Back To Career News

The 10 Worst Boss Reactions to Employees Calling in Sick

Sixty-eight percent of U.S. workers in the private sector receive paid sick time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But some workers are more likely to have access to sick leave than others. For example, 93 percent of managers have sick time, while only 46 percent of workers in the service industry can say the same.
paid sick time
mcfarlandmo/Flickr

Generally speaking, employers have a lot of latitude when it comes to sick time. There’s no federal requirement for paid leave, and only a few states have enacted laws protecting workers’ access to this kind of paid time off. Your employer can also make it more difficult to access sick time by requiring a doctor’s note for illness-related absences.

Bottom line: your sick leave experience will vary, depending on your industry and employer. To get a sense of which workers have the toughest time getting leave, we reached out on social media to ask people for their stories.

The Website Factory Never Closes

So, one time I was pulling 18-hour days trying to fix a mess of a website before it launched. I wasn’t getting paid overtime. I was however suffering from some bad hip pain that I didn’t know the source of. I put off going to my doctor until after the launch.

When I got diagnosed with an IT-band issue, I started doing physical therapy either before work (which meant leaving my house at 6 a.m.) or at lunch. Occasionally I’d take a late lunch to meet my therapist’s schedule.

My boss eventually started getting huffy at “all the time” I was missing when I didn’t have a 100 percent open schedule for whatever he needed me to do last-minute. Didn’t matter that I’d put my health on the back burner and couldn’t walk without pain during the website launch. It just mattered to him that I was always available 100 percent of the time.

– Charlotte, Copywriter

Sorry, Your Job Is Too Important for Sick Days

Due to my type of job, if I have to call out on a storm day or during any event that may generate a lot of calls, I have to go to my doctor three towns away and obtain a doctor’s note. Kind of a deterrent.

Sucks when you feel like death and you have to shower and go to the doc instead of staying in bed and dying with dignity.

– Maddie, 911 Dispatcher

This Is Why Teachers Leave Teaching

I got reamed, at a teaching job, for taking all of my sick days when I had CANCER. I neither went over my allotted days, nor requested any special accommodations. One can partially see why I’ve been turned off from the field of education.

– Tina, Jewelry Designer

'I got reamed, at a teaching job, for taking all of my sick days when I had CANCER.' - A former teacherClick To Tweet

The Real Sickness Is Office Gossip

Not me, but my husband. His supervisor was convinced that he was faking a sinus infection, so he made DH bring in a doctor’s note. In 25 years working there, he’s only ever had to bring in a doctor’s note one time and that was when his doctor put him on light duty.

And the supervisor spread the rumor that he was faking illness far and wide. DH had been to the doctor and gotten several prescriptions, and he was happy to take a note in. He even ended up taking even more days off than he planned to at first because his doctor didn’t want him to go back to work too soon.

When he got back to work he met with his supervisor and then also went directly to the plant manager to deal with the rumors that his supervisor was spreading.

– Connie (Her husband is an Operator at an electric plant.)

Bad Optics

I was told that visiting my daughter (sick with pneumonia) in the ER on three consecutive days was “bad optics” because I had only started one to two months prior.

– Matt, Art Director

Nurses Aren’t Allowed to Get Sick

Many years ago, I worked for a REAL JERK!

I’m a nurse (so was she) and I had been up all night throwing up. I had no idea if it was food issues or a bug, but I felt a strong obligation to not share it especially with my elderly patients. (Pretty sure it was a bug.)

She thought I should come in anyway, since I wasn’t running a high fever. I had chills and was exhausted from NO sleep. Unsafe to function, much less drive! (And this was home health where I would be driving all day.)

I argued with her and only when I said that perhaps I should just quit did she back down. It did not matter to her that I might spread germs unnecessarily to my patients.

Too many horror stories with this jerk. I didn’t stay there long after she took over. I don’t think she lasted very long either.

– Caroline, Registered Nurse

The Sick Day Spies Are Everywhere

My worst sick day story ever: Years ago, I had strep throat and laryngitis and took a sick day. It happened to be a day after a long weekend in the winter and I had traveled that weekend. I always used to leave sub plans on my desk in those cases just on the off chance that I hit a storm delay or something and wasn’t able to make it back.

Two weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from my administrator summoning me to a meeting and also suggesting that I might want to bring a union rep with me. Another teacher had heard me joke to a parent the Friday before my sick day, “Maybe I just won’t come back from vacation!” and filed a formal complaint saying I abused my sick time.

Because I had sub plans out, it was thought to be “suspicious.” The administrator conveniently had no memory of me teaching the rest of that week with little to no voice and wouldn’t tell me who filed the complaint. It was humiliating and definitely made me question who I could trust among my colleagues.

– Mary, Teacher

24 Hours for Giving Birth

I went into labor with my second child on the first day of a new semester.

My husband called the college where I was a professor to say I wouldn’t be in and why, and was told that since I wasn’t “sick,” I couldn’t take the day off.

He (fearfully, holding the phone at arm’s reach so I couldn’t harm him) relayed the message.

So, I called from the hospital bed, in transition, and explained the situation to them. Ultimately, they decided not to fire me for missing the day so long as I returned the next day to teach and advise students (which I did).

– Anna, Biology Professor

Do You Know What You're Worth?

The Manager Who Was Also Secretly an MD

My very first “real” job was at a bank that prided itself on customer service. I wasn’t feeling well at work one day, and had a fever and a horrible pain in my lower back.

My mom called the doctor for me, and the doctor said that it sounded like a kidney infection, and that I should go to the ER.

My boss said that I was “too young” to have a kidney infection, and if I left, there would be only one person staffing the bank (in the evening, with only one drive-through window open), so I needed to stay and finish the shift. Which I did.

Then went to the ER and got admitted for a kidney infection.

– Diana, Writer

Just Tell Your Baby Never to Get Sick

This has to do with sick days that my boss anticipated I would take when my child was born.

I was at the beginning of my second trimester when I told the director and assistant director of the library at which I worked that I was pregnant. After congratulating me, they asked what my plans were regarding work once the baby was born.

I said I planned to come back. The assistant director, herself the mother of four or five daughters and grandmother of one granddaughter, said, “Don’t expect any special treatment when your baby is born.”

I asked what she meant, and she told me I shouldn’t expect to take off when my child was sick.

– Kay, Career Development Specialist

And a Bonus Story, Also From a Library Employee

In my last library job, all of my “sick days” were taken when my kids were sick.

I had a horrible cold but went to work every day and my coworkers were giving me major side-eye and making comments about how I should go home.

I couldn’t! My sick days were not even accruing yet because I was so new, and I was already taking, basically, unpaid leave to take care of my kids.

It was a terrible feeling. I wanted to stay home and rest, but I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. It was so stressful that I ended up with an infected sty (GROSS) in my eye. I stayed all day at work with, literally, pus coming out of my eye (GROSS) until I could leave and go to the emergency walk-in clinic, where I sat feeling terrible that I was missing bedtime with my baby and stressing about when I would get a chance to pump.

And after all that, my boss was still annoyed that I missed work the next day due to my pus-y eye.

–  Margaret, Librarian

Names have been changed to protect contributors. Stories have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a story to add to this roundup? Share your experience in the comments or come talk to us on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
Read more from Jen

Leave a Reply

10 Comments on "The 10 Worst Boss Reactions to Employees Calling in Sick"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Susan
Guest
I never missed a day of work and always strived for excellence. My demanding boss completely depended on me. I called in one time due to excruciating back pain. I could barely move. The next day, at work, I was told to order a dry erase board in order to list my job duties each day for my boss to monitor. I went from an excellent worker to someone who needed to be constantly monitored. I was also told that my tone of voice, when I called in sick, was unacceptable. I’m sure the back pain had me talking through… Read more »
OMG
Guest

So thankful I don’t live in America

Olga Uzunoff
Guest

I had a root canal, which I had a dentist’s note for. I showed the note to my former supervisor, stating that I may not be able to come in for the recovery. He said I should finish up my work first and then take a day off!!

Joe
Guest

A former supervisor called me at home and told me I had to come in and give a presentation because she didn’t feel like it. I told her I could do it, then reminded her that my face was covered in bandages from the nasal/sinus surgery I had the day before -which was still actively draining, by the way.

Susan D.
Guest

I had a horrible pregnancy with my only daughter. I threw up all day every day for three months, had migraines that didnt didn’t go away for weeks at a time, and ended up with gestational diabetes, among othet “smaller” illneses. On my first day back to work, my boss said to me, “I hope you are done with your medical problems. We have work to do here”. A) what a jerk!! And b) illegal!!

Susan D.
Guest

I had a terrible pregnancy woth my only daughter. I threw up all day every day for the first three months, had horrific migraines that wouldn’t go away for weeks at a time, and ended up with gestational diabetes, not to mention all the “smaller” illnesses I endured. On my first day back after maternity leave, my boss said to me, “I hope you are done with your medical problems because we have work to do here”. Hello, a) what a jerk!! And b) illegal!!

Suzie
Guest

I was once in the middle of being retrenched when I was threatened with medical investigations for taking 2 sick days … in an entire THREE year cycle! (i had a medical certificate). It was very clear the bait was put out for conflict which I refused to fall for. The same person who threatened me was out of a job shortly after.

Robert
Guest

It seems like there are A LOT of a__holes in the workplace in this country!!! Damn shame….

Becky barter
Guest
I had been at my job 4 years and had never taken a sick day although I had 3 per year. Last year I started feeling poorly and my legs had begun cramping 2 days before this incident so I had a doctors appointment scheduled for after work. I woke up that morning and could not walk. Somehow I managed to get dressed and to my car knowing I had to get to work. I lifted my leg with my hands and put my foot on the brake and started my car and shifted into gear. I managed to get… Read more »
Milly
Guest

We all need a fierce mom in our corner.

wpDiscuz
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.