Calling Out Sick: Professionalism For Parents, Nannies & Sitters
Updated: Jun 22
Parents typically aren't frustrated by the fact of their nanny calling out sick. Parents understand that nannies and babysitters are humans who get sick sometimes. It's about how the callout is done. What frustrates parents is:
call-outs that occur less than two hours before the nanny was due to be at work
callouts when the nanny or babysitter is actually supposed to be arriving (!?)
calling out at least once a month, pretty much every month (that's a lot)
calling out with messages such as, "I was feeling bad last night and thought I'd feel better this morning but I don't think I can make it." This means the nanny actually could have notified the parent last night that things weren't looking good. The parent could have made a backup plan
when a sick nanny makes another callout in the evening, although the parent messaged them earlier to check on tomorrow and the nanny didn't respond all day
Parents feel disrespected when their nanny calls out on very short notice if the short notice could have been prevented. Parents feel stress because sudden or frequent callouts can legitimately jeopardize the parent's job or other commitments.
What can parents and nannies do to decrease frustration, and to approach callouts correctly?
Write a proper callout procedure into your nanny contract. A standard workplace callout procedure is for callouts to be received no later than two (2) hours before the shift is scheduled to start. Nannies don't have other employees to fill in for them, so preferably calling out the day before is best.
Keep in mind that you cannot penalize an employee for being sick or using their sick days. Apply discipline procedures only to an employee's failure to follow your written callout procedure.
Avoid scheduling important work meetings first thing in the morning if it's in your power, because it gives you very little time to pivot if the nanny needs to call out.
Communicate with your nanny if you have an early morning meeting or a high stakes meeting and you need the nanny to take extra precautions to be on time.
Model what you expect from your employee. If you expect your nanny to give as much notice as possible for calling out, you do the same. If you need to cancel a workday let the nanny know ASAP before they start commuting to your house. If your child is pretty sick in the evening let the nanny know and either cancel then, or make a plan to update the nanny with at least 2 hours notice the next morning.
Model planning ahead and communicating in advance. You can do this by giving your nanny ample notice when you're going on vacation or have family coming in, and you won't need their service.
Know the weather forecast and communicate in advance about bad weather. Make a plan for a delayed start or a reschedule. Don't wait to receive the text, "Roads are too snowy to get to work!"
Know that it is your responsibility, as the employer, to have a backup plan of some kind for when your employee needs to call out. This might be a backup care service, neighbors, retired friends, grandparents, etc. It may not be perfect but the plan has to exist. Everything cannot hinge on 1 employee.
Know that communication in advance can really help, and calling out with good notice shows respect. Same if you're feeling ill in the evening: give the parent a heads up right then to help them avoid scrambling in the morning.
Respect that your employer is a working adult with a boss who is expecting them to be productive, be reliable, and be on time.
Know that it is not acceptable to call out at the time that you're due to arrive or anything close to that such as 30 minutes before your shift. Unless there's been an emergency, it's extremely rude to do this. Promise yourself that you will not do this.
Understand that parents make a good faith assumption that you're taking reasonable precautions to avoid exposing yourself to contagious illness, and you're getting enough rest to be prepared to come to work.
If you're feeling under the weather but would come to work, try letting your employer know what's going on. Give them the option to have you come in, come for a half-day, etc. It could be that their child is about to wake up with a similar illness and the parent really won't mind the two of you being together.
Know the weather forecast and communicate in advance about bad weather. Make a plan for a delayed start or a reschedule. Plan to take the bus if it's available. Don't wait until the morning of to decide that it's too snowy to go to work.
Know going into nanny job applications that this isn't a traditional workplace with other employees to cover. Parents should have a backup plan as best they can, but there aren't a ton of options. It's a nationwide issue. For that reason, working as a nanny is appropriate for someone who typically doesn't catch kids' illnesses, and doesn't need to call out more than once every few months. For example if you tend wake up with migraines, right now is not the time to become a parent's one employee.
Parents: how respond when a nanny calls out sick.
Express empathy, and set a time to check in about returning to work tomorrow. That's it. As the employer and the leader, you need to be the bigger person at all times:
"I'm sorry to hear that, let me know if you need anything. I will check in with you at 4 pm today to check if you're able to come in tomorrow. Please check your phone around 4. I hope you feel better and get some rest."
Always acknowledge that you have received the callout. If the employee didn't follow your written callout policy, notify them in person when they get back and review the callout policy together. Make a written record that you reviewed it together (an email as the record is fine).
Parents: how NOT to respond when a nanny calls out sick:
Anything passive aggressive, unprofessional, or guilting the employee, such as:
"Oh ok, I have an important meeting but I'll see if I can move it around." You're guilting them.
"Again?" Also unprofessional. You are an employer.
"When did you start feeling sick?" You can ask this but don't start with this.
not responding to the nanny at all
"Well you're calling out with less than 2 hours notice so this is going in your file." Don't text sick employees about policy violations. It sounds petty and it doesn't reflect well on you as the leader. Notify your employee in person when they return and review the policy together.
"Oh no, this is really hard for me today. Could you make it in?" Start any message by expressing sympathy that the person who cares for your child is ill. Something as simple as "I'm sorry to hear that" works. Everyone already knows that an employee callout makes things harder, but that's part of being an employer.
Nannies: what to say when you call out.
A proper callout includes:
the time/day you are calling out, i.e. "Hi, it's Wednesday afternoon at 3:45 and I need to call out for Thursday morning..."
the very basics of your symptoms so the parent can monitor their own family for those symptoms
a set time when you will give the parent an update about returning to work tomorrow
In almost all cases, a phone call is more professional than a text. Your employer will get the message faster. If it's not the middle of the night or the children's bed time, call. Leave a voicemail if they don't pick up and then send a text. Be sure that they have the opportunity to receive the message ASAP.
Your employer does not need the gory details like a picture of the white spots in your throat, a picture of your sprained ankle, etc. They ought to take you at your word. If they can't, there are bigger problems.
Examples of professional callout messages:
"Hi, I am calling out for tomorrow, it's a little after 5:45 pm, I began feeling off at 5 pm and my symptoms are a sore throat, congestion and fever. I will take a COVID test. I can let you know by 4 pm tomorrow how I am doing."
"Hello, I was getting ready for work and I suddenly started feeling really nauseous this morning. I could update you in two hours of how I am feeling, or I can call out for the day. What would be best?"
"Hi, I am sorry to say I rolled my ankle pretty bad this afternoon and the clinic advised I shouldn't walk on it tomorrow. I'll send you the doctor's note they gave me. I'll be able to send you an update tomorrow after lunch."
DO send a doctor's note for your employee record if you have one
Professional callout messages are NOT:
"I don't know what's going on but I can't stop puking and I can't work today." This is a text you might send to your best friend or your own mother, not your employer! (I have actually received this text as an employer.)
"My tummy hurts really bad and I have to stay home." I know we spend all day with kids, but use mature language with your boss. Adults have stomachs not tummies.
20 minutes before your shift's start time..."Sorry but I'm super sick I've been up all night and I can't keep anything down I think I need to stay home." This means you could have notified the parent much earlier.
details of what you ate that made you sick, such as, "I had seafood for lunch and it must have been the scallops." This is totally unnecessary information. A simple, "I'm sorry to say I'm suddenly feeling really ill, possibly due to something I ate" is absolutely fine.
any photo of your illness or injury. No. Yuck.
no photos of you looking sick or you sitting at the doctor's office. Text those kinds of photos to your own parents or to your friends.
"I'm SO sorry!!!" You got sick and hey, despite your best efforts to stay well it can happen. You can be sorry, but it's not really necessary to be so profusely sorry.
Nannies will get sick. Parents will get sick. Kids will get sick. A lot of what's outlined above is really about having mutual respect, and a clear written procedure for what to do in the event of illness.
Founder & Owner, Babysitters Of Boulder