I have taken over the management of a child care center.

The problem that I am hoping to address at the very least is staff who calls in sick very late in the night the day before. We have about 20 staff working and have at least 4 of them randomly messaging me on a Sunday night (or another weekday night) at 8 saying they won't make it the next day.

This leaves me with very little time to organise and confirm casual staff (people who have signed up to work on a short notice). It is impracticable and also hard on casual staff. Not to mention it gives me sleepless night(s) with how I am supposed to run the center.

It also is not possible for an agency to supply me workers at such short notice. It's almost giving me anxiety where I fear looking at my phone in the evenings. It is required (government policy) for a set number of staff to be working so as to maintain the educator-to-child ratio.

There already is a policy in place that says staff should inform at least 24 hours in advance - which no one seems to care about, clearly. Even if this policy is changed and the time limit is increased/decreased, with the current events, this still leaves me in a position where I am not able to discharge my duties.

I note that it is absolutely acceptable and possible that people might fall sick just the night before their shifts - which is why they are entitled to 10 days of sick leave annually. Most of the staff are generally healthy and whenever they chuck in a sickie they are required to give a GP/doctors certificate, which they do. If they are over their sick leave quota - they don’t get paid - and they are fine with it.

I find the leave policy to be fair, so I am not leaning towards changing it. I am happy to hear otherwise, though.

What can I do to encourage and get my staff to respect the leave policy?

I have searched and haven't found this problem being answered. I did come across Employees abusing leave policy and How can I get employees to conform to office policies? which are both significantly different from what I am asking.


Policy: I had a chat with the previous director and I am told the 24 hour notice policy was brought in temporarily with a view to curb this behaviour. This had failed miserably and everyone forgot to roll this policy back or to address this issue at its roots.

Frequency: Some of the employees do this some of the times. Most are happy to go without pay and not produce a doctors certificate. Getting a certificate is easy. Rock up to a GP and ask for one - its mostly free (bulk billed/medicare). Also please note this is a child care center - which is very very prone to staff and children getting sick often.

Abuse: I dont think there is abuse in the sense of it. With this behaviour most staff have shown a lack of commitment to their jobs. Replacing them is an option - but no guarantee this behaviour will not happen again. I think the previous managers may have indirectly encouraged this behaviour by being suitably accommodating and then getting anxiety and then quitting their jobs. These are just my personal observations.

So, even if we had to roll back the 24 hour notice policy - I am still trying to find ways on how I can run the center when staff randomly calls in sick. How do people in other centers or industries manage this? Rostering a casual worker always before hand and hiring extra staff are very cost prohibitive.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 10:16

19 Answers 19


There already is a policy in place that says staff should inform at least 24 hours in advance - which no one seems to care about, clearly.

Because it is completely out of touch with reality. You require what? People to notify you 24h before they get sick? Who are you hiring, child care or supernatural doctors?

Imagine I strain my ankle on the stairs on my way to work and my boss is like "I'm sorry, why didn't you hand in your form for your pre-planned accident on time? You knew that this was going to happen 24h in advance, didn't you?". Uh... no?

This rule is completely unaccomplishable. If you set goals for people that they cannot reach no matter how hard they try, they will ignore them. What else could they do?

People get sick. They cannot control it. They cannot control at what time they will know. The best thing you can get is to get to know as soon as they know.

Be happy when you get informed in advance. Staff your organization so it can take the usual sick days of staff without you panicking over breaking laws.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:13

People tend to wait until the last minute because they don't want to let everyone down by taking a day off. They feel a bit ill and hope it goes away.

You should encourage them to call in early to warn you that there might be a problem, without having to make a definite decision.

An analogy is that most people know that a ship in immediate trouble should send a radio 'mayday', but they should also send a 'pan pan' when there's a problem that could lead to a life-threatening situation (say the engine dies but there's no immediate risk of drifting onto rocks). That allows the rescue services to prepare, in case the situation gets worse.

You need to ensure that there are no negative consequences from this, or they won't do it. No need for a doctor's certificate, no loss of pay or leave, etc, even if you end up paying for an unnecessary stand-in.

You could even offer a month bonus for those who either aren't sick or give enough warning, but that will encourage people to come in when sick and spread their illness, and most people will do their best to help if they understand the problem (and it doesn't cost them anything.)

Of course the real problem here is that you're operating with no safety margin, in an environment where there are legal responsibilities, and actual responsibilities to the children in your care - and a very real, quantifiable, risk of staff being ill. Now I know margins for child care are extremely narrow, but imagine if you ran a trucking company or airline and didn't bother with maintenance or safety equipment because you couldn't afford it. Everyone would say "you knew this was a risk, and did nothing about it!"

Sometimes people wake up too ill to work, with no notice. You can probably predict approximately how often it will happen every year. It's your job to plan for this.

  • Maybe you could have a register of parents who would be willing to help out while you wait for a stand-in to arrive. (and pay for their background checks, etc)
  • Maybe your staff could work 4 days a week, with 1 day on stand-by.
  • Maybe you would have to turn away children if you're understaffed in order to satisfy your legal requirements..

I know these seem like terrible, expensive things to do. Reducing risk usually is expensive until you balance it against the cost of being fined or sued.

  • 9
    @Ben, OK, so what does your daycare do when someone calls in sick at the last minute? Why can they always get a stand-in when OP can't? Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 13:17
  • 9
    Good answer addressing the real underlying issue - the employer's responsibility and planning. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 13:23
  • 14
    "Maybe you could have a register of parents" - There are a bunch of legal requirements relating to daycare staffing (caregiver:child ratios, background checks, etc). These requirements vary by jurisdiction. Parents are not employees; they do not fulfill these requirements.
    – Brian
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 13:24
  • 11
    @alephzero: Childcare is likely to be not the avarage job, but highly stressful (also on a psychological level, depending on the children) and prone to infections. I would guess that in my high school, the sickness rate of teachers was around that.
    – guest
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 13:54
  • 6
    @alephzero I'm not sure OP meant to say that 20% of people are calling in every week. I think they meant 20% of employees do this sometimes. But it'd be good to have a clarification.
    – Kat
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 16:55

Given the current circumstances, you probably don't want to.

Given the current circumstances with the pandemic, you probably don't want to discourage employees from taking a sick day, even if it is on short notice. If your childcare centre becomes a Covid hot spot because an employee decided to come in while sick, that would be really bad for your business, leaving aside the human costs that the disease might cause.

Instead, I would recommend altering your business practices to allow for more agile responses. Schools, for instance, usually only require teachers to call in sick before 8am or so on the day, rather than requiring them to call in sick the day before. If your childcare centre is a part of a larger company, you might wish to raise the idea of hiring workers to remain on-call for deployment to different childcare centres when there's an unscheduled vacancy.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:12

Make your employees feel more comfortable about calling off earlier.

You said each employee always has a doctor's note? Well, then they probably aren't calling off of work until they are sure that they are sick enough for a doctor to give them a note. If you want this to change, then step 1 is almost assuredly removing the need for a doctor's note. They are child care workers, not teenagers working at a fast-food restaurant. Give your employees the peace of mind that if they call off at the first sign of feeling sick and end up being perfectly fine the next working day that they won't be penalized.

You said you're resistant to changing the current policy, but if that is the case then you need to accept that your employees will not feel comfortable trying to call off earlier. However, even if this change will help some, you will never stop people from getting sick at 8 the night before and needing to call off. Things happen, and you can only do the best you can to mitigate potential issues.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:12

I understand the desire of every business to be as efficient as possible with its expenses.

But why wouldn't you have an extra person or two scheduled for a few morning hours with option to extend for the rest of the day if needed?

This will help with morning rush, and move your potential staffing issues to a day light and not the night when you cant get anyone

4 casual hours a day is not too much to pay for piece of mind and adherence to regulations, isn`t it?

  • 1
    "with option to extend": Please check beforehand if this is legal (i.e. only paying for the rest of the day if needed).
    – guest
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 14:34
  • @guest Why wouldn't it be legal if hours are paid? And its always easier to ask the person that already there if he / she can stay for the rest of the day than scrambling at midnight and waking everyone up
    – Strader
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 14:36
  • Sorry, I assumed that you only pay if the person works the hours. If you say "I pay for 8 hours and maybe I sent you home earlier" than I guess it is legal.
    – guest
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 14:38
  • 16
    +1 if you are under resourced for whatever reason and it is predictable, as it seems to be here, then increase your resource pool Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 16:32
  • 9
    +1 exactly. The OP seems to be missing the management aspect of managing. Making these decisions, bringing in additional resources, changing policies, etc. is part of what management is. Arguably, that's what it is, and what makes it different from being a line worker or even basic supervisor. Standing by in horror as things fall apart is not management. The OP needs to start managing the business. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 17:06

Childcare is usually low-paid, low-status work with poor benefits. You're competing in the labor market for employees, and the bargain being arrived at is one in which your employees get the deal they currently, implicitly have: they can take a day off whenever they have the sniffles (=possible covid symptoms, too), and they can also take a sick day whenever they feel like going shopping or hiking, as long as they don't mind losing the income. Many of them are also probably using these days to deal with the kind of emergencies that people tend to experience when they're making subsistence wages and living from paycheck to paycheck.

Your current setup has some advantages. It probably keeps your costs extremely low, you're able to recruit enough workers to get the work done, and your workers probably really appreciate the flexibility you offer. The downside is stress for you.

If you don't like the stress, you could try to change things, but you describe yourself as the manager, not the owner. That means you don't have choices available such as hiring more than the legal minimum of workers, or increasing pay in order to effectively renegotiate the de facto marketplace bargain you've made. These choices would cost your employer money. Therefore your options are extremely limited. It sounds like you're the only one unhappy here -- the owner and the workers are all happy as clams.

A possible option would be to institute a policy by which workers can take unlimited unpaid days off, without needing a doctor's excuse, if they arrange it a week in advance and get approval. This would be in addition to the current sick leave allowance. Many workers would probably welcome the ability to do this without the hassle of obtaining a doctor's note and without needing to be dishonest.

  • 8
    "if they arrange it a week in advance and get approval" The problem with this approach is no one knows a week in advance whether they will be sick on a given date. Unless the objective of this is to make people feel more comfortable with taking time off, I don't see how it would actually help anything.
    – wheeler
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 15:24
  • 1
    @CharlesDuffy : To be fair, someone living paycheck to paycheck should normally rely on public transportation instead of having a car (or at least know their ways on public transport), so not an excuse to miss work for the whole next day. Also, getting a car to a repair shop can be done outside of work hours, or at worst during the no more than 2 working hours. Note that OPs example is of a childcare, which is not supposed to be in a remote location without public transport. (unlike some big factory or something involving hazardous material).
    – Mefitico
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 18:09
  • 3
    "Many of them are also probably using these days to deal with the kind of emergencies that people tend to experience when they're making subsistence wages and living from paycheck to paycheck." This makes an assumption that is defeated in OPs post: "...whenever they chuck in a sickie they are required to give a GP/Doctors certificate, which they do"
    – Joel Hines
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 18:17
  • 1
    @Mefitico, ...that get tricky sometimes. While I'm currently living in a city with outstanding public transit, the one I was in before had widely variable quality, and the cheapest housing was in suburbs that weren't served at all. This is a public-policy failure, of course, but the US is full of those. (I see that the question is from .au; don't know what the situation tends to be like). Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:53
  • 2
    @Mefitico, speaking from the USA, there's a lot of places around that simply don't have public transit. There's also plenty of small towns that don't have cabs/taxis/Uber/whatever either. And you're going to pay more for rides from rural locations into town than actually owning a vehicle. I lived on a farm, so I know that from experience. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 22:16

So you have this policy:

There already is a policy in place that says staff should inform at least 24 hours in advance - which no one seems to care about

and these situations:

staff who calls in sick very late in the night the day before. We have about 20 staff working and have at least 4 of them randomly messaging me on a Sunday night (or another weekday night) at 8 saying they wont make it next day.

Have you tried reprimanding employees? What is the official course of action that you are supposed to enact when someone breaks a policy?

Quite frankly, informing 24 hours in advance is kind of ludicrous. Never in my life have I woken up on a Sunday and thought to myself that I need to call in for Monday.

At best I might have warned my supervisor that I'm not feeling well that morning but to officially take the day off without knowing how I feel closer to my shift just feels like a gamble especially if I need the money. Maybe the answer is to encourage employees to warn you that they're not feeling well rather than officially taking the day off. Convince them to warn you as early as possible such as Saturday.

Given the Covid-19 situation it is important that you allow people to call in when they feel sick.

You manage a child care facility so I can certainly understand staffers randomly not feeling well given that you work in a germ haven.

If you feel that employees are engaging in weekend activities like drinking alcohol or doing drugs (especially as a group with multiple coworkers) which affects their work performance then speak to someone in human resources about possible courses of action.

Most companies specify that sick days are to be used for unexpected illness and greatly frown upon self-inflicted illness.

Maybe random drug tests are in order? I don't know, seek out your options.

  • 2
    If the option can be put on the table, a drug test is might be a effective as far as getting people to be professionals by force, but doing it might also be a hit on morale.
    – Mefitico
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 17:30
  • 3
    I didn't say that drug testing is the right answer but getting the center closed and losing dozens of jobs because the educator to child ratio couldn't be maintained is a far greater hit to morale.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 18:05
  • 3
    Doing random drug testing is probably more expensive than just planning shifts and stand-ins properly. Proper planning will cover all cases, while drug testing only covers the off chance that the workers are actually having illegal drug related parties.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 6:00
  • 1
    Not sure what the public opinion in Australia is, but if word gets out that a child care center is resorting to drug tests then I can imagine a lot of parents will not want to leave their children there. If you cannot trust your employees to handle alcohol and drugs responsibly, surely you cannot trust them with other people's children?
    – user115589
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 11:45
  • 2
    @MonkeyZeus Note that I'm not suggesting that there isn't a problem that needs to be fixed. I'm just saying that taking drug tests may create new problems without much of a guarantee of solving your actual problem. But going through the other answers I get the impression that child care centers are run quite differently around the world; I cannot imagine a random unqualified teenager working in a daycare. Everyone there (except for an intern or two) should have had proper training (2-4 years) and certification.
    – user115589
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 12:35

How do people in other centers or industries manage this?

I know folks with kids and I pass by at least two daycares on a regular basis, so I can tell you some of what folks here have been doing. Unfortunately, the first is the thing you don't want to do:

Exceed government requirements for the educator-to-child ratio. Have a few teachers that float between class rooms. This has several benefits:

  • It gives you wriggle room so that you don't necessarily have to find replacements if a few people get sick.
  • It looks good to parents looking for childcare. I don't know how competitive it is where you are but every daycare near me talks about having a ratio lower than required on their web site.
  • It makes it possible/easier for teachers to take a quick bathroom or food break.
  • It makes it easier to deal with a child that needs extra attention.
    For example: A floating teacher can pull aside a kid having a meltdown and calm them down without the main teacher having to pull their attention away from the class.

How can they afford to do this? The daycares in my area are really expensive.

Also please note this is a child care center - which is very very prone to staff and children getting sick often.

You should be cleaning more often. Everyone kind of just accepts that children in daycare will be sick all the time but when the pandemic hit, everything that stayed open shortened their hours so they could do deep cleaning. The result was that the kids and the adults stopped getting sick as often in general.

You should be setting stricter requirements regarding sick kids. Your facility probably already did this due to the pandemic. But if it didn't or it got reverted, consider raising the bar on how well a child has to be in order to be in the facility.

So, this next point may be overkill for your area and may not be necessary for your situation but it's another strategy I saw so I'll put it here in case it's useful.

Consider limiting your regular employee's exposure to other adults at your facility:

  • Reduce the number of people who pick-up and drop-off the kid. Ideally a family will pick one person who does it every time but that isn't always possible.

  • Reduce the amount of face-to-face interaction with adults.

    • Teacher parent meetings should be done remotely.
    • Pick-up and drop-off should happen at the entrance(s) outside.
      No extended conversation should happen at this time.
    • Use an app for daily communication.
      (Or notes or something so teachers have a way to indicate a child needs more diapers or whatever without talking to parents face to face.)

As other Answers have stated, you don't want to change your policy to make it more strict, especially during the current pandemic. This will only make things worse, not better. Not only will you effectively be trying to get people to work while sick, causing more workers and kids to get sick, but you'll also add more stress, which is well known to compromise people's immune systems.

Disease prevention

Since you are seeing so many people getting sick, you might want to instead look at your cleaning and other germ prevention procedures. There's a lot of information online just by searching "how to stay healthy while working at a daycare" and other similar search terms, so I'm not going there. I'm also not medically trained, so my advice may not be received as being credible.

There's also plenty of resources about first year teachers getting sick, so it's not just your facility that is being affected by workers getting sick from kids.


If you think people are abusing your system, you need to come up with hard evidence, or you'll just be making accusations that'll also affect the stress and morale of your staff. This needs to be the amount of sick time someone takes compared to other staff with similar amounts of time in the Industry.

This goes back to the "first year teacher" example I mentioned earlier. Someone new to daycares or teaching doesn't have the immune system someone with 10-20 years of experience is going to have, so comparing them isn't realistic. That like comparing the amount of time a task takes or the quality of product between an employee with 1-2 years experience against an employee with 10+ years experience. It's just not a good metric on it's own. If you can pair that up with what days the person takes, it becomes better, but not necessarily.

If you can show that a person literally always takes the same day of the week off, then you might have something. Of course, that's mitigated if they said they couldn't work those days and are still getting scheduled for them. Abuse can go both ways.

Trying to figure out abuse may not be a good use of time and effort if other things, like cleanliness mentioned earlier, is sub-par. This goes double if it's not just 1-2 people doing this, but rather the whole staff takes regular sick days. And you may need to decide if "mental health days" are happening. This might mean the person(s) having these days aren't a good fit for daycare, or it could mean that there's something else in their lives that's causing excess stress, like Covid-19 or a sick family member.

Or the stress could be from something at your facility. If there's something that's constantly being complained about, it might be time to fix the root of the problem, not just telling people to ignore it or that it's correct "because it's always been like that" or "because it's company policy". I'm not saying that all complaints are legitimate, but maybe more are legit than you want to believe are.


Regardless, you need to figure out the root cause of the sick days. Is it actual sickness, stress, abuse, bad scheduling, or what. And if it's something you can fix without firing anyone, you need to fix it or the problem of people missing work will continue. I won't tell you to never fire anyone, because sometimes that is a solution.

I also won't tell you to never change your sick time policy, but you really need to determine if you are changing it for a good reason. Just because you don't like people calling off on "short notice" isn't a good enough reason. Yes, being short staffed sucks, so maybe you need to hire more people or have a better known pool of people that can fill in on short notice. That's part of being a manager, knowing how to deal with problems, but I digress.

  • 2
    +1 for the words re. first-year teachers and sickness.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:08

First: Reach out to upper management, and see what tools are available

  1. Can you you hire an extra person? This would give you margin to work with.
  2. Can you preemptively ask on Friday for 2 casual staffers to come on Monday just so the 4 missing ones are already sorted out?
  3. Can you offer a bonus to employees who use less sick days or gives good advance before using those days (for when people actually need to sort their problems rather than being sick at home)?

Second: Raise the data

Your personal impressions and anxiety may cloud your judgment more than you think. Also, showing actual facts helps people believe you and give relevance to that you say. (It also helps you gauge the correct relevance of the issue you have at hands).

Say you could come up with:

"95% of sick leaves happen on a Monday"

This is really a sign of laziness rather than actual problems, as random stuff can happen any day. Even if you solve on Monday the issues of the weekend, this leaves you with a 3 out of 7 or around 43% of sick leaves happening on Monday.

Note that simply pointing this out for staff might motivate people to pick other days for sick leaves, just to avoid drawing attention. Which in turn might mitigate the problem of being understaffed every Monday.

Another fact you might want to get: "Out of 20 employees a single one is responsible for 25% of sick leaves, and 4 are combinedly responsible for 45% of sick leaves."

If leaves were random (and as @computercarguy points out in his answer they shouldn't be exactly uniformly distributed), you would expect each employee to be responsible for 1 out of 20 or 5% of the sick leaves. If a single person does five times that, talk to him/her. This person might be facing some serious health issues, in which case you might need to work out how to better conciliate this issues with proper advancement warning for sick leaving. If this one person is abusing the system, then maybe it's best to point out this to him/her. If I could call in sick whenever I wanted and didn't even worry about getting a pay cut, I could easily start overdoing it, but I would respond to a wake up call from a manager saying "hey, we need you here".

"Given the cost of casual staffers, if all employees would take only the median amount of sick leaves, we would save the equivalent of three severance packages over two years"

This is the kind of financial argument that sounds like music to the ears of CEO/CFOs. That justifies firing people who abuse the sick leave system (which you've sorted out with your data). Once you start doing it, morale takes a hit (and doesn't seem very high nor paramount on your current workplace, though), but the people who stay get a clear warning about not abusing the sick leave system (especially beyond the allowed days without salary penalty).

You just need to be careful that this idea assumes that employees are not actually willing to grab the severance packages, but rather they prefer to keep their jobs.


You might discover that your data has nothing out of usual, and that you are over-stressing just because of the lack of advancement in the warning. Then there is a problem with you (who as manager needs to handle this kind of stress proficiently) and there is problem in the relationship between you and the staff, who needs to understand the benefit of warning in advance and feel comfortable in doing so.

To treat the relationship issue, you might want to adopt a more easy-going posture related to sick leaves. Don't talk to people as if you were investigating if they were really sick, just talk as if you genuinely care about them. Also respect people who claim "personal issues" to avoid getting into details about why they had to be absent.

But, on the worst case, you might at some point want to play the following card: "Listen everyone, this place will shut doors and we will out be out of our jobs IF inspectors come here and note that were are constantly understaffed. So please take more care of warning in advance for when you need a sick leave and use sick days for when you are actually sick. Talk to me if there is other problem you need to sort out and we'll see together what would be the best course of action"

  • 7
    "Can you offer a bonus to employees who use less sick days"—financial incentives to not call in sick when working in a congregate setting seem like public health hazards during a pandemic. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 0:35
  • @ZachLipton : I'm not advising to give one extra monthly paycheck to whoever uses zero sick days, but maybe a 10% bonus if out of 10 you use no more than 3. From my understanding of OP's question, he's not dealing with people who are genuinely sick, but rather people who abuse the system. To clarify: Depending on which country you live in, it's easy to get a doctor's notice to allow you to skip work (or maybe even forge one). OP may also have tools to punish anyone who comes to work while being sick. In short: Make the incentive good enough to prevent slackers but don't overdo it.
    – Mefitico
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:44

How do people in other centers or industries manage this? Rostering a casual worker always before hand and hiring extra staff are very cost prohibitive.

The day care center I'm familiar with manages it this way: they have a large pool of casual workers to call on if someone gets sick. If they had only one person to choose from it would be unlikely that they can call them at 6am and they are at work at 7am, but with 10 people, there is a good chance to get someone who can.

Those workers have in their contract that neither them nor the childcare center have an obligation to provide work / take offered work, their rates are also not higher than the one of normal staff and they only get paid for hours worked. It's been working reasonably well for the day care center I've seen.

This is New Zealand, so it could be that some local laws could prevent / facilitate this.


As this is sounding very Australian, here's my suggestion:

  1. Check the award as to what the On-call allowance is;
  2. Decide whether that is worth having an on-call roster;
  3. Consider offering some of the casuals full/part-time positions;
  4. Set an upper threshold for unpaid sick days (e.g. a maximum of 10 unpaid sick days);
  5. Make sure you're keeping records;
  6. Contact the Fair Work Ombudsman and raise your concerns before taking any additional steps.

The FWO can and is authorised to provide advice around employment laws (and it's free). As a "cover your ass", NEVER terminate an employee while they are on sick leave (there are some situations where you can do so, but it doesn't sound like any of these match your situation).

Just as an employee has rights, so too has an employer and you may need to consider ceasing the employees' employment. Importantly, in Australia, employers have won unfair dismissal cases involving excessive sick/personal leave (make sure everything is clearly documented - as verbose as possible).

  • 1
    You are insisting in keeping records, but all these records - that you are trying to make everything possible to prevent employees from taking sick leaves when they're sick - will be used against you if one day something bad happen.
    – Bebs
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 9:35
  • 1
    About your comment, this kind of conversation you are suggesting is a very dangerous slippery slope... it could be interpreted as illegal personal/health questions, moral harassment, discrimination based on health.
    – Bebs
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 9:43
  • 5
    You guys have a weird way of looking at sick days... I'm not 20 anymore, a bad cold can knock me out for a week or two. 10 sick days is nothing. What happens if someone breaks a leg? They'd use up 2-4 years worth of sick days in your mindset. Would you fire someone for breaking a leg? Is it automatically their fault if they get into an accident? The average sick day count where I live was 18.5 days a year in 2018.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 9:44
  • 4
    @nvoigt agree. Usually young, healthy people, who think nothing bad will ever happen to them think like this.
    – Bebs
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 9:48
  • 1
    @Bebs, you may want to look at the link I provided to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. When an employee's health is impacting on their ability to do their job, both employee and employer are obligated to work together to identify a mutually beneficial solution. This can only be done by having that conversation as to whether it's short-term, long-term, etc. As an employee, you can give all the details if you like or state that it's a temporary issue and this is what you need while it's an issue. I'm generally a big softy, but even I have my limits as to what I'll accept.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 9:52

There are really 2 cases here: Either you believe there is an abuse of the system or you do not.

If you do: Provide a carrot-or-stick system for your employees to have them abuse the system less. The carrot might not actually be achievable; rewarding people for not being sick is more or less a lottery, because you never know when you might e.g. twist an ankle and then lose whatever bonus/benefit you would otherwise get. The stick, however, if easier to implement. If you have a few particular people who take "sick days" more than you suspect to be reasonable and you think those people are abusing the system, then ask them about it, and if they can't provide a reasonable rationale for their extended leave them fire them.

If you don't: There's really not a heck of a lot you can do. People get sick, that's how it works. You'd definitely rather people stay home while sick than come to work because they're afraid of the consequences otherwise, and nobody can predict when they'll feel sick (as someone with IBS, I might email my employer at 4am the night of while I'm keeled over on the toilet and tell them I can't work that day, and I expect them to be lenient towards me on that). Anything you would do to prevent this would be either extremely detrimental to the company (if you penalized me for having IBS I'd be on my way out the door the next day to find another job) or might even be illegal.

In either case, here's a suggestion: If you have 20 staff and you need 18 to attend work, and you can only reliably get 16, hire a couple more people and start a WhatsApp group (or Facebook, or Slack, or what have you). In this group, people can report that they'll be sick, and anyone else who wasn't staffed for that shift can volunteer to pick up the extra shift using this group if they want some bonus cash. In this case, you can provide incentives for picking up extra shifts, like whoever picks up the most extra shifts gets some kind of cash bonus at the end of the month for being a "valuable employee" or what have you.


One simple adjustment you can make is explaining the issue to your staff and asking them to message you earlier if they suspect they may not be able to make it Monday. Most people will take a "wait and see" approach, even if they were sick Friday night, all the way through Saturday, when it comes to Sunday they will be hoping they will get better, and at 8pm they finally have to accept reality and call in sick. However if they called in Sunday or Saturday and let you know the possibility that they will not make it, then you can start making preparations and getting people lined up. You could even replace them straight away, you don't have to wait for them to be confirmed sick. This kind of active scheduling will save you some issues.

As for the systems abuse, yes a lot of people have a rough weekend and call in sick Monday, it's going to happen. Try scheduling the habitual partiers for other days of the week to prevent the problem occurring in the first place.

When it comes to doctors notes, I would not require them. You are telling your staff that you can't trust them to take a day off sick. That isn't a healthy relationship between the employee and yourself. You are also exposing your staff to unnecessary risk to themselves and the community by requiring them to go out and get a certificate. And like you said, certificates are easy to get so they don't help much anyway.


I suggest creating a designated list of spare employees on a rotating basis.

Also create it 2 months out into the future at least so people can make plans around it.

The people on the list will know they might have to come in to work.

Giving them 2 months or more advanced notice allows people to swap days with other people when they need it.


In response to the OP's edit :

I had a chat with the previous director and I am told the 24 hour notice policy was brought in temporarily with a view to curb this behaviour. This had failed miserably and everyone forgot to roll this policy back or to address this issue at its roots.

This policy almost certainly is deeply resented by staff (as has been said it is totally unrealistic). If it is a failed policy then remove it as it is worse than useless now and just damages relations with staff.

Some of the employees do this some of the times. Most are happy to go without pay and not produce a doctors certificate. Getting a certificate is easy. Rock up to a GP and ask for one - its mostly free (bulk billed/medicare).

"Mostly free" and "actually free" are two different things. You really need a policy for sick days which makes some reasonable allowance for this happening normally without making staff (who are sick !) visit a doctor's surgery and get note, which simply means that any cold, flu or worse that they have may be spread into the community at the doctor's surgery. We're in a major global pandemic and you cannot operate "business as usual" kind of rules.

Also please note this is a child care center - which is very very prone to staff and children getting sick often.

All the more reason that planning by the employer should allow for that by having slack cover that can be moved between centers. Perhaps either use part time workers on call (plenty of people will want to do this) or create a pool of full time staff who can move from place to place to handle the majority of temporary needs.

Again, it's a pandemic ! You need to adapt to this and respect it as a huge danger, so you must change your business practices and model to accommodate this new reality. Normal operations aside, Covid-19 will likely remain a significant disruption for at least a year, possibly longer. Plan with this in mind.

Abuse: I dont think there is abuse in the sense of it.

No abuse. If there is no abuse of sick leave then the problem is not the staff, it is the company expectation.

With this behavior most staff have shown a lack of commitment to their jobs.

Staff not being able to tell the future (by knowing in advance when they will be sick) or by taking time off and notifying you as quickly as they reasonably can is not in any way a lack of commitment.

This remark of yours demonstrates the core problem : You and Your Company.

The staff are doing nothing wrong and not being in the least bit unreasonable or irresponsible. You and your company have ludicrously unreasonable expectations.

Your existing approach is not sustainable. Staff will leave to better employers and/or set up competing businesses of their own. This is inevitable if you try to enforce these crackpot policies.

Replacing them is an option - but no guarantee this behaviour will not happen again.

"This behavior" is normal. I can guarantee it will happen with any employees. But getting rid of your existing staff will mean you end up with less committed staff, not more. Good people do not work for bad employers, well, not for long.

I think the previous managers may have indirectly encouraged this behaviour by being suitably accommodating and then getting anxiety and then quitting their jobs. These are just my personal observations.

Nonsense. It is more likely they had their own negative experiences and views of a company that implements these policies and left for better options. They could have become frustrated by being required to implement these policies or not being able to change them.

The problem is clearly senior management.

It is not being "accommodating" to expect and allow normal levels of sick leave. It is a rational response to an expected behavior of good staff.

  • "mostly free" vs "absolutely free" makes a huge difference on the average day care employee's pay, unless you're paying them a real wage, which is unusual in this industry. Typically these employees make from $10 to $12 an hour, so a $40 co-pay is about 1/2 a day's pay before taxes, and upwards of 6 hrs after taxes.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 16:37

My Mom ran a day care (licensed for 156 children). My three aunts each had one. My brother had one. My grandparents had one.

No policy will prevent a person from getting sick the day before, or even the morning of their shift. While you would like more time to arrange for the staff member's replacement, you will never get more time than when the phone call comes in.

If your center is large enough to hire a cook (like ours was) get the cook trained as a child care provider (if possible). Otherwise, find a person who is trustworthy and willing to provide a day or two of impromptu child care at inflated rates (it's not their regular job, so they should be paid extra for the flexibility) for the priviledge of short-term notice. Schools keep substitute teachers on hand for such events, and you might (if you have good relations with the school system) be able to find some of these substitutes and hire them on a substitute basis.

Changing the policy to require early notice of sickness (24 hours, 48 hours, etc) is going to put the teacher in a position where they will have to come in to work sick when they can't give the proper notice. This will expose a sick teacher to your students (children) which will do more damage to your school's reputation than anything else you could plan.

In the event of a true shortage, my Mom (daycare director and owner) would substitute for the sick teacher, and have less critical staff (cleaning the cook, etc) man the front desk.

No policy can change physics. The teachers getting sick isn't within their control, so if they call in sick, don't punish them.

On the other hand, if you suspect a teacher is not really sick, and is abusing the sick policy, asking for a physician's note is acceptable. Consider asking for the note carefully, as an employee that really is sick for three days might take offense to being asked. It's hard to find good help in the day care industry, but treating the teachers well keeps the good help from moving elsewhere.


I feel there are a few ways to handle this, probably throwing the policy out of the window might be a good start. If there's a policy, some are following it, and if there are no 'punishments' for breaking it is not in-place, then you're punishing the employees who are loyal.

"We have about 20 staff working and have at least 4 of them randomly messaging me on a Sunday night (or another weekday night) at 8 saying they won't make it the next day."

First of all, is this issue so predictable as you mention? If so, you can arrange 4 fill-in staff for Mondays and few more on stand-by, this will ease the pressure on you and the ones who are genuinely sick.

Then try to connect with the people and check-in with them. Most employees are honeset, some are not, a few are abusers. You should probably assume everyone is honest and find and eliminate the abusers. When you have a blanket policy like this, you're assuming everyone is abusing the system.

I feel the current unwritten culture behind your back is "wait until Sunday night and call in-sick", because that's the easiest way to get a leave. You can change that, but you need to start listening to the unheard voices among your staff.


Just as a practical tip: I volunteer at a small private school, so the business is similar to yours. There is a list of substitute teachers and every teacher has it. If a teacher is ill (or has a funeral to attend or whatever) and arranges his own substitute, then there's no penalty. If the school admins have to arrange the substitute then there's $100 reduction in pay. (Also, if lesson plans are not up to date for the sub, then there's a $50 reduction. These reductions go to the sub.)

If a person can call in sick, they can also call a substitute. This takes the burden of scrambling for a sub off of you (mostly) and slows down abuse of the leave policy.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .