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How to respond to an employee texting in sick

You can show empathy and direct the process when an employee texts in sick. Here's how to handle it from normal sick requests to potential problem pattern behaviors.

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When running a business, knowing how to respond to an employee texting in sick is important. They won’t be there because they’re sick, something unexpected comes up, or they need a personal day off.

Sometimes, workers phone the morning of their shift or minutes before to say they can’t make it.

However, nowadays, workers text as much as they phone when they are sick. No matter how they communicate, here’s how you can handle an employee texting in sick.

Disclaimer: I’m not your business’s legally represented human resources professional. Please use the information in this article as a guideline to reply at your own discretion and risk. The contents here are in no way legal advice and are purely meant for informational purposes. I advise you to communicate with your HR and/or legal staff before taking action.

Is it OK for employees to text their boss when they’re sick?

🚨 The short answer: It’s OK for employees to text in sick if the business’s absence management policy documents text messaging as an acceptable form of this communication.

In many professional settings, it’s permissible and commonplace to communicate with teammates by text message, instant message, and email.

In general, the best practice is to tell the manager about the absence via the most commonly-used form of communication between the employee and that manager.

Therefore, it’s fine for an employee to text in sick if you — as the direct manager — communicate regularly with that employee by text message.

However, if you usually talk on the phone, there might be better ways to get in touch than a text message. It is also not generally acceptable to ask a coworker to relay an absence message.

Employees should give their managers as much notice as possible, regardless of how they break the news. Some employers may mark a “no call, no show” on an employee’s record if that person doesn’t contact them before they are meant to be at work.

💡 Pro tip: Having an absence management strategy in place will help the company know what to say to employees who call in sick. In this approach, businesses won’t have to worry about getting the job done without employees.

To ensure that all of your employees are aware of their obligations if they need to call in sick, you should document your strategy and make it available to them in an online knowledge base or employee handbook.

How should a boss respond to an employee texting in sick?

A bout of sickness might occur any time, even while you and your teammates are at work, necessitating a request for a sick day. You may also be stepping in for a sick employee or responding to an employee’s request for a sick day.

Using these strategies as inspiration, draft a thoughtful response to a request for sick leave, taking care to use the appropriate language and format.

1. Communicate with your employees

If an employee calls in ill at the last minute, it’s important to check up with them to see how they’re doing. After all, employees are your top priority.

Verify that the sick worker has access to all necessary resources. Inquire about their diagnosis for recovery or follow up in a day or two to see how they’re doing.

Encourage your employees to see a doctor and remind them of any regulations, such as the need for a doctor’s note. You could ask as to whether or not the employee would be returning to work the next shift. This is useful for foresight.

  1. Reply quickly and show empathy.
  2. Make sure they have what they need from you, if anything.
  3. Remind them of your relevant policies, like the need for a doctor’s note.
  4. Check in on future shifts to plan changes or aid in projects as needed.

Hi Nathan, I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Please let me know how I can help (if anything). When you’re able, could you log your absence in our HR tool? I hope you feel better soon! -Agnee

2. Keep open lines of contact: Show you care

Continue talking to your sick employees after you’ve taken their initial call. If you want your staff to get better, you’ll also need regular updates.

The timeframe for your team member’s return to work is crucial. Whether or not the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to their condition is also essential information.

Call or text your employee after they have taken their first sick day. Again, with genuine curiosity about how they are doing, inquire whether they are “feeling well” today. Determine if the time they said they could return to work is realistic. Likewise, you may ask, “Do you need to take tomorrow off from work?”

  1. Proactively check in before their next scheduled shift.
  2. Encourage them to keep you in the loop.
  3. Depending on the circumstances, remind them of their benefits and provide resources to learn how to use them.
  4. Consider proactively offering them another shift off, depending on the severity of their issue.

Hey Nathan, I wanted to check in on how you’re doing. Are you feeling well enough to cover your shift tomorrow? If you’re on the fence, please let me know as soon as you can so I can get it covered. Hoping you’re on the mend! -Agnee

3. Tend to employee happiness and productivity

According to a Gallup post-pandemic survey and covered extensively in a CNN article, “Employees who feel cared for are 71% less likely to report burnout, three times more likely to be engaged at work, and five times more likely to strongly advocate for their company as a good place to work. In addition, workers are 36% more likely to say they are thriving in their overall lives.”

Care for your sick team members. But remember you have responsibilities beyond caring for your sick employee, too.

Employees who text in sick often cause other team members to work overtime or take on additional responsibilities. They might have to show up for work even if it’s not their shift. Their physical and emotional health may suffer due to the extra pressure.

Consult with those on the team who will most feel the absent worker’s effects. Determine the extent of these workers’ abilities and the resources they require. Incentives and awards can be used to motivate these employees. Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate all they’ve done to help a sick coworker.

  1. Communicate with team members who cover for the sick staff member.
  2. Provide encouragement, incentives, and/or awards to those who go above and beyond.
  3. Check in on how your team as a whole is doing while a team member is absent.

4. Protect your business

Management and leadership are sensitive to the fact that employees become sick. They also worry that some employees would take advantage of compensated sick days or sick days without being unwell.

Last-minute ill calls from employees might increase pressure on the whole group. Also, unplanned vacation time might cost your company money.

Learn the rules around sick leave in order to safeguard your business. Workers may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of job protection under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a sick family member or themselves.

In addition, the District of Columbia and some states require companies to give paid sick days to their employees. These states and the District of Columbia include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Vermont, and Washington, DC. If you want to be sure you’re providing the legally needed amount of time off to your employees, you may wish to speak with a labor lawyer.

Absence policies, absenteeism measures, and sick leave requirements should all be reviewed by a lawyer to ensure they do not violate any anti-discrimination statutes. For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that businesses accommodate disabled employees. An employee with an impairment who requires time off to receive medical treatment may be entitled to special consideration.

4 thoughtful text reply templates to use when an employee texts in sick

It’s helpful for the boss to text employees if they’re allowed to text in sick. However, not all businesses permit this; some need advance notice through phone, email, or web form.

The best methods to reply to a worker who texts in sick are outlined here, whether you’re granting their request, you suspect them of lying, or they need a reminder of the policies.

Sick response text messages

I wish you a quick recovery! I’ll cover your shift, but be sure to let us know you won’t be there by filling out the online employee portal.
Oh no! I hope you feel better soon. As a reminder of our company policy, could you please bring a doctor note to your next shift? Please let me know if there is anything I can do here to help you.
[Name of employee] concerning your sick leave, I’m worried. When you’re feeling better, let’s arrange a meeting to discuss the matter in more detail and resolve any potential issues.
I hope that you feel better shortly. Please share more information about your work absence and anticipated return date to assist with scheduling and workload changes. When you return to work, I’d also like to schedule a quick meeting to discuss your attendance.

How should a manager address pattern sick days with the employee?

What if an employee only texts in sick on Fridays? What about Mondays? What about the days immediately after holidays?

Treat employees like grownups and offer them as much sick leave flexibility as possible. If someone claims they’re too sick to work, believe them. Don’t presume; let people decide.

However, unless there were exceptional circumstances (which there could have been), sick leave isn’t meant for extended leave. Therefore, they should probably use another kind of PTO instead. Trust them to know their conditions and needs better than you.

Address an increasing pattern of someone not acting like a responsible adult, such as calling in ill on the one day a month they’d have to perform inventory. Otherwise, sick leave is for sick people. That also answers your last-minute question — most sick leave is taken at the last minute since it’s rarely scheduled.

How do you communicate with your employees about pattern absenteeism?

1. Document the pattern behavior

The first step is to determine the root cause of the employee’s frequent or extended absences. You can start this by documenting the patterns of absenteeism before discussing it with your employee.

Next, have an open and frank discussion with the worker to understand what’s going on and how it’s affecting their productivity on the job. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and your company’s attendance policy all have ramifications you should be aware of.

If the employee’s performance does not improve or if they continue to take excessive or protracted absences, you must confront the problems immediately and aggressively.

Follow the disciplinary procedure established by the company and include documentation of the employee’s absences and any conversations you’ve had with them. You should also avoid any form of prejudice or retaliation and act in a fair, consistent, factual, and polite manner.

2. Review attendance, sick leave, vacation, and PTO policies

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees employees the right to take unpaid time off to care for themselves or their immediate family members in certain circumstances. However, the human resources department still has no obligation to share the employee’s medical history with their manager or other employees under any circumstances.

3. Check regional laws

You should familiarize yourself with the various paid time off payout rules that exist in each state so that you are aware of what is legally required of your organization.  

4. Review company disciplinary policies

Having an absence management strategy in place will help you know what to say to employees who call in sick. In this approach, you won’t have to worry about getting the job done without the staff. You’ll have greater composure and confidence in moving forward.

To ensure that all of your employees are aware of their obligations in the event that they need to call in sick, you should document your strategy and make it available to them in an online knowledge base or employee handbook. If an employee is sick, they need to know how to get in touch with you. You can ask employees to call, but they might not be able to if they are sick. Another issue is that workers could have trouble getting in touch with the appropriate individual.

5. Prep for a crucial conversation

Be kind even if you have doubts about the worker’s illness. Employees may occasionally call in sick with a phony ailment, but you can’t assume that everyone who texts in sick is doing so.

Take action based on what you know, and don’t make any snap decisions. It won’t help the problem if you text back anything accusatory or passive-aggressive, and it will make you look insensitive if the employee really is unwell or has a good cause for taking the day off.

If an employee is being dishonest, it is necessary to confront the issue, but this must be done in a professional manner. If you have reason to believe there is an issue, collect proof (such as a pattern of absences) and have a conversation with them at their next office visit.

6. Meet with the employee

It’s important to talk things out. Maybe your employees needed a day off to regroup and/or deal with a personal situation that had been too much for them to handle. They may be reluctant to share further information due to their own feelings of shame.

Have a chat with your frequently absent coworkers. Even if someone’s absences from work due to illness are justified, it’s still important to check in with them and try to resolve the underlying issue.

You’re doing this because you want to be of service to them, not because you want to punish them. They probably share your desire to avoid frequent illness and have the same goal as you.

However, you can make a passing reference to the fact that the employee’s frequent absences are bad for business (by referencing the company’s attendance policy).

If you want them to be more forthcoming in the future, you may want to consider boosting their confidence in your human resources team and text messaging for human resources. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take unpaid leave for certain reasons related to the health of themselves or a family member.

Know how to respond to employees texting in sick effectively

Each employee at your company will likely call in sick occasionally. Flu season, colds, and more serious diseases are normal.

Know how to respond to an employee texting in sick. A good strategy balances sympathy for the sick employee with protections for coworkers who require extra attention.

You should also protect your company. Though you demand the best from your employees, fraud happens. Abuse of sick days undermines productivity and profits.

Therefore, knowing how to verify a worker’s illness and having a punishment plan are crucial. Because of this, bosses can rest easy knowing that no employees will be misusing the sick leave system to gain more time off than they are legally entitled to.

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Agnee Ghosh
Agnee Ghosh

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