So I just got a career job in the last two weeks. I was informed by a coworker that the company had a string of bad hires for my position, and while I'm trying to do my best (and to my knowledge I haven't screwed up too badly yet), I FEEL like I'm under pretty heavy scrutiny.

I don't want to do anything to harm my future in this place, but recently my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and realistically, I expect I may need to take some days off with little to no notice. I'm not planning on taking time off within the near future, but I am aware that conditions may arise where I simply can't make it into work (possibly for a few days given the possibility of my father being treated out of state).

I'm wondering, how (and I suppose, more specifically, when) I should let my boss know this? I don't want to give him a reason to think I'm not worth the effort of training or that I'm unreliable, but I get the feeling that the more advance notice he has, the better.

  • I realize this is a hard question to find a "right" answer to, and I'm sorry I couldn't give everyone an answer (I did give upvotes though). Thank you all for your input. – Sidney Jun 13 '14 at 1:18
up vote 30 down vote accepted

I have in the past dealt with sudden family emergencies with the attitude of "do what you need to do, fire me if you want. I have to go. Family is more important". Keep that in mind. You can get another job if you have to. You can't get another father, or get back time you needed to have spent with him.

I would talk to my boss in private and tell him what is going on, and ask them how you can handle any time off needed, or needing to leave in the middle of the day if something happens.

Hopefully they will be understanding and work with you to accommodate you. That is how it has always worked out for me - bosses are humans with families of their own, so most can understand.

If your job and fathers health allows it, offer to work from wherever you are staying, or make up the time later.

If push comes to shove, you gotta have your priorities straight and do what you gotta do. As @Grant said, family comes first but be prepared to pay the cost.

For you, it means accumulating the personal days, vacation days and using only so many sick days as strictly necessary - You're going to need all of them. It also means sparing no effort to build up the cash reserve and keeping your resume up to date. It means managing your projects and your clients so that your manager can easily assign someone to back you up and stand in for you while you are gone. And being very aggressive about taking on any project that's in the critical path because you never know when you are gone. Of course, if you about to get get on a project's critical path and family calls, don't start getting on the critical path just yet. The worst thing that can happen is family calling while you are in the middle of a critical path, and you want to avoid getting caught in that scenario as much as possible. Be ready to formulate some contingency planning involving those of your projects that are on a critical path if you are called to be at your father';s bedside. True, your management gets paid the big bucks for this but if you help them with sound thinking and judgement, they'll value you all the more as an employee.

At the moment, hopefully, the cancer is in its early stages, the situation is manageable and your family has enough relatives who live next to your father to attend to his immediate needs. Whatever helps take some of the pressure off you.

I am ambivalent about whether you should tell your boss at this stage. If your father is enough bad shape that absences on short notice on your part are necessary, then you have to talk to your management and give them a heads up. If the cancer is in the early stages, the situation is manageable in the sense that those around your father can take care of himself without requiring your immediate presence, I am reluctant to advise you to talk to the management. Because talking to the management while nothing is going to hapen for several months is like hanging a sword over their heads. If there is one thing that managers hate, it's uncertainty. I wouldn't tell anything to my management if my work is unaffected as yet and the only result of telling them is that they can't do anything but wait in anticipation for me to drop the other shoe on them.

Basically, you are in a situation where you have to manage both your personal and professional lives for uncertainty. The advice I just gave you amounts to putting as many odds on your side as possible, not worrying about crossing the bridge until you get to it and once you get to the bridge, make the decision of whether or not to cross it without looking back in regret. Yes, you need to keep your management in the loop, but when you do it is important. You are in a situation where worrying doesn't get you anywhere but where good planning might.

When my mother became ill (and she lived in another state), this is how I handled it.

I talked to my boss immediately to tell him there was a family emergency and what it was and that I would be going home on weekends for the forseable future and that I could get suddenly called away at anytime. And we worked out a way for me to make up hours so I could come back on Monday morning instead of up there and Sat and back on Sunday. I went into the discussion with a list of my current projects and where they stood and recommended who could take over for me when my mother died and I had to leave for the funeral (we knew her disease was terminal).

I made sure that nothing was ever left unchecked into source control when I left for the day (your boss could possibly give you a separate branch to check in unfinished work if need be). I also made sure the designated alternates for my projects were given copies of any emails they needed as well as being attached to the project in the PM system so they could read the discussions if they needed to.

As a new person this is a bit harder, but most people will understand about a family emergency. Since you are just developing your relationship with this manager and since there were some failures before you, it will give him more confidence about the situation if you talk to him right away and make sure you present to him how you will be handling making sure that whatever you are working on can be picked up by someone one else if you have to leave suddenly. I know we sometimes want to keep the "what is wrong" private, but it really is better if you tell your boss exactly what the problem is so he understands the severity of it. You can ask him to keep the information private from anyone except people who have to know like HR and his managers.

Now comes a really hard part, if you get one of those sudden, "come now" calls, take a few minutes before you leave to make sure he knows what is happening and where everything is, so he can assign it out. Five minutes of saving stuff to source control and informing him will help even though I know you will feel you have to leave this instant. Actually doing those things helped me to calm down enough to be able to drive.

Depending on how your dad is doing, you may need to take a long leave. Discuss this with your boss as well. Perhaps he will be open to you working remotely, so that you can be near your dad. Perhaps he will give you unpaid leave. You should plan on needing to take unpaid leave (since you are unlikely to have built any up)which means needing to control your finances starting immediately, so that you can. It is possible that he may be willing to work with you and get you some leave advanced. You won't know unless you ask, but be prepared for a no in this case.

By having an honest conversation right now, you and the boss can plan for the absences you may need to have and he will see you as a responsible person rather than someone skating off with an excuse. Of course, if he reacts badly to the news, this is someone that you will not want to work for in any event. Anyone who can't make accomodations for a family emergency without being a jerk about it is someone who is never going to be worth working for.

The days you work, you are likely to be less productive than before, espcially the first few days as you adjust to the new "normal" in your life or on any days when something changes. You might need to account for this in any time estimates you give. Be easy on your self and take the time you need to compose yourself when it gets to you by taking a walk or going into the rest room to have some private time. If you can keep enough control of yourself to keep producing good work, then you will impress your boss. But it will be hard, don't beat yourself up if you can't. Take the time you need so that when you are at work, you can focus as much as possible. You may need a day or two right away to go see your dad and for you personally to learn to cope before you return to work.

Do not let work and deadlines keep you from seeing to family, this is more important. I had a co-worker leave a week before a deadline that we had been working towards for a year because his wife had lung cancer (that was ten years ago and she is still alive BTW) and no one on the team resented it or thought he was awful for leaving. We would have thought it was wrong if he had stayed at work. People usually willingly pick up the work for someone else when the problem is this serious.

I am so sorry that you have to go through this and best of luck to yoour dad.

Normally your first 6 months is under heavy scrutiny due to "probation" like periods. The first thing you should do is ask how this time off is handled. Do this with other co-workers. If you have enough information, then go to your boss. If your company deals with time off via time sheet approval forms and what not, talk to him first about what happened and what you would like to do. Do get input from your boss at this point. If the boss is in command of this time card stuff, then go to him asking how it would impact future performance evaluations. Do not get professional at all, be personal, chances are he is not cold heart dick, and will understand your pain and let you off with a few days.

9/10 times I have had this happen, they let off for few days, but it did negatively impacted me later on.

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