Q: When anyone calls in sick, our boss asks all kinds of questions about exactly what is the problem and whether or not it’s necessary for the person to be gone. Are these details any of her business?
A: Generally speaking, under normal circumstances, the specific details of an employee’s need to take sick leave should not be necessary. If you believe that there is no pattern to your absence or no other reason for her questions, the best option is to discuss the issue with your boss. Ask her why the questions are important and help her understand that she may be intruding on personal information.
In some situations where there is a medical issue involving another member of your family and you must take an extended amount of time off (either a few consecutive days or scattered throughout a few weeks), it would be best if you provide an explanation to your manager. Be sure to offer enough information to verify the need for time off. You can ask and expect that the information be kept confidential. If your boss fails to keep the information confidential, then simply remind her of the fact that she abused your confidence the next time she asks you for details about sick leave.
There also are legal ramifications to sharing personal medical information — something that everyone in the operation has to recognize.
The problem that occurs in some operations is that sick leave has been abused so much that management may challenge the need for the leave. When this happens, you will have to provide enough of an explanation to help management understand that the time is necessary. A doctor’s report may be required to confirm the need for medical leave, without revealing the specific details of the condition.
If there is a pattern to a person calling in sick (for example, every Monday morning) the person has to expect that management will ask more questions about his or her need for the time off.
All employees deserve to have medical issues kept private, but employers also deserve an explanation if there’s a pattern to the absence because it affects productivity, inconveniences other co-workers and, if left unchecked, can lead to further abuse of the system.