4 Good Reasons for Missing Work and 3 Bad Reasons for Missing Work

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Harold works at Staples. Over the weekend, he went to a Green Day concert where he head-banged next to a few thousand other people. By Monday morning, he feels sick as a dog, with a runny nose, a fever, a sore throat, and an upset stomach. Assuming this to be a good reason to miss work, he calls his boss Manny, saying that he has the flu and won’t be able to make it into work that day. Manny, who is short-staffed, tells him to take the day of, because he doesn’t want Harold to make any other works sick. He does tell Harold, however, to call him at the end of the day with an updated report on how he’s feeling. Harold spends the day in bed, napping, eating chicken soup, taking TheraFlu, and watching reruns of Whose Line Is It Anyway? At five o’clock, he calls Manny and tells him that he still feels sick, but that he expects to be better by Wednesday. Manny tell him to feel better and plans accordingly. He appreciates that Harold has a good reason for missing work.

Reasons for Missing Work – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It is normal for employees to sometimes miss work unexpectedly. Life happens! It is true that employers prefer for employees to follow an attendance policy and schedule preapproved time off, but there are also good, and understandable, reasons for missing work without notice. Illness, family emergencies, and important appointments can happen without warning, and are legitimate reasons for missing work. There are also some bad, and unadvisable, reasons to miss work without notice. These reasons can appear unprofessional and irresponsible and may lead to consequences.

What are good reasons for missing work?

1. Sickness

If an employee is not feeling well, it is best for he or she to miss work until healed. Working while sick can make an employee sicker and can also infect other workers. This leaves the employer short-staffed and is irresponsible. An employee who calls in sick should let his or her employer know as soon as he or she is feeling ill. The employee should also check back in later in the day to provide a status update. This lets the employer know when to expect the employee back at work and gives them time to prepare a back-up if needed.

Example: Holly works at an Italian restaurant as a server. When she comes down with the flu, she calls out of work, telling her employer that she’s not feeling well. This is good practice, because if Holly were to go to work while sick, she might infect her other coworkers, or worse, the customers. This might even result in a visit from the health inspector. At the end of the day, Holly calls her boss and lets him know that she’s feeling better, but to be safe, she will take one more day off to be completely clear of symptoms. Her boss understands, and tells her to feel better.

2. Family Illness and Emergency

There could be several reasons behind a family emergency, including a sick child or parent, a car accident, or a sudden surgery. The minute an employee faces one of these situations, he or she should call their employer and keep them updated about the situation. The employee should also inform the employer about when he or she might be expected to return to work.

Example: Chloe works at Raytheon. Her elderly mother Mabel lives with her. One day, Chloe receives a call from emergency services that her mother has fallen down the stairs and is in the hospital for emergency surgery. Chloe and her mother live alone with three cats. As the cats are unfortunately unable to care for Mabel, Chloe requests time off from her boss. Her boss encourages her to go to the hospital and care for her mother. While at the hospital with a recovering Mabel, Chloe phones her boss to let him know that she will be back at work in two days.

3. Home Emergency

Homeowners or car drivers may face separate issues that cause them to miss work. These may include burst pipes or flat tires. An employee should inform their employer about missing work the moment the problem occurs, and when they expect to return. If the repair can be done quickly, then the employee should tell their employer when in the day they expect to return.

Example: Curtis is getting ready for work one morning when a backyard transformer explodes, setting his garage on fire. While the fire department puts out the flames, Curtis calls his employer to inform him of the accident and tell her that he expects to be in later that day. Curtis’ boss tells him to update her in a few hours. Later that day, Curtis realizes that he has to make arrangements with a contractor to rebuild his garage. He calls his boss and lets her know that he will be missing the rest of the workday due to these administrative issues related to the accident. She understands and extends her sympathies. Curtis lets her know that he plans to be at work the next day.

4. Passing of a Loved One

When a relative or a loved one dies, an employee will most likely need to take time off from work to grieve. This is a perfectly acceptable and understandable reason to miss work. The employee should inform his or her employer about the situation and how much time he or she expects to take off. This time should include a period for grieving as well as any funeral arrangements. It should be noted that many companies have policies regarding bereavement and may allow an employee a certain period of paid or unpaid time off. Taking this time will not affect an employee’s standing at work.

Example: Thomas is devastated to learn that his brother, James, has died in a car accident. He calls his employer to let him know that he will be missing work for the funeral next Saturday. His boss lets him know that the company has a bereavement policy that would allow Thomas to take three weeks of paid time off. Thomas accepts this offer as a time to grieve James and care for his parents.

What are bad reasons for missing work?

1. Fatigue

While being tired can affect work performance and motivation, it is not usually seen as a valid reason for missing work. Missing work for feeling tired can make an employee seem unreliable and irresponsible. That said, there may be valid reasons behind the fatigue. If an employee stayed up all night caring for a sick relative, or was at the hospital for an emergency, he or she should explain these circumstances to his or her employer.

Example: Pia works at Subway. Over the weekend, Pia went to Coachella, where she partied and drank for three nights straight. On Monday morning, Pia can barely get out of bed. She feels groggy and hungover. She calls into work and says that she’s too tired to make sandwiches today. Her boss tells her to take an Advil and show up, or Pia can consider herself unemployed. Pia drinks some Gatorade and puts on sunglasses before hightailing it to work.

2. Unhappy With Job

Skipping work because one does not like one’s job is a terrible reason for missing work. Doing so could lead to disciplinary action or termination. Even if it does not, it would certainly affect one’s standing with the company. An employee dissatisfied with his or her job should still show up for work but should schedule a time to talk with his or her employer about concerns. If the job is still not a great fit, the employee should seek another job.

Example: Leandro hates his job as a mechanic at Billy Bob’s Garage. His boss is a jerk, his coworkers are untrained, and the company fridge is stocked with expired yogurt and Fresca. One day, he wakes up and decides that he simply won’t show up at work as protest. Why should he have to pick up the other mechanics’ slack? And with no thanks mind, save for some curdled Activia. When his boss calls asking where he is, Leandro tells him, “I didn’t feel like coming in today.” Needless to say, Leandro is fired.

3. Lack of Planning

Mistakes happen. An employer can forgive the occasional misstep, such as running out of gas on the way to work or coming in late. But always sleeping past one’s alarm or coming in late with an iced coffee in hand can lead to consequences. An employer might think one is unorganized, lazy, or unreliable.

Example: Nelly works at an office in Culver City. She loves coffee and needs to have a cup before work in order to function like a human being. Unfortunately, her coffee habit leads to her being late to work every day. She stands in line at Starbucks for fifteen minutes in order to get her grande vanilla latte with soy milk and caramel drizzle. Nelly’s boss reprimands her, telling her that she should either get to Starbucks earlier to place her order, or she should make her coffee at home so that she is not late to work every day.

How to reasonably and appropriately call off work?

Best Honest

Honesty is always the best policy. If an employee is struggling to come up with a reason to miss work, then stress or burnout may be an issue to address. The employee should schedule time to talk with their boss about the problem. It may be possible to reduce their workload or take some time off for rest or vacation. If an employee is simply unhappy about his or her job, then it may be time for he or she to look for other jobs that are a better fit. It is better to be honest than inappropriately seek reasons for missing work.

Not Oversharing

When one asks to miss work over a personal issue, it’s best not to overshare. This might concern health, legal, or family issues. It is only necessary to tell an employer what they need to know. For example, if one is missing work due to illness, one only needs to tell their employer, “I have strep and will be out today.” They do not need to say, “I’m hacking up a lung and mucus is leaking from my eyelid.” Still, it may be necessary to provide an employer with a doctor’s note if asked.

Be Prompt

If an employee has to miss work for any reason, he or she should contact their employer as soon as possible. If there is a company policy related to taking time off, the employee should be sure to follow its instructions. For instance, it may be appropriate to email one’s boss and copy the HR manager. Generally, it is good practice for an employee to let his or her boss know as soon as the problem comes up.

Make Up Missed Work

Missing work can lead to an employee falling behind on work. An employee should consider how best to make up for his or her absence and talk it through with a manager. For example, if an employee is going to miss his night shift, he should arrange with a coworker for her to cover his shift. If one is going to miss a meeting, he or she should arrange for a colleague to send details and notes. By creating a plan, an employee is showing his or her employer that they are responsible.

Share Updates

Sometimes an employee will miss work and not have a set date of return. For example, if one’s relative or child is suffering from an injury or illness. It is important for the employee to keep his or her employer informed of the situation and how it develops. Checking in routinely allows for an employer to manage the absence and to be assured of one’s responsibility and dedication.

Everyone needs to miss work occasionally. While some absences can’t be planned for, it is important to communicate with one’s employer and keep one’s reputation in mind.

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