my boss was furious that I went to a work party after calling out sick

A reader writes:

This situation happened several years ago at a company that I’ve already left, but I still find myself thinking about it from time to time and wondering if what I did was really so egregious.

I was working my first job out of college at a fast-paced start-up. My team (just me and my direct supervisor) had a big deadline set for the Friday just before the holiday break. This happened to be the same day that our company holiday party was being held. It was a fancy party in a rooftop bar of a skyscraper downtown and all of us younger employees were really excited about it.

We realized at the beginning of the week that we weren’t going to meet the deadline due to several unforeseen issues with production, despite pulling 10-12 hour days. My direct manager said we would just have to push the deadline to after the New Year, and made it clear she did not expect me to come in over Christmas.

I came down with a nasty cold and ended up calling in sick that Thursday and Friday. By Friday evening I was feeling a bit better (with the help of Dayquil), and decided that I was well enough to stop by the party. I was a bit nervous about going to the party when I had called in sick the same day, but my (also young and inexperienced) coworkers assured me it was fine. I showed up, said hello to everyone, had exactly one drink, and then headed home again.

I found out after the holiday break my grand-boss was FURIOUS that I showed up to the party after calling in sick and had expected me to come in over Christmas to make up the lost work. She wanted me to be fired over this incident. My direct supervisor had to go to bat to keep me on. When I got my performance review for the year, written by grand-boss, it was absolutely scathing. I was irresponsible, lazy, undedicated, etc. I was denied a bonus for the year. My direct supervisor said she did not agree, but there was nothing more she could do. I felt completely blindsided. I left the company not long after, the environment was toxic in several ways and I’m thankfully in a much better place now.

Looking back, I can see how bad the optics are to call in sick just before a deadline and then show up to a party the same day. But I still don’t think it’s a fireable offense! Am I looking at this all wrong? How bad was this, really?

Nah, that was an enormous overreaction from your grand-boss. What you did was a minor misstep.

It’s definitely true that if you call in sick, you shouldn’t show up to a work party that night. (There are some exceptions to this, but they’re on the margins — things like taking sick time for a doctor’s appointment rather than for illness.) It looks like you weren’t really that sick if you’re able to go to something fun just hours later.

A huge part of this is about optics though. Sometimes you’re too ill to go to work but you’ve revived enough by the evening to go out. Or you don’t have the energy to be “on” in the way you need for work, but you could hang out for a drink for an hour. But yeah, you’re expected to know it’ll look bad and not do it.

You didn’t know because you were in your first job and still learning this stuff, and you had peers telling you it was okay. It was a misstep, but it should have been handled via a quick conversation with your manager: “If you call in sick, we expect you’re too sick to attend a party that night — and even if you do recover in time, it still looks bad.” Done, problem solved.

Your grand-boss’s reaction was over-the-top. Fuming? Wanting to fire you? Calling you lazy and undedicated weeks/months later? The only way that would make any sense is if she’d already had serious concerns about your work ethic and this was the latest in a pattern of issues (in which case, I can see how the party might have set her off more than it would have otherwise). But assuming everything else was fine, her reaction was weirdly and excessively inflated.

{ 356 comments… read them below }

  1. D*

    Definitely a strong overreaction from the grand boss since this is way way below firing. That said, as a coworker I would be annoyed if someone did this…not really because of optics but because if you were sick and contagious in the AM and pull yourself together with medicine in the PM you can still get me sick. Especially irritating if the exposure is just for fun and not a work necessity. But still, I’m talking annoyance not fury here…

    1. Rayray*

      I agree , and I think we’re all a little more conscious of this now than we were a couple years ago.

      1. Denise*

        Remember when the Nyquil/Dayquil company ran ads about this amazing star worker who never, ever called in sick because they just took Dayquil? And how beloved and successful they were?

        Hits different these days…

        1. CaviaPorcellus*

          Reminds me of high school – I was in marching band, and our drum major got a summer flu when we were doing our first rehearsals.

          I still remember the band director telling us all to be just as dedicated as she was, because “If a 104 degree fever can’t keep her down, it shouldn’t keep you down, either!”

          Yeah, nah. Even back then I thought that was dumb.

          1. Chocoholic*

            My son was in taekwondo when he was in elementary school. I remember on the day of one of his belt tests, there was someone who was testing for her black belt and she was sick.

            The owner of the school gave her big accolades for testing while being sick. I was thinking, great, she exposed all of the kids and families to whatever crud she has and is setting a terrible example for theses kids. If she wanted to test while she was sick, she could have done it after everyone else was gone, it would not have been that hard.

          2. generic_username*

            Haha, marching band is nuts about that. We had a kid break his kneecap saving his tuba during a fall. He was regarded as a hero for putting his safety on the line to save his instrument. Then he was further exalted when he started marching again despite clear instructions from his doctor to skip the season so he could heal. But you know… dedication

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Yup. My first thought was “Well, these days everyone would be mad that you are contagious, but ten years ago that would be totally different”

        1. cheeky*

          This always bothered me- I’ve never understood why people (who have sick leave) show up to work sick. It’s amazing to me how little people care about getting others sick.

          1. Gingerbread Gnome*

            Ha! Thirty years ago my sibling would show up to the winter holiday parties with the whole family sick as dogs (parents and three kids) because “everyone wants to see how the children grew” at the party. Every. Single. Year. and pass colds/flu to who knows how many people. I don’t need to see your doped to the eyeballs toddler spewing germs everywhere at the party, no matter how adorable they are. Stay home with the kids in their PJs and I will leave containers of food on your doorstep on the way home. I moved out of state and NOT spending the first weeks of January sick was wonderful.

            1. Venus*

              I appreciate that my coworkers with kids would organize to have a conference room for the kids, to keep the germs separate and clean it all up afterward. I can’t imagine making it worse by bringing children that were known to be sick!

            2. morethanbeingtired*

              This is what my aunt and cousins used to do. Without fail, we’d show up for Christmas and they’d all say “oh, no hugs because we all have a cold!” but we’re all staying together in a house and are going to share a meal!! After a while, I just started taking Zicam on Christmas Eve to get ahead of it. My aunt would never do that now!

          2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

            I’m one of those people who used to go everywhere sick and contagious before the pandemic, and now feel very very differently about this. I don’t believe I’m in general more selfish than the average person, so I thought I might explain this logic. I don’t think anyone actively thinks “other people may get sick but who cares”. My thinking was more like “you can catch one of these viruses anywhere and me staying at home won’t make the world a virus free place, so it’s more important that I go to work / other important and useful thing just as usual, and if someone is very vulnerable to viruses they won’t be there anyway”. Only during the pandemic I have realized the faults in this logic, but I still don’t think it’s just meanness.

            1. Amanda*

              This just… how on Earth?? As someone who has immunocompromised people I love, this comment just reminds me of men who say “I didn’t realize women were people until I had a daughter.”

              1. Medusa*

                Yeah, I’m not understanding this line of thinking at all. Yes, it’s true that you staying home won’t make the world virus free. It’s also true that you are putting people that you work with/people that are attending the event that you’re attending directly at risk by going there and being sick.

              2. breamworthy*

                I’m also having a hard time understanding this. Like, me driving safely won’t stop all car accidents, so I might as well run this red light. I’m not sure what to say about whether this makes you more selfish than average, but I don’t think this was every okay.

              3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                I agree with you, but I would be thanking NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter for having enough maturity to wise up and change their mind rather than digging their heels in and going all conspiracist instead.
                Same for the man who never realised women were people: I’ll thank his daughter for existing and commend the guy for moving on to “turns out women are people” instead of “all women are bitches except my daughter”.
                Only idiots never change their minds.

            2. June*

              It’s not arrogant in every job. Essential workers often go in sick because there is no one to replace them and the community suffers if too many are out. Firefighters, police officers, health care. No one wants to drag themselves to work not feeling well.

          3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Some people–and unfortunately, some bosses–think this is heroic, dedication to the team, strong work ethic, blah blah blah. Emotional blackmail too, if you get sick as a result. “Marcy came in and worked for the team when SHE was sick, why can’t Tom?”

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              My boss actually emailed that to me when I sent in the sick note from my doctor. I replied that if Julie had stayed at home, she wouldn’t have infected me. Oh and Julie couldn’t do her job at home, whereas I could, and I had been doing my work from home (with a sick child in my lap too) until the doctor told me to stop.

          4. NotRealAnonForThis*

            And make light of it.

            Had a long ago coworker literally greet me with “here, have some strep”. WTF? No, we weren’t paid well, but d@mmit to he!! and back, we had what may as well have been unlimited sick time (like 3 paid months if needed and doctor certified…we didn’t need a doctor certification for a single incident up to ten days). We had health care that cost nothing out of pocket. Why in the utter unmitigated he!! are you at work loudly proclaiming yourself to be infectious?!?!

            (She was a potential book on #newbiesdon’tdothis or #newbiefails, despite everyone’s honest attempts to steer her in the correct direction.)

    2. Lacey*

      Yeah, that would be the bit that would get me, but I also know that I was like this when I was in college. I think I would have been conscious of the bad optics, but I also would never have thought about how I might be giving everyone there my cold.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed, in college (and probably even shortly after), I didn’t think about how me being sick and *infectious* would affect others.

        Bad, student, bad. Live and learn!

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        We were encouraged to be like that when we were in college! I remember one required class in our second year of college was PT, and one day we had to do timed cross-country skiing, and were warned that we’d fail the class if we didn’t show up. I came down with a high fever and sore throat, that eventually turned to be a bad case of the strep throat. Came to the PT instructor with a doctor’s note, and her answer to that was “only note I will accept is a certificate of your death. Put those skis on.” (Ran the ski thing, got really sick later that day, missed at least a week worth of classes because I couldn’t get out of bed, and I’m at least lucky that I didn’t give the strep throat to my classmates or roommates.) The instructor pretty much said it that she expected us to come to her class sick and contagious.

        1. Coenobita*

          Yep, anytime someone said they were feeling sick, my high school swimming coach would tell us about the time that he set a personal best in such-and-such event when he had a fever, because his muscles were (in his words) “all warmed up.” The only way we were allowed to miss practice was if we had been out of school sick that day, because that was school policy.

          1. RVA Cat*

            I mean, most of Henry V’s army had dysentery during the Battle of Agincourt to the extent they fought pantsless, but…that’s not your average office job.

            Also, survivorship bias that we hear from the swim coach who didn’t destroy himself swimming sick.

        2. quill*

          PT teachers are the worst for this, in my experience. Classroom teachers, especially in the lower grades, usually catch stuff from students often enough that they can’t honestly believe every student is faking being sick. But PT teachers / coaches, especially in middle or high school? Nope! Pain is weakness!

        3. oranges*

          I hope post-pandemic we all realize how stupid and dangerous it is to demand this of people. Stop being willfully contagious and going out into the world!

          (A kid on my son’s basketball team came to practice last week with a high fever and a sore throat. I was expressing my frustration to the other parents, and one dad chimed in all annoyed, “you cough once and you’re COVID banished for two weeks! It’s all BS!”

          Sir. I am not COVID-shaming these parents for a single cough. I am however, STREP THROAT SHAMING them for sending a child who is CLEARLY sick to breath all over my kid who will breath all over ME.)

        4. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Or the professor who refused a classmate/close friend’s doctor’s note (he’d been hospitalized for a week) and refused to reschedule his final exam so said friend took the exam drugged to his eyeballs, then puked blood and passed out in the hallway?

          (Friend is fine, but still. The professor got himself DRAGGED by the overall student body for this move. At a minimum, the entire class panned him in the instructor review, with a majority of the class going directly to the head of program and/or the dean, demanding the instructor be relieved of his teaching duties. It was a mandatory class for the program, with all of us taking at once. Small program = close student body.)

      3. talos*

        I needed a doctor’s note to get out of most classes (even up at the 400 or 500 level). I didn’t have a regular doctor near the college, so the best option was the campus wellness center.

        But..if I’m already on campus, I may as well just go to class and not have to make it up. I hate the sick note policy.

        1. Never Boring*

          My freshman year of college, I got strep. I was so sick that I had to have a friend on each side holding me up to walk a block and a half to the health center. I brought a doctor’s note to class, and the professor thought it was hilarious that I thought I would need a doctor’s note.

      4. Amaranth*

        I’ve also worked places where its made Very Clear that showing up to the holiday party is not optional, and that if you miss this Big Annual Event that is catered through the glorious kindness of the Grandboss, then You Will Be Remembered. I’m wondering if LW was told the party was a no-miss event and they just didn’t know enough to realize that it wasn’t a case where showing up ‘for one work thing’ was better than nothing.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Hah! I was wondering when I first read the letter – how glorious does a work party have to be for someone to want to come to one sick and on cold meds? I could barely force myself to come to one when feeling perfectly healthy! But after reading your comment, I remembered a coworker at my first job, who’d forced her husband to go out, buy a suit, and wear it to the company holiday party as her plus one, because she thought she’d be fired from the job if they hadn’t both shown up dressed in their evening best. It was her first white-collar job after years of searching, and she did honestly believe that it was of life-and-death importance that she made it to that party.

    3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      One of those cases where two wrongs don’t make a right. OP, you made two rookie mistakes (#1: going to the party and #2: relying on equally inexperienced colleagues for advice), but your boss made a gazillion mistakes in their over-the-top response. You’ve obviously learned from your mistakes. Im betting your boss did not.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        That being said, it’s reasonable that this would cause your management to be concerned about your judgment. Not at a “scream at you and deny you a bonus” level, but at “ask questions about your rationale when you make a decision” for a while.

        1. Not a cat*

          No one is “owed” a bonus. They can be awarded or not, and it doesn’t really matter how capricious the reason is.

          1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            Not necessarily true – there are lots of positions where the bonus structure is actually very specifically laid out as part of your compensation and it being withheld is a big, big deal.

          2. RussianInTeaxs*

            That really depends.
            Partner’s pay structure literally includes a bonus based on how well his group did and how well the company done overall.
            There is a minimum bonus that will be paid regardless of the company performance.

          3. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

            Yeah, this depends. Like, at my company, we have what is essentially a base bonus as a part of our compensation package and it can increase based on performance. The only time it’s been withheld to my knowledge is when our industry was doing very poorly and bonuses didn’t make sense if we wanted to avoid layoffs for as long as possible. I’ve never been on a PIP, so I don’t know if that’s something that’s withheld in those cases, but if I made one misstep and was suddenly denied my bonus, I would view that as a MASSIVE deal at this company. My last two companies, eh, not so much. But this one and the first company I worked for that had what was essentially a retention bonus twice a year for employees that reached a certain amount of time employed…being denied those would be a huge, huge deal.

        2. MK*

          I think denying the bonus might be reasonable depending on what it was. If it’s something you were promised for, say, exceeding performance goals, it shouldn’t affect it. If it’s something the company gives to show goodwill and for retention, I can see why the boss wouldn’t want to give it out.

      2. MK*

        Two wrongs don’t are a right, but my feeling is that the comments (and Alison) are being a lot more lenient to the OP exactly because of the boss’s unhinged reaction.

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          I have migraines. I can be flat on the ground from a bad migraine in the morning and recover enough to stop by a Festive Gathering in the evening. I’ve also had respiratory ailments that were enough to keep me home but which retreated enough to let me feel moderately okay by the second evening (with the help of OTC meds).

          So, yes, it didn’t look very good for Youngster to be at a party on Friday night. It was bad judgment by a young person. But I can’t in good conscience do any serious pointing-and-condemning when I could very easily have been in his situation.

    4. Sara without an H*

      Yes, I would have read this differently in the Pre-Pademic Times. Back In Those Days, I would have been annoyed if I’d found myself at a party with someone who had called in sick, but propped themselves up with cold remedies to come to a party. I wouldn’t have treated it as a firing offense, and probably just given the OP a talking to on Monday.

    5. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Agree 100%. A person is infectious with the common cold for at least a week after symptoms start. It’s not COVID but it’s not doing any co-workers a favor to come to a party when you’ve been too sick to go to work with the team. “Hi, I couldn’t help with the work, but I’ll help give you a nasty cold over cocktails and party wieners.”

    6. KateM*

      I have read too much of Agatha Christie because I thought at once of the reveal of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I am currently re-reading Agatha Christie and thought of the same thing.

        (It is one of my favorites. And honestly I think it should be mandatory school reading up there with the great gatsby and catcher in the rye, especially at this point.)

        1. LunaLena*

          Yeah, a lot of her books are definitely more of a thought-provoking look at human nature that just happens to have a murder mystery thrown in, rather than a straightforward whodunnit. I just finished re-reading An Appointment with Death yesterday, and I’ve always thought that the solution to the murder was more of an afterthought to the analysis of the characters, including that of the victim herself.

          I first read The Mirror Crack’d as a teenager, and having been brought up with the “perfect attendance come hell or high water” mentality, it really made me think that I would have done the same thing without ever stopping to think that I could be endangering someone else’s life.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Gives us a stronger view of its effect when first published…it predates some vaccines we now take for granted.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          Heck, that silly woman should have known better even back then! I mean, there was a pretty darn significant pandemic in 1918, so its not like they didn’t know that a disease can be common and still really nasty.

          1. RagingADHD*

            Oh, she knew better. The doctor told her to quarantine precisely because they knew that what happened, was likely to happen. She just didn’t GAF.

            The quarantines were particularly necessary because, just as there were no relevant vaccines, there were no early, instant-result pregnancy tests either.

      2. Grace Poole*

        Also what happened to actress Gene Tierney, after a fan contagious with rubella got out of her sick bed to meet the actress at a USO event.

        1. Doc in a Box*

          This is what inspired Agatha Christie. Apparently Gene Tierney was at a fan meet years later and some lady was gushing about how she loved G.T. so much that she escaped from rubella quarantine to meet her; Gene, being classy, just got up and left instead of murdering the woman.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Gene Tierney was pregnant at the time and got rubella, which caused birth defects in her baby and later affected GT’s mental health.

            1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              And to make it even worse, back then there were NONE of the services and programs for special-needs people that we have today; the most common advice given to parents was to put their child in an institution (think Willowbrook.)

    7. Roscoe*

      I mean, the problem is, she likely is no more contagious that night then she was 2 days prior when she was in the office. So unless she is sneezing into the punch bowl, if she takes some day quil that gets rid of her symptoms, its likely not really a big deal

      1. CCC*

        That isn’t as logical as it sounds on its face because it’s not as if every exposure to a germ results in getting sick. Being exposed two days in the office is less risky than being exposed two days in the office plus once at a party.

        1. Liz*

          Agree, plus the party is optional. If a coworker is going to get me sick, I’d rather it be at work — where they’re hopefully making progress on a project we’re responsible for — than after hours at a social event they could easily skip.

        2. PollyQ*

          Plus she may be interacting with many more people at a party than she would spending a day at her desk.

    8. Decidedly Me*

      This is where I stand. It’s really not ok to go to social event when you’re sick. Even if you’re feeling better, that doesn’t mean you’re not contagious – especially if you’re only feeling better because you took medication.

      However, the grand boss was still way out of line.

      1. Roscoe*

        You typically don’t know when you are or aren’t contagious. You can be contagious before there are symptoms, and after they are gone. If OP called out Thurs, and was back Friday morning for work, there is no reason to think they are less contagious at that point.

        1. Anonymous pineapple*

          OP says they felt a bit better because of DayQuil. They were still sick, and therefore presumably still contagious. They went to the party because they wanted to have fun, not because it was necessary. That’s different than going to work the next day (which is still not great), since it’s purely for fun. So not only does it look bad to come to a party the same day after calling out sick at work, they risked potentially infecting their colleagues and messing up their Christmas plans in order to have a drink at a fancy bar.

        2. tess*

          My mother’s doctor recently mentioned to her people are typically contagious just before symptoms appear. Once symptoms appear, and also once they begin to diminish, chances for being contagious are much lower.

          So, that information is known, at least to that physician.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            This depends a lot on the illness in question. For example, people with covid-19 are typically most contagious in the day or two leading up to their first symptoms, and symptoms may last long after the person stops being contagious. On the other hand, norovirus is not contagious until symptoms start and someone will continue being contagious for several days after symptoms stop.

            1. fueled by coffee*

              Also, you usually don’t know that you’re contagious *before* you come down with symptoms (barring something like regular covid testing or knowing you’ve been exposed to someone ill). You can’t expect someone to have the psychic ability to know when they’ll get sick.

              But once you have symptoms, even if they’re less *likely* to be contagious, they still know about it, and I expect them to be a responsible adult and keep away from other people who they might infect. Our typical understanding (again, except for covid) is that you can resume your normal activities once your symptoms are gone without requiring medication (if you take advil to lower your fever, you still have a fever!).

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Same: If you were sick with a cold or something I’d be super irritated that you came in when you might spread it.

      If it was a migraine or something else non-contagious, I wouldn’t care. I’d probably be glad you felt better enough to come, actually.

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        Good example. One of my co-workers suffers from migraines, and no one would blink if he was absent most of a day (we’re pretty flexible in academia and work long hours anyway, so he wouldn’t necessarily have to take a sick day) but showed up to a social function once he felt better.

        Part of it is also having a top-level understanding of the constraints your co-worker work under. One is pregnant, one has migraines, one has arthritis or a skin complaint or an allergy, another one has a bunch of children, a sled dog team, a sick spouse, or a hobby as a high-level athlete or musician, or is very active in their religious or social engagements, or planning their wedding – obviously we aren’t *entitled* to know any of these things, but being humans, we do for those who are comfortable sharing them and it sets expectations about absences and presences both during and outside work hours.

      2. RagingADHD*

        There are plenty of instances where people might be glad to see you – if you were injured in an accident but managed to get up and about for an hour, as an example.

        Nasty cold just isn’t one of those instances.

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, that’s how I feel about this as well. The LW shouldn’t have gone to the party even if they felt better, but the reaction of the grandboss was excessive. I don’t think it was a firing offence.

    10. tamarack & fireweed*

      Yeah, I would think that if it’s something contagious, including a cold, the norm should be that you don’t do social stuff the day you took off from work for it.

      In general, there are certainly a bunch of exceptions – you’re out for an outpatient procedure that doesn’t leave you too incapacitated, or you’re recovering from a physical accident that makes it impossible to work (eg. in a job that requires certain physical tasks), or you’re out medium-to-long-term to treat a stress-related illness, and occasionally showing your face at an after-hours function is a way to stay in touch (especially if you live in a country where the doctor “signs you off work” for a period that you yourself can’t very well shorten if you feel like it). But even in some of these cases you’re kinda expected to “perform being incapacitated” in order to avoid questions about how you can possibly be there.

      With people on long-term disability it is not rare for a private detective to be sent out to check that their activity level and types are in line with what they’re signed out of work for.

      There’s a shift, though, in parallel with social media making more of our lives transparent to observers. There was a moment in the mid-2000s when I saw a lot of bosses / managers get rather blustery about employees who called in sick “and then posted to Facebook all afternoon” or something like it. Earlier, I heard people complain about sick employees (or students) “still watching TV” – srsly. Of course, if you call in sick and then post pictures of you doing a nice long hike, probably you’ll want to explain that (though it’s not necessarily a fake illness either!). But the rare times that I called in sick with the regular crud I’d curl up in bed, try to sleep it off, and once I’m up, idly poke around social media. (Or read or watch movies.) Doesn’t mean I’m up to working.

      Also, the idea of adding wellness / mental health / take-it-slower days that are neither regular PTO nor doctor-certifiable sick days has made some headway.

      1. Coenobita*

        The social media/TV thing is super interesting. I definitely remember that from my childhood in the 80s/90s – if being sick makes you too tired to do stuff, then you are definitely too tired to do anything except sleep. But nowadays poking around on social media is what I *do* when I’m sick!

        I actually went and swam laps on a recent sick day, but I was out for a medication-related headache issue that meant I needed a day off from looking at screens. Luckily my boss is about 700 miles away, though.

        1. KaciHall*

          A couple weeks ago I took a sick day because I had a sinus headache that was terrible. Couldn’t look at my phone or TV for very long. Mom called and asked if I could help at her business (silkscreen and vinyl, primarily) because she needed an extra set of hands to pick vinyl. No starting at a computer or having to think, so I went and helped.

          I felt very guilty about it later, though.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Logical to me– swimming can sometimes cut my migraine short.
          (Getting to the water is the problem.)

        3. tamarack & fireweed*

          That’s another good example! I once was out sick with a concussion / instructions not to look at screens for a week. I could certainly have dropped in at an after-hours get-together for half an hour.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think it’s because typically you can do social media on the same computer that you work on: if you’re capable of sitting at your desk to do stuff on your computer, why not work on it? But then the boss can’t see that actually you’re on your tablet in bed with tissues up your nose and three extra blankets on top of your hot water bottle.

          Watching TV is what I do when I’m too ill to do anything else. I love to read, and once while recovering from surgery, I was prescribed something that made me feel very woozy. I felt so ashamed to be watching tacky lunchtime TV but I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

      2. Krankgeschrieben*

        I’m pretty sure that if I were written off sick in Germany I would have been told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed anywhere near the holiday party. Krankgeschrieben is serious, and as you pointed out, you don’t get to decide when it’s over. It’s to protect the employee, and how can they prove you weren’t coerced into the after-hours work event? I could be wrong, since I never tried in my years in Germany to show up at anything while Krankgeschrieben. I think maternity leave falls under a different category, since people did come in with their new babies.

        1. Krankgeschrieben*

          Although, to be fair, you only needed to be Krankgeschrieben if you were going to be out for 3 or more days, so this cold example wouldn’t qualify for that. (Although if you do go to the doctor, they’re happy to write you a proof that you were sick note on day one.)

      3. Elle*

        My dad used to freak out on me if I did literally ANYTHING while off sick from school. “If you’re well enough to read a book you’re well enough to go to school!” Seriously gave me a complex. Not healthy at all.

        1. Not a cat*

          Did my father have another child? Geez, me too. Not allowed: TV, books, magazines, games, talking, loud coughing. Allowed: sleeping, staring at the wall, doing chores.

        2. Autumnheart*

          My mother just never allowed us to stay home sick. Period. Didn’t matter how we felt. Go throw up at school if you have to throw up. There was no coming to get us, either–she’d just say “Oh sure, be there soon” and not show up. The nurse would eventually give up and send us back to get the bus.

    11. Artemesia*

      Me too. I don’t want the cold you will give me by masking symptoms with cold meds and then blowing germs in my face during the holiday season. We all do this sometimes — but we don’t talk about it and being too sick for work and then showing up is announcing the arrival of the germ.

      I wonder about context too here. This reaction is only marginally reasonable if it is the last straw. So had the boss already formed a negative impression of your work ethic, whether justified or not, by a pattern of absences, observed goofing off or lots of breaks or chat or missing deadlines or turning in sub par work?

    12. tangerineRose*

      “because if you were sick and contagious in the AM and pull yourself together with medicine in the PM you can still get me sick” Yes, this would annoy me, too. Probably more now than before COVID19

    13. Imaginary Friend*

      I’m really glad this first comment includes the bit about sharing germs. (And that aspect might have colored the boss’ reaction, too.)

    14. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, it was definitely a bad call for multiple reasons–people will wonder both if you were really well enough to work that day OR if you were putting them at risk by choosing to attend the party!

      But “furious” is an extreme reaction.

  2. Anonymous Koala*

    I made so many of these missteps when I was just out of school, and it’s kind of impossible to avoid these things unless you have fantastic mentors or read stories like this. Alison, is there any way we could get a hashtag for #newbie_missteps or another searchable tag for this kind of thing for people to reference?

    1. Curious*

      +1 to this. I recommend this blog to every other new grad I know and it would be great to link them to a tag.

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

      I think with all of the letters and such that Alison gets she could/should write a couple more books. First one should be stuff newbies SHOULD NOT DO and include all of the cringy things that people have written in about. The second should be all the horrible boss stuff. It could be How to get the Horrible Boss of the Year award.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s a good idea! I have avoided creating many new tags because I feel like then I’d have to go back and find all old posts that need the tag applied to them, which is a massive and basically impossible project. But maybe they don’t need to be comprehensive.

      1. MoreFriesPlz*

        I’d suggest something like #newbie_advice because as a young person I’m not going to think of myself as constantly mis-stepping but would know advice aimed at me would be helpful.

      2. NewYork*

        I do not know if you could make a book out of this, but certainly a chapter in the next version of some of your books, what not to do on your first job

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          The reason this book is a good idea is because it has an instant market in graduation gifts. People need to buy new grads something and I’m sick of “oh the places you’ll go” being recommended. Of course people can and should buy Alison’s other book as a graduation gift but I bet her agent would salivate over something with a generational slant that was specific to newbies. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to write it. (Two words: ghost. writer. Put it out in the open thread and I bet seven of us are frequent commenters anyway.)

        1. Anonymous Koala*

          Definitely! Or maybe it could be done with a caveat, like “this tag was created in 2021 and may not be comprehensive”?

          But I would definitely read another Ask a Manager book if you wanted to write one. :)

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Maybe crowdsource it?
        Tell us if you decide to create the category, and ask us to share our “favorite” new-employee mistakes. Although it would be a crazy-busy moderator day as we link to memorable letters.

        1. Anony*

          I suppose another way would be to crowdsource it in one post, and make it a “read at your own risk” type thing, with a note explaining that the links were not moderated and might be off-topic. But if the commentariat is fairly reasonable (and this commentariat is one of my favorites for that reason) it could still be helpful for a lot of people.

  3. fiona the baby hippo*

    this surfaced a memory for me of trying to explain to my high school’s principal that i needed to go home ‘sick’ for horrible menstrual cramps but explaining I wanted to be able to come back later after laying down/getting them under control bc I was signed up for a school trip. I was told i shouldn’t stay at school sick bc i might get the other girls sick (?!) but also that if i was sick enough to go home i couldn’t go on the trip, so I gritted it out with a ton of aleve my mom rushed down to me. High school really is such great preparation for the arbitrary rules and whims of the working world!

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      It’s not arbitrary to expect a co-worker not to bring an infectious nasty cold to a party. Menstrual cramps aren’t a very apt analogy here.

      1. Aquawoman*

        Well, except contagion was not the grandboss’s issue; it was essentially an accusation of malingering.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          I guess I’m An Old, then, because I was brought up with “if you were too sick for school today, then you’re too sick to go out with your friends tonight.” That is to say, if you stay home from work because you say you’re sick, and then you go to a work party later on, you shouldn’t be surprised that someone would think you were faking in the morning.

          So in the end, LW made it look bad for themselves two ways. They made it look like maybe they weren’t actually sick and left their workplace in the lurch over this project and deadline. Or, if they were actually sick, then they were bringing a nasty cold to a gathering.

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            I wrote about this higher up, but it’s interesting to see it brought up – I think for a while 10+ years ago a lot of people tried to expand this into “if you are too sick for school/work you are to sick to have fun with your friends on social media”, which is certainly not true for a lot of one-off complaints that get you out of work/school for a day.

            Thankfully now we seem to be becoming more reasonable about that. Menstrual cramps can be bad, and then dissipate, and I don’t see why someone shouldn’t be resting when they’re bad and have fun when they have dissipated.

          2. Nia*

            There are plenty of things that could keep you from going out in the morning but not keep you from going out at night such as cramps, migraines, chronic pain flair up, whatever. And ten years ago no one would have batted an eye at a cold being one of them. I would expect an adult to understand the nuance of these things.

            1. Glomarization, Esq.*

              I thought I’d been clear about distinguishing between infectious diseases like a nasty cold, and non-infectious stuff, but I guess I wasn’t.

              In any event, I’ve been in plenty of workplaces over the past 30-35 years, well before the current pandemic, where co-workers would truly prefer you stay the eff home if you have a cold or the flu. Everybody’s experience is different, but it’s not new to COVID that people don’t want a Cold Symptom Mary to going back and forth to the copier room — or the punchbowl.

              1. Nia*

                Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to only work places where sick days and vacation days are separate then. Everywhere I’ve worked has used just the one pool of PTO for everything. In my experience it makes people accepting of coming in sick because no one wants to lose vacation days to a cold.

                1. tess*

                  I agree with Glomarization. It’s been on the workplace radar for quite a while – certainly longer than 10 years ago – that if you’re sick, or showing signs of an oncoming cold, Workplace wants you to stay home.

                  Exceptions have been restaurants and retail, and, as such, such workplaces have drawn quite a bit of attention for not offering any or enough sick days for their employees, and/or have threatened job losses for those employees for calling in.

                  All of this has been well before COVID, though the pandemic certainly has brought even more attention to the topic. But the topic itself is very far from new. Very far.

                  Also, combining vacation and sick leave seems a rarity, as well. Government workers are one example of where that combination likely isn’t the case.

                2. fueled by coffee*

                  I absolutely agree that there’s a conversation to be had about the pressure on people show up to work while sick with colds so that they don’t lose their precious sick leave or PTO. But this question isn’t about using up sick leave (she already took the day off!), it’s about using sick leave and then showing up to a social event while contagious because medication helped disguise the symptoms.

                3. Glomarization, Esq.*

                  Nah, before I had the opportunity to get my butt into law school, I had plenty of jobs that didn’t pay much and offered absolutely no leave, paid or unpaid. If you were sick, you had to choose between going to work sick or missing that day’s worth of pay. But seriously, every place I’ve worked, whether we had some kind of paid leave or not, nobody was ever happy when Cold Symptom Mary came in. While anybody is sympathetic when your hours are kept deliberately short (and/or you depend on commissions, as in one of my retail jobs), if you brought a nasty cold into my office, any number of us could come down with it, too. And soon we have collateral consequences, as well, with co-workers who are parents or caregivers.

                  As fueled by coffee points out, though, that wasn’t even LW’s situation. The problem wasn’t how their leave scheme was set up. The problem was how it looked to take a sick day, leaving their team in the lurch, and then bring a nasty cold to an outdoor rooftop party.

            2. RagingADHD*

              I recall life ten years ago quite clearly, and I assure you that nobody appreciated folks bringing a nasty cold to a social event.

          3. The Magpie*

            The point is that that principle just doesn’t work for chronic conditions that have nothing to do with contagious illnesses.

            I agree when we’re talking about something like a cold or flu, but for those of us who live with chronic pain and illnesses, we’d literally never get to go anywhere, do anything, or get anything done if being out of commission for a few hours due to a flare meant that we then couldn’t do *anything* for 24 hours afterward.

            Asking us to “power through it” to avoid “looking bad” later in the day only worsens our chronic conditions, pressures us to not take the 4-hour break from 10-4 if we have an important event to attend at 7, and encourages us not to take proper care of ourselves.

            1. Tired social worker*

              I was also thinking about how the “bad optics” of situations like these (NOT Letter Writer’s situation, because that involved contagion) end up reinforcing ableism both in workplaces and larger communities. It’s not wrong to say that the optics are bad, but that’s exactly what’s so unfair to those with chronic conditions and disabilities. We can’t let our frustration with people who get their coworkers sick (or rather, the policies that encourage people to get their coworkers sick) create an even more hostile social environment for communities who are already excluded in so many ways.

              I’m glad it’s being discussed here – hopefully the reductive and unnuanced impulse to assume the worst when someone only needs a few hours off will be more explicitly challenged in everyday life, to the point where ten years from now it’s considered “bad optics” to force someone to work through a non-contagious flare up so they can be “allowed” to participate in public life.

              1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

                Just wanted to chime in and say thank you for bringing up chronic conditions. Many people seriously do not understand flare-ups and other chronic issues… There’s so much about “optics” that’s just performative bullshit. It’s like the letter from the other day about the LW with the service dog. The management doesn’t care one iota about the employee’s seizures, all they care about is the optics of what they think “looks” correct for a service dog. It’s deplorable.

      2. MoreFriesPlz*

        I agree, but I think this was more just a fun story, and also it seems like grand boss was furious about the optics/perceived laziness/need to make up time/etc more so than the germ spreading.

        Did you go to an all girls school? If not, I’m deeply concerned that the person you were talking to obviously understood this was period-related (if they said you might get other girls specifically sick) and thought that was contagious. That’s… something.

        1. fiona the baby hippo*

          HA! yes i did go to an all-girls school, and i was telling a female head of school that I really needed to go home and lay down for a few hours. it was one of the more surreal moments of my life, and I was 15 and already horribly embarrassed about having to talk to an adult about my period so I just didn’t say back, the conversation would have gone very differently if it were happening to me as an adult!

          1. fiona the baby hippo*

            *say anything back, that is. though what i was thinking was “I’m really confused how you think periods work?” though I also went to a religious all-girls school that taught abstinence-only sex education, maybe even the adults were ill-informed on the workings of the female body

            1. MoreFriesPlz*

              Since it was a girls school I assume they were just trying hard to pretend periods weren’t real? And she was sick?

              Either way… what a world we live in.

              1. Gracely*

                I think what happens sometimes is that people who have periods but don’t experience the worst symptoms think that the people who *do* are overreacting. Or they had to suck it up and deal when they were experiencing it, so they expect others to, too.

                I never had horrible, stay-still-and-don’t-move-if-at-all-possible cramps in my teens or 20s, but I had some friends who did. While I didn’t dismiss the reality of their pain (because I’m not an asshole), I know I still underestimated just how bad it could feel until I started having horrible cramps in my 30s.

                Empathy. We need more of it as a society.

                1. Working*

                  +1 I’m in my mid-30s and only started having debilitating periods a couple years ago, I really didn’t get it before that.

                2. Bucky Barnes*

                  I’m late on this, but I appreciate the discussion about it. I had very debilitating periods due to endometriosis and I always felt like those around me who didn’t have bad ones were judging me, including one of my early bosses. *She* could come in and work so why did I need to call out one day.

              2. Jane Anonsten*

                If it makes you feel any better, my husband teaches history at an all-girls school and the health sciences teacher shares a room with him. His room decoration is currently the flags of countries being studied and posters on menstruation that the students made for a project in health :)

    2. James*

      I was thinking along the same lines. If I called in sick because of a migraine, it’s entirely possible that I’d be fine in the evening. It’s pretty common for me to have blinding pain in the morning, and be fine by 3 (drove my mother insane when I was a kid, until we figured out what was going on). If my boss didn’t understand migraines I could see them being quite upset with me calling in sick, then being fine in the evening!

      It’s a problem with our sick leave system. We have one leave that covers anything that constitutes a malfunction of the body, and the assumption is that it’s infectious. We don’t really have a way to capture non-infectious problems of relatively short duration or which are only partially incapacitating.

      Infectious diseases are another story. Even if you feel fine–ESPECIALLY if you feel fine because of medication!–you should stay home as a courtesy. That said, this should be explained calmly during a one-on-one; threatening to fire someone and trying to ruin their career is too far, by a long shot.

      1. This Old House*

        Funny, I actually think one of the problems with our sick leave system is the assumption that whatever’s wrong with you is NOT contagious. We all know you can be hacking for a couple of weeks after a cold, but to take even a full week off for “just a cold,” much less 2-3, would not only get some serious side eye but is impossible with most peoples’ allotment of sick leave. The assumption for the most part is that you’re taking off when you’re absolutely miserable and then coming back to work, contagious or no.

        It is, obviously, difficult to reconcile with the world we now live in, where awareness of reasons to stay home has increased but available sick leave has not.

      2. jiggle mouse*

        I called in sick for a migraine once, took heavy duty pain meds, then ended up having my partner drive me to an appointment to pick up a new gadget that had to be inspected in person in order to get the extended warranty. An extremely toxic bully boss of a different department had seen me, and the next day snarkily asked about my sick day.

      3. qvaken*

        Another example: mental health. I would certainly hope that a worker who needed a mental health day off from work would still be welcome to attend the work party in the evening if they felt up for it.

      4. Mim*

        Yup yup yup.

        Perhaps even more fun is when an employer doesn’t believe you when the early signs of a migraine are setting in, and you say you should leave now so you can get home before you’re curled up in pain and possibly vomiting.

        I honestly should have stayed and collapsed in the middle of fronting his overpriced organic junk. I don’t remember if I actually did vomit when I got home that day, but that would have been icing on the cake. Or on the vegan marshmallows and carob chips. (To nobody’s surprise, I’m sure, retail was pretty much a low point for me in terms of supervisors/managers believing that I was a human just like them.)

    3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I’m now wondering how my high school would’ve handled something like that. It also had the rule that if you were out sick, you also couldn’t go to any after school activities. The official wording was that if you’re too sick to go to school, you’re still going to be too sick that evening. Unofficially, everyone knew that it was to discourage students from calling in “sick (of school)”, and still showing up for the “fun” activities (like a basketball game) in the evening. I suppose that’s the high school equivalent of “optics”.

      (My high school menstrual cramps were most likely to keep me home for a few hours before showing up tardy.)

      1. Always Anon*

        Our rule was that you had to be in school for a half day to do after school things. So you could come in at lunch after sleeping off a migraine/cramps etc and still go to the after school thing.

        It wasn’t perfect, but was a good rule of thumb.

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

        Yeah, I wonder the same thing. Like what if you had a bad toothache, went to the dentist and they fixed you up and I was good by the evening?
        I had some serious health issues related to my period when I was in my senior year of high school. Missed a lot of school the first few months. I would have hated if i couldn’t participate in something because of some stupid rules.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          My daughter said she was sick one day in December, so she stayed in bed while the rest of the family went off to work/school. Then I got a phone call because she got caught trying to climb over the wall to get into school – she’d forgotten it was the day of the Christmas lunch, but they didn’t let children in at that time of day: if you missed the morning lessons, you would then be let into school just in time for the afternoon lessons.
          Where I come from (UK) school dinners were so bad that “sorry, reminds me of the school canteen” is the perfect excuse when refusing food, and the hostess will react graciously because she has BTDT too. So the idea of my daughter climbing the school wall to get IN to eat a SCHOOL DINNER was curious and crazy and hilarious.

      3. Cold Fish*

        You would think, as adults, people might outgrow this but my work had to implement the policy of “if you want to be paid for the holiday, you can’t call in sick the day before or after said holiday”. You still have to take the holiday off but you are charged for two days PTO, instead of just the one day you called in. It sucks sometime if you aren’t feeling too well right before a holiday, however, so many people were taking advantage of the system that company had to do something as it was running into coverage issues.

        Not too long after company issued this policy I was sick right before Thanksgiving (given Thurs & Fri). I didn’t want to use three days sick time so I tried to come in and was sent home after an hour. So the policy does lead to people to come in sick when they should stay home. On the other hand, we haven’t had holiday coverage problems since policy implementation.

        (Company has since eased up on enforcement of this policy. Due to turnover, most of the worst offenders have since left the company. It is still technically company policy though. Company also change PTO from a two pot (sick/vacation) system to a one pot system. That’s helped too since people could just schedule the Friday off rather than call in sick day of)

        1. Cold Fish*

          Just to clarify, I was charged only one day sick since they sent me home and got my holiday days as they knew I was truly unwell.

        2. Nia*

          So your company made a blanket policy that punished legitimately sick people rather than just punishing the bad actors? And you think that was a good thing? Maybe your managers should have actually done their jobs instead of picking the laziest possible solution.

          1. Cold Fish*

            It’s a small company of less than 50. Legitimately sick issue has only come up less than a handful of times in the 10 years since policy implementation. I just happened to run into it right at the start.

            And yes, I’m still more upset at the handful of adults acting like spoiled brats than the company for the policy. What should the manager’s have done? Shown up at their doors and take their temperature? Started calling out people as liars? Start requiring a doctor’s note for every call out? (Now that is a punishing policy.) Firing people for taking their sick time?

            All in all, the policy is actually quite fair, enacted across the board for all employees, but exemptions can and will be made on a case by case basis. And it stopped the problem behavior.

      4. qvaken*

        It’s probably more to do with the optics for the school than for the student, surely. Is funding for schools dependent on attendance rates?

      5. Sparking Stardust*

        When I was in high school on the morning I had an important race, I woke up in so much pain I thought I was dying and my mom took me to the ER. I was crying and puked on the way to the hospital. The ER doctor ruled out my appendix and told me an ovarian cyst had ruptured. There was nothing to do but take pain meds and wait for the pain to subside. I missed a portion of school so I couldn’t go to complete in the track race that afternoon. I had advanced to a state competition in a relay team but my school had a rule of you missed a certain amount of school that day you couldn’t participate. I was devastated because the pain later went away.

    4. Artemesia*

      And of course girls are not allowed to carry ibuprofen or midol or whatever to treat their cramps and if found out may be disciplined for unauthorized ‘drugs’. Or it was so when my kids were in high school.

      1. Esmeralda*

        I get that it’s frustrating for students not to be able to take midol for cramps and other over the counter meds like that — but speaking as the parent of a kid who took all sorts of meds at school (including chemo), being super restrictive about any sort of drugs is the wisest course. It goes through the front office and/or the nurse (if there is one) so they know what meds there are on campus, they know the drugs are legit for the kid to take, kid does not lose the drugs, drugs are not stolen from the kid, kid cannot sell the drugs. If there are any problems (medical or otherwise), nurse/office staff are right there.

        For cramps, parents can get a doctor’s permission for the student to take the medication as needed. Student then goes to the nurse/front office to take the medication.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Except ibuprofen doesn’t have any street value, as far as I know, and I would have been mortified to explain to any adult – even a woman – why I needed it.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Not sure if this has since changed, but I’m pretty sure I could buy ibuprofen and similar drugs at the store as a minor (and would do so if I happened to be out somewhere and needed them). While I understand how we ended up with the policies we have, it seems like it would make much more sense to allow personal use amounts of anything OTC that a minor can purchase in high schools. Those drugs have essentially no street value (I can buy 500 ibuprofen pills at Costco for $10, and so can anyone else, which seems like it would keep secondary market prices quite low) or recreational value (or else we’d probably put controls in place to keep kids from buying them). “No” is easier than “here’s a list” and “are those the pills the bottle says they are?”, though, so this lack of nuance happens when you’ve got too many kids for the amount of adults to deal with everyone as an individual.

          2. Boof*

            I think the problem would be more people having other drugs and claiming they are ibuprofen; not hard to just pop whatever in an ibuprofen bottle.

            1. allathian*

              Most medications in my area are sold both in push-through packs, which are clearly marked with the contents, and in bottles. You could allow the former, because they’re impossible to switch (at least without access to a medical packing factory), and ban the latter.

              I’ve always had moderate menstrual cramps, excruciating on the first day without meds, but always easily controlled with a single 400 mg pill of ibuprofen on the day of. I guess I’m lucky in that I grew up in a more innocent age, I always carried ibuprofen on me in high school and middle school, and nobody ever said anything about it.

        2. fueled by coffee*

          I completely understand why the nurse has to distribute medications in school, but I also used to have teachers tell me I wasn’t allowed to leave class to *go to the nurse* for Advil and then have to sit there in excruciating pain for an hour and be late to my next class because I had to run back and forth to the nurse in the 4 minute break between classes.

          I actually always thought that they should just stock classroom first aid kits with common OTC meds (like advil, tylenol, benadryl) and just give teachers lists of their students whose parents said they weren’t allowed to take them as needed.

          1. OpalescentTreeShark*

            As an educator, I can’t IMAGINE adding that type of responsibility to all of the ones I currently have/the legal implications of messing that up even one time. No thank you.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            No no no. Many years ago I interviewed at a chi-chi private school where as secretary I would have been responsible for giving students any required/permitted medications as they were only allowed to carry asthma inhalers on campus. I knew then I didn’t want the job but was also horrified. But the secretary worked longer hours than the nurse.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      You’d get other girls sick? how? did the principal expect all girls in your class to sync up with you by the end of the day or ?

  4. Lacey*

    Some bosses have their weird hobby horses. It is possible that the OP wasn’t a great employee in other ways and this set the boss off. But, I’ve also seen managers get really upset about minor things that they spend a lot of time trying to convince the rest of the world are major things.

    1. tess*


      But I have to wonder why the OP showed up just long enough to have one drink. I wonder how long the OP nursed that one drink. Also, alcohol seems an odd choice for later in the day of being sick, unless you’re feeling completely over it. Staying for one drink doesn’t sound like that. And won’t there be more parties?

      1. Fresh Cut Grass*

        There’s a lot of advice out there about holiday parties that suggests that if you aren’t really feeling it, you should nevertheless show up and have one drink before taking off, as a show of being a team player or whatever.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          Yes. My current employer puts a lot of value on highly social people. Bowing out of a company party, even if it’s after office hours, Does Not Make You Look Good. besides, everybody’s supposed to just love a party!

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I think the “but I only stayed for one drink!!” thing is also something that is perfectly obvious and matters a lot to OP, but not necessarily to grand-boss. Unless they were tracking OP’s movements all night or OP made a big deal of leaving then they probably don’t know exactly how long she stayed, just that she was there at all when she’d said earlier that she was sick. That’s enough to create that “WTF??” reaction and once they’re in that mindset any after-the-fact explanation is just unfortunately going to sound like excuse-making.

      3. londonedit*

        I mean, my dad always tells me to have a gin when I’ve got a cold. And I can definitely see the OP’s logic of ‘I’d better show willing and go along for one drink’. They were in their first job and might have thought it would look worse not to turn up at all. However I can also see that there are several compounding factors that made it look bad to the big boss – the OP’s team had missed deadlines and they’d also called in sick. I probably would be surprised to see someone at the work Christmas party if they’d been off sick that day – you just assume someone who’s ill with a cold won’t want to turn up to a party.

    2. Sometimes supervisor*

      Agreed. I read it and thought either grandboss had a weird pet peeve (like people have mentioned elsewhere in the comments, I was brought up in a ‘if you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to play later in the day’ household – I don’t think he’d quite flip out as extremely as grandboss did, but I can imagine my dad developing a dislike of somebody purely because they did this!) OR grandboss, rightly or wrongly, thought they had witnessed a pattern of behaviour in OP and this was just more evidence on the pile that they were ‘lazy and irresponsible’. Either way, grandboss’ reaction is extreme and most bosses would opt for the ‘quiet word on a Monday morning’ approach.

  5. KHB*

    I agree that the grandboss’s reaction sounds excessive, but I think it’s relevant that this was a critical day for a project that was already behind schedule. If it was just any old workday, then that would have called for nothing more than a “Hey, just so you know, this looks bad” conversation. But when you’re missing your deadlines, and your calling out sick is contributing to that, that’s something a little bit more serious.

    1. Avril Ludgateau*

      But when you’re missing your deadlines, and your calling out sick is contributing to that, that’s something a little bit more serious.

      I don’t think is exactly fair, or particularly humane. Yes, it was bad optics to go to the party. Yes, it was a poor choice from a public health standpoint (my bigger concern, personally). But nothing in the OP suggests the writer’s two sick days were a factor in missing the deadline. The deadline was already pushed back before OP’s illness, per the timeline in the letter.

      We aren’t machines, and nobody should have to wrestle with inopportune illness and the additional stress of judgment for the timeliness of their illness. The fear of being perceived as the broken cog is precisely why people go to work sick and then infect their entire office.

      1. Sans Serif*

        And I noticed the grandboss thought she was going to make up the sick time over the holidays; whereas her boss expected no such thing and was planning on finishing the project in the new year. So I think there were crossed wires in terms of expectations which contributed to the grandboss’ attitude. Grandboss still sounds like a bit of a jerk, though.

      2. KHB*

        It’s a combination of three factors, and all three are important: (1) the project is running behind, (2) OP is too sick to work for two days, and (3) OP is suddenly well enough to show up at the company-sponsored party. If you’re sick, you’re sick, and you should stay home, and the company can deal with the consequences of your missed work. But if you’re in this situation and you’re pulling the “too sick to work, but well enough to go out and play on the company’s dime,” I think it’s very reasonable to expect that people are going to end up annoyed with you.

        1. Persephone Mongoose*

          Thank you. The grandboss’s reaction is definitely outsized, but I’m shocked at how many people are giving the LW a pass here.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Cutting the LW a little slack because they were younger and newer to the workplace and didn’t realize. It’s easy to say “You should have known better” before the person has had the experience that teaches them to know better.

            1. Persephone Mongoose*

              Mmmm, I dunno. There’s “I didn’t realize this wouldn’t be okay because I’m new to the workforce” and then there’s common sense. I honestly think this falls under the latter. Even if it was month 1 of working your first ever job, I don’t see how you wouldn’t put together that calling out sick for work but showing up to a work party later that day is a bad look. And that’s not even taking into consideration that the project they were working on was delayed because the LW had to take sick time (which, to be clear, is NOT their fault at all and they did nothing wrong by taking time off to get better despite the project deadline).

              Also, if the LW went to public school, they most likely had a policy of not being able to attend after-school ECs if you’re absent from actual school due to sickness. Maybe the LW lucked out and never ran into a situation where they were impacted by that policy, but still. There’s precedence for this that one can encounter prior to entering the workforce.

            2. KHB*

              You can cut the LW slack for being new to the workplace and not knowing any better, and still acknowledge that what she did was the wrong thing to do. I wouldn’t think badly of a child who hasn’t yet learned their times tables for saying that three times three is six, but that doesn’t make three times three equal six.

              I understand why LW did what she did, and why she felt it wasn’t that bad. I also understand why Grandboss felt differently.

      3. Smithy*

        I think the point of the missed deadline is more around taking optics from bad to worse as opposed to excusing the Grand Boss’s reaction.

        A delay around Christmas/New Years can be uniquely frustrating because it can easily go from extending a deadline by one week to three or four weeks. It’s for reasons that are not the individual burdens of staff – literally just the nature of the calendar – but it can elevate a minor irritation to a major one.

        I certainly don’t think any of this excuses the Grand Boss’s lingering anger. Even if their primary issue was “you’re spreading the common cold at an optional office party”, that level of lingering anger still wouldn’t be appropriate. But I think the reason why optics are relevant is that because they so often live in the space of A Picture Paints 1,000 Words, they’re very difficult impressions to live down or change. Especially with more senior level staff who you don’t interact with regularly.

        None of this puts the Grand Boss in the right, but I think it’s why the generic advice on this topic was “definitely don’t this even if that shouldn’t have been the result”.

    2. MoreFriesPlz*

      I thought OPs point in the beginning was the deadline had already been missed so this wouldn’t effect the project? It seemed like a bit of a red herring because there had been a bug deadline, but there wasn’t any more.

      1. Loulou*

        Yeah, I didn’t quite know what to make of that detail. It seems like the delay was outside of their team’s control (production issues) so their being out wasn’t the issue it would have been if the delay hadn’t happened.

        1. socks*

          It sounds to me like OP became the grandboss’s scapegoat. Even though they called in sick after the deadline had been pushed back, in the grandboss’s mind the OP’s actions “proved” that their laziness/lack of dedication/etc was what led to the delay.

          1. Anonymous Today*

            Bingo! OP’s manager went to bat for her, to no avail.

            I suspect that Big Boss didn’t want to lose the line manager who wasn’t at fault for the missed deadline, but needed to take out her unhappiness at the situation on someone.

            Who else but the most junior person.

            At least she didn’t punch OP in the face.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        But that may have been pre-eminent in Grandboss’s mind. As someone who’s been at the top of a layered organization, I’ve been in plenty of situations where I had only the outlines of what had happened. Grandboss may have take one fact (project is delayed) added a second fact (OP called in sick), and without knowing the rest, concluded the project was delayed solely because OP called in sick. That doesn’t excuse her massive overreaction, but it explains how Grandboss likely viewed the situation.

        1. C*

          Yes, but I hope that when you were in situations where you only had the outlines of what happened you didn’t make such strange assumptions and held them as truths.

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            That’s where it’s up to OP’s manager to communicate upwards. She probably didn’t see the need to do so –and given how much senior people need to manage, that could have been the right decision. But then OP showed up at the party and the calculation changed.

            There is one other message here: don’t surprise your direct boss. If OP has asked her boss instead of her co-workers about attending the party, there would have been a very different outcome.

        2. KHB*

          And also, Grandboss may have been the one responsible for managing the consequences of the delay (placating customers/clients, readjusting the timelines for any next steps, etc.) I know “there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that,” but that’s basically how it works in a lot of the situations I’ve been a part of. And it does explain (but doesn’t excuse) her strong reaction – if the delay is adding directly to her personal stress levels, then she’s naturally going to feel personally affronted by it.

      3. hbc*

        Yeah, but I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of “I/we did everything we could to make this happen, but external factors…” from someone who definitely could have done more.

        If I just granted a painful extension in a circumstance like this (and “next calendar year” always looks bad even if it’s a couple of days), I’d want to be sure to find out what exactly went sideways. LW’s inability to sit working at a desk at 3pm but ability to drink and mingle at 6:30 would at least make me wonder how hard that team was actually working. Let’s call it a yellow flag.

        Make it an unreasonable manager, and unfortunately, this is going to color her perception of the LW for a long time.

      4. KHB*

        The deadline was already missed when OP called out sick, but it’s likely that OP’s sick days caused it to be missed by more. If this was one of those situations where “four weeks late” is worse than “three weeks late,” then it’s not true that OP’s absence didn’t affect anything.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yes, though it was also 2 days and not a week and OP was not the only person working on the project….

  6. Falling Diphthong*

    One reason AaM is so valuable: Your just-entering-the-workforce peers are usually not great resources for what management will and won’t care about.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Right. This is the sort of thing you ask your boss about, or at least a senior/more experienced colleague.

      If this is a first professional job, think of it this way: if you’re in a college class and you need an extension on an assignment, or you need to come to class late, you don’t just ask a classmate. You ask the prof.

  7. Random Name*

    I wonder if maybe the grand boss was upset that the deadline wasn’t met and felt (without evidence) that it wasn’t merely a case of a deadline being too ambitious but of people not being dedicated enough. And then, ah, look, here’s a person who called out sick from work but still comes to the part! There’s the proof that missing the deadline was a person’s fault! This person! Even if the grand boss knew in the back of their mind that that wasn’t actually true, people can get fixated on things.

  8. Usual lurker*

    I really don’t see how LW did anything wrong or looked bad for showing up because they felt better. Not sure if that is the part of me who isn’t great with unspoken social expectations or the part of me who has chronic health issues and is often used to operating somewhere between the binary of 100% sick and 100% well, but my only thought would have been nothing more than “oh glad to see that LW is feeling better and cared enough to spend time with colleagues when they did.”

    1. Elle*

      Yeah, this wouldn’t have bothered me at all. I have all sorts of reasons for calling out sick (such as migraines) that might resolve themselves by evening. Especially if LW only stopped in for a short hello.

      1. KateM*

        Depending on the length of commute, “for a short hello” actually sounds especially stupid to me – being sick, filling yourself with medicine to be able to function (and drive), just to go to a party… to have one drink and then drag yourself back home.

    2. Erica*

      “Felt better because on medication” is NOT the same as “two days post symptomatic and no longer infectious”. Presumably your chronic health issues aren’t contagious. Sick leave is there to help employees recover, but ALSO to protect everyone else in the office from coming down with the same thing.

    3. Bananas*

      It doesn’t look good to have been too sick to work but just well enough to party, and (more importantly, to me) it’s likely to get somebody else sick. If you’re ill and probably contagious (feeling just well enough to attend a party after taking medicine is not the same thing as actually being better), stay home. Doesn’t mean they should be fired for it, at all, but it was a bad move on several fronts.

        1. judyjudyjudy*

          Does it matter? The Grandboss’s actions were totally inappropriate regardless of the reasoning. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the LW attended an optional work function on the second day of a nasty cold and was probably still contagious. She risked giving her coworkers her cold right before a holiday for a free drink and a quick hello. Not ok.

        2. RagingADHD*

          From the overall profile the LW paints of their younger self, I doubt they were discreet about the nature of their illness, or about how much Dayquil they were on in order to make it to the party.

    4. Smithy*

      When it comes to calling “out sick”, I do think that for many people and many employers there’s quite a range of boundaries between either offering or demanding an exact diagnosis. So this may very well have been a situation where the OP’s manager and potentially the grandboss knew the OP had a headcold or similar and therefore were making judgements on the specific illness.

      However, the challenge with optics is opening yourself up to judgements and assumptions. Not just around why you requested a given sick day, but also how you’re caring for yourself. And certainly in US culture, attitudes and opinions around drinking while not feeling well (even if just 1!) can get into some pretty judgmental territory. So the general advice around not going to an office party on a day you’ve called out ill acknowledges those concerns.

      That being said, should someone have more chronic illness and there are office parties or events that while optional are either really wonderful experiences or just very high quality networking – I do think that the move is to call one’s manager and get their buy-in before showing up. If it’s a case where someone acts on problematic assumptions, then the manager is far better armed in the moment to counter that.

    5. qvaken*

      I agree. And as I’m thinking about it more, I think it was more important for OP to be able to attend the work party than it was for OP to be at work those two days. Yeah, I get it, there was a deadline, but OP can only do the work OP can do, and if they’re sick then they need time off work.

      In my profession, where we provide appointments to individual clients, workers often feel reluctant to call in sick because then they’d have to disappoint those clients by rescheduling their appointments, or they’d have to delay doing that task for that client, or whatnot. We’re constantly having to remind each other and ourselves that if we really need a break, that client or that task can wait. If we don’t take breaks as needed (including sick leave), it can lead to increased stress, increased distress, and eventually burnout. When burnout sets in we’ll be forced to take sick leave, and it’ll be longer than we would have taken if we had just taken a break when we first started to see the warning signs.

      Come to think of it, the OP describes this workplace being “fast-paced”, there was a “big deadline” coming up, the workers were failing to meet the deadline due to “unforeseen production issues,” and the workers had been working “10-12 hour days.” Not to mention, the OP was a young person in a team of young people, so they may not have had the skills to identify a build-up of stress and distress. So it’s very likely the cold OP got was a symptom of burnout from their workplace’s demands on them.

      In other words, grandboss likely caused OP’s illness in the first place.

      Then grandboss got angry at OP because if OP wasn’t well enough to put in two 10-12 hour days in a row after (I presume) already having worked three 10-12 hour days that week, desperately trying to help grandboss meet their deadline, then OP can’t possibly be well enough to attend a hopefully fun, relaxed work party that they were looking forward to.

      The more I think about it, the more I tend towards being 0% on grandboss’s side.

      The only remaining argument against OP is that of contagion, and I don’t know how contagious OP may have been in that moment, or if OP took it into consideration.

      1. Whoa now*

        All of this is a reach. First of all, if you are symptomatic enough with a cold to need DayQuil to function, you are most definitely contagious, and you SHOULD take that into account when you make decisions about social events.

        Second, while stress can certainly make you more susceptible to illness and it sounds like there was a bit of a push on at work, to get from there to “OP’s boss caused their cold” is an Olympic pole-vaulting leap.

        OP showed poor judgement. Calling for firing is too strong, I think, but sometimes people who are new to the workforce just make mistakes and that’s not their boss’s fault, it’s just part of being young and not knowing what they’re doing.

  9. Antlerless*

    I totally understand how these things eat away at you! I had the opposite problem, first job out of school and came down with the flu the day of the incredibly extravagant holiday party (think finance company, early 2000s extravagance). My boss was furious that I was too sick to go and kept telling me it was a mistake not to show up. I was so upset that I was killing my new career by making the decision. Almost 20 years later I still think about how awful that boss was and how I passed out on the subway riding home that day.

    1. fueled by coffee*

      I know we’ve seen letters on here before about people feeling pressured to attend office social events they don’t want to go to, and I wonder if that might be somewhat contributing to LW’s situation, especially if this is a party that’s more of a “must attend” than a “may attend.” But still, I can’t imagine attending the party would outrank attending, like, work (that is, if you’re sick enough to miss work, you’re also sick enough to miss the party).

      But in your case, Antlerless, I absolutely agree that it’s awful for your boss to expect you to attend a party while ill with the flu! (Also, hope you made it home safely on the subway, yikes).

  10. Roscoe*

    To be honest, I get the optics argument, but I have to wonder if even that is out dated. I’m sure many people have had times where you felt like crap at 7 am, and were able to be fairly functional 12 hours later. Is it better to drag yourself in and infect others? Because you felt bad in the morning, should you not get to enjoy the, likely only real party your company throws for the year with good food and stuff?

    I feel like maybe things like this need to go the way of the “butts in seats” argument about optics. And people should just acknowledge that its possible to be able to make an evening thing and not a morning thing. Does it have the potential to be abused? Sure. Just like anything else. But that doesn’t mean people should feel bad about it either.

    1. dresscode*

      I think it really depends. If one of my workers was feeling ill but said “I might be in later” or communicated with me that they really want to go to the party, I would probably raise an eyebrow but ultimately be ok with it. But if they just called in and didn’t give any indication when they would be back but showed up at the party? I don’t love that.

      1. Roscoe*

        I mean, I guess this falls into why you don’t discuss the reason you are out sick. I just basically say “I’m not able to come in today”. Like, its very possible that they didn’t know until an hour before they would be feeling better.

      2. fueled by coffee*

        Yeah, the communication is important here. I also feel like, yeah, in general, we shouldn’t expect to have to explain *why* we’re calling out sick. BUT in this kind of situation, this kind of communication allows you to explain to your boss/coworkers that you were out for something non-contagious that’s resolved, so you’ll be at the party.

        “I called in today for [a migraine/emergency dental work/an injury that had to be X-rayed], but I’m feeling much better now, so I’m going to try to swing by the party for a bit” wouldn’t strike me as odd in the slightest. Randomly showing up to the fun event after calling in sick (and especially doing so while *still symptomatic*) would make me displeased.

    2. Littorally*

      “Is it better to drag yourself in and infect others” is also an argument against going to the holiday party. If you’re infectious, don’t go to the frickin party either!

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, exactly. If you had a headache, maybe it would be OK to go, but something contagious, not so much. Not even if you had already been around your coworkers before you were too sick to work.

      2. Annony*

        Yes. I would be upset if a coworker decided that helping with work wasn’t worth the risk of infecting others but a party was. If they were out sick with something not contagious I wouldn’t care if they came to the party later.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      should you not get to enjoy the, likely only real party your company throws for the year

      Because sometimes life simply isn’t fair? You miss some of the parties you’re invited to because it’s just not in the cards for one reason or another.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Amen to that! When I was working at a startup, I had to skip the fancy company Christmas party *that I organized* because I got sick the day before. By lunchtime on party day I could keep my food down– but skipped it because there was no way to know if it was a bug or food poisoning.

      2. Anonymous pineapple*

        This. It’s just life. Sometimes you miss the really fun rooftop cocktail party because you got sick, your kid got sick, you had to attend your Aunt Ida and Uncle Milton’s anniversary dinner, your car broke down, you got a bad migraine, your period started and is super heavy/crampy, you have to stay home and wait for the plumber, etc etc. Things happen.

      3. qvaken*

        Ehh, upon rereading the letter, I see that OP had been working 10-12 hour days and they were facing the stress of a deadline that couldn’t be reached. You can absolutely be too sick to work two 10-12 hour days after working three 10-12 hour days prior to that, and still be well enough to go to a work party.

        Maybe “sometimes life simply isn’t fair” for the grandboss, too. They can’t work people for 10-12 hours per day on an impossible project and then expect those workers to never get sick, and expect them to forego the reward the company offered for their hard work if they do get sick.

    4. quill*

      If it’s an infectious disease, yeah, still stay home. If you know it’s not infectious (cramps, GI disorder, migranes etc.) then use your own jugement.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Even then, I’d worry about the optics. In order to make it clear that I wasn’t contagious, I would feel that pressure to tell my manager exactly what was wrong with me…my manager is female, but even so, specifically telling her I was on my period would be TMI, in my opinion.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          I know I posted above that this is the only time it’s worth sharing why you were out sick, but you could also probably say something vague like “I was out for a medical issue, but it’s nothing contagious and I’m feeling better now.” Or just, like, lie and call it a headache even if it was really cramps.

    5. KateM*

      If I was having a nasty cold and felt somewhat better only because of medicine, dragging myself out of my comfy bed to work just to say hello and have one drink would be the last thing I’d consider enjoyable.

      1. Budgie Buddy*

        ^This lol

        I’m wondering who these people are who can be incapacitated at 7 am and better by evening. Can we trade constitutions? Because if I have a headache all morning, then afternoon = recovery time. A gnarly dentist appointment will wipe me out from the stress and swelling even if my toothache is gone.

        But I’m also pretty introverted so social activity is usually the first thing to go….

        1. Fresh Cut Grass*

          When I’m sick, I generally feel best between the hours of 2-6 pm, and crash very very quickly after 8:30. It’s not uncommon for me to get to the afternoon on a sick day and feel perky enough to get some dishes done, run a load of laundry, even go for a walk around the neighborhood, and then feel like death warmed over in the evening. I suspect that there’s some people who would have their burst of energy later in the day!

    6. Clisby*

      If you’re infections, then no, you don’t get to enjoy the party. You get to stay home where you belong.

    7. Smithy*

      I’d actually argue that because of COVID, people are becoming far less agreeable to someone feeling crap at 7am and then better 12 hours later. Rather, if you feel crap at 7am, maybe you just stay home for the next 72 hours to make extra sure.

      This may also have heavy impact on the nature of parties one’s office throws…..but the idea of anyone being desperate to attend any party thrown by anywhere (true – nonprofit) I’ve ever worked will also affect the optics. If this is a party you feel you can not or do not want to miss, then I’d have far more concerns.

    8. judyjudyjudy*

      Colds are highly contagious. Cold medicine supresses some of the symptoms, but they don’t cure the cold or make you less contagious. So yes, sometimes you have to miss parties if you might be contagious. It’s a disappointment, but it’s the right thing to do.

  11. dresscode*

    I had a friend who was very nearly fired for something like this. My friend was a team lead and one day was feeling sick during the day. In the evenings, he and his friends would use a conference room to play a board game (this was approved by his superiors) but he decided that even though he didn’t feel well that day, he could still play games that night. We told him it was a bad idea, but he was adamant it was fine.
    While he was there, he happened to see his supervisor who was FURIOUS he was there playing games. He sent him home that night and later, he ended up being demoted from team lead to regular team member. Apparently, another manager who didn’t like him was calling for his head, but they were ok with just his demotion.
    My friend was pretty baffled by this (he was always the exception to the rule, in his mind) but we all knew what was coming. Don’t go INTO YOUR WORKPLACE to play games if you called out that day.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      Ouch. Yeah, that’s a really bad move on his part. “I’m too sick to come to work, but board games at the office? OK!” wouldn’t look good to most supervisors.

    2. Tara*

      Yeah, I know a guy who bailed on an exam (accounting job) because he was “too sick” and then his line manager saw him in a club that evening. This was the final straw and he was fired. No one really thought it was too shocking a decision. I’m honestly surprised more of the comments aren’t like “OK, you were junior and naiive, but this is really dumb and did deserve a major dressing down”.

  12. A Simple Narwhal*

    Yikes what an overreaction! Sure, the optics of calling out sick but coming to the party isn’t the best if you went nuts and partied until the sun came up, but it sounds like you just made a brief appearance and then went home. That seems perfectly reasonable, and I’m sure after working 10-12 hour days and being sick you probably weren’t looking super good either, making it seem entirely plausible that people saw you and thought “oh he definitely was sick but must be feeling better enough to stop in, oh he left early, that makes sense”.

    And if it wasn’t ok, a quick talking to like Alison suggested is all it would have taken. This whole “you’re lazy, irresponsible, undedicated” and to take away your bonus(!) is absolutely nuts. I can imagine a scenario in which they called you the exact same thing for not making an appearance at the party!

    I’m glad you don’t work there anymore.

    1. MK*

      Νο, it’s not reasonable to decide that you aren’t well enough to come into work, but you can attend a party the same day. And I don’t think many people would think it “makes sense” to see you there. Frankly, I think the comments are overcompensating for the boss’s overreaction by minimizing how dumb this was.

    1. Elle*

      There is no evidence hat the LW bailed on critical work. The deadline was pushed before the sick days were taken.

      1. Artemesia*

        I can see the grandboss really miffed about the missed deadline, even knowing it was now pushed back, not being okay with that and then seeing a member of the team that missed the deadline, calling out from work but partying and having that come together to ‘explain’ why this team didn’t get the job done. They didn’t get it done because they don’t work hard and goof off. Fair? Probably not. But I can imagine that impression being lodged in his mind.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      As a not-foreigner, I’m as puzzled as you are about how LW doesn’t see how problematic it was to choose to go to the party.

    3. Aquawoman*

      I think people age the same all over the world, and their brain development is actually not finished until about 25.

      1. Myrin*

        I actually do think there is a cultural component to this (not to the way the brain develops, obviously, but to how things are perceived) – where I am, a large percentage of people start working full-time between 16 and 18 so there’s a lot of stuff you would expect someone in their twenties to have a handle on. Obviously it’s not so much the age which makes the difference but the experience/time spent working and logically, there will be a difference between a 25-year-old who started working at 16 vs. one who started working at 23, but I will admit that my knee-jerk reaction to people saying “he’s only 22, that’s really young for XY” will probably always be “well, not really”.

    4. Loulou*

      I would love to know which country you’re from that everyone who is new to the workforce has impeccable professional judgement!

      1. Rach*

        As someone who works in tech with many young adults right out of college, it doesn’t matter what country they are from, they are all very similar in their judgements.

      2. anonymous73*

        I think this has less to do with having impeccable professional judgment right out of school and more to do with having common sense. People get in trouble all the time for posting an outing on FB when they’ve called out sick from work and they’re not all new to the work force. If you’re too sick to go to work, then you’re too sick to go to an after work function.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          But “common sense” is based on experience, so someone who does not have great professional judgment right out of school may also lack that what managers might think of as common sense.

    5. Kali*

      That’s unnecessarily snide. This is not just an American thing. This site is run by an American, so most of the letters will be from Americans. I’m sure a German AAM would be rife with stories of newly professional Germans making errors of judgement. We’re all young once, and we all make mistakes, regardless of nationality.

    6. Hm?*

      Nothing about the letter says this happened in America and even if it did there’s no connection. Would be good to reflect on why you assumed this!

  13. Rhodo*

    My parents told me that if you called off sick from work, the whole day was a wash. You better stay home, because you can’t be seen anywhere without others thinking you were faking to get a day off. They reminded me that it’s a small world, and you want to maintain your integrity.

    1. Threeve*

      That’s how I see it too. If you call out for the day, you’re out for the day–not just the boring work-y part of the day.

    2. Presea*

      I’m glad your parents framed it in terms of optics and integrity instead of just making it arbitrary! I feel like optics are pretty much the one and only reason to follow such a rule. People still want and need to do things besides rest when they’re sick (heck, just the other day there was that letter about someone who was on sick leave because of a fear of leaving the house, so going places was genuinely part of what they needed to get better), but knowing that it’s looks bad to others gives you the tools to use your own best judgement and handle the situation accordingly.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Optics, yes. Integrity, no!! It’s not an integrity issue unless you’re actually lying about being sick enough that missing work is the best thing for you.

        1. Presea*

          Oh, I absolutely agree – when I slipped the word ‘integrity’ in there, it was under the mindset that parents might need to teach their children the “don’t lie about being sick enough to stay home” part of it! I absolutely agree that going somewhere after or while taking a sick day isn’t inherently an integrity issue.

    3. Crazy Cat Lady*

      Same thing with me. If you call out sick for for the work part of something, you forfeit your ability to go to the fun stuff. But the grand boss seemed to over react. Perhaps OP was the scapegoat for his/her manager’s decision to push the deadline.

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        Or Grandboss had something else going on that added to their upset, and then that feeling got sort of “attached” to their memory of seeing OP at the party. A lot of people don’t interrogate their own feelings. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker that says “Don’t believe everything you think”.

    4. Koala dreams*

      What an awful thing to teach someone! For many illnesses it’s good to keep doing daily activities like walks, trips to the grocery store and of course the pharmacy, as much as you can. Being stuck at home is often unhealthy by itself. (Depending on your living situation, of course.)

      1. tangerineRose*

        Usually when I’ve been sick, all I want to do is lie down, maybe watch TV or sleep. I might go to the store to pick up medicine or food, but other than that, I want to take it easy so I can recover quickly.

        1. Koala dreams*

          I get more sick if I lie down all day when I have the cold. I need to get up to breathe better, eat and get some daylight. I’m jealous of people who can stay in bed. :(

        2. Presea*

          It can depend on the exact sickness, though – a mental health day, a bad flu, and severe menstrual cramps are all valid reasons to take a sick day, and they all require different care. Rest won’t make your cramps go away faster, but they might help the flu or the mental stuff. In the case of the flu there’s a contagion factor to consider, while menstrual cramps and mental stuff are not typically considered contagious…. etc etc etc.

      2. Elle*

        Hard agree. Limited exercise really helps my back, but the hour commute to the office and sitting at a desk would be totally out of the question on bad days. Migraines are often unbearable for a chunk of the day for me, and then totally disappear at a certain point. Mental health days obviously might involve some out-of-the-house activity. This is a silly concept.

    5. This Old House*

      I remember once calling out sick from a previous job – I think it was a cold, back in the days when having “just a cold” wasn’t really reason to stay home from anywhere if you felt up to it – and I felt pretty much better by the end of the day. And then two of my friends got engaged and wanted to have an impromptu celebration! So I went, but even though their apartment was nowhere near my office, obviously I had coworkers from all over the city, and I remember rushing through the streets with my head down and collar up, *terrified* I’d be seen by someone from work who would think I’d been faking the whole thing. I was not, but that feeling of “I am going to get in so much trouble for this!” is hard to forget.

  14. Lilo*

    In the time of’d definitely get serious side eye for coming to a work party after being out sick for cold symptoms. Even if it’s nit COVID, if I give your cold to my kid, he has to be out of daycare while being tested or his symptoms are done.

    1. CCC*

      Absolutely this. A few years ago I would have said this wasn’t great, but not awful. But now it’s awful. Just spreading a cold around has consequences to the lives of your coworkers and the others that they interact with.

      1. Liz*

        Agree. Dayquil isn’t going to magically make you less contagious — and at a party, where people are eating, drinking, standing in small groups to chat… a coronavirus’s dream.

    2. anonymous73*

      A few weeks ago my husband was in a meeting at work with about 10 others. One of them left the meeting, went back to her desk, and found out she had COVID from the rapid test she had done that morning. She had been out sick the 2 days prior, and instead of waiting to get the results, she CAME TO WORK because she felt better.

      I keep seeing people comment about not knowing professional norms when fresh out of college but this stuff is COMMON SENSE. It has little to do with knowing the culture of your office.

      1. Meep*

        I signed up for the Moderna vaccine trial due to this nonsense. I was thrown into a conference room with the owner of the company whose housecleaner had just tested positive for COVID the day before (she came on Wednesdays even through the pandemic, she tested positive on Thursday). He wasn’t wearing a mask. The psychopath (also maskless as she kept fussing with hers) who shoved me in there knew full well and told me AFTER. She thought it was very inappropriate he even showed up, but what could you do?

        While I was figuring out what was the earliest time I could get a COVID test, she laments about how serious this whole thing is and how her friend “Betty” is a medical sales rep and is symptomatic. She is waiting for her COVID test to come back now. Then, Psychopath says something I will never forget. “So what did you do last night? Betty and I went out to get some drinks at [Uptown Bar].”

        The same Betty who was effing symptomatic and waiting on a COVID test…

        As soon as she left me alone, I disinfected and used worktime to sign up for the vaccine trial as if I worked with sociopaths, it was the least I could do.

      2. Boof*

        I don’t really know the situation but I’m just going to say there’s a lot of COVID fatigue. I’m a doctor and even I find myself really wanting to bend the rules for some of these things (specifically, my kids get ANY TINY THING – even just some congestion in a kid who has allergies – and they can’t go to school until they get a covid test – and a lot of times the results take over a day to come back – and here we are keeping kid home from school and all activities even after they seem fine. And for a while one of mine was coming to tears/freakout levels about the covid swab; thankfully last time the county had rapid nasal swab testing specifically for return to school). For a while this was happening about every 2 weeks.
        So I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that the RIGHT thing to do is to keep them home, get the test, wait for results (and of course symptom resolution). And thank goodness I know about the nasal rapid county thing now because I was starting to feel pretty lousy about forcing my kids to get the nasopharyngeal swab over and over.

        TL;DR what coworker did sucks but I get covid fatigue, especially if they had really mild symptoms and multiple false alarms before.

    3. RC Rascal*

      If you read the OP’s letter, this happened several years ago and I assume pre-COVID. It’s been eating at her for a while so she wrote in for feedback.

  15. Littorally*

    Man, this is why I’m even nervous going to the grocery store (which is across the street from my office) on days I call out. I live alone! I can’t send someone else for OJ and kleenex! But I wonder about someone seeing me and being like “are you really sick, dude?”

        1. Loulou*

          I actually think it’s easy to overestimate the number of UNreasonable people on this planet! Just look at the speakerphone question from this morning. Unless someone has given you a reason to think they’re unreasonable I think it’s a safe bet that they’ll respond normally to something normal, like going to the store for cold medicine or asking you to put in headphones.

          1. Koala dreams*

            I agree with you. People write when they have problems, and the more toxic workplaces are more memorable and get more comments. If everybody is reasonable, it doesn’t get that much attention.

    1. Rayray*

      I lived just up the road from my job in my 20s and I always had this fear too, whether going to the grocery store which was only a block from my office for cold medicine or swinging by the Wendy’s drive through cause for whatever reason, I just love greasy cheap fast food when I have a cold.

    2. nekosan*

      I got in trouble with HR in my old job for stopping by the pharmacy on the way home sick to pick up cold medicine. The HR at that company was bad for a number of reasons, however.

    3. anonymous73*

      A reasonable human would see you and not judge. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, some people will always judge because they have nothing better to do with their lives.

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

      Try working in a grocery store and have the pharmacy inside the store, right next to the front of the store and the manager’s office. SO MANY SIDE EYES!!!

    5. noradrenaline*

      Wayyyy back when I worked at the grocery store near my house, I called out with a terrible cold, and later stopped by to pick up some NyQuil. I was reamed and nearly fired when I came in for work the next day. It was literally the first time I had ever called out. Ever since, until covid, I’ve always come into work even sick as a dog, much to my coworkers’ disapproval.

  16. CW*

    This reminds me of an article I read a couple months ago about a football fan who called out sick to attend a 49ers game, and got caught. But it didn’t look like the boss was too furious.

    But back to the post, the grand boss’s reaction was totally out of proportion. If I were the grand boss, I would have AT MOST asked the employee about it for clarification, and maybe give a warning. But that’s it. It was just minor honest mistake on the employee’s part. Still, I am glad that OP got out of there. The fact that the grand boss acted that way just smells of toxicity.

      1. CW*

        On second thought, I agree with you about no warning. I wouldn’t give a warning about this, but maybe just ask for clarification. And even that is not likely necessary.

        Also, I have never been the boss so I can’t really speak from experience. So I apologize if I sounded ignorant.

  17. I edit everything*

    “If you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick for Billy’s pool party tonight.”

    That’s the rule, right? That said, the reaction was over the top.

    1. Presea*

      OP might have had parents who had more nuanced case-by-case judgement in those sorts of situations or otherwise didn’t enforce such a rule, or if they did grow up with that sort of rule, OP might have disagreed with said rule growing up and didn’t feel the need to hold themselves to it.

      That being said, all the speculation in the world won’t change what happened nor the fact that the grandboss’s reaction sucked.

      1. Anon for this*

        When I taught weekday afternoon/evening swim lessons, the number of kids who would come to class and gleefully say “I was home sick from school today!” and then hop in the pool…

        And then of course, when the instructor caught what the kid had, and needed a sub because they were too sick to teach, the *parent who sent their sick kid* would start bitching to the supervisor. “We’ve had two subs because Teacher Kate is ‘out sick’ this is ridiculous, I paid a lot of money for these lessons and there’s no continuity.”

        Because Teacher Kate is an adult not a five year old, she is actually very ill while your child bounced back like a superball.

    2. A Genuine Scientician*

      But that also sometimes leads to ridiculousness.

      For example, my school had the rule that if you missed a gym class, you couldn’t participate in an after school sport until you next went to gym. Seems logical, right?

      Well, at first, sure. But then you run into the complicated reality of things like “I have an ear infection, so I can’t go swimming right now. Gym class is in the pool today, so now I can’t play in the basketball game tonight, even though I’m actually completely fine to play basketball.” Or “I’m on crutches, so clearly I’m not playing dodgeball today. So I guess that means I’m not allowed to go to the rifle team match tomorrow, even though I’d be lying down for that”

      Rules without allowing for circumstances produce bad results. Rules that do allow for circumstances are often twisted by those in power to impact people in biased ways. It’s a hard problem.

    3. June*

      Agree. Calling in sick for two days and showing up to a party shows poor judgment I think. I get the frustration. Especially after a missed deadline.

  18. Jaybeetee*

    I’d even go so far as to say this is something you *can* do at some workplaces, but it’s definitely a case of knowing your environment. I feel like at my job, if someone called off during the day but briefly popped into a holiday party that evening, most people would trust that the person probably did feel like hell earlier in the day, but had recovered enough to come in and say hi by evening. (Ofc, that really does mean “stop in briefly.” If someone called off for the day and then got obnoxiously drunk or partied all night, that would look different…)

    That said, I have encountered that sort of boss where you just get on their sh!t list and it colours their entire perception of you thereafter. It’s especially unfortunate when that kind of personality is managing younger or less experienced people, who often do need extra coaching on professional norms. If that was really the only thing you did, and he blew his stack that badly, you’re better off working elsewhere.

  19. learnedthehardway*

    The reaction from the grand-boss was absurd and rather cruel and unfair, in my opinion (that is, if the LW had otherwise performed well, which they presumably did do, because if they hadn’t, their manager wouldn’t have tried to go to bat for them). The GB should have realized that the LW was a junior employee and that this was a coaching situation (as in, it doesn’t look good to show up for a party if you can’t handle being in the office for work the day of, particularly when your project is off the rails), but what they did was excessively punitive. Assuming for an instant that the bonus would otherwise have paid out at 5% or more of the person’s total income, that’s really excessive.

    And it probably didn’t benefit the company, either. The OP left soon afterwards, and all the training and experience they’d gotten in their first year on the job walked out the door too and probably benefited another company. Surely, coaching performance would have been the smarter choice.

    1. Hmm*


      This was worthy of – at most – a private, quiet, gentle, short conversation about optics, not an extreme over-reaction like this. How utterly ridiculous!

  20. CatPerson*

    I wonder how many people you gifted that cold to when you went to the party? I would have been upset to be exposed to you.

  21. Me*

    With OP’s explanation it was clearly a minor, but to the boss it seems like they may have viewed it as abuse of sick leave. Lying about time is considered a serious firing offense in a lot of places including my government agency. So the the op it was a bad judgement call, but to the boss she probably made the assumption that OP was lying about being sick at all.

    Was the bosses actual behavior over the top? Yes. 100%. There’s absolutely ways to handle the situation and find out what was going on – which it sounds like the direct manager did. In no way am I trying to stick up for the boss – I just want to point out for any young people in the workforce reading this blog how calling out sick, but then doing something fun later the day can be perceived.

  22. Phony Genius*

    I had a grand-grand boss who often acted this way. I had many conversations with my boss and grand-boss about how I was worried if I did something that they were OK with, but grand-grand boss might not be. They always said that they would stand up for me if needed. Of course, what usually happened was grand-grand boss would go below their feet (opposite of going over their heads) and she would let me have it. And it was not like they didn’t try to stop it, but they were basically powerless having been undermined. What bothered me most about it was that my boss and grand-boss continued to insist I listen to them and not to her. It was a bad situation that was resolved when she was “allowed to retire” after making what could be perceived as a biased comment in a meeting. (I wasn’t there; I was told it was borderline.)

    1. Meep*

      My former manager is very “old school” (and by that I mean serfdom, your money is not earned but provided at the generosity of the company on top of them being so kind to provide you with a job). She also likes to speak for our boss/my former grandboss.

      The first time I went on vacation, she had the gall to drag me into her office the day before I was set to leave to chew me out for not giving her advanced notice. Apparently, I was supposed to plan better so we weren’t out at the same time. But don’t worry. She was being generous “this time” and let me go. What really floored me is I had given SIX months of notice and reminded her at 3 months, 1 month, and 2 weeks and she had gushed over how she should also be out at this time.

      It didn’t stop there. She would always make it seem like her archaic beliefs were what Bossman was thinking and that she was really “understanding” but it was all “him”. It was later confirmed as I would watch my coworkers have their plans canceled left and right and look pretty dejected because she guilted them into going on vacation.

      I caught on pretty quick and for any new hirers, I told them to exclusively tell him they were going on vacation and I would back them up. Now all she can do is grumble lowly when HE informs HER that they are on vacation. I am very fortunate this method words. I cringe if she did what your wicked great-grand boss did.

  23. Bananas*

    Of course it was a terrible judgment call and poor work ethic — which is completely irrelevant to being American. Plenty of young Americans in the workforce are very capable, plenty of young workers from other countries are not. It’s just how people are, all people. And I’m not seeing many excuses here either, I think most commenters agree with you that the LW was in the wrong. It’s your obnoxious comments about Americans that are off-base and inexcusable.

  24. Bookworm*

    Agree with Alison: unless there was already issues with your work behavior, this was OTT. And as it was, it really wasn’t appropriately handled.

    There are definitely work spaces which would have been completely fine with you doing this, or even being mad that you called out sick (to avoid the party, perhaps). Of course, that situation wouldn’t be right either, but what a weird thing to be upset about. I’d say it was probably a bookend of sorts to what sounds like was a not so great situation anyway.

  25. Me*

    What’s obvious to one isn’t to another. Usually what we think is obvious, is not because we innately know and more because we have been exposed to things and situations that help us form a decision. Your child knows because you have raised them with that knowledge. Every single person on earth makes a decision that someone else will look at and go “how did you not known that”.

    But the crux of this letter isn’t the employees bad judgement. The crux of the letter is the boss that lost their every loving mind. That’s not how you behave as a manager.

    And the fact that you assume this is an American and American young adults are all amazingly dumb to you shows you came in here with judgement and bias.

    1. Me*

      Nesting fail. Response to person above who was judging OP for not innately knowing – looks like post was removed right as I was commenting :)

  26. Koala dreams*

    It’s wrong to go to the company party when you have a contagious illness, like the cold or a flu. If it’s a non contagious illness is usually fine to show up (if your health allows). It’s a shame you were misled by your co-workers. For a fancy party I’d recommend checking with your boss first, if you have a reasonable boss. Perhaps there’s a RSVP required or logistical hurdles, or in this case, an unreasonable upper boss.

    That write-up was super unprofessional.

  27. The Other Shoe*

    Yah, it was pretty bad, sorry to tell you that. You absolutely gave the message – oh, I’m too sick to work today, but not too sick to go to a fancy party! And infect all of you guys in the process! It came off as very self-centered to me, especially if your team had just had to push a big deadline. I could see how the grand-boss could infer you weren’t very dedicated. You weren’t able to rally to meet a deadline, but you were able to rally to have fun with your coworkers. I’m not someone who thinks you should prioritize your company over yourself/health (it is just a job) – and I almost never work sick. But I would never show up to a party if I had called in sick that day – I mean, I knew that at age 14 in my first job.

  28. Annoying Jedi Intern*

    I’m suffering from extremely low morale at my toxic workplace, so I would literally call in sick to AVOID a work party.

  29. RussianInTeaxs*

    Oh! I’ve done something similar, although not AS bad optics-wise, when I just started working.
    I had bad cramps, so I went home early. Got home, took meds, got better, went to a bar to do play pub quiz. Unfortunately a coworker was there, and she ratted me out. My boss was fairly chill, and just told me that it looked bad.
    But I did not go to a place where all my coworkers were! Nor there was a deadline.

  30. Boof*

    No matter what, denying you a bonus after you’ve been putting in 10-12 hr days is terrible. Obviously in today’s day and age though, PLEASE DO NOT GO TO PARTIES even if just briefly and you are starting to feel “a little bit better” after being sick! Besides the optics there is the potential contagiousness to consider

    1. June*

      Yes. Even before COVID. I worked through H1N1 when no one knew what it was. Droves and droves sick with influenza.

      1. Boof*

        Yeah I mean we knew it was a bad idea before but kind of did it anyway thinking it was only slightly bad and/or employers pressured them to ignore symptoms; I think now people and employers have mostly formally accepted that it is actually a really bad idea? I think? Hope?

        1. pancakes*

          There are still people who think that way. They don’t care nearly as much about people’s health as they care about profits. For an example, look up the recent-ish incident with U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel praising a restaurant worker for coming in while sick. The idea that experiencing a pandemic has led everyone to adopt the same values is pretty blinkered.

  31. Fresh Cut Grass*

    I can absolutely see a misinformed young person doing this and thinking it would be *good* for optics! The advice given to people who want to avoid holiday parties is frequently along the lines of “Show up, have one drink, and then leave”, with the intent to be to show that you’re a team player and capable of socializing.

    Obviously, this is changed when someone is sick, and I’m not saying it was a good idea, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable of a conclusion to come to.

    1. pancakes*

      I think you’d have to be pretty misinformed to think “people will be happy to see me even though I’m contagious.”

  32. Oh no*

    Calling in sick and then going to a party shows poor judgment. It doesn’t matter the length of time there, showing that you can attend a party but not work when there’s a pressing deadline shows poor judgment.
    A lot of people are coming down on the boss but a critical deadline was missed. The office was also closing with work restarting probably in the new year which makes missing the deadline a 2nd time very possible. We do not know the impact on the business and it’s interesting that OP doesn’t consider this at all. Also consider that OP is 1 of a team of 2 so 50% of the team is missing.
    OP there was obviously a lot of naïveté in your decision. While the management was wrong in how they handled it, I do think you showed poor judgment.

  33. raida7*

    Honestly this was an excellent red flag – your immediate boss should have been listened to by the grand-boss. The problem was entirely them.
    I would say, from experience, it is alright to attend a party on a sick day when you are clearly only there to say hi and have one drink/food and leave. Especially when you’re able to say “I have been asleep for ten hours, glad I feel good enough to come here for just ten minutes”
    You’ll never please everyone, but also don’t tie yourself into knots about it – you can always ask your manager if they’ll be all right with it before attending.

  34. Hmm*

    OP, I hope your grand boss has been banned from being allowed any power over people, or any other type of managerial role, in a workplace ever since. They’re both unhinged and unreasonable.

  35. WellRed*

    Off topic and Kate: I would love an update to the linked letter in which you can only bring a spouse if you have kids. The original was written in November 2020 and she was hoping to turn it around for this year.

  36. Kat*

    I learned this growing up. If you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to go to the football/basketball etc game, dance, etc.

  37. Sally Jo Freeman*

    Learned this lesson in high be school from my mother—if you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to go to the ballgame/party, anything fun/social. And calling in sick is different from being out for a scheduled dr. appointment.

    1. Overeducated*

      Exactly. This was actually a school district rule when I grew up, I think – if you are home sick from school during the day, you are not allowed to do anything fun after. (It’s possible I’m misremembering, but I believe it was official.) I’m surprised that people think it’s a cultural thing you learn in your first job because it seems like a fairly clear extension of a common principle you learn in school, but maybe other people had different experiences.

      1. Tired social worker*

        My school had that rule too, and it makes sense as far as contagion is concerned. But as has been much-discussed in the comments here, this is one way that students (and later, workers) with migraines, chronic illnesses, and disabilities end up shut out from community-building activities. I get your point as far as being surprised the OP hadn’t encountered this before, but I do think it’s a norm that needs to develop some nuance as to contagion and the unpredictable, transient nature of both visible and invisible chronic conditions. Maybe you meant for the “contagious” part to be implicit in your comment, but I have definitely also seen migraines, menstrual cramps, and other flare-ups also categorized as attempts at selective malingering, so I still think it’s something worth clarifying explicitly.

  38. qvaken*

    Ehh, I don’t think what OP did was that bad. I would probably ask my manager their thoughts on it, and if they were on board, I would have attended the party too.

    And I really don’t think stopping by for one drink without talking to your manager first is that bad. It’s understandable, really – work happens five (sometimes more) days every week, but you only get one Christmas or end of year celebration a year.

    I think it’s less likely that anyone would have cared if the grandboss did exactly this, or the CEO, or if an older worker with standing in the company did it. As illustrated by some of the comments above me about their mothers teaching them this lesson in high school, I think people feel more indignant when a younger person who is newer to the workforce does this, and I don’t think it’s generally a terrible thing to do. (Not taking into account COVID or the risk of COVID, given the story happened several years ago.)

    1. RagingADHD*

      Of course it would be different if the CEO or a senior worker with a good track record did it. That is the nature of seniority and the entire purpose of having a good track record.

      The contagion aspect would be equally crappy, but the optics would be entirely different. People who have already proved their competence and the value of their contributions, and earned the trust of their coworkers by being reliable, have more leeway. New workers haven’t earned that trust yet, and if they act flaky it takes even longer to earn it.

      But I mean, that’s true of everything. If your beloved sibling or longtime SO had a bad day and snapped at you one time, it’s not a huge deal. If a new date or someone you were just introduced to said the same thing, you’d probably write them off as a terrible person. Credibility is earned over time, and new workers haven’t put in the time yet.

      1. qvaken*

        To be honest, I’ve thought about it some more, and I think it’s no big deal to miss a couple of days of work because you’re sick (that’s what sick days are there for), but it would be a real shame to miss the annual celebration over it. I think the threshold of illness should be higher for the annual celebration. So I’m even more on OP’s side, the more I think about it.

        Of course, the above applies if the employer values the employees. And evidently, the OP’s grandboss did not value OP as an employee, given they were fighting to lose the OP over this.

        So I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. If the employees are valued, they’re valued whether it’s their first day or their twentieth year, whether they’re in an entry level role or an executive role, and whether they’re 15 or 50. And part of showing your employees that they’re valued is ensuring they are included in the nice parts of the job of they want to be, such as the company-wide parties.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Okay, you can decide that’s the way it “should” be if you want to.

          That’s not the reality of the way it works for most people in most places, though.

        2. Pennyworth*

          So them spreading illness around at party is less important than them not missing out? Not in my world.

        3. Tired social worker*

          I’m perplexed at the notion that since the illness wasn’t COVID, the possibility of them spreading it to coworkers somehow should not be a factor. I worry that the lessons we’ve learned from COVID (as far as staying home when ill, giving more sick time, and considering others’ wellbeing in our decisions) will end up being applied only to COVID (or whatever the next pandemic is), when really this pandemic should have been an overall lesson in taking contagious illnesses seriously, period.

          1. pancakes*

            Of course it should be, but surely you’ve noticed that we’re two years in and the US hasn’t in fact overhauled sick leave and healthcare yet!

    2. Overeducated*

      I disagree. It’s not about age or seniority. I think it’s just a basic part of being sick that if you stay home from work, you also stay home from work events. I would be indignant if the grandboss or CEO did it, too, *especially* because it would come off as holding themselves to a different standard than entry level workers.

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, agreed. The only reason it would be “okay” if the CEO did this is because the CEO doesn’t have anyone to hold her as directly accountable as Grandboss did for OP. But if the CEO called in sick on a day when she had major responsibilities to the organization, then showed up at a fancy party the same evening, that would definitely be cause for indignation.

  39. Red*

    It would be seen as very poor judgement on OP’s behalf at any job I’ve worked at. We had 3 people do this at one Xmas party at a job years ago (all late teens who had collectively decided they didn’t want to miss the party) and it ended up being a written policy in a large company going forward that if you were sick for the day, don’t show up for the party. Or come back to work that day

    They framed it as an issue where if you had a sick note from a Dr saying you weren’t fit for work and showed up, and had an accident for eg, then you might not be covered for insurance purposes if you were injured as you hadn’t followed medical advice.

    The 3 all got a stern talking to on the Monday and 2 left within 6 months whereas one stayed on and eventually became senior management. The difference seemed to be that 2 of them complained bitterly about how hard done by they’d been and the 3rd apologised sincerely, worked hard and accepted they were off the promotion track until they’d re earned the trust which only slowed them down by about 6 months.

    It really came down to perception about how they handled the fallout to the original lapse in judgement, not the going to the party in the first place. It’s hard to know from OP’s letter how it went for them, but if their reputation was shot at that company for either reason, then moving on was the only realistic solution for OP

  40. agnes*

    Boss’ reaction was way out of proportion and employee’s choice was ill-advised. I don’t know how you can justify going to a work party in the evening if you were too sick to go to work in the daytime.

    1. Shira*

      Seems to me that the party attendance is a red herring – I’d guess that the grandboss was actually angry about the missed deadline. My guess is that grandboss is the one who overpromised to a client, or got thrown under the bus or reamed out by higher-ups when the deadline had to be pushed back. Then they see OP – one of a two-person team who didn’t meet their deadline – at the party on a sick day, which in grandboss’s head throws doubt on OP’s work ethic and the legitimacy of the explanations behind why the work was delayed. It’s not in the letter, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to guess that having this delay may have caused ramifications up the chain. I’m not saying it necessarily justifies grandboss trying to get OP fired, but if OP wants to take a lesson from this, I’d say “optics” is not just “don’t go to the party on a sick day” but also “your team’s recent accomplishments/failures will affect how higher-ups perceive you.” I know OP wrote that the delays weren’t their team’s fault, but whether fairly or not, they are currently “the team that missed the deadline.”

  41. ThisIshRightHere*

    Ugh. Just wanted to say this kind of excessive obsession with employees’ behavior when they’re supposedly sick is definitely A Thing. I was formally counseled some years ago because I was spotted “out for a walk” on a day when I’d called in sick (a work carpool vehicle had passed me on the road). When I explained that I was not out for exercise, but headed to the pharmacy to get more cold medicine, my boss said “it’s bad for morale” if colleagues see me “out enjoying the weather when I’m supposed to be sick.” I asked if anyone had expressed any concern and he admitted they hadn’t but insisted he knew what everyone was thinking. I took a quick poll when I returned to the office and sure enough no one cared a bit. This was his own dramatic invention.

    1. Persephone Mongoose*

      The situation you’re describing is not at all the same thing as what the LW wrote in about.

      You’re right that overpolicing how people use their sick time is a thing and that coworkers/bosses who may see you out and about during a sick day will jump to conclusions with little to no context. Your boss was wrong to chastise you for it. But that’s not what happened here.

      The LW called out sick from work and then showed up to a WORK party. If you’re taking a walk to the pharmacy to pick up medicine, you’re not encountering very many people (unless the pharmacy is unusually crowded that day) and are unlikely to get anyone sick if you’re just running in and out. But going to an event with all your coworkers? Having a drink? Risking spreading what you have to not just your own department but every department? No way. That’s out of line and LW should not have gone. The grandboss’s reaction was severely over the top, but they are not completely unjustified in being angry. To me, that shows a pretty alarming lack of good judgment and common sense.

  42. Finland isn't real*

    This exact situation happened in our team a month or two ago! My teammate took the afternoon off sick and then showed up to an office party later that evening with a +1 saying he felt better after napping all afternoon. I mean, I believe him, but none of us expected him to actually show up… Our boss was fuming and didn’t talk to him at the party. He asked me what was up with her and I explained it was probably the optics, and the next day she told him that directly, asked him to be more conscious of that going forward and the conversation was over.

    LW is describing a massive overreaction!

  43. breamworthy*

    I’m really surprised by how many are saying that going to an event while contagious was considered fine ten years ago. I’m pretty old and have been working in offices since the mid-90s, and this would never have been okay. Same with family stuff – showing up with a sick kid would be very much frowned upon. Not sure if this is a cultural difference (Canada) or what.

  44. BabaYaga*

    I don’t think the boss reacted that way because of the OP being contagious. I believe they saw her as a slacker who wanted free food and some fancy giveaways, not as an irresponsible germ spreader.

    I guess what I’ll write now isn’t according to the be-kind-and-believe-the-letter-writers rules, but somehow I have a feeling this letter is just jumping at the r/antiwork bandwagon, because nowadays everybody hysterically hates bosses and loves entry-level employees and judges accordingly, and the LW is still not ok that they were reprimanded and wants at least a symbolic revenge.

    1. Tired social worker*

      What? I didn’t get any r/antiwork vibes from this at all. I struggle to see how this is any sort of revenge, when pretty much everyone agrees it was a bad decision to go to the party. I’m concerned about the immediate jump to “slacker,” and it makes me wonder what you think of people with chronic illnesses who would not be able to participate in public life at all without either disclosing their health information or working through dangerous flare-ups. I won’t even address the accusation that people who appreciate the long-overdue shift in power in the workforce are a “hysterical” mass incapable of critical thought. Again, what?

  45. Kathryn*

    This is similar to the elementary school unwritten rule, that if you’re well enough to come to school, you’re well enough to participate in PE/outdoor recess. (Even though that might not be the case. You might be well enough to sit quietly at your desk or go to library/music, but not well enough for PE or outdoor recess.)

  46. TR*

    I witnessed something similar to this a few years ago at my former workplace. One of our team members called out sick on the day of our company holiday luncheon. The luncheon was cafeteria-style with the bosses serving the food. My coworker who had called out sick that day showed up to the luncheon, went through the line to collect food in a to-go container, and promptly returned home as if ordering takeout. This was not a rookie mistake; they were a seasoned employee. I was astonished at the boldness. Grand-boss didn’t seem to react that day but ultimately made some personnel changes, as this was part of a pattern of behavior lacking self-awareness.

  47. Tirv*

    Too sick to go to work/ school automatically translates as too sick to go to a party in my book. Reminds me of my teenagers needing to stay home from school on a Friday as they didn’t feel well , but wanting to go out with their friends Friday night as they felt so much better and didn’t want to miss out on anything. Very bad optics on the part of the OP

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