entire week no matter what (unless you see on the news your office got hit by an asteroid or something).
    If the boss keeps texting and emailing you for all 5 days off you know you need a new job.
    If he stops after a day or two see what the reaction is when you get back.
    If he leaves it alone and figures out how to deal with it when you dont answer you are good.
    If he is angry refer back to the list and email you gave him and ask him what needs to be different next time.
    If he says nothing I’m going to email and call you every day you are off no matter what you need to find a new job.
    If you say “not available” then you need to keep your word. If you respond you are available and youl always be available.

  37. Essess*

    Same as many other people said… when I had bosses that didn’t respect time off, I made a point to put an out-of-office on my work email that stated I would not have access to email or phone and would respond to all inquiries when I got back to the office. And I also added contact names for coworkers in case someone was trying to reach me about something urgent so they could go bug other people for minor things that they thought couldn’t wait. Then I would occasionally check my messages (quietly) just in case there really was an emergency but I didn’t respond to anything that wasn’t seriously damaging. On a rare vacation/pto day off where I had to respond, I’d comment that I’d found a rare chance to access my messages and I wouldn’t be available after that message.

  38. Raida*

    I’m sorry you don’t want to tell them flat-out not to contact you except for emergencies.
    Because the answer to your issue is: Tell them. Not to. Contact you. EXCEPT. For Emergencies. REAL ones, not ‘it’s urgent’ bullsh*t.

    Before you have your next day off (not sick day of course, you can’t plan that) sit down and tell them “I will be on holiday. I will not be working. I am not to be (not ‘please’, not ‘i think that’ or ‘i feel’) contacted about work unless it is an emergency and nobody else can answer.

    Here (printout) are the people you can talk to about common issues, recurring reports, projects.
    Here (show laptop screen) is what I’ve just discussed with you in bullet point form. I’m emailing it to you now, please respond with a statement of understanding so we both have a nice tidy record of this work conversation in our work email system.

    What I would do – which you won’t, I get it – is add on:
    1) I will answer a call or message from you, because based on this you’ll only be contacting me for something truly important. If it isn’t I will not be answering your query, and then I will not be answering any further communications until I return to the office.

    2) If you barrage me with messages (give past examples with real-world numbers) then I will be making a complaint about it, because that is harassment.
    3) To be very clear about this – when I am on holiday I am not working. I am not being paid, I’m not working. You have no claim on my time outside of work, I should have made this clear a long time ago instead of being “helpful”

  39. The Rural Juror*

    Man…letters like this make me really appreciate the culture in my company! I live within driving distance of a lot of the places I like to visit for camping, staying at the beach, etc. My family is about a 5-6 hour drive away, so a couple of times a year (in non-pandemic years of course) I drive to see them.

    My rule is usually that if I’m in the car and just driving down the highway to the destination, they can call me for small things and I’ll do what I can to help. Once I’m at the destination, I’m not going to answer the phone anymore.

    Boundaries are nice. People helping people is also nice – but it has to be WITHIN REASON.

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