I recently started a new job. I had a dentist appointment that didn't fix a problem (actually I think it made the problem worse). My mouth started hurting more and more to the point where I had to take pain killers to sleep. I called the dentist and they gave me 3 options for appointments

  1. next appointment in 4 days
  2. next appointment in over 2 weeks
  3. be placed on a cancellation list

I went with option 1. This conflicted with my work schedule and I had to take the day off. My boss was really mad. He told me it can't happen again and that I haven't been pulling my weight around. I offered to work part of the day and he said no. This conversation took place in writing. I think he was stressed because he's been understaffed already. I decided to go above him and talked to his manager asking if the company had a policy that did not allow for absence due to medical emergency. He said he would talk to my boss and I can have the day off.

I think it may appear that giving short notice means it's not urgent, whereas same day notice that I had a medical emergency is more understandable. Should I have just waited until the last day and used the phrase "medical emergency"? Obviously this isn't a huge emergency, but given the dentist's schedule 2 weeks I think would be too long. I know it's different between companies but how much detail should I give as to the reason of the absence? I've worked at some places where they did not care at all for the reason, and honestly this made more sense to me if you're not going to be there either way.

Another reason this seemed unfair to me is because twice I have covered for someone else last minute. I thought it would be reciprocated.

I will ask my dentist to write a note explaining the urgent need for the appointment.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Mar 26, 2021 at 11:45

3 Answers 3


Well... where do we start?

Being in pain is an emergency. Your doctor should see you now. Well, inside their office hours, but certainly the next day. The only exception that my dentist makes is to give out an appointment for the next available day they are in the office, if they are actually not physically there. I have had appointments for severe pain for the first day they are back when my dentist was on a dentist convention, out on holiday or sick themselves. If they are physically in the office, pain trumps appointments. The guy that is scheduled for their yearly checkup can wait 20 minutes. I have waited an hour for my appointments when a person came in bleeding with broken teeth. I'll gladly wait for people in pain to be treated first. Anything else would be unacceptable in a civilized society. Where I live, it would be illegal for a doctor to turn away a patient that says "I'm here, I'm in pain, please help me".

Your boss? Wow, what an idiot. They should be glad you don't call in sick until you got treated. You cannot work with a pain that you cannot even sleep with. How good of a worker can you be if you are in constant pain? That part aside, in my country, your boss is legally required to give you time off for medically necessary appointments, given that you cannot pick a time slot that is outside of working hours. Nobody goes to a doctor without it being necessary and doctors business hours overlap almost 100% with normal working hours, so that means every doctors appointment. Ever.

Obviously this isn't a huge emergency

Maybe that is part of the problem. Don't paint it as "not an emergency". Yes, you are not dying, you are not bleeding all over the place, you don't need a bomb squad. But you are in pain. You cannot get proper rest, you are not concentrated on your job. Where I live, that is good enough to see someone today (assuming it's a working day) or getting a doctors note for sick leave until it is fixed. Through proper care or as a workaround through prescription painkillers (no, not talking about opioids here) for the time it takes to get proper care.

You seem to have done it right. Maybe you need to stress that you are not fit for work more and that seeing a doctor is actually favorable for your boss because it lets you work better. You cannot change other people though. A good portion are just idiots. You have to learn to live with it.

I don't know how "urgent" sounds in your language or what it conveys. Next time, maybe say something like "I am in severe pain, but the earliest my doctor can see me is Thursday. Until then I'm on painkillers, I apologize if I come across as a little slow, they make me drowsy". That transports the message of "I need this now, but Thursday is the best I could get". If you just say "I made an appointment for Thursday" it sounds like you flipped your calendar around and Thursday seemed a good choice to you. It wasn't like that, so don't make it look like it.

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    I may not need a bomb squad, but I do need a "bomb squat" Mar 25, 2021 at 16:41
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    @MadPhysicist LOL, I knew something was off about it, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Thanks for noticing. I might have started a new fitness trend though :)
    – nvoigt
    Mar 25, 2021 at 17:01
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    @MadPhysicist That sounds like a personal problem. I'd get that looked at... ideally within 4 days. Mar 25, 2021 at 23:35
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    @Michael. I was talking care of it as I wrote the comment :) Mar 26, 2021 at 0:57
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    It was the dentist who gave the OP those three appalling options. I'm not sure any dentist, or doctor for that matter, would treat a medical emergency with the same flippancy. An appointment in 4 days? Or wait 2 weeks?!? When is that normal response to anyone in constant pain? Maybe in the US employees are expected to have a higher threshold of pain?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 27, 2021 at 7:53

You shouldn't wait until the last moment, but you should have used the phrase "Medical Emergency" when requesting this. Most people (should) understand that just because it's an emergency, it doesn't mean you'll be in the hospital asap. There's still a queue, even for emergencies, and if you're doing some kind of operation it might still take a few days before you'll actually be seen.

That doesn't make the situation any less urgent, and 4 days of constant painkillers isn't going to be any good for your ability to get work done. It can also help if your manager is aware that you're not at your best right now due to a medical issue, and it's better to let them know before instead of after they complain about your performance.

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    Depends on the recipient, but "emergency" tends to carry more weight with most. "urgent" just means it needs to be done now; "emergency" implies that terrible things will happen if you don't do it now.
    – Erik
    Mar 25, 2021 at 8:41
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    @beestrees1 "urgent" implies that something requires immediate attention. It does not say whether this thing is serious or trivial. "emergency" says that something is serious. "Free donuts in the break room; only one left" is urgent (if you like free snacks) but is not an emergency.
    – simonc
    Mar 25, 2021 at 8:41
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    A medical emergency has a specific meaning as @simonc indicates. Mar 25, 2021 at 12:04
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    In a rational world, anyone would appreciate four days notice for an urgent appointment rather than getting an emergency call out that morning. But most people aren't rational Mar 26, 2021 at 4:30
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    An example from the world of aviation: An Emergency situation is a "Mayday" radio call - it means that this plane full of people is in immediate danger of falling out of the sky, potentially killing all on board and others on the ground. An Urgent situation is a "Pan Pan" radio call - it means that there is an extreme situation on board (often a medical emergency) and we need priority routing to get on the ground ASAP, the plane itself, however, is not in immediate danger of falling out of the sky.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 26, 2021 at 15:48

My own recent experience says that short notice shouldn't be a problem (but I know "should" and "is" are often two different things).

Last year, before the pandemic, I developed a pain in my tooth that hurt with every breath. I ended up making a dentist appointment that happened within 2-3 days, because they had a cancellation. My boss didn't have a problem with that.

During the regular cleaning/exam, they found the problem and realized I needed a root canal, which wouldn't fit during that schedule and would need to be scheduled, in the next day or two. Again, my boss didn't have a problem with that.

I had also been working there less than a year and am still working there.

The thing is, unexpected things happen all the time and a boss that can't handle it probably shouldn't be a boss. From waking up sick to a flat tire, a car accident during the commute to kids getting let out of school early, or 10,000+ other reasons, you're going to have reasons for needing short notice time off work, even if it's unpaid. Granted, the times it can be controlled should be and reduced to a minimum, but they still happen.

Also, it's not like you already have a history of doing this, right? You aren't skipping out on work regularly? If you are, that's a different problem than a medical emergency. And yes, if you can't sleep and can't concentrate on work, it's a medical emergency.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that you did the correct thing and your boss is out of line.

Going to your boss's boss was the right thing to do, even if that gets you on your boss's bad side. Keep doing you job and they shouldn't have any reasonable cause to retaliate. If they do, talk to them about it and if that doesn't fix it, going to their boss again might be merited. I'm getting off topic here, but I've gotten a boss fired for this sort of harassment.

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