should managers ever push back when employees call in sick?

A reader writes:

Should there ever be limits on someone using their sick leave if they have it available to use? We’ve had employees tell us “my allergies are acting up today” or “I have to stay home to make sure my pipes don’t freeze.” I don’t want to be in the business of questioning when people are sick, but are there ever times to push back when employees want to use their sick time at the last minute? They do get a generous amount of sick time. We are an organization that requires coverage on customer service points, if that makes a difference.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can I be less annoying when I have to follow up with people?
  • Client wants to make my freelance contract permanent — and I don’t want it

{ 295 comments… read them below }

  1. INeedANap*

    Getting persnickety about people’s sick leave is a great way to ensure your employees 1) lie to you, 2) come in to work sick, and 3) leave for greener pastures.

    Alison is right. Unless there’s a larger pattern of absences or issues with performance, let it go. If I am a good employee who rarely takes off, and my supervisor starts questioning my need for leave, that’s when they start getting graphic and gory details of my gastrointestinal system.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      There are managers who are capable of being generous with sick leave yet stern enough to ensure that it’s not getting abused… but generally those aren’t the ones who have to ask advice columnists about it :-P Getting that level of finesse takes a lot of management experience and also requires you and your employees to otherwise be able to trust each other.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. You need to be firm about reliability and yet flexible so people don’t work contagious or lie. And it isn’t easier for a newbie manager to hit the sweet spot. The most important thing I think is to differentiate. Don’t punish reliable people because of a few who are abusing the system. Don’t enact some draconian policy that inconveniences everyone to deal with Fergus who won’t even notice it is about him anyway. If someone magically is too allergic to be there on the most important days of the month for closing accounts or whatever then talk to THAT person about the importance of reliability for those tasks.

        1. JustaTech*

          “Don’t punish reliable people because of a few who are abusing the system.”
          This needs to be printed in mile-high neon letters for everyone to see and know, in every possible area of life!

      2. L. Bennett*

        Managers who are able to balance those two things don’t just spring up out of nowhere. It truly does take time to develop that ability. I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing into an advice column, especially if you don’t have a mentor who you can ask. A good manager (whether experienced or not) will seek advice when they’re unsure. Bad managers are the ones who assume they’re always right.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I’ve never had to be stern about it being used.
        I just created investment in our work and our department.

        And then I’ve had to send people home because their surgery recovery plan was too optimistic.

      4. yala*

        If sick leave comes from a finite bucket, I’m not really sure how it can be abused, short of the Alison’s example of *always* being unwell on the day you’re supposed to do a thing. I’m not saying it can’t, just that aside from that, I’m not sure what would be considered “abuse” of sick leave, because that seems like a different thing to different people.

        1. UrsulaD*

          A lot of places have super generous policies in case something goes really wrong (my last workplace had some of the senior people with 100ish days) but they clearly aren’t budgeting for everyone to need that much. If you lie about being sick to take a vacation, that’s abusing the system.

    2. Jane*

      Yep. Patterns are key here. I work at a very large public university, and it has a policy that if employees show a pattern of calling in sick and/or taking vacation days around holiday time each year (e.g., the Friday before a Memorial Day Monday off), further exploration is necessary. I’m glad they do this. Why should the same people get the same long weekends every year? It’s a good policy.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I’m likely to give people leeway for sick days AFTER holidays that tend to be times for large gatherings. I’ve come back from holiday celebrations with family with a cold or stomach bug a few times.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – leeway after holidays in my office is also a thing unless it’s a part of a pattern or blatantly* a lie.

          My manager had a chat with Fergus because ours would ask for a day of annual very last minute, get denied because of staffing, and then magically be sick every time on the day he was denied annual for. After the fourth time in six months it happened – the warning went out that if it happened again the sick would be converted to LWOP (leave with out pay) if Fergus couldn’t prove he was actually sick. The only reason we know about this is because he rules lawyered till everyone on shift got held to the same standard. Funnily enough, none of the rest of the shift have ever had that problem.

          Oh, manager knows we need 70% of the shift present to keep people from getting swamped – so he only approves off on average 15% to leave a buffer for people being sick (with our numbers that’s three people out on vacation leave), and if there’s a really good reason he will approve your annual last minute as well. But he doesn’t want to approve so much leave that somebody getting food poisoning causes a coverage breakdown either.

          *As for blatantly false – we actually had someone try and call in sick with a headache from a casino floor (games and everything going in the background of the call). If you’re going to grab a “I can’t see day” make sure you’re calling from a place where the background noise doesn’t give you away. They actually played the saved recording of that call off voicemail in training, for an example of what not to do.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            This reminds me of the time a teacher in Arkansas called in sick to go to the professional horse races, only to meet the superintendent there as well.

        2. Dahlia*

          Holidays for me mean a chronic pain flare that lasts 3-5 days. I’m borderline non-functional for at least one.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        We had one manager here who called in sick EVERY SINGLE MONDAY (unless we had Monday off, then she called out sick on Tuesday), and every time she went on vacation, she’d then call in sick for as long as she’d been on vacation.

        I assume she was legitimately sick, but if you’re always sick after a weekend or every time you have time off or go have any fun, and you’re out sick at least once a week, perhaps you’re too sick to keep working? I have no idea if management here ever gave her any trouble for this (and I note they would not grant part-time work as any kind of option), but that was the one time where I seriously wondered if further inquiries should happen.

        But in general, don’t ask about someone’s sick time. Y’all don’t want people to spell out details.

        1. Daisy*

          In the US health care/insurance is tied to employment so “too sick to stay employed” is pretty much “go without health care until you can qualify for Medicare” unless you have a spouse whose plan covers you also (less common than it used to).

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          “Perhaps you’re too sick to keep working?” seems unnecessarily harsh here. People may take a sick day after vacation for any number of reasons, one of which could be to adjust to any time changes inherent in the travel. Another could be that people know they will be better off staying home to catch up on sleep than coming to the office and being unproductive. Or that they need a day to mentally recover between an intense family gathering (for example) and coming back to a busy workplace. None of these reasons suggest that someone is unemployable.

          1. AnonForThis*

            Except the boss isn’t only out after vacations; she’s out every single Monday as well. I think that at the point that an employee is working less than 80% of the days they are scheduled for because of illness, it’s probably time to talk accommodations.

            1. Donner*

              Why? What would that add? If the manager, or someone, is legitimately sick (or even illegitimately sick), how does doing a bunch of paper work to call her time off an accommodation change the fact that she is out? It changes nothing for the manager and nothing for the people around her.

              And how do we know she doesn’t already have an accommodation that allows her to take sick time or FMLA time (aside from that being utterly ridiculous)? Time off is part of her compensation package, so your “working less that 80% of her scheduled days” argument doesn’t apply. She’s entitled to her sick time.

          2. Chirpy*

            I once got the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had shortly after a long vacation, possibly due to something in the fridge going off without me realizing, or just the stress of travel had made me extra sensitive to whatever it was. But my coworker who left for lunch every Tuesday and then called in for the rest of the day was clearly not actually getting sick (or else *really* needed to stop eating wherever she went, this went on for 2 months). Occasionally is a coincidence, if there’s obviously a regular pattern, management should say something.

        3. lilsheba*

          Interestingly, at my husband’s work there is a guy that calls out just about every single Monday. Because somehow he “doesn’t feel good” on that day. And there is another person there who calls out sick and tells you all the gastro stuff going on…like DUDE!!! Stop oversharing that shit! We don’t need details.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yeah – my boss just asks contagious or not, and encourages you to take a second day if you’re contagious. He doesn’t want to know about symptoms- he just want to try and keep the rest of us as healthy as possible.

            1. Wintermute*

              I think this is reasonable– what you care about as a manager is the impact this might have. If someone calls in with the flu you should probably start making plans for a wave of call-outs, if someone calls in with norovirus or something else intense and insanely contagious you need to prepare for the entire team being out, if someone calls in with food poisoning then you’re probably not going to see spillover (no pun intended)

          2. A Program Manager*

            I used to manage a guy who called in sick frequently (it was a low stakes job so I really couldn’t have cared less if he called out or not) but every single time he would give a detailed description of how sick he was (it was always something GI-related), and it was the absolute worst.

            My spouse on occasion “calls in sick” and does the same thing – over-embellishing how “sick” he is and I give him crap for it every time. Just say you’re sick. A good boss won’t ask questions.

      3. Chris*

        Patterns could also be a good thing for employees to use to recognize a need to see a doctor for something.

        For example stress-triggered migraines might produce a pattern of a migraine that starts building on a Thursday and blooms in to halos, light and sound sensitivity, and disorientation on Friday. This would look to an employer like someone just trying to engineer a long weekend but for the patient employee, it’s a legitimate pattern because you get 2 weekend days to relax and de-stress then the workweek kicks in and stress starts to build up and you’re back to migraines towards the end of the work week.

        In short, recognizing patterns can be good for both the manager to address a possible behavioral problem but ALSO give diagnostic information for the employee to take to the doctor (if they aren’t actually demonstrating a behavioral problem).

        1. TootsNYC*

          this is why investigating the pattern should include, “Do you need to take this to someone and investigate? I don’t need to invade your privacy, but if you keep having the same medical problem, I want to encourage you to go to the doctor/talk to a counselor”

        2. JustaTech*

          Yes to the possible patterns and medical consequences. For a while my mom had terrible headaches (like, see a neurologist bad), so she kept a headache diary.
          Then one day they just stopped.
          So she checked the diary, and the day the headaches stopped was the day she became eligible for retirement. It wasn’t even something she’d consciously noticed, but some part of her brain was really keeping track!

    3. delazeur*

      There are great employees who are occasionally “sick” because they want a day off at the last minute, and no reasonable manager will have a problem with that. A manager who does is going to be a pain to work for for other reasons as well.

      However, I’m not sure if commenters here realize how common it is for certain individuals to call in sick as soon as their sick time balance hits enough hours to cover a day’s work. That’s disruptive to the business and leaves everyone in a tight spot when the individual inevitably ends up actually sick at some point. Those are the employees that make otherwise reasonable managers persnickety about everyone’s sick leave.

      1. Elsewise*

        On the other hand, I know a lot of chronically ill employees who will go into work when they’re having a flare-up of their disorder until they have the hours to cover a day off. Sure, they’re not contagious, but in a lot of cases they’re doing long-term damage to their health and probably not doing their best work.

        1. Danish*

          Yup. Chronic Illness here and I had to watch my sick time and would call out the moment I had enough hours to cover a full day. Because I ALWAYS felt AWFUL and every moment I could take off to not feel awful was a blessing.

        2. Kayem*

          Yeah, my partner has a chronic condition and has historically run low sick leave balances because of it. Their boss is the kind of person who takes a day off and then comes into work anyway. That makes partner feel extra self-conscious when they have a flare-up and need to leave early or take a day off.

      2. Just Another Cog*

        Yes, certain individuals do watch their sick leave balances like a hawk and use up every ounce every year. I once had an employee who would have me print out her balances a few times a year and then announce that she had x days of sick leave she would need to take before year end so she wouldn’t lose them. She knew what the days were allotted for, so not naive that they ‘had’ to be taken. She always properly called out. It irked me for a while, but then I realized it didn’t really hurt production and it was part of her compensation. She was otherwise a good employee so I relaxed a bit (which made life easier on me) and let her be her.

        1. delazeur*

          True – I think YaBetterWerk has it right that this should be a holistic performance assessment, not specific to any given sick day or even pattern of sick days.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Ugh, yes. I’m still salty about the boss who gave me a “marginal” rating for attendance on my annual performance review after I HAD to miss a week of work due to my daughter having chicken pox (because her day care–where she caught the chicken pox in the first place–would not ALLOW her to come back until all the lesions were fully scabbed over). My husband had just started a new job and was not yet able to take any time off, so it all fell on me.

            This happened during the last month of my first year at that job. I had taken very little sick leave up until that point, and I didn’t go over my my annual sick leave allotment even with that week off. But my boss saw the number of sick days I’d used, arbitrarily decided it was too high, and marked me “marginal” without taking anything else into account, because that’s the kind of jerk he was. *eye roll*

            He was a terrible boss in many ways, and that whole workplace was swarming with evil bees, but that one particular incident sticks in my mind (and my craw) more than anything else.

            P.S. This was before there was a chicken pox vaccine, in case anyone is wondering.

            1. BubbleTea*

              We don’t have the vaccine in the UK (I think it’s possible to get it privately if your kid is high risk?) and the off til scabbed over thing is the reason I had to take a second week off, after already having a week off due to my toddler vomiting so much he was hospitalised. So much sick time! Thankfully I’m self employed…

      3. Elitist Semicolon*

        How is that any more disruptive than a usual sick day or sick leave? Employees who are entitled to sick leave are entitled to use that leave. Folks with a fair number of hours of leave might still have an issue that requires more leave than they have. The exact reason doesn’t change whether other employees need to cover their shifts/projects.

      4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My current manager’s mantra is: I get that “I can’t see days” happen – just do not make me aware of what is going on.

      5. Goldie*

        I had an employee who was dealing with a big life stressor and would use sick time as soon as she got it. Her supervisor was getting annoyed. I (grandboss/HR role) had a conversation with her about it and she didn’t realize it wasn’t typical for people to do this. She was suffering in her personal life and it was impacting her work. I assured her that we wanted to support her and cared about her. We brainstormed options and resources–I offered short-term disability if she needed it. I think she just needed to have the conversation.
        She worked on her self-care and within a few months she was doing much better. Years later, she moved on in her career and has stayed in touch and has very fond memories of working with us.

    4. LCH*

      Allergies are super weird too! I had an assistant who would call out here and there. One day, she called out, then I saw her in the afternoon. She finally told me she had bouts of hives which is usually why she used her sick time, but that day they had gone away really quickly so she came in after all.

      1. Rainy*

        Yeah, people who don’t have allergies, or who are super dramatic about the minor sniffles they do get often don’t understand that if I say “I can’t come in today because of my allergies” what I mean is that despite my daily antihistamine, my daily asthma meds, and whatever as-needed antihistamines and asthma meds I’m taking, my eyes are swollen almost shut and the constant tearing up makes me look like I’m crying, I’m sneezing basically nonstop, I’m going through tissues so fast I’m going to personally cause a 2020-level shortage, and the brainfog means that it took me 20 minutes to type that nine-word email. Also, because they’re so fun, I *might* have whole-body hives.

        And that doesn’t include “they changed the ingredients on something I regularly eat and I’m having an allergic reaction that involves hives and the kind of gastro symptoms that make you long for the sweet release of death” kind of allergies.

        I’m pretty matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but my immune system is DEFINITELY a drama queen.

        1. Kyrielle*

          “I’m out for allergies” usually meant I had an INCREDIBLY clogged sinus (because that’s where mine liked to settle, still do but it’s gotten better since what turned out to be very necessary sinus surgery) which was giving me a headache _and_ fatigue. I would be taking a decongestant and an acetaminophen, using a neti pot if I had enough balance to, and going back to bed….

        2. LWh*

          Yeah I occasionally have allergies so severe that they make my tonsils swell, which gives me such bad headaches (because the pain radiates on up my head) that they rival migraines I’ve had, and medicine does very little for them. It was worse when I lived in a different state than I do now (different allergens there), but I’ve had full on illnesses that would have been easier to work with than some of the symptoms I’ve had from allergies. I worked with a broken nose recently, but couldn’t have worked with these allergies.

        3. Saddy Hour*

          I feel this so hard. It took me like 6 years, but I finally got a diagnosis for a mast cell disorder which causes debilitating allergic symptoms. In my last-last job, I called in sick with literal anaphylaxis more than once and, though I tried to be transparent and matter-of-fact about it, my boss and grandboss made it very clear they didn’t believe me. Even when I had plenty of sick time, had projects under control, and took time off in accordance with policies, they pestered me about documenting my weird disorder and requesting intermittent FMLA because they didn’t like that I routinely needed time to recover. They never directly said it but it carried a huge implication of “submit this because we know you’ll be rejected.”

          I talked to my allergists and they said they’d help submit documentation if it was really necessary, but that the only consistent trigger seemed to be stress. From work. So they gently recommended that I find a new job instead of continuing to engage in a situation that caused me actual physical harm. I did end up moving to another team and it was incredible how much healthier I was, almost immediately.

          I hope this isn’t overstepping, but if you haven’t already explored the possibility of some kind of mast cell problem you might want to talk to an allergist about it. One of the big red flags for my allergists was that internal allergens (like food) are not really supposed to cause external reactions (like hives). Brain fog, inexplicable hives, and asthma/asthma-like symptoms are all really common. It sounds like you have a great grasp on your body oddities, but just in case it helps!

          1. Rainy*

            Oh, interesting. I’ll mention it to my GP, but I am pretty well-controlled in that I know what I’m allergic to and am good at avoiding it. Except tree pollen, which is unavoidable. I also don’t miss work much for allergies–maybe 3-4 days total in the last six years–but it’s one of those things I’m pretty militant about because allergies are not in someone’s control and it makes me furious when I see someone being blamed for their allergies.

            I have a very excitable immune system, which is moderately hilarious because I grew up on a farm running around barefoot, getting dirty, and was also EBF until I was two, so most of the stuff people like to blame allergies on isn’t the case for me.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I cannot tell the difference between allergies and a head cold; in either case I have a runny nose, sore throat and cotton brain. It wasn’t until quarantine (when I presumably wasn’t getting viruses) that I realized how bad my allergies actually are.

        1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

          Me too, in fact I don’t even really get the runny nose or the watery eyes. My primary seasonal allergy symptoms are intense fatigue, crippling body aches and sometimes even a low grade fever. It took me years to realize it was allergies and that I was always sick when my husband was popping extra Zyrtec.

          I go through Covid tests by the handful in tree pollen season.

        2. ceiswyn*

          That’s probably because most head cold symptoms are actually caused by the immune system’s reaction to the virus, rather than by the virus directly. (I’ve a feeling that this also explains why some people just experience a few sniffles while others are incapacitated; some people’s immune systems are a lot more reactive!)

          I used to get terrible hayfever, and couldn’t tell the difference between them either.

          1. Ariaflame*

            The number of ‘colds’ I got severely decreased when I started regularly taking antihistamines. It does not help that I live in what some have called the pollen capital of the world.

    5. L'étrangère*

      And also most sick leave is almost by definition last minute.. If I knew I was going to get sick, I might get to do something about it :-). But seriously, sick leave for a traumatic dentist appointment or scheduled surgery can be anticipated, but a positive covid test cannot

      1. JustaTech*

        At my first professional job I had my boss be super surprised and confused when I scheduled a sick day for a medical procedure. “How do you know you’re going to be sick?” “Because the doctor said it might take all day to recover?” “Oh!”
        It was like it had literally never occurred to him.

    6. Chel*

      At my old job the department admin had called in sick and then I got sick (throwing up) after a few hours. I went home and our manager called the admin and asked if she was feeling better and could come in for the rest of the day. He didn’t like having multiple people out. Our jobs didn’t overlap and there were no time sensitive issues to handle. Same manager asked me to cancel my vacation when I got strep the week before and took three sick days. He seemed to think that was enough time off. That wasn’t the main reason I left, but it was on the list.

  2. YaBetterWerk*

    Re: Sick Time

    The thing to manage isn’t, necessarily, the iffy circumstances for sick time; it’s their individual performance including things like role coverage. Getting into the weeds on what their reasoning is will only encourage them to lie in the future.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, and this is why “I’m taking a sick day today” should be all the notification any employer requires.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        Yes and no – I think there really should be some ability to give and take when it comes to not-actually-that-sick leave versus how much of a bind it puts the employer in, and that’s hard to do if the employer and employee can’t trust each other. Ideally, it’d go like this:

        Employee: Hey boss, I’d like to take today off. I’m feeling a bit under the weather.
        Boss: Of course you can take off if you need to, although that’s going to push X project back a day and I was hoping to avoid that.
        Employee: Me too, but Janet can cover for me and I’ll get to it tomorrow *OR* Crap, I forgot about X project… would it be okay if I took the morning off to get a few more hours of sleep and let the Tylenol kick in and I’ll see if I can put in a few hours from home this afternoon?

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          People being out due to sickness is just part of the CODB, though. If project X can’t handle one person being out sick for one day, then management needs to plan better.

          And honestly, I don’t want sick coworkers around me!

          1. rayray*


            And, as has happened in countless workplaces, one person comes in with a highly contagious illness like Covid or Norovirus – all because they thought the team couldn’t possibly handle their absence and then the whole team gets wiped out.

            Let people call in sick.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              Yeah that time the boss sent me angry emails because I was home sick, with a sick daughter, telling me “but Julie came in despite being sick”. Yes, exactly, she came in and spread her germs around. If it were only my daughter who was sick, I could WFH, but I can’t do that when I’m sick myself. “what do I do about your current projects?” I don’t know, I have a terrible headache and trying to think about work makes it worse, which is precisely why I need to be on sick leave.

              I found out later that it’s actually illegal here to contact employees while on sick leave, it can be construed as harassment. I expect a quick “what’s your password? Julie needs to check your email” would be OK, but asking when you’ll be back most certainly is not.

          2. Anonforthisforsure*

            This is a good point, and one I need to bring up with my management. As the only person who submits funding proposals for my nonprofit, I really can’t take sick time when I have a deadline, which is most of the time. I always try to submit early just in case, but I rely on others for needed info (like letter #2) and they’re busy with their own jobs, so sometimes I cut it closer than I’d like. If I feel shitty, I can work from home so I don’t get anyone else sick, but if I miss the deadline, we lose the funds for at least a year and potentially wind up cutting programming. Thankfully I don’t get sick much and I’ve never missed a deadline, but it would be better if someone else could get trained in my processes.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              This is why all my boss asks (if the call doesn’t go to voicemail) is contagious or not. If you say contagious he’s encouraging you to take an extra day so that you don’t spread and take down the whole team (which we had happen a time or two before he took over).

              If at all possible – please stay home and be selfish with contagious germs.

            2. JustaTech*

              Yeah, that’s why it’s important to have redundancy for the folks who make the money happen.
              Years ago my MIL, who did payroll at my in-laws’ small business had a heart attack on a Thursday (she’s fine). But because she was the only one who knew how to do payroll, and they paid weekly, my FIL had to pay everyone out of their personal bank account.
              They did a lot of cross-training after that.

        2. Fluffy Fish*

          Nope. People get sick. Employers need to be able to handle that including when there’s a deadline looming.

          Not on the employee – its on the employer.

          1. kiri*

            100% agreed – as a manager, I cannot imagine responding to someone (reliable and trustworthy) calling in sick with anything other than “hope you feel better soon!” Especially in the age of covid, I feel like people are generally reasonably understanding about “so-and-so was out sick for a couple days last week, we’ll need to push the deadline on this project a bit.”

            As an employee, hearing my sick call-out received with a reminder of how my illness is inconveniencing my employer would only make me feel worse, and if I knew I’d hear that whenever I called in sick, I’d be wayyy less likely to do so (and tbh I’d probably start job-searching).

            1. Mice trouble*

              “This doesn’t fit into my plans.” and “The worst thing you can do is go on sick leave. Ask the doctor for morphine.” were what my ex-boss told me the last two times I called in sick. Don’t miss that place.

            2. Elitist Semicolon*

              I’m still irked that, when I broke a(n uncast-able) bone a few years back and couldn’t move without my entire upper body lighting up with pain, I was told, “No, we want to hold this meeting in person and not by Zoom.” I was tangential to the meeting to begin with, I don’t work shifts/projects that need covering, I was hazy with painkillers, and yet for some reason they needed me to be physically present. “Hope you feel better soon” was the lowest possible bar here and they still failed to clear it.

            3. Meghan*

              My last manager was so passive-aggressive about things like being sick or needing to go home. I get migraines and luckily they are more auditory than visual so if I know it’s gonna be a bad one, I have time to get myself home. She would act like it was a personal insult to her that my head was hurting so bad I was crying and then talk about how she is “so nice” because she lets us go do things with our kids at their school and stuff.

              Cut to my manager (of a month!!) now- 2 weeks ago I came to work for all of 15 minutes and said “I need to go to the doctor I feel horrible” and ended up only having drainage (thank goodness). Later that week I mentioned that I hadn’t been at work on Monday and she goes “you were here” “I was here for 15 minutes” “yeah….you were here.” And I got paid that full day despite not doing a single useful or productive thing during my 15 minutes on property.

            4. Erin*

              I had to call in sick once on a day that I had two major deadlines. As I was apologizing to my boss and explaining that I would bring my laptop to the hospital, he was like “what is wrong with you? You think I care about your deadlines right now? We will figure it out, don’t you dare bring your computer, and I don’t want to hear from you until tomorrow at the earliest to see how you’re doing”. And that’s why I’m not leaving this job any time soon

        3. Still*

          I strongly disagree. If I’m calling in sick, an answer like that from my boss would really read like they’re pushing for me to work. It’s inappropriate.

          If I feel like I’m able and willing to do a bit of work, I’ll offer it: I’ve definitely said things along the lines of “I’m under the weather, I’ll see if I can manage to work from home for a few hours because I want to stay on top of X, and I’ll let you know if I need to take the rest of the day off”.

          But it has to come from the employee. There should be no “would it be okay if I took the morning off”. It’s not a question, it’s not a vacation request, the employer doesn’t get to decide or push back on it.

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            I’ve done this as well, including when I tested positive for Covid the week we had 6 reports due. (I barely felt like I had a cold, but I tested just in case for an event and was shocked when it came back positive.) But when I reported my results as required and requested WFH, I was the one who said “I feel ok and plan to work on these deadline projects,” to which my boss said, “fine, if you feel worse, let’s reassess.” He didn’t initiate the request, which would’ve felt gross even though I wasn’t overly sick.

            (Lesson learned: federal grantees, wear a mask for the weeks leading up to the 15th of January, April, July and October!)

        4. Young worker*

          Nope. Let me be sick. We are all human, let’s not forget that, and have some empathy. I know project X is coming up but I have determined that I am too sick to do it.

        5. House On The Rock*

          I would be very uncomfortable as a manager guilt-tripping an employee about a deliverable and implying that they should work when they are under the weather. Good employees are on top of their deadlines and usually include info on what may need coverage and what may need to be pushed when they call in sick. But even if they don’t, part of my job as a manager is to help find coverage or message delays.

          On the flip side, if my boss used language like the above about what they “hoped to avoid” and implied that I was causing an issue by taking a sick day, I’d be taking another day to update my resume.

          1. LWh*

            I once had a boss respond to me telling her I had a positive strep test with her saying that she needed me at work anyway.

            I did tech support on site at a hospital.

            I was scheduled to be at the oncology department that day.

            With a patient I personally knew doing treatments there at the time.

            I told her I would not be coming in and I was prepared to walk off the job that day if she didn’t accept that answer, because I wasn’t going to walk in and give strep to a bunch of cancer patients. No job is worth doing something that evil.

        6. Lozi*

          I gotta disagree. How about …

          Employee: Hey boss, I’d like to take today off. I’m feeling a bit under the weather.
          Boss: Of course you can take off if you need to. I understand you are working X project. Since it’s a priority to get that done, I will step in / find someone to help cover it.
          Employee: Janet can cover for me and I’ll get to it tomorrow *OR* Crap, I forgot about X project… thanks for managing that.

        7. Writer*

          This is not ideal.

          Ideally, the manager treats the staff member like an adult who can determine their limits and recognize that rest and healing is more likely to keep them consistently productive than feeling pressured to work while sick.

          And the indirect hinting of “I was hoping to avoid that.” This is a thing that is really insidious to organizational culture. Say what you mean directly and own it. The incorrect way pressures the employee to “volunteer” to override their own judgment call about their health and limits, without the manager having to feel like the bad guy by saying “I’d prefer that you come in to meet the deadline,” which is at least honest.

      2. RJ*

        This. I lived through the era of having to explain why I’m calling out sick and I won’t do that again. If my performance is suffering or I have a deadline, I’ll work around that but I’m way past the need to justify my being out of the office due to being sick.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Same – and people are still doing it too. During my time as a supervisor I’d have people call out with descriptions of why they were sick and it was hard to break them of that habit. I’d always tell them, “I don’t need the details, just let me know you’re calling out sick.”

          I’ve been only calling out with “I’m sick today and am calling out” and haven’t gotten any pushback asking for more information. I’m glad I at least work for people who don’t need proof but I’m also in a union job (which I suspect helps).

          1. Elsewise*

            I had an employee who came from a really restrictive work environment that had required him to send proof for any absence or lateness. Mostly he’d just send me a picture of a thermometer when he was sick, but once he (very frantically) sent me a picture of a crowded bus stop to prove that his bus was late, as well as a screenshot of the bus tracker app. He wound up being less than five minutes late, and it was his first time, but he was still nearly in tears apologizing to me when he got there. I am so glad I never worked for his old boss.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          We have someone very young get cut off in a staff meeting after he came back– we really didn’t need to hear stomach bug details. TMI dude.

      3. rayray*

        I agree.

        I truly can not understany why any manager wants to hear the gross details of someone being on the toilet, sick out of both ends all to justify not coming in to work.

        All anyone needs to say is “I am too sick to come in to work today.”

        1. Wintermute*

          in the mind of many a manager like that you are a work unit. You being out of order is like a server being down or a widget press not pressing widgets. This is a problem for them, because obviously machinery should not be broken.

          Others are the corner-playing sort that is always working some angle, and they assume everyone is as conniving and deceptive as they are. They naturally assume that the point of a workplace is for everyone to try to screw everyone out of everything they can– he watches you like a hawk because he assumed you are taking advantage (or attempting to) of him, because that’s what he would do in your shoes and in fact that’s exactly what he’s been doing since the day you were hired.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think so many people–managers and employees–only have parental or school paradigms of authority.

          if we wanted to skip school because we were sick, we had to prove to our parents that we were really sick. First, my mom wanted to know what was wrong because she was the front line of medical care, and that was info that would guide her treatment of me.
          But it may have felt like I needed to persuade her I was really sick.

          And there was always this subtext of “all kids want to get out of school and will fake being sick” that it felt like we were fighting. So I assumed my mom was giving the school all the info to justify the absence (an “excused absence” always felt like it meant we’d provided all the medical info, instead of it simply being that my parent had officially notified the school).

          And again, often we told the school the symptoms because if it was contagious, they wanted to know so they could alert all the people we might have infected.

          So that set a stage that one had to justify an absence, first because of the distrust, and second because of the medical info/treatment (but I know -I- didn’t realize that was why my mom was asking such pointed questions).

          and some people never get any other paradigm to set their standards by.

          1. JustaTech*

            Yes to the weird standards set in school.
            When I was in grad school one of my classes was like 50% team project, and one of the people on my team got sick. Like, really, really sick, bed-rest sick. (This was a grad school program for people who were also working full time.)

            This classmate had actually already done all of her section of the project, so it didn’t really impact us, but the professor emailed each person in the team and asked if we wanted her to have a lower score because she was out sick.
            “Heck no! She already did all her work, and even if she hadn’t, it’s not her fault she’s really sick!”
            Like, when my team mates at work got sick during big project we just worked around it, we didn’t like dock their pay or something.

  3. cabbagepants*

    #2 — teach others how to treat you (and your requests). Over-apologizing for doing your job would backfire by erroneously signaling that you’re imposing and being rude. You should still be courteous in your requests, of course, but that can be as simple and concise as leading with a friendly salutation and then using the word “please.”

    Signed, another millennial woman

    1. Nesprin*

      Yep- you’re not asking for a favor, you’re asking for them to do their job.
      My approach is you get one friendly email asking for the thing, one phone call asking for the thing, and one email with description of problems that arise if you don’t get the thing with a supervisor cc’d.

    2. PotteryYarn*

      I have to track down everyone from low-level salespeople to the CEO, so I’m very well-versed in this process. Most of the time, I reply to my original email with something like “Following up on this, thanks!” and usually get a response pretty quickly. When that doesn’t work, I typically call or IM them and get them to give me a deadline on when they’ll get the thing to me and just keep following up and accepting that being annoying is kind of the point of this process. Also, some people are consistently terrible with deadlines, so I tend to factor in additional time whenever possible to hunt people down when I know they’re always late getting back to me.

  4. Rachel*

    Just thinking about how the last time I took off for “just allergies” it was because my eyes were watering so much I didn’t feel comfortable driving. Even if people aren’t contagious they could need the day off.

    1. Matt*

      Or for me it means “I’m switching over from my normal regime to benadryl”, which means even though I could work from home, I’m not going to be in any state too.

      Luckily it only seems to happen once or twice a year, because yeah I’d much rather prefer to be working and not feeling awful than basically unable to think and half asleep all day.

    2. Beth*

      When my allergies were at their worst last month (for example), I was sneezing uncontrollably, loudly enough to make the walls ring, blowing my nose like a thunderclap, driving was dicey, my ability to concentrate was close to zero, my eyes became so sensitive to glare that I had to wear heavy sunglasses indoors, and the only relief at the peak was to take the kind of drugs that knock you out.

      I would have waxed extremely wroth with a manager who tried to treat that as No Big Deal.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Even if you weren’t dealing with drowsiness and all the other miseries, having to be officemates with someone sneezing all day long would make work harder for the office, too, and with no real gain! Just let the person who needs the day rest!

        We know for a fact that rest helps our bodies heal faster and get back to regular productivity. There’s no reason to force people to work sick for longer.

      2. ScruffyInternHerder*

        re: a manager who treated my allergies as NBD.
        Nah, I’d have sneezed on them.

        (Okay, really I wouldn’t have, but having grown up with horribly wicked allergies, I didn’t feel well until I was probably 20-ish, which coincides with the current crop of OTC medications. Heck, they may have been Rx back then, but I had access to something better than Benadryl.)

    3. Lola*

      My allergies are generally the runny nose, watery eyes type, but every once in awhile I have a reaction that is intense sinus pressure and a headache so bad I imagine it’s similar to a migraine. It is NO joke (and gave me tremendous empathy for those who suffer migraines regularly). Not being able to look at a screen or light is enough reason for me to call in sick.

    4. Shandra*

      Or you’re functional, but your nose won’t stop running. You can work fine (at home), but you just need more frequent nose-blowing breaks.

    5. kiki*

      As someone who takes times off for migraines, a lot of folks feel like it’s “just a headache.” I get tunnel vision and throw up a lot of the time with migraines. Looking at screens (which is my whole job) increases the chances of the migraine being severe and lasting multiple days. I don’t want to have to make a big deal of how bad migraines are every time I take off, so it’s essential that my bosses trust me (which for the most part they have).

      1. laser99*

        Fellow migraineur here. I get spitting mad whenever anyone questions the severity of migraines. I have no qualms about lecturing people. At the very least, they leave me alone to avoid more lecturing, ha ha

    6. Jill Swinburne*

      Or, I work with the public and my red puffy eyes make me look like I’ve come into work from a two-day bender.

  5. HR Ninja*

    I really wish companies would shift away from the term “Sick” and opt for “Personal”, which could cover a myriad of situations between not feeling well to medical appointments to personal issues, etc.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, and not put them all in one bucket. It’s terrible to have personal time and sick time in one bucket. They really need to be two.

      1. rayray*

        I see this argument a lot, and I wonder what difference it makes if you get the same amount of days. I worked somewhere that had two separate buckets for Vacation or Sick. They were pretty lenient on the “sick” hours though and you could use it however you wanted. Sick hours did expire at the end of the year, but you would get it paid out if you didn’t use it all. They switched to a different system of having it all in one bucket, and nothing changed. We still got the same amount of days/hours.

        At some places, presumable where the OP works, they are more strict on it and you need a justifiable cause to take sick hours. What if I just don’t get sick? What if I only had a cold and just needed to use 1-2 days but that was it? Or just used occasional half days for appointments? What if I want more days to go on vacation but can’t use those “sick” days?

        1. Melicious*

          Yes, that’s how it is at most places with one bucket for PTO. I have 15 days. I’d like to plan ahead and use 15 days for vacation. But if I get the flu and am out sick for a week… well then. Now I only have 10 days to use for how I’d actually like to use them.

          1. rayray*

            Yeah, totally makes sense.

            I wish workplaces would offer more PTO than they do. Especially for roles that are required to be on-site.

          2. Donner*

            Planning a vacation that uses all your PTO is risky planning.

            For me, fortunately, my PTO has always rolled over, so I keep a 40 hour cushion. But even if your PTO doesn’t roll over, you have to decide what your risk tolerance is. If you would lose your 40 hour cushion at the end of the year, you would factor that into your risk.

        2. librarymouse*

          I have this set up where I currently work (pto all in one bucket) and the downside for me is that I am hesitant to schedule any vacation time for the fear of getting struck by the flu or something later in the year when I’ve already used up my time off. If they were separate, then I would be able to allot more time to vacation—though I can see someone having the opposite view if, for example, they had medical issue that required frequent time off.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            This is why I really don’t like that “all one PTO bucket” system. I like to be able to take vacation time that I’m entitled to without worrying about what will happen if I get sick.

              1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                Presumably, if you had two buckets, it would be less in each, so it’s not like you’re losing any days. And, at least with the one bucket, it gives people the option for more vacation days rather than just losing sick days if they’re not needed.

                1. Rayray*

                  Yeah, this is exactly why I was questioning it. I keep track of my PTO and always keep in mind that I could get sick, get in an accident, other emergencies etc so I like to keep a cushion of days in there when planning out vacations and stuff.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  Yeah, exactly. This confuses me too. Last job I had 2 weeks PTO, 1 week sick. It was exactly the same as if I had 3 weeks all together. If I exceeded that sick time, you bet it would be coming right out of my vacation anyway. So I guess I struggle with where the issue comes into play.

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                That’s what I did before we went to unlimited. Then at the end of the year, inevitably there’d be extra time that had to be used or I’d lose it. Have to say I miss being able to request an entire week PTO, or two months worth of Fridays, with the explanation being simply “have to burn PTO”.

              3. Clisby*

                Before I retired, I had 18 days/year for sick leave (accrued 1.5 days/month). Vacation leave was separate. However, sick leave was restricted to the employee. I’m sure people sometimes lied and used sick leave to take care of a child/spouse/whoever – but it did require lying.

                1. Aitch Arr*

                  Thankfully, some US states that mandate paid sick leave also mandate that said sick leave can be used for oneself or for family members.

                  In Massachusetts for example: Workers may use earned sick time if they are ill or injured or have a routine medical appointment. They can also use earned sick time for their child, spouse, parent, or spouse’s parent for the same purposes. In addition, workers may use earned sick time to deal with domestic violence involving themselves or their children.

              4. Donkey Hotey*

                Happy Meal:

                Because keeping that kind of buffer is a pleasant dream. I’m an adult and at my last job, I had exactly 5 days to last me the first 13 months of my employment, (and those didn’t kick in until I’d been there for six months). After the first 13 months, I had 10 days a year for combination vacation and sick.

                I’m guessing you do not live in the US?

                1. Donner*

                  After the first 13 months, I had 10 days a year for combination vacation and sick.

                  If you planned for at most 5 vacation days, then keeping 5 days in reserve for sick time was not a pleasant dream. It was a thing that you actually were able to do after 13 months, albeit with the enforcing done by your employer. If you had 10 days of PTO instead, then the planning is the same: plan for at most 5 days of vacation so that you have 5 days available to take when sick.

                  I’m sorry you had so little paid time off.

          2. Donner*

            But there is nothing about having 15 days of PTO that forces you to plan for 15 days of vacation. You can still plan for 10 days of vacation and reserve those other 5 days for last minute things like sickness or plumbers.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              But the point is, then what happens if you get the flu for 2 days in Feb, and your allergies knock you out a day in March and in April, and your kid is sick in June. Now you’re into your vacation time you set aside. If you booked those two weeks, then you have to hope you or your kids don’t get sick for the rest of the year? That’s not practical. They should be separate buckets because that acknowledges that 1-time off is important, and 2-time off to recharge is DIFFERENT from time off when you’re sick. It also acknowledges that people may plan vacations with family, international trips, etc., and should not have to set time aside just in case they get sick.

              1. Donner*

                And what happens in the two buckets scenario when you have 10 vacation days, 5 sick days, a two-week international family vacation planned, you get the flu for 2 days in Feb, your allergies knock you out a day in March and in April, and your kid is sick in June? You still have to hope you or your kids don’t get sick for the rest of the year. If someone is sick, you have all the same options whether you have 1 bucket of time off or 2.

              2. Orange You Glad*

                But even if they were in separate buckets, you would be in the same place. If you had 10 days of vacation and 5 days of sick leave instead of 15 days combined and ran into all those illnesses, you would still be out of sick days and have to dip into your vacation bucket.
                Combining everything into 1 PTO bucket rewards healthy people who take little to no sick days, but really leaves anyone that is using a lot of sick days in the same spot deciding to use up their PTO or take unpaid leave.

              3. Happy meal with extra happy*

                I’m operating under the assumption that the total is the same. So if you set aside xx number of sick days from the one bucket approach but use them up, you still would have run out of sick days if there was two buckets.

          3. Critical Rolls*

            But… would you not use vacation time anyway of your illnesses exceeded your sick time? Like, if you had 10 days each of sick time and vacation time, and you were sick for 12 days, would you not start digging into the vacation days to make up those 2 extra? And at that point how is it different than 20 days of unspecified PTO? And, conversely, if you rarely get sick, wouldn’t it be nice to get to just use those sick days as other time off? I really don’t understand.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          This second paragraph is why I was happy when my employer switched to everything in one bucket. Our sick time policy was ridiculous. 3 sick days per year, only allowed to take for unplanned illnesses, no Dr appointments and such. (I once had to take vacation for a planned surgery, which left me quite peeved.) Use it or lose it, refreshed on January 1st of every calendar year. I was losing sick days every year because the company’s definition of a sick day was so restrictive, I could never fit into it. Either I wasn’t sick enough or my sickness wasn’t unplanned enough.

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I get separate sick and annual buckets of leave. They are pretty lenient on what constitutes sick vrs annual – the separation comes because they let you carry over indefinite sick leave, but you hit use or loose on annual leave at 200 hours.

          (The employee handbook states you get a pay out when/if you leave for unused vacation, they don’t pay out for sick leave however. It’s a budgeting calculation to them, but still generous compared to every other place I ever worked for.)

        5. Hannah Lee*

          The company I work at switched to the combined bucket, and when the change happened, increased the number of days so that if someone had 3 weeks of vacation before, they had 3 weeks + x # of days after that they could use for vacation or sick time or whatever. There’s other leave available if someone is ill or unable to work for more than a week, and our state also has a paid family leave so if someone needed extended time to care for a family member who was sick, or needed to take multiple days intermittently for the same reason (ie their child has a condition that causes them to get sick frequently or need treatment periodically) so they don’t have to burn PTO for that.

          The idea behind it was to both give employees flexibility to use it as they saw fit, and to take managers out of the parental/authoritarian role of judging whether an “out sick” reason was “good enough”. It’s not perfect, there are some people who ask to not be paid for time they are out so they can bank it for a multi-week vacation later in the year (which on one hand sounds okay, but on the other effectively makes them a less than full time employee even though they are on the books as one based on their “standard” schedule, and there’s one person who I swear plans for “not really sick sick days” around big events and holidays because he likes time off from regular work to drive Uber.) and other people who schedule a bunch of vacations early in the year and then freak out when they’ve got no PTO left when flu season rolls around again.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Unlike at OldJob, where when they combined it all into one bucket, everyone lost at LEAST one day. Bonus: those with more years at the employer lost even more than that.

            Went from 6 sick days and 10 days vacation to 15 days total PTO (I had been there < 2 years when the switch was made). Felt bad for a lot of folks who suddenly went from having 20 days vacation + 6 sick to 20 days total PTO. They also went through and changed the "anniversary year levels" for when you received added PTO.

            And if you're thinking they were left scratching their head over a lot of people with a lot of experience leaving? You'd be 100% on!

        6. Random Bystander*

          At company before current one, sick time was a separate bucket, but it was only for extended time off, so you had to use 32 hours of regular PTO before breaking into the sick time bank (useful when I had cataract surgery and didn’t want to work looking at computer screens all day during those 2 weeks in-between first eye and second eye). But a lot of people just sat at the max (long enough that, if you had to be out any longer, it was disability time).

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        This is very much personal preference/going to differ person to person. I prefer having one bucket because I’m fortunate in that I don’t need many sick days (historically, maybe 2-3 a year). So, I’d rather my PTO be combined. Also, whether or not it’s combined, if it’s the same amount overall, I don’t get why it matters. (Like, if you have 10 non-sick PTO days and 10 sick days, why’s it matter if instead you have 20 total to do with as you need.)

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          That’s just the problem, though. Some coworkers will never take a sick day even when they should because they are saving it to take a vacation. Then they come in and infect their coworkers, do sub-par work, and don’t get the rest that they should.

          Sick days are for being sick.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            So? People are going to do that no matter what, so why should I lose days because other people suck? I’ve never heard of this argument, and I think it’s a bit patronizing.

            1. Peanut Hamper*

              This is a point that Alison herself has actually made in the past, and I agree with it. Single-bucket policies encourage sick people to come in to work.

              I cannot imagine in what way this is actually patronizing.

              1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                Because it’s their employer managing sick time for their employees. If people are refusing to take off when sick, give more PTO days in general.

                1. Spencer Hastings*

                  If each sick day that you take is a day of vacation you can’t take, then changing the total amount won’t change the incentive.

                2. Critical Rolls*

                  @ Spencer, Ohhhhh, okay, there’s the way of thinking about it that I was not getting. If one bucket makes some people view every sick day as “stolen” from vacation time, much is explained. It’s too bad this line of thinking reduces flexibility for everyone else, and adds the scrutiny involved with designated sick days. I wonder if some kind of unofficial designation of “anticipated sick days” might help with that? Or something like “the average employee takes 5 sick days out of their 20 days of PTO, and we encourage all staff to stay home when ill.”

                3. Donner*

                  @ Critical Rolls

                  Yes, I think some of the comments actually indicate that people view 20 days of PTO as 20 days of vacation. I’m pretty risk averse, and I would not plan for 20 days of vacation and be stuck with the choice of coming to work sick or taking time unpaid (or canceling my vacation!). But some people prefer their employer to provide that structure by separating vacation and sick.

      3. Lozi*

        Maybe I’m thinking of a different definition for “personal” time – I would appreciate having one bucket of vacation, and the other as personal (instead of being called “sick”). Because then it protects actually taking planned vacation time, but the personal/sick time can be used for doctor’s appointments, taking care of kids, pet emergency, making sure pipes don’t freeze, etc. It’s also really helpful to have that in hour-chunks instead of days, because sometimes you just need to take a few hours off.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I once called in sick because my puppy was sick and kept me up literally all night, so I needed to 1. sleep and 2. keep an eye on him in case he got worse and needed to go to the emergency vet. (He was fine but he was also 11 weeks old, so a tummyache was quite literally one of the worst things that had ever happened to him, and he is very open about expressing when he doesn’t like something.)

      Luckily my company only has “sick leave” because there’s a state law that requires employees get sick leave specifically, and it’s widely understood that we can use it for basically any “I have an issue that means I can’t be at work” reason.

      1. Donner*

        Luckily my company only has “sick leave”

        I guess it works for your company, but that doesn’t sound lucky to me! I’m curious–how are vacations handled? Do you use “sick” leave, or do you have to take them unpaid?

        1. JSPA*

          I read it as,”the only reason they call this particular bucket of leave ‘sick leave’ is because the state requires them to offer sick leave, but they treat it like any other PTO.”

          What’s lucky is that at this company, the sick leave isn’t just for sickness, by company convention. Whether or not there are other buckets of leave that Wendy Darling could have used isn’t specified (the trip to and from Neverland burned through all the regular vacation leave, e.g.)

        2. Wendy Darling*

          We have vacation leave separate from sick leave. The only reason “sick leave” is called that is because there’s a law that we specifically must have sick leave — we don’t actually need to be sick to use it.

          The idea is that we should use our vacation to actually relax!

    3. Jessen*

      Especially since I’ve worked for companies where all other PTO absolutely has to be scheduled well in advance. So insisting on sick leave only being for actual personal illness means employees don’t have any other options for other sorts of emergencies. I remember there being a major dust-up at a prior job because they tried to penalize an employee for calling off to take her dog to the emergency vet. Management eventually backed off after a near revolt.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        My dog is my family and I’m responsible for her wellbeing, and if I got pushback for having to take her to the vet, the holy hell I would rain down would be legendary.

        I took time off of work to be with my beloved dog who passed away last year, and getting to be with her in her final days and focused solely on her comfort was a gift. If anyone had pushed back or tried to imply that wasn’t an appropriate use of leave? Scorched. Earth.

        1. Jessen*

          That job also featured employees threatening to call out sick if their vacation wasn’t approved, after being denied multiple times. Which worked but also shows how much of a toxic mess it was. Unfortunately it’s the kind of job that tends to stay a toxic mess because it mostly employs people who have diffiulty finding other work.

    4. Purple Cat*

      YES, I wish the buckets were:
      – Planned ahead fun time (AKA Vacation)
      – Last-minute issue or known medical need. I expect (and do) book sick time for scheduled doctor’s appointments, and at the same time, a plumbing emergency isn’t “fun” time off.

      Or just no buckets and one lump sum.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Personal does not have to include vacation.

        you can still have your separate vacation time, plus personal time off. Which can be used for “OMG, I am SICK” to “the plumber said he would be here between 8 a.m. and 5 p. m.”

    5. ThatGirl*

      One thing I really appreciate about my current company is that vacation time is vacation time (we get ~18 days) and sick time is unlimited/untracked – with the caveat that we’re expected to provide a doctor’s note for 3+ day absences. I think a positive covid test would also suffice, and at some point short-term disability would kick in. But in general it’s nice to not have to worry about using up sick time.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I’d say that’s certainly the best option! (Although I generally don’t have a lot of sick days, so I guess if my company did a “combined bucket” thing, I’d probably have more days off in total? But it would also feel really scary to me, so I’d probably just be saving up to not run out in case I get something more serious…)

        But, I mean – if you’re sick, you’re sick, it’s not like people have a choice. Also not like the flu is anything like a relaxing holiday! So I’ve really never understood the concept of limited sick leave… (Although it is, in principle, also capped here in Europe as well. But after something like 10 weeks – per case, not per year, and then health insurance takes over with 70% or so of your normal salary.)

    6. TootsNYC*

      though, my company has unlimited sick days. But limited personal days and limited vacation days. (we treat vacay and personal the same, though I have told my team: “Personal days are the ones I cannot refuse. Vacation days, I can tell you no if the schedule is bad. I’ve never turned down a vacation request, because nobody ever makes unreasonable vacation requests and I created budget for coverage, but technically I could. That’s the difference.”

      So since no one is worried about using up their sick days, they don’t come in if they think they’re contagious. or if they just feel like shit and think their work won’t be good.

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

      This is sometimes not up to individual employers though; state laws can come into play. I have two buckets of leave because California decides that vacation days are earned compensation and once earned can’t be taken away — it must be paid out if I leave/retire/get fired; whereas sick time is generally not considered earned compensation and won’t be paid out. I guess they might be able to use whatever terminology they want (sick vs. personal), but to avoid misunderstanding or legal trouble, it’s best to stick to whatever definitions and terminology the law/government uses.

    8. A person*

      This whole thread conversation is an interesting mix of “I don’t want my employer dictating what I do on my time off because I’m an adult“ and “I need my employer to separate out the definitions of sick vs vacation time because I can’t handle accounting for 5 days or whatever that I should leave untouched for unexpected things like illness”.

      My company moved to combined PTO a while ago. When they did it they did the you have X days on top of your current vacation time and it’s all PTO now, this seemed better than sick vs vacation because the definition of sick was too specific and led to too much “parenting” by managers. People still took their time off as normal and called in sick at about the same frequency as before. I didn’t really notice a difference in people calling in less because they saw it all as vacation.

      It’s been this way for quite a while now. People are mostly used to it and I don’t hear many complaints about it (of course we have a pretty generous PTO policy). I get 200 hr, plus my perpetual 40 hr carry over from year 1 that I always keep (if I leave it’ll get paid out), plus 9 holidays and 2 floating holidays. Maybe that’s the difference… places that are stingy have more complaints about it being combined? I like that I can take an emergency sick day without having to meet any definitions, but also can take personal days or actual vacation and no one questions it. I’m an adult and do recognize that I’m responsible for planning my time off accordingly. We also have other options for people that end up off for extended times due to illness. It’s not eating into vacation any more than it did before.

      1. allathian*

        I’m in Finland, and we get a lot of vacation in comparison to the US. But even so, if we get sick just before vacation, it’s possible to postpone it. The idea is that we’re supposed to be sick on company time rather than personal time. If we get sick during vacation, then it’s a different matter and we can’t change it to sick time. This applies to government employees and the rule’s specified in our collective agreement that applies to everyone, regardless of union membership.

        That said, because we have longer vacations anyway, people are routinely cross-trained and there’s simply more flexibility built into the system than there is in the US.

        That said, my employer has a system of early intervention and it can be triggered if an employee regularly goes on sick leave after weekends and holidays. In such cases, a doctor’s note may be required to show you aren’t sleeping off a hangover, or so near burnout that you get sick whenever you have some time off work. People have been put on PIPs and could potentially be fired for abusing sick leave even here.

        I have enough flexibility that I don’t generally use sick time for doctor’s appointments, although I did do so when I had to go to the dentist just after lunch and had a tooth extraction. The local anesthetic left me unable to speak properly for more than an hour and afterwards I just wanted to rest.

        1. amoeba*

          Ah, interesting! In Germany, if you call in sick during your scheduled vacation, you’re actually getting the days back. (Guess the reasoning is that you’re not actually on vacation because you’re, well, sick!)
          I imagine companies might have different rules about doctor’s notes being required for that, though. But with a note, it’s definitely possible and a normal thing to do in most reasonable workplaces.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Same in France.
            We have five weeks paid leave, for holidays or whatever, and then we have unlimited sick leave. If you get sick while on holiday, you need to prove it with a doctor’s note.
            It’s just occurred to me that, as a person who always gets sick on holiday (fragile digestion), I have never actually taken advantage of this.

            My colleague caught something dire out in the African bush and was lying dizzy from fever in a mud hut for weeks. He missed his flight home and the boss had started the process to fire him for not reporting back for work. After a few weeks, the villagers organised to have him floated down the river in a hollowed out tree trunk, and once he arrived in a city he was able to see a doctor. The doctor then faxed a “sick note” which was literally a scrap of paper with “RebelsColleague has yellow fever and will not be able to return to France for several weeks yet” and a black mark that was probably an official stamp. He came back a couple of months later, was not fired and was still entitled to a couple of weeks paid leave. The boss was not happy about it, but that’s what you get when you employ human beings. He only believed the story when he actually saw the employee, who was several kilos lighter and looked desperately haggard and pale after his ordeal.

  6. Wendy Darling*

    When I say “my allergies are really acting up today” what I mean is “I have joint aches like the flu, my eyes won’t stop watering, I’m exhausted, and I’ve sneezed so hard so many times that I’ve burst some capillaries”.

    It’s my entire immune system going totally haywire despite an allergy medication regime that’s just this side of tolerable. Allergies can be BAD.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This! My allergies are mostly manageable, but when they are bad, they are BAD. They’re either on level 1, 2, or 10. There is no in-between!

    2. Tuesday*

      The last time I went in to work when my allergies were acting up, I was asked to go home!

    3. I have RBF*

      This. Mine kicked up yesterday, and I had earaches that came and went, stopped up, runny nose, and my face felt like it wanted to fall off. So in addition to the headache, I was sneezing and coughing all day. I had to crank up my medication just to work today. I don’t know when it will stop.

  7. Peanut Hamper*

    And here I sit with a stubbed (and broken) toe! But I’m wfh, so I don’t have to call in. It’s just that bathroom breaks take a bit longer!

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’ve had lots of colleagues say, “I’m positive for COVID, but i’m working anyway” now that we’re WFH. They have a stuffy nose and a cough, but otherwise feel good (yay for vaccines!), so they work.

      But I discovered the other day that indeed, one CAN need a sick day even when you’re working from home.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I just got over a terrible cold that WOULD NOT DIE and I only had to take one sick day, on the day I felt too trash to get out of bed, because I could just work from home with my gross cough the rest of the time.

  8. Falling Diphthong*

    I Am Not A Plumber, but I believe the standard practice for trying to make sure your pipes don’t freeze is to leave a thin stream of water running, particularly in any taps against an outside wall.

    Maybe it’s a case of lost power, and they are already running the water and fear it won’t be enough and want to be there to shut off the water at the main?

    1. Donner*

      Trust them to know more about their situations and what’s necessary than you do.

      That means don’t try to litigate the solution that the employee has come up with. If it’s really that important for them to use vacation time or some other form of PTO instead of sick time, then focus on that.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      That usually works, but IIRC it doesn’t work in all cases. I think it depends on how cold it gets. They may be blowing a heater into a crawlspace and want to make sure it doesn’t burn the place down. (Yes, I am speaking from an experience I never hope to repeat.)

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        And radiators/living in an old apartment building where you can’t control what others do/arctic temperatures can make this way less effective than you might be led to believe.

    3. Rubber Ducky*

      But that’s really not for you to worry about. You should trust them to problem solve their own issues and refrain from offering advice unless it’s asked for. The point is, people have emergencies that sometimes require attention during their normal working hours. It could be health related or it could be plumbing or one of literally a million other things. Time that is given to them as part of their compensation package is theirs to use as THEY see fit. Yes, there are people who will still try to game the system but most people will play nice so you should generally give everyone the benefit of the doubt and deal with the outliers individually if necessary.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yes. “keeping tabs on the plumbing” might be an euphemism for something far more embarrassing.

    4. Cats and Hiking*

      My pipes once froze, even though I was home the whole time and left a thin stream of water running in two bathrooms.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        And I was very glad that I was home when the frozen pipe problem was resolved, because my neighbour had turned all his taps on full blast, and left them like that. There was already quite a bit of water on the bathroom floor by the time I’d realised what the noise was, located the key and rushed in.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      No way in heck would I feel safe leaving my water running and driving off to work for 9 hours. Same with leaving a space heater on in close vicinity of the pipes and driving off to work. Nope nope nope. Thank dog for WFH.

      (My pipes did freeze this past winter, first one for me, but I hadn’t known about the running water and so don’t know if it would’ve worked for me.)

      1. Manders*

        A few drips per minute is enough to keep them from freezing, usually. One year I turned the taps a few times and realized that they were frozen completely (this happens in my primary bathroom if we have a sustained cold snap and I forget to run the tap). However, I didn’t think about the position I left the faucet handles in when I left for the day, since no water was flowing at all. I came home after a full day of work to find my entire house steamed up – water condensed on the walls, windows, ceiling – because I had left the hot tap in the fully open position instead of the closed position, and during the day it warmed up enough to have the water at full stream!

  9. Charlotte Lucas*

    As someone who has dealt with frozen pipes (no sick time for it, though), that is a valid reason to stay home. But if WFH is an option for the job, that is a valid reason to use it.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I work from home for plumber and handyman appointments and for the cleaner. I don’t need to be attending to them but I need to be in to make the tea for them at intervals and be around if they need me or have a question. I wouldn’t take leave for this type of thing unless it’s noisy or disruptive. When I had a major noisy and disruptive piece of work done I took a day off.

      But them I’m in the UK working somewhere where sick leave is for when you’re sick and annual leave is for other circumstances and you don’t tend to mingle the two.

      1. amoeba*

        Yup, I think it’s certainly a different perspective. My European viewpoint is also definitely “calling in sick when you’re not sick is a fireable offense and Not Cool”. Even for personal emergencies etc. – we do have more general leave policies, but we’d 100% be expected to take flex time or PTO for that kind of thing (even though no reasonable employer would deny the needed PTO for that kind of thing!)
        Also, with WFH it’s much easier than before for a lot of people, of course.

    2. ThatgirlK*

      Yes, I had a co-worker once who had an older home. Every time it got to be a certain temp outside usually below 10 degrees his pipes would freeze and burst. It was quite expensive and time consuming. He called off alot during the winter. (This was before WFH was a thing).

      1. Nikki*

        His pipes would burst every year? And he never did anything to try and fix the problem, he just shrugged his shoulders and let them burst? That’s wild! I live in a 100 year old home and had pipes that froze our first winter here, but once we knew it was a problem we worked to solve it. Insulation around the pipes, a new HVAC vent blowing into the crawl space, running taps at a drip if the temps get into the single digits. I can’t imagine sitting around waiting for my pipes to burst repeatedly and then cleaning up the aftermath.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          100 year old home here too. My pipe froze this year at the point where it exits the house, near the main shutoff. Apparently the outdoor portion of it is under my front porch, encased in concrete, and there’s not much I can do to insulate it further, without making it a huge and expensive project at least. I agree though that it is wild that he just waited for them to burst. I certainly did everything to stop that from happening as soon as they froze.

          1. Donner*

            How does anyone know he is just shrugging his shoulders and just waiting for his pipes to burst? If he is, how does anyone know that he hasn’t already done things like insulate the pipes he can reach and has reached the point where waiting for the next thing to fail is the remaining option? He could have multiple issues that would be huge, expensive problems to fix permanently, or he could have a different problem that comes up each year, or it could be an onion situation where a smaller problem that was fixed created the circumstances for another problem to come up… or, or, or. So wild to jump to “he does nothing” just by knowing that he has recurrent problems.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              “or, or, or.”

              Or (circling back to the letter) maybe his management thought that “I need to stay at home today to make sure my pipes won’t burst” wasn’t a good enough reason for PTO/WFH, but “my pipes burst again and there’s water everywhere!!!1!” was.

              I agree, we don’t know and it was not right of us to assume he wasn’t trying everything in his power.

          2. Pescadero*

            “Apparently the outdoor portion of it is under my front porch, encased in concrete, and there’s not much I can do to insulate it further, without making it a huge and expensive project at least.”

            I suggest in line pipe heaters.

            They insert at an accessible portion of the pipe, then snake down to the inaccessible sections.

    3. Sandangel*

      I spent like a year and a half dealing with the aftermath of a flooded kitchen caused by something freezing and bursting in the dishwasher. So glad for insurance!

    4. sundae funday*

      It’s definitely a reason to stay home… it’s happened to me before even while dripping water and it sucks.

      But I also wonder, how often is it an issue? Where I live, if someone had to stay home every time it’s below freezing, that’s excessive. I live in the south and infrastructure isn’t great for cold weather, so it’s a risk every time it freezes. I just drip my water and hope it’ll be okay because I’d easily use up all my sick days if I stayed home every time.

  10. doreen*

    I think there are a few different situations covered by that letter. Should managers push back on employees calling in sick who say they are sick ? no. What about if they want to take sick leave because a pipe broke ? they are going to have to take the day off, but maybe not as sick leave. Last minute calls – that depends. Illness isn’t scheduled so most people calling in sick because they are sick have to do so at the last minute – but every job I’ve had allows sick leave for doctor’s appointments and I’ve had the misfortune of working with people who didn’t schedule those days in advance even though they could. (and it was a job that required a certain number of people to be at work each day). But now that I think about it , those people had a pattern like Alison mentioned. They didn’t call in sick for a stubbed toe , or the day a particular task had to be done. Their pattern was that they never asked for a single day off in advance – they would ask for multiple days in advance, but a single day was always a phone call that morning. No matter what the reason was or how far in advance they knew about it.

  11. rayray*

    #2 – I also have to get documents from others and it can be very time sensitive. I also struggle with thinking I am annoying them and have felt hesitant to keep asking for them. I’ve learned that I have to think of it as “I have a job to do, this is what I am here for.” and not worry about it if some person on the other end is grumbling about it. So what if they are? Doesn’t impact me at all. The thing is, you probably aren’t really bugging them, they’re also at work with a job to do and fulfilling these requests is part of their job.

    I also find being polite about it goes a long way, and I do think expressing my thanks when I get what I need also helps. I think it’s good to foster good relationships with our outside vendors.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      As someone who regularly has to reply to these types of requests, I never think the person is bothering me. We work in a regulated industry and they’re making sure we’re compliant with the regulations.

    2. Knitting RMA*

      The other thing I find as someone who manages projects with people from all over: having a meet-up in person, if at all feasible, helps SO MUCH in navigating this socially. I do international research projects, and I place a huge value on doing an in-person kick-off where everyone gets together and has a drink and a meal together as well as the meeting. I find that it allows people to see me as a person and a helper, which makes them far more willing to put in effort for me than if I’m just a name on a screen – and it often gets me a better idea of what approach works for which person.

  12. Purple Cat*

    Oh no, this might be the first time I disagree with parts of Alison’s advice.
    Please don’t use “I’m sorry to bug you about this”.
    You have absolutely nothing to apologize for, it is a necessary part of your job. And this wording undermine’s your authority, and makes it seem like your job is just getting in other people’s way.
    Just say, “Thank you for sending X, but please note I also need also Y”.
    And if people aren’t responding at all then 2nd request and 3rd request goes into the subject line.
    And if there are repeat offenders, please have a conversation with them, and also with your manager, and then with their manager if there are still no solutions.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I wouldn’t even say “I”.

      “Thank you for sending X, but we also need Y to close this file.”

      or even

      “Thank for sending X, but company policy requires that we also have Y to close this file.”

      That way, they are not ignoring me, they are ignoring company policy. They have been warned.

    2. Lucy P*

      I agree with you. I always tend to apologize, even when I shouldn’t . I’m trying not to do that anymore unless I really feel like I’m bugging someone for something that’s not a compliance type of issue.

      The part that I didn’t understand was why would you say, “Is there something I can do differently on my end to make sure you can meet that deadline?” If it’s their job to get the info to you, isn’t offering help like this a bit of hand holding and possibly putting much more workload on you?

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        As someone who always tried hard not to be a nuisance for colleagues yet hates admin with a vengeance, “Is there something I can do differently on my end to make sure you can meet that deadline?” would probably goad me into action out of sheer guilt at the thought that this poor person is now wondering what she can do to help. And I would probably answer something like “be nasty to me! hassle me! make it so I dread your next email! You’re too damn nice is your prob!!” I mean, when I think there’s a chance I might forget something I’ve promised to do (like, I’m out and about so I can’t put a post-it on my screen), I literally tell people to “please feel free to hassle me till you get it”. But then I’m nice. People who like to offload at the slightest opportunity might think seriously about ways for this person to get what she needs without pestering them.

      2. Elsajeni*

        I often include something like “Is there any more information you need from me to complete this?” in my follow-up messages — I think of it mainly as a bit of filler so the message doesn’t come across as curt, and also sort of a more polite way of saying “What do I have to do to get you to DO THIS DANG THING,” but I’ve been surprised how often the person actually does have some lingering question that they were meaning to follow up with me about but hadn’t gotten around to!

    3. House On The Rock*

      I can see using softer language, when communicating with someone higher than oneself in the organization for a non-standard request. For example, if you have to go to someone in the C-Suit for a document once in a while. But if it’s part of your job to collect, say, contracts from contracting, and your normal contact is bad about responding, softer language is undermining and can even come off as passive aggressive.

      I know if I lose track of a request and get something starting with “sorry to be a pest but…” I tend to bristle, but if it’s “hi, following up on the item below, we need it by end of day today”, I do it and apologize for the delay.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah “sorry to be a pest” literally plants the idea that this person is a pest in your brain.

    4. nnn*

      Did read different responses? The column says “Sometimes doing this pleasantly means using softening language like “I’m sorry to bug you about this” but most of the time it’s fine to just be straightforward”.

  13. I should really pick a name*

    But sometimes this is what the work requires, and decent people will understand you’re not hounding them just to annoy them.

    And if they’re not decent, that doesn’t change the fact that you need the information, so ask anyway. It’s not a major issue if they end up complaining to their friends afterward.

    1. rayray*

      Exactly. Just do your job the best you can.

      We actually had a funny incident once where a coworker was trying to get some docs from an outside vendor. The person simply would not respond at all, so more and more emails were sent and phone calls placed unreturned. One day, coworker gets an email from them with an Invoice. They literally billed time “6 minutes – email from Phoebe Buffay” – and had accounted for multiple emails that were sent to them that they didn’t even acknowledge.

  14. sharrpie*

    Unless it’s a scheduled surgery or something, isn’t sick time generally used “at the last minute?”

    1. Avery*

      Scheduled surgery, scheduled doctor’s appointment, you can tell you’re starting to feel bad the day beforehand… there’s a few different ways that sick time can be planned for to some extent. But by and large, yes, most sick time is naturally going to be spontaneous.

  15. L. Bennett*

    OP is clearly not talking about good performers who occasionally need sick time off. Everyone knows the coworker who is told they have a deadline or an urgent task and they’re always conveniently sick so that other people have to scramble to pick up the slack. That’s not fair to anyone.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I would think if that was the case, the LW would have said so. There is nothing in the letter to indicate that it’s only low performers or people trying to evade an unpleasant task. The issue they identified was that the notice was last-minute, which I get is annoying in a coverage-based job but is also the very nature of illness.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Agreed. And its not a good idea to make that assumption aside from you know the rule where we take letter writers at their word (that doesn’t at all indicate bad performers).

        Plenty of managers are just fine with pushing back on good employees. Plenty of managers are terrible about making blanket rules and policies.

        It also in no way changes the advice so it’s simply not relevant.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      True, but everyone also knows managers who consider some sick time requests as Not Good Enough Reason to call in.

      But I think they’re actually talking about any unexpected absence, not just sick time. And sometimes life happens & you have to take time off to deal with it.

    3. Andy*

      That is an issue with the employee’s job performance, not the employee’s sick time, and DEFINITELY not an issue with any other employee’s sick time.

      1. L. Bennett*

        Yes, but often when you’re in the thick of it as a manager and someone is frequently shirking their duties but always seems to have an excuse, it’s difficult to see that, hence Allison’s answer. Managers aren’t perfect and sometimes when dealing with interpersonal issues, it’s easy to get distracted by the red herrings. That’s like 75% of the questions here – identifying the red herrings.

    4. Lana Kane*

      There should be other guardrails for this scenario. Aside from the impact on performance, does the company have guidelines around the frequency of unscheduled time off? Is the employee out of sick time and does the company have rules around what happens when you run out?

      Granted, this takes time and in the meantime staff will have to scramble. But the manager needs to be willing to actually enforce these rules, in the end.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      Employees like that tend to have a host of other issues, so sick time probably isn’t the hill to die on.

    6. Zephy*

      Okay, but then that (leaving coworkers scrambling) is the actual problem, not iS fErGuS rEaLLy SiCk oR jUsT aN aSsHoLe? That’s when you address the pattern – maybe Fergus really does have the worst possible luck in the world and really has been chained to the toilet for the last three inventory weekends, or maybe he’s full of shit in a different way, but either way pointing out the pattern puts him on notice.

  16. Richard Hershberger*

    LW2: My typical situation is dealing with medical offices or HR departments to get records or lost wage documentation for our client, who is their patient or employee. Providing this is part of their job, but tends to be pretty low priority, and they tend to treat it as a favor to us. My strategy, if the initial request is met with radio silence, is to call and explain that I am “following up” on that request. The part about “that you have ignored, so how about you do your job” is implied. Everyone understands it is the subtext, but leaving it unstated makes the conversation nonconfrontational. This is important for when I am trying to get someone to do something, and when their not doing it is unlikely to negatively affect their lives.

  17. Dawn*

    I live in a cold climate and, yeah, being able to stay home if you think your pipes are at risk of freezing is something people should be able to do!

    Earlier this year, my area had extreme cold (-25F ambient) and high winds, resulting in windchills down to -45F. Every school system in the state closed … except my husband’s. Predictably, one of his coworkers came home to frozen, burst pipes and, therefore, a significant plumber’s bill.

    People who try to thaw frozen pipes on their own are also at increased risk of starting a house fire. We had a truly gruesome incident here where a man went under his trailer to thaw his pipes, ended up starting a fire, and could not get out.

    LW, unless you’re willing to accept the responsibility for these things happening to your employees than maybe understand that they’re not stoked either to be stuck with hundreds or thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs or losing their home–or their life–in a house fire because you just haaaaad to have them there to chat with customers.

  18. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

    For some of my coworkers, allergies always seem to be worse on Mondays. :)

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This was the gag on the first first Dilbert cartoon I ever encountered. Yes, I am so old that I remember when Dilbert was funny. Very funny, in fact.

    1. Schrodinger's Cat*

      Which could be legitimate. Vegetation (and therefore pollen counts) may be very different at home vs at work vs places traveled to during the weekend.

      1. Kayem*

        And if people do yard work on weekends which is pretty common, it’s easily likely that they’re getting exposed to higher levels of pollen. I know whenever I mow or garden, the next day my eyes are sandpaper and my sinuses flow like Niagara Falls.

    2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      I would assume most folks do their yard work and any outdoors recreation on the weekends, right? So it would make sense for allergies to be worst on Mondays, based on the previous day’s exposure.

    3. Pointy's in the North Tower*

      If they’re doing something similar to me, it’s because they do yard work/errands/other things that require you to go outside, and the weekend is when I have time for life administration.

      I take two daily allergy meds, and I still have hives, snotty nose, itchy eyes, and scratchy throat on the regular. That’s just my baseline. A flare means I probably have a low-grade fever, my head is throbbing, and my nausea can’t be ignored. Oh, and I have asthma and migraines as well, both of which can be triggered by allergies.

      I know you’re being facetious, but some of us really are sick and aren’t being jerks by missing a lot of work. I’m well aware of the inconvenience me missing work causes.

    4. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      I often take my time off on Mondays as much as possible — both annual leave and scheduled sick leave for appointments, and unplanned sick leave to the extent I can postpone calling out and work through a non-contagious illness — because Mondays are the day that has fewest recurring deadlines, new task assignments, and the volume of in-person coverage-required tasks is lowest. Monday is the day my taking off has the least impact on my productivity, coworkers, business in general. Tuesday things start to pick up, Wednesday and Friday have the most commitments, Thursday almost as much.
      When I’m in the office, Monday is my “follow up and prep” day. It’s easier to lose that prep day than to have to push back a midweek deadline or negotiate crucial coverage

      It used to be Mondays and Fridays were flexible in that way, the organization general advice was not to take off Mondays or Fridays if it could be avoided because to someone who doesn’t know my duties or trust me it “looks like you just want a long weekend.” I had a serious talk with my boss about whether to prioritize business impact or “how it looks” to someone whose business it is not.

      1. Well...*

        yes same. I have hella flexibility in my job, but whether I choose to power through an illness or rest and recover faster will depend on what’s going on and what day it is. My productivity affects me more than anyone else at my work, and I still will leverage weekend recovery period strategically to maximize my own output while sick. I have no reason to lie about being sick, but taking Monday/Friday off really is sometimes the best way to handle an illness. Powering through a Thursday can be worth it for being able to pass out for three days and recuperate for Monday.

        Also I’ve gotten sick like 3 times this year, way more than my usual.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah I always used to twiddle my thumbs at the office on a Monday morning. I’d wrapped up all last week’s work last week, and then I had to wait for more work to come in. Since just about everyone is in a meeting on Monday morning, it wouldn’t start coming in before the afternoon. When my boss (unjustly) accused me of low productivity, I told him straight off that if he wanted, I could take Monday off instead of Friday, and I would no longer waste as much time and pick up more projects.
        Unfortunately, he refused, saying the only change he wanted was for me to move to full-time work. Since I refused to do that unless I got a pay rise to bring my pay in line with the other full-timers doing the same job as me, that never happened.
        Now that I’m a freelancer, I still have the same quiet Monday morning, except that I can potter about doing my own stuff.

  19. Professional Annoyer*

    OP #2, both my current job and my last job were over half just reminding people to do things they already knew they were supposed to do. I’m in healthcare, and part of my role is to make sure that the doctor you see does, in fact, have a medical license on the day of your appointment. It’s important stuff! And they already know it’s important stuff!

    Some strategies I use:
    1. Since it’s the same people every time, any time a new person is added to my roster, I reach out to them asking for their communication preferences. Do they want to hear about non-emergencies by text or email? For emergencies, would they rather a “high importance” email or a phone call? What else do they want me to know about working with them? This step gets us started on the right foot with a positive working relationship. And then the first time I reach out to them about something, I always use the method they requested.

    2. Start cheery. Every time I send a request about something new (even if my last six requests about other things were ignored), I do it on a high note. I include a “hope you had a good weekend!” or “hope that thing with your kid went well!” or something like that, because the key to this work is having a good relationship.

    3. When someone is really avoiding me on an issue that can have serious consequences, I warn them first, but after numerous attempts (and including their supervisor at least once) I start calling them every day at the beginning and end of my shift. Because I do all the work above to ensure we have a good relationship to start from, no one holds it against me. And everyone on my roster finds multiple calls a day rather motivating.

    Honestly, with all that, once I accepted that my entire job was to be annoying, I actually love my role! I make sure patients who need care can get it by filtering just the relevant bureaucracy down to the medical professionals on my roster, and that makes me feel helpful & accomplished.

  20. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Reading LW2 made me wonder: do people still call each other at work? As in, one-way initiated, “my boss called me and it interrupted me and I had to answer”? I have actually never worked somewhere like this in my (11-year) career – if someone wants to talk to me who’s not sitting next to me, they IM me on internal system, asking to set up a meeting, or they put a meeting on my calendar without asking (with the expectation that I’ll get in touch if I don’t know what it’s for). Or, more frequently, they’ll just IM, and we’ll never use our vocal cords in the entire conversation. Could be that that’s specific to my industry (software engineering) and other industries still use their phones this way…

    1. Donner*

      In my 20+ year career, I have always worked somewhere like this, including now. I’ve also gotten a lot of feedback about picking up the phone instead of relying on email (at companies that didn’t have IM).

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yeah. I live at the beck and call of my needy boss and can’t get anything done now just at the anticipation of him beckoning. I hate it. Resisting going in to the office is my only protection from him otherwise I’d be joined at his hip.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      This is very organization-dependent. I’ve worked in factories where telephone calls were standard simply because most people weren’t sitting in front of a computer screen all day, but you could hear that telephone ring over the entire department (it was wired into the loudspeaker).

      At my last job, everything was an email–even if you were sitting right next to me.

      My current job is remote for me, so everything is via Teams, but I still interact with on-site personnel via Teams and emails, and the occasional site visit.

      1. Nina*

        At my last job everything was Teams chat. Even if it was to the person sitting next to you. We had an open office by dictate from the CEO, there was absolutely no WFH ever by dictate from the CEO, and literally everyone’s work required sustained concentration. Everyone wore headphones and communicated over Teams. You almost never spoke to anyone in person.

        My current job, everything is ‘just wander over to their desk and ask’ which drives me bonkers because however weird the Teams office was, at least you had a record of every conversation.

    4. Chris*

      I get unexpected phone calls at work from coworkers a few times a month. It bothers me fiercely as it disturbs what I am doing. I find it a massive violation of respect and workplace etiquette these days since all the calls are through Microsoft Teams (formerly Skype) so they have the ability to send me an IM to say “hey, are you free to have a call real quick?” It would give me a moment to come to a good stopping point on what I am doing and grab my earbuds (I use Bluetooth wireless earbuds for calls). Most people DO ask to call but a few sales guys and planning engineers think they don’t need to.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Unexpected calls in Teams and Zoom somehow coincide with an urgent need to visit the bathroom or somehow be otherwise unavailable. Weird how that happens.

    5. anomnom*

      I worked in a large university healthcare division and for my team of 18-ish people, it’s still phone calls. I tried desperately to get everyone on Teams but even with the pandemic, it was a lost cause. This was the same group that refused to learn how to co-edit Excel docs with another user and asked me to not bring it up again, though, so…

    6. A Program Manager*

      I’ve threatened people with phone calls like “If I don’t have a response from you by Monday, I’ll call you and we’ll chat.” Works every time. It’s great because I also don’t want to talk to anybody on the phone.

    7. amoeba*

      Some call, yes. Its all via Teams and most people write in the chat first, but some don’t.It’s not a problem if you don’t reply directly and call back later, so I’m not bothered by it, even though I always ask via chat first.

      It only happens every few weeks or so though, so really not a big deal.

  21. chellie*

    I wish that I could get on board with all the pro-employee sentiment in the comments. I agree that in the big picture employees being exploited. And, we all know that people do abuse systems exactly as illustrated. I agree that it shouldn’t be dealt with by infantizing workers, but I do think it can be a performance issue. I work for an organization that has generous pto, with sick time separate from vacation, and used to work with someone who used every minute of sick time as soon as it accumulated over the course of 10 years. Everything from a cold, to I’m tired, to my mother’s cat is sick. When they finally had a serious issue that lasted more than one day at a time they ended up having a real problem and didn’t have any social capital to keep them from taking unpaid leave (i.e. it’s also an organization where others could “donate” leave and no one would). So I guess there were consequences, but it left everyone feeling bad. Should have been dealt with as performance.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is not really a PTO/sick time/employee problem.

      This is a management/policy problem.

      Taking a day off because you have a cold? Okay.
      Taking a day off because you’re tired? Not okay. (Dude, I’m tired 24/7. Don’t get me started. I’m still here.)
      Taking a day off because your mother’s cat is sick? Once, okay. More than once? Questionable.

      This is an employee who should have had some consequences well before we got to this point.

      1. CrazyJob*

        Eh tbh it’s kinda…I can get nothing done t ohhat day in front of a computer or nothing done in bed…

      2. Nina*

        Taking a day off because you’re tired?
        Eh. I have baseline tired, which is normal, I have a full-time job, that’s not worth calling sick for. I also occasionally have unpredictable ‘cannot stand upright or keep eyes open without expending intense concentration and experiencing severe nausea’ episodes, which also register as ‘tired’ because what else am I going to call it, it feels like extreme ‘tired’.
        My partner has a history of CFS so I guess I’m slightly more sympathetic to ‘too tired to go to work’ being a condition distinct from ‘too tired to want to go to work’ than most people would be.

    2. Still*

      Of course that’s annoying, but what’s the alternative? How do you stop people from taking advantage of the system without punishing everybody else?

      Ideally, management would address the pattern, but it can be hard to prove stuff like this, and it’s always better to err on the side of trusting the employee. The alternative is to doubt people when they’re genuinely sick and that’s just not okay.

      In the end, the business needs to be able to deal with the employee being out as if she were genuinely sick.

      And as you said, there were consequences. If you use up all of your sick days for other stuff, you won’t have any when you’re actually sick. Those are the consequences.

      I just don’t see what better way there is.

    3. Fishsticks*

      I suppose it comes down to whether it’s worth it to penalize a hundred good employees in order to also penalize one who takes more sick time than you like. If they want to use their sick leave because they’re exhausted, I don’t see why it matters? That’s their sick leave, in their compensation plan.

      1. doreen*

        Sometimes it doesn’t matter – but sometimes it does. It pretty never much matters if a person occasionally takes a sick day because they are exhausted. But like chellie, I knew people who took every sick day as soon as they could – one even knew that she would earn the sick day on the seventh workday of the pay period. She had to find out , otherwise she might accidentally call in sick before she had earned her sick day for that pay period. And in every job I’ve ever had, there was some degree of coverage involved. Maybe if Margaret is out , Alicia has to handle any phones calls that come in on her cases. Or Lucille was scheduled to be on the switchboard today but she called in sick so Evelyn has to cover. The consequences usually were that person who used sick days right away didn’t have any when they actually got sick. And maybe if “actually got sick” means they spent a week out with the flu, they would have learned their lesson and been done with it. But there were a couple of situations like chellie described, where the person had been employed there 10 years , got sick and had zero time available because they took it as soon as they earned it. And they asked for vacation donations – and didn’t get them. And got mad becasue they didn’t get them. Which caused drama when they came back to work.

        1. Fishsticks*

          I mean, I think the whole vacation donations thing is nonsense to begin with. That is one form of “time off” shenanigans I do not agree with whatsoever. I think it’s a sign of a broken system when employees are expected to donate their OWN compensation to help cover someone else’s.

  22. nnn*

    If #1 doesn’t like people using their sick time at the last minute, one thing to do is create a work environment where it’s safe to book off sick time in advance.

    As everyone has mentioned, people often don’t know that they’re going to be sick in advance! But sometimes people can tell the night before that they won’t be able to come in the next day, or can tell from the weather forecast that they’ll have a migraine on Wednesday, or know that they’re likely to need a day off after a specific kind of medical appointment.

    However, some employers are super weird about this, thinking that you can’t possibly know if you’re going to be sick in advance, and therefore treating advance requests as non-credible.

    If last-minute sick leave is inconvenient for you, you could mitigate that by communicating to employees that any advance notice they can give is helpful and welcome.

  23. Cheese*

    I had a dysfunctional employer years ago who pushed back on a coworker who called out sick. They spent the morning on the phone with her arguing and then made her get a doctor’s note to prove she was sick because for some reason they didn’t believe her. Said coworker had bad anxiety issues so I imagine this only made it worse!

    1. rayray*

      and imagine all the time that employer was paid for arguing with someone on the phone, rather than just keeping it a simple 1 minute conversation of “Okay, stay home and get some rest. We’ll see you when you’re back on your feet”

  24. Long Time Fan, First Time Caller*

    I truly cannot believe that after three years of a pandemic, the United States still does not have paid sick leave, and *also* still hangs on to this heinous culture of working through sickness, being skeptical of whether workers are “sick enough” to take time off, expecting each other to work ourselves so hard that we fall into illness, etc. My sick time is *part of my compensation,* and I will treat it accordingly by using it when I need it, and not just when I *really, super need it.*

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Yep, it’s almost like we’re all withering and dying under late-stage capitalism, but the thought that a small handful of people are getting obscenely rich off of it so such a comfort. /s

    2. rayray*

      Yeah, I remember when we were in the thick of things and I honestly felt hopeful that we were going to see changes to the workplace. More paid time to account for sick leave, more leniency, more WFH. Now we’re just dialing it all back.

    3. MomOf3*

      100000%. I am an Exec Director at a small nonprofit and feel absolutely zero shame about taking my “use it or lose it” sick time every year whether I’m sick or not. I advise my staff to do the same. One junior member asked if she could use it for her honeymoon and I told her yes, and if HR challenges you I’ll say that’s what I told you to do. Sick time is part of our compensation and we already work more than we are paid for so TAKE IT and do not feel bad.

    4. Donkey Hotey*

      Hear hear!

      Related: 3.5 years through a pandemic and suddenly it’s somehow ok that the airport boarding area sounds like a tubercular ward.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yup. My friend just came home from India and the entire plane was coughing and spluttering. She thought it was just the air-con, but tested positive a few days later. Luckily she did that before coming to visit me.

  25. Cohort 1*

    As a person who spent yesterday with my nose running off my face, sneezing, going through a couple of dozen tissues, and dealing with a pounding headache, I am all in on taking a sick day. So what did I do yesterday? Not much. Had I been at work, I would likely have been doing the same – not much. If I had a customer facing role, how would it have gone over to be sneezing, blowing my nose, handling soggy tissues, and sounding like something from under the sea while trying to maintain coherent thoughts?

    Today is much better, thanks. Still a drippy nose, but not so extreme as to make work dicey.

  26. Lyngend (Canada)*

    Coming from a background in retail where managers really only asked the reliable people for sick notes? And had an employer go “you have to find your own coverage for short notice absences” which included surgeries?
    I’m much happier with my current employer whose rule is “call x number leave a vm and text your manager. Also be vague we don’t want details”.
    I did have to balance that when my grandma was diagnosed with cancer (instead of “I might need time off short notice” it was “my grandma just got some bad news from the doctor and I might need time off to help her because of that. But I will do as much as possible to avoid taking time off work”. Also helps that I have some right to reasonable accommodation based on this)

  27. Kathleen*

    LW2: This is where crystal clear subject lines in emails can help. First email says “ACTION: Need Monthly Llama Report.” Second email says “2ND REQUEST: Need Monthly Llama Report.” Lather, rinse repeat. CC managers as necessary on 3rd and subsequent requests.

    1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

      Thank you! Do NOT bury your request with a subject line such as “update” or “report.” PLEASE put a deadline actual date in the subject line, too! Ex: TPS Report, updates due 4-17.
      When 50 – 100 emails pile into one’s inbox daily, the subject line is GOLDEN in helping sort and prioritize.

      1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

        Also, if this is something new, or a one-off request, please call or make a meeting or give some type of “heads up.” Getting an unexpected email with the subject line “support for XYZ” listing 7 requests may indeed not be read for several days. Just because your requests come unbidden in email form does NOT trump everything already in my pipeline/backlog.

  28. LoV...*

    Re: LW#2: I have a similar role in Regulatory affairs, and I have sometimes found it helpful to explain why I’m asking for what I’m asking for (gov’t, ISO, customer requirements, etc), so they know that I’m asking because it’s key to our business and I’m not on some power trip.

  29. NeedRain47*

    When my allergies are bad, my nose is running so hard that if I do not keep a kleenex held to my nose, it will drip down my face within seconds. I am not exaggerating. I’m already on four allergy meds. I cannot come to work with snot unstoppably pouring down my face. I use the majority of my sick time up on this, have done my entire adult working life, and don’t see it changing until there’s some advancement in allergy testing & treatment. (it was worse when I was a kid and there was no allegra or zyrtec.) I don’t have a choice and if someone harassed me about this (or any other health problem that’s none of their business) I’d be happy to snot on them.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Right? Also, I cannot help but laugh when I see “Allegra” – I tried it when it was prescription-only and had a consistent reaction that is not a typical side effect. So, per the doctor, I am allergic to Allegra. *facepalm*

      1. NeedRain47*

        That’s a whole other level of allergy, being allergic to the meds, LOL. I remember how expensive it was when it first came out on prescription, one of my college friends couldn’t survive without it tho. (I went to college in a different ecosystem with fewer things that try to kill me.)

      2. Cohort 1*

        I’m allergic to both Singular and Mucinex. Who’s allergic to the allergy meds?!

        I was also in the Claritin trials before it was approved as a prescription med. I would have sworn that I was in the placebo end of the trial because it did absolutely nothing for me. Nope, I was taking the real thing. Worthless. There used to be some good prescription antihistamines, but they’ve since disappeared, which I regret.

      3. Loredena*

        My mother has a corn allergy. She had to switch to a Benadryl copycat because they were using a corn sweetener instead of sugar!

  30. HotSauce*

    #1 is the exact reason I only ever say bland things like, “I’m not going to be able to work today, I’m feeling unwell” and leave it at that. I’m a grown adult, I know when I’m unable to work and that includes bad mental health days. My manager is not a physician, and I don’t need a Nosey Ned micromanaging my illnesses and determining if I REALLY need to call in.

  31. La Triviata*

    I am more and more grateful for my current workplace. We get a certain amount of sick leave BUT there’s also a one-day Mental Health Day. I haven’t had problems with calling in sick. If I wake up and feel tired or just icky, I will sometimes come in late (and stay late) on the basis that if I’m needed, it’s better to have me at 100% rather than too tired or distracted to function. But I’m lucky and these responses are making me more and more grateful.

  32. It is what it is*

    I’ve always had 6 days of sick time and then a separate amount (based on years of service) vacation time.

    My take is that managers treat employees as adults, and that they trust their employees. If there is an issue with an employee’s work performance then deal with that employee on their work performance. Do not punish all employees because of an issue with one.

    Also, Jeff got salty because he had to cover for Glen when Glen was out sick is not a Glen is taking too much sick time issue. Most of us have to cover for sick coworkers at times whether we like/want to or not. If covering causes you to get significantly behind in your own work then that would be a reason to bring your tangibles to a meeting with your manager to discuss how to better manage work flow when coworkers are out sick.

  33. Michelle Smith*

    I haven’t read the other comments yet re: sick leave, but might I suggest encouraging and cultivating a culture where people do not feel the need to share with you what their medical reason for taking the sick leave is? Of course, feel free to let people know that if there is a pattern like Alison mentioned, you may change your policy. But really, there is no reason someone should be telling you that they need to take a sick day because of allergies. They should be comfortable just telling you that they need to take a sick day because they are not well enough to come into work, period, the end. I know toxic work environments I’ve been in in the past + my upbringing where perfect attendance in school was encouraged and my mother was horrible about any time spent at home sick have turned me into a chronic over-explainer because I feel like I have to justify why I’m not dragging myself out of bed. I would do everything in your power (subject to your company’s policies which may require doctor’s notes or other silly things) to encourage people not to share with you why they are taking time off. Even a mental health day is a valid use for sick time, but it can be stressful to try and explain that to a manager who might not be receptive. Best to just take yourself out of it as much as possible and let people do what they need to do to be healthy and happy.

  34. Mad Mac*

    I know this is hyper-focusing on just one element of this letter but taking one day off to make sure one’s pipes don’t freeze is a LOT better than needing to take a whole bunch of days–possibly weeks–off to deal with the aftermath of burst pipes, as well as navigating an emergency that will most definitely eclipse one’s professional obligations. An ounce of prevention &c. &c.

    (Source: I own a 93-year-old house in the Northeast.)

    1. MomOf3*

      The pipes at my rental property in OKC froze and burst on Christmas Day 2022. We are STILL not done with construction and renovations. I’m thankful every day we didn’t live in that house when it happened and the tenant thankfully had somewhere else to go right away. In theory, one sick day off to make sure the heat stays on would have been wayyyyyyyy less disruptive to an employer than the months living out of a hotel that would have followed if we lived there.

  35. Somehow_I_Manage*

    Unless you’re out for multiple days, you can spare the details on your sick leave.

    All I need is:
    “I am not feeling well today. I am using PTO/sick leave. I will check in tomorrow morning.”

    /I’m not your parent. Go take care of yourself! Making it 100% clear makes it easier for me. I can move on to plan B.

  36. Tired factory operator*

    My work has a no fault policy. They don’t assign fault to why we call off. But on the flip side there is no difference between being sick and a flat tire or just playing hooky Each occurrence will still be a point. Dr notes only accepted if it is 3 days or longer. We only get 2 sick days a year.

      1. Rainy*

        Not the person you’re responding to, but workplaces with point systems usually fire you if you get more than X points per quarter.

        1. UrsulaD*

          What if you have a chronic illness with flare ups? Seems like this could result in a discriminatory workplace.

  37. TootsNYC*

    I have never worried about my team taking sick days.
    If anything, I’ve had to say to someone (who had just come off freelance/hourly status to a full-time role), “you are not going to make up the time because you called out sick. You have sick days. Feel better, and I’ll see you hopefully tomorrow. If you feel sick tomorrow, just drop me a line somehow, and I’ll see you the day after.” Oh, and there was the person who’d had foot surgery and was told she could go back to work 2 days later, to whom I said, “You aren’t coming in for the rest of the week; you are taking sick day. And I’m sorry I wasn’t more skeptical when you assured me your doctor said you’d be OK to work. Sure, you aren’t on your feet, but work is exhausting, and you just had surgery. See you Monday, hopefully. Call if you aren’t up to it. That’s what sick days are for.”

    I’m far more likely to have to send people home or to reassure them that sick days are FINE to take. Or even to say to someone, who confessed that they were stressed, “Maybe you need a mental sick day? We’ll be fine; take a day.”

    The reason I’ve never worried is because it’s clear my team members have been invested in the work we do, cognizant of deadlines, considerate of everyone on the team, including me, their supervisor.

    I hope that the way I treat them–not just by being considerate of them, but my making it clear how valuable they and their work is. We all like to feel that what we do is vital, and I hope I make them feel that way.

    If I had someone who seemed to be taking too many days, I guess I’d handle it with the “Are you OK? I don’t want to pry, but I want to be sure you’re getting help, or that I need to be prepared for FMLA, or something.”

    I guess I did something like that once–I wasn’t the most experienced manager, and one of my team kept being out for doctor visits. I said, “I don’t want to pry, because it’s not my business, but I guess I’m just asking, should I worry? Both about your welfare–because I can worry without having details, but of course you can just say you’re fine and I’ll butt out–and maybe about covering for you for anything upcoming? It’s not a problem, but I didn’t want to be blasé about it, to seem uncaring, or even to be prepared for scheduling.” Her response was that she has a doctor who believes in chasing everything down to eliminate it, so it’s probably not going to be a problem. “Great. Let me know if there’s ever anything you want to share or that I need to know.”

    And again, I wasn’t actually worried about her “taking advantage,” because the entirety of her work told me that she was reliable.

  38. clawdel*

    Years ago, I was having allergies and respiratory issues. My boss treated me with suspicion and asked for doctor’s notes. It got me in the habit of getting notes for more than three days off in a row, such as flu or operations. That woman once refused to let me go to a scheduled x-ray so she wouldn’t miss her hair appointment. Anytime I take sick leave, I feel guilty or like I’ve done something wrong. Coworkers monitor each other’s sick leave and make snide remarks behind each other’s backs. It’s maddening.

  39. KatKatKatKat*

    LW #2 – Don’t use “hmmm” in your email responses. You’re not confused – you know they left off documents. Don’t be patronizing – be straightforward. You don’t need to apologize for doing your job and you don’t have to act like you’re unsure as to why documents aren’t attached. Be a polite but firm advocate for yourself and your job responsibilities.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I cannot agree more. The “hmmm” method is maybe ok when people are speaking because it can come across as a natural reaction, and your facial expression can soften it if you’re truly confused. It doesn’t come in naturally in written communication so it can read as passive aggressive.

  40. Juniper*

    Sick leave

    I do think there’s a time where you can’t take time off for a minor illness. In a previous life I was a social worker with vulnerable clients. There were plenty of days I was having a sick day (allergies, mental health, whatever) and I had to suck it up and go work. I’m by no means saying this is ideal, it’s one of the reasons I no longer do that work… I just feel like I need to push back a bit on the idea that it is some how not treating people like adults to shrug it off if they’re using leave to much unless it’s to avoid inventory or something. I do think that it needs to be a part of a bigger conversation though; when they’re calling in is not the time to say anything but I think there’s a huge difference between (a) not believing them, and (b) calibrating their expectations a bit. Like if I was sick (eg with a cold) I’d likely need to IMMEDIATELY alert someone to connect with clients, if not do it myself. I realize this is fucked up, but it is what it is. But despite thinking that not everyone can take sick leave in the same way, I ultimately believe people should get to decide if they need to stay home sick or otherwise.

  41. Orange You Glad*

    I’m just thinking about all the times early in my career when I had to fake a physical illness (like cold/flu) in order to take a mental health day. I much prefer my current environment where I just have to send a quick email/text of “I will be out today due to illness” with no follow-up. I shouldn’t have had to lie, but there was (and still is) a stigma around mental health episodes and whether they should “count” as sick time.

  42. STG*

    We have decent enough PTO policy. You accrue a sick day every month of work, cap is almost 1k hours but you don’t get a payout of that time when you leave. Vacation starts at 2 weeks and you can build up to 4 weeks after 10 years, caps at like 400 hours but pays out when you leave.

    As a result, I’ve never really had to ask for details about sick leave requests except during a few weeks a year that are ‘all hands on deck’ type events. They say they need it off sick, I trust their judgement and rarely say more than ‘I hope you feel better, see you tomorrow’.

    Now if they are going to miss major meetings or projects as a result of the time off, then I’ll ask what their plans are to cover those things. These are usually salaried employees managing systems so they usually have backup plans already in place. However, I’d only do that in situations where it seemed like a non-emergency issue. If one of my folks came into the office freaking because a family member was in the hospital or some other immediate emergency, I’d send em right out the door ASAP.

  43. Moonstone*

    I’m sorry but this – “are there ever times to push back when employees want to use their sick time at the last minute?” – jumps out as being completely absurd.

    The vast majority of sick leave is used at the last minute. I can go to sleep feeling fine and wake up sick; am I supposed to schlep to work sick because that would be too last minute for LW? This whole attitude from employers really ticks me off – treat adults like adults, unless or until there is an issue at which time you should address it as one adult to another. Too many employers insist on treating employees as if they are naughty children and then wonder why no one wants to work for them. Ok, stepping off the soapbox now.

  44. Sssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I am a believer of “If you’re sick, stay home” especially since we have a very generous sick leave policy at my workplace. Take the extra day if you have to. We’ll muddle thru.

    At my company, I know there was abuse, or people pushing the envelope a little. The larger issue is cross training and knowledge sharing overall, that is there is a serious lack of it leading to potentially large issues when there’s an unexpected sick leave.

    My issue was my coworker who took a day of parental leave (we have seven days of those) “to take care of my 18-yr-old, because he had a fever and you know how boys are, they want their mom.” on a day when a new person was coming in, and I ended up trying to get them set up and onboarded and I had zero training on it. Getting this new person a laptop couldn’t wait a day for the sick person to return. The language about the parental leave didn’t have an age limit of the child on it so I could not complain because it was protected by our collective agreement. (Ironically, she also called in sick the day that same new employee had her last day about six weeks later, leaving me again trying to figure out how to do offboard).

    It was all part of a larger performance issue that was never addressed because we all left for the Xmas shutdown pre-pandemic and she never came back (short term disability became LTD became permanent disability).

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, that’s ridiculous and she gives working parents (usually of the female-presenting variety) a bad name.

      In our new collective agreement the age limit for using sick leave for staying home with a sick kid living in the same household was raised from 10 to 12. There’s a separate bucket of unpaid leave for family emergencies that you can use for any family member regardless of age and whether or not they live in the same household. I do think that most 10 year olds need an adult in the house when they’re sick, even if they routinely spend a few hours alone at home after school, like my son did at that age. Thankfully it hasn’t been an issue for us because I still WFH most days…

  45. Texas Teacher*

    “My allergies are acting up” can mean hay fever. It can also mean I need to get these under control or I’m going to be hit with the triple whammy of Sinus infection, inner ear infections, and bronchitis.

    People dismissing my medical concerns is why they get blow by blow version of what is going to happen.

  46. Anon-e-mouse*

    LW2 – Consider whether there are any tech tools you can use to follow up with people more efficiently. For example, are there any teamwork planning tools (eg in Microsoft) that help you (and the person with the deliverables) stay on top of what needs to be done – and that automatically (or on your initiative) send out reminders?

    I also find that it helps to have a really clear Subject line in my email request and follow-up. For example:

    Initial email subject: Compliance document request – please respond by noon April 12

    2nd email after getting no or an incomplete response: Follow-up re Compliance document request …

    3rd email: Please respond: Overdue compliance document request

  47. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    For LW3, you specify that as an employee “I would be barred from working on outside projects”. This is a sticking point that has prevented me from taking any salaried work on since I started freelancing. I think it’s important to add that if I do want to work for these people still in a freelancer capacity, I’ll underline that OF COURSE I treat all information about their business shall remain strictly confidential unless they tell me otherwise.

    One woman told me yes of course I could freelance elsewhere, but my joy was shortlived, because then she gleefully added that “that way you can give us inside information about our competitors”. I shut that down immediately, saying that everything would remain confidential, and she should be happy about that in that it works both ways!

  48. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    LW1 please don’t harass your employees over their sick leave. My former boss did that. Once he was actually on the phone to me, asking where my sick note was, when the doctor arrived at my home. She wrote me a sick note for a week, because I had the flu, then asked off-handedly whether I was under any stress, because my blood pressure was unusually low. I explained about the boss harassing me, and she tore up the sick note and gave me another, for two weeks, so that I could get a proper rest. “I’m not sure it’ll teach him anything but at least you’ll be able to rest” was how she put it.

  49. Inkognyto*

    I’d like to schedule my sick leave for 5 weeks from now the Thursday before the Memorial day weekend. I will have a migraine and maybe random vomiting because of it.

    Thanks for the pre-approval.

    ~The staff.

  50. September*

    During the last week of a job I had, I had to do a last minute call out for work. I wasn’t sick, but I did have a car emergency that needed to be fixed that day. I had a bunch of sick days and I had used my vacation, and I was leaving the job so I wasn’t worried about vacation. Previously I had been told to use sick days for unplanned time off and vacation for planned time off. I made the mistake of telling my manager that I had car issues. They took that day from vacation, rather than sick days. Not only that, my last paycheck was short a few hundred bucks because they deducted vacation time rather than sick time. I asked why would you take a few hundred dollars from my check when you know I’m moving across the country? They said you weren’t sick.

    Alright bet. I will never make that mistake again.

    I called in sick for my last day of work.

    This is why you don’t pester for details.

  51. Karak*

    I feel the exact examples chosen—pipes and allergies—are very legitimate?

    Pipe-freezing weather is usually in the single digits. That’s really bitterly cold, and I think it’s legitimate to call in sick when it’s cold enough to cause nerve damage.

    And allergies are MISERABLE. Even if not contagious, constantly running noses with snot, loud wet sneezes, watery eyes, hives, etc make an unpleasant work environment for everyone. I once had a massive allergic reaction break out on my face, complete with oozing, peeling skin. My shift manager requested I come in to talk about my sick day (I literally lived across the street, it wasn’t a big deal) and as soon as she saw my face she almost screamed and wanted me to go to the ER.

    I had to explain that this was a *normal* allergic reaction for me and I’d be back at work as soon as my skin could handle makeup.

    Sometimes, you don’t wanna know.

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