I took two days off because my child is sick and needs to stay home. On the previous week I took half a day off also because of my child's health. On the second day of my absence, my boss wrote me an email saying that I take too many days off because of my child during a busy season and I should make an effort to solve this "issue". That was the entire email. No sign of empathy or understanding for my situation, and no "please".

I am entry-level and don't have a lot of experience in the professional field. I felt offended by the direct and cold way of asking me to resolve the "issue" and found this revolting.

Is this a frequent attitude from a boss? Do you see this as an acceptable way of asking an employee to diminish his/her work absences?

Edit: I had just offered to work from home, as I had found out that my colleagues didn't have time to make up for my absence. During a previous absence I have already worked from home when my child was asleep and in the evening, so that my deadlines were met without any problems or delays. I was ready to work from home to make up for my absence.

I didn't appreciate the lack of understanding of my superior and the lack of openness to compromise or dialog. It sounds like an ultimatum. And my question is, is this attitude rather the norm? Is it an exception? Did I have bad luck to stumble upon such a boss or am I naive to think that superiors are supposed to have at least the politeness to show compassion, even if it's not genuine (for example "I hope your child is doing better" somewhere in the message).

We are a small company, we have no HR department.

  • 16
    If your kid went to the doctor, you could send some written record of the visit to your boss. It would probably be a good idea to get someone in HR to visit with him on this, if there is an HR in your company. You're working for a 'family unfriendly' employer, and it's probably a good idea to start looking for an organization that can accommodate your situation. Jan 18, 2014 at 5:54
  • 8
    There's a big difference between a 12 year with a couple couple minor colds and a 5 year old with strep and a follow up ear infection. What are we talking about here and what did your boss know? Jan 19, 2014 at 6:35
  • 7
    It would really help to know what country / legal jurisdiction you are in...
    – AakashM
    Jan 20, 2014 at 10:17
  • 3
    Try not to judge email communications too harshly. They're usually terse by nature and can come across as unsympathetic.
    – user8365
    Mar 26, 2014 at 14:56
  • 3
    To echo previous comments this is highly dependent on where you are. In the UK, and I think the EU, you're guaranteed a certain amount of time off to care for sick dependents...
    – Ben
    Jun 21, 2014 at 21:46

6 Answers 6


I felt offended by the direct and cold way of asking me to resolve the "issue" and found this revolting.

Is this a frequent attitude from a boss? Do you see this as an acceptable way of asking an employee to diminish his/her work absences? How should I reply?

Is your boss's attitude the real issue here? Or do you just want to know what to do about this particular situation?

While it sounds as if your boss took a poor approach while communicating with you, it sounds as if you and he are not on the same wavelength concerning how to deal with family illnesses and your resulting absences. I think that's the most important factor here.

It's possible that your company depends on your presence more than you understand (particularly "during a busy season"). It's possible that your boss was trying to signal to you that you should consider alternate child care methods rather than always taking days off when your children are sick. Perhaps you have a spouse or other family member who can take care of the sick kids so that it's not always you.

You might also revisit the ways that you notify your boss that you will be taking a sick day. You are looking for empathy and understanding from him, so make sure you project the right attitude in your sick time notifications.

You really should sit down with your boss and discuss this. Ask what he/she feels that you should do when your child is sick. Try to see her/his point of view. Offer as many alternatives as you can - like making up your work at a later time, if that's possible, or working from home if that's feasible. These may or may not apply, depending on the nature of your company, the amount of attention your child needs when sick, and your specific work.

If you worked for a relatively large company, you could discuss this with HR. That will help you understand the company's formal and informal policies for this situation, and may alert HR to a boss who isn't doing a good job of following them. Usually, HR is trained to deal with this sort of mismatch between the needs of the company and the needs of the family. Often such a discussion can be comforting, or at least informational.

After all that, if you are still "offended" enough you might consider leaving, should you come to the conclusion that this position or this boss or this company no longer fits the needs of you and your family. If it comes to that, try to seek employment in positions at companies where your absence isn't so critical, or where you have more flexibility to deal with those absences.

And if it's just the "directness" and "coldness" of your boss that is at the heart of your problem, and you can't get over that, then you might need to seek a position where your new boss will be more friendly and empathetic.

  • 4
    The discussion part is very important. OP needs to be on the same wavelength as her boss, to avoid ending in a conflict that will most likely end badly. Jun 23, 2014 at 6:41
  • 7
    Love the answer! I'll add one thing - most of the communication from the boss has come in email - which tends to have a neutral tone that verges on angry in the eyes of most readers. Before making a decision about the empathy your boss is capable of, have the discussion in person, and look for repeated actions that show a lack of empathy - a cold demeanor but actions that are in your best interest, even if it's harsh feedback, is better than a friendly person who doesn't clearly describe what's wrong with your work. Mar 26, 2015 at 13:47
  • "Perhaps you have a spouse or other family member who can take care of the sick kids so that it's not always you." wow I cannot believe this is honestly suggested. Nothing is as important as your children, not your life not your job nothing. So how can you ever trust someone else when your child is in distress? -- Also asking people to "just leave" is terrible, any company should be destroyed that doesn't respect this sacred bond. Destroyed without a way to recover and the managers need to be imprisoned ideally.
    – paul23
    Feb 20, 2020 at 4:01

Employers vary dramatically. I once hired an excellent candidate who approached me out of the blue. He had taken a week off when his first child was born, and after his first week back, declined to work on the weekend (allegedly optional.) His boss said to him:

Take some time this weekend and think about your priorities

It was delivered ominously, like "if you don't make me your priority I will fire you" but without saying it. It was supposed to inspire him to stop "taking time off" if you can call not working the weekend "taking time off." Instead he contacted us, arranged an interview, and told us this story. He was a great candidate, and very motivated - an easy hire. With us he had flextime, and could take his family on business trips (he's not the only one to have done so either) as long as he bought the extra plane tickets. Companies most certainly exist that will support your priorities.

That said, be sure that you're being fair. I did have one employee who took time for sick children, but whose husband (working elsewhere) never did. She also came in hours late because one of the cars was not functioning and her husband took the good one. Basically his work never had to do without him and we consistently had to do without her. I didn't care for that.

  • 6
    I do take circumstances into effect. Everybody does. There's a difference between being unable to do something and choosing not to do something. My male employees took turns being home with sick children, as did my other married female employees. I had single parents, who did not take turns. I had a grand total of one employee who was married but who was always the one to take the time off. She made it clear her job with me was less important to her family than her husband's job (in more ways than this) and I took that into account. Mar 26, 2014 at 16:09
  • 4
    In the case of the employee that put her husband job first, did you pay more then his employer? Remember that you will give the customer that pays the most the best service.
    – Ian
    Mar 26, 2014 at 16:38
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    I didn't fire her (nor pay her less than she was worth) for putting us second. Nor did I penalize her for it. It was a piece of information. She was happy to have a job that let her take all the family responsibilities and didn't demand to be put first - to her it was a feature that enabled a lower salary to make her happy than if we had made more demands. (People are motivated by far more than just money.) Mar 26, 2014 at 16:54
  • 3
    As a bit of an aside, "allegedly optional" time (and anything else) is unfriendly to everyone, not just families. If managers set clear boundaries rather than relying on guilt-tripping or intimidating employees, how much happier we would be... Mar 26, 2015 at 13:06
  • 3
    @KateGregory Exactly. If an employee really only works 30 hours a week while everyone else is working 40 hours a week, whether because of other priorities or whatever, but that employee is willing to accept 75% of the salary that he would have gotten if he worked a full 40 hours, then great, that could work out well for everyone. The employer pays a reasonable amount for the work done, and the employee gets an income but still has the flexibility for other priorities. That's how I think it should work.
    – Jay
    Mar 26, 2015 at 14:51

This article might help: "Can my boss fire me for taking off to care for a sick child?"

You have a small child. They won't stay small forever. Your manager acts like this is a permanent problem. Regardless, you will only have one opportunity to care for your child with your whole heart. If your manager continues with this mindset, start looking for a new company with a more family-friendly environment (they are out there!)

  1. Do you have the option to make up the time and work from home while your child is sleeping? Can you bring work home? You could offer to make yourself available on Skype when you are at home during business hours.
  2. Can you make up the time on the weekends or work through your lunch when you're there during the week?

These are very reasonable requests.

Have you asked your boss why he/she feels they need a doctor's receipt? To me, that implies that there is low trust, as if you're saying you have a sick child but actually I'm just going home because I don't want to be at work. Trust issues are brewing grounds for future problems. Ask him/her what can you do to reassure them that you are committed to your job and putting in your full 40 hours each week?

I have clients that have a daycare on site for their employees. Maybe it's time to start looking for a company like that.

  • 19
    "clients that have a daycare on site for their employees" - if the child is ill, they won't (or shouldn't) allow them to attend until they're no longer contagious or need constant attention. If that's the case, the employee is back in the same situation - having to stay home with a sick child.
    – alroc
    Jan 18, 2014 at 20:10
  • 10
    "You will only have one opportunity to care for your child with your whole heart." Well that's wonderful, and as a parent I understand exactly what you mean. But ... unless he's the father of your child, it is not your boss's responsibility to support you while you care for that child.
    – Jay
    Mar 26, 2014 at 14:30
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    @Jay depending on the country/jurisdiction, it may well be that it actually is the boss's responsibility to manage workload allocation while people are out of office for legitimate reasons that include caring for a sick child. Such options don't include daycare, working from home, or making up the work at overtime or having the (out of office) employee solve the allocation problem. Such options include delegating the work to someone else, hiring more people, or deciding that the task won't get done.
    – Peteris
    Oct 3, 2014 at 14:22
  • 3
    @Peteris Any rational employer recognizes that people have to miss work sometimes, for reasons like illness, car trouble, weather, etc, and of course including sick children. And yes, one of the responsibilities of being a manager is dealing with getting the job done despite these problems, or deciding what needs to be done and what can slip. What I was trying to say, though, is, that if one employee takes significantly more time off than others to deal with such personal problems, at some point the boss has to say, "I'm sorry, but if you can't do the job, I'll have to get someone else." ...
    – Jay
    Oct 3, 2014 at 15:53
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    @Jay the social contract depends on the location. In much of the world (not in USA, though) the population believes and has voted so that the attitude you describe is considered unjust and unfair, and the community has agreed that yes, 100% of the employers have to take it into account and are ready to pay the slightly higher prices for the improvements in well-being of most of the sociery. Most of us will have children that will get sick sometimes. All of us were children that got sick sometimes - thus resolving all such common situations humanely is a benefit to everyone in society. YMMV.
    – Peteris
    Oct 3, 2014 at 17:01

You need to be able to see this from the company's point of view. They are paying you to do a job. But in two weeks you took 3 days off. If all the employees took off 3 days out of every 10, how would the company function? If you took your child to the doctor and 3 times out of 10 he said, "Sorry, I can't see you today", how long would it be before you found another doctor?

How long have you been working for this company, and how often does this happen? If this is your first few weeks on the job, the boss may be wondering if this is going to be a regular pattern. If you've been there ten years and this is the first time you've taken a day off, that's a very different case.

Raising children and holding a full-time job is hard. Any reasonable person understands that. But when you took this job you made a commitment to do a certain amount of work. You can't just say, Oh, but it's too hard for me to live up to that commitment. You knew it would be hard when you took the job. If you weren't prepared to do what was necessary to meet your commitments, why did you make them? I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but the company cannot survive if everyone does not pull their weight.

You mentioned working from home, or working on a weekend to make up the time. If given the nature of your job this is practical and the company agrees to it, then problem solved, right? If something of this sort doesn't work in your case, then you really need to look for another alternative. Either find someone else who can care for you child, or get a job where the company can be more flexible. Or if it's an option, take a year or two off work to care for your child until he or she is a little older and you can juggle children and work.

  • 1
    Most working parents need to work for the money and it is not just so easy to take a year or two off. And if you do you may have trouble explaining that resume gap later.
    – Eden
    Jun 20, 2014 at 17:43
  • 2
    @Eden I can't imagine why it would be hard to "explain" on your resume. You say, "I took two years off when my son was born." It's not like having children is some strange custom only practiced by a tiny minority that the rest of humanity finds baffling.
    – Jay
    Jun 20, 2014 at 19:21
  • 3
    Of course it's hard to take a year or two off work. The point I was trying to make is that in the real world, it just doesn't cut it to say, "Everyone else works 40 hours per week for this amount of money but I want to get the same amount working only 30 hours a week, and the company should do that because I have problems that those other employees don't have." Most bosses want to be nice and understanding people, but ultimately, your problems should not be the company's problems. If they pay you for hours that you never worked, that money has to come from somewhere, and in real life ...
    – Jay
    Jun 20, 2014 at 19:23
  • 3
    ... that "somewhere" has to be either higher prices to customers, cuts to the salaries of other employees, or less dividends to stockholders. (And most stockholders today are not millionaires, they're retired people, and they may well have less money than you do.) Maybe it's "not fair" that the boss isn't very understanding when you have to take care of your sick child. But it's also "not fair" when other people have to work extra hours to make up for the time you take off.
    – Jay
    Jun 20, 2014 at 19:28
  • 3
    Since the original post was not marked as US-only, I will leave a note that in many European countries, you have the right (in Finland, even mandatory!) for parental leave, and it is illegal for the company to fire OR lay-off a person on parental leave. The duration varies, but 1 full year seems to be the average, with optional extended time with a lower amount of money as parental support. Mar 26, 2015 at 14:20

On the surface, I think that yes, the boss email does show a lack of empathy, and no, it is not normal.

I work in the software industry, and I have not had any issues with staying home with sick children. I have, however, mostly worked from home when they were sick, and not taken time off.

However, I encourage you to think about: Though you boss' email seems harsh, but maybe this is just his way of expressing himself. Maybe he wants to sit down and talk with you about issues to solve this for both of you (methods mentioned by others: work from home, make up hours, and I will add: Can you bring a sick child into work and work in an empty office/conf. room? ) He might really want to work this out, without being unfair to everyone else at a busy time in the office.

Consider being very accommodating when you have to take care of sick kid. Think about leaving your phone no with people you work with so they can txt/call you for something urgent (in case you have to help your kid with something for a moment). If you are not working 9-5 because of your kid, try to be available in some way like that and then make up the hours. Your boss might not even want to hear the details of how you spend your day - as long as you get your stuff done and reply to requests from your co-workers.

Ask your HR as mentioned above, but you may also want to talk with your co-workers about what they do. Maybe they know a great area on-call nanny that can help out with back-up care.

If he is not willing to sit down and work with you, then yes, you may need to find a place more accommodating for families.


I'd be inclined to play a bit of hardball here.

The child is sick - that means they can't go to school, they can't go to daycare. The child is presumably too young to stay home alone (and most jurisdictions put the official unattended age way higher than you'd think it is - Ontario says you can't leave a kid under sixteen unattended at home) so asking you to leave them at home would be requesting an illegal act.

If they insist that you need to be at work, obviously the only solution is that the child would need to come to work with you.

  • There is also the option of you finding another job. Jan 23, 2017 at 19:54
  • @MatthewWhited Assuming you're speaking as the employer, that would require (a) being in a jurisdiction that doesn't require cause (where I am, you would have to prove that it was impossible to accommodate the worker without undue hardship), (b) deciding that the cost of hiring and training a replacement was cheaper than letting you go, and (c) that the loss of reputation, both internally (as your other workers note that you have zero-tolerance for outside life concerns) and externally ("I got fired for taking care of my kid" is the sort of story that plays nicely on the 6pm news). Jan 24, 2017 at 21:57
  • No, I was saying anywhere. If you don't like how your employer treats you then quit and get a new job. It doesn't take your employer tossing you out on your butt for you to decide they suck and you wish to seek other employment. Jan 25, 2017 at 14:56
  • @MatthewWhited True, but that's not an immediate solution. And sometimes asserting yourself can get your employer's head out of their ass. Jan 25, 2017 at 21:29

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