What to Do When You Miss Work for a Sick Child

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Dear Career,

I need help! My service member just returned from a long deployment. During the time he was gone, I missed work several times because my young son was sick. (Just last week he missed all week for a high fever). A couple of times, I caught whatever he had (Thanks, day care!) and missed additional work days. I was diligent in obtaining doctor's notes documenting both mine and my son's illnesses.

Despite all of that, my supervisor just let me know he wants to talk about my excessive absences. He said he technically wasn't writing me up because I had notes from my doctor, but it doesn't sound like it will be a fun discussion. We don't have any family nearby and my husband can't take off work to help with these things, so it always falls to me. What do I do? I love my job and I think I'm pretty good at it.

-- Desperate in DFW

Dear Desperate --

This is tough, and I can certainly empathize. Deployments are the worst for many reasons, but they can certainly take a toll when kiddos fall ill. It's a little tough because I'm not sure of your line of work, but there are a few things I think you should consider:

1. Don't forget -- your supervisor said he isn't writing you up. Go into the conversation with an open mind and try not to be defensive. Understand that they're running a business, and it's their responsibility to make sure things are covered.

With those things in mind, is it possible for you to do any of your work from home? I know the health of your kiddo (and yourself) needs to take precedence, but is there anything you can offer to do from home that might lessen the load of extra work being created in your absence? During the discussion, you should also remind your supervisor that you love your job and, in a professional manner, remind him that you've done good work and you'd love to continue doing that work.

2. Backup child care is essential. Check around your area to see if there are any sick child day care options. One of our duty stations had one of these at the hospital. There may still be limits, but sick child day care could provide an option for those days when your son has a low fever or is just outside the day care's requirements for returning.

Some child care websites also identify caretakers who are willing to care of mildly sick children. I know it's not optimal to have to pay someone else when you're already carrying child care costs, but this might fall under the long-term cost/benefit analysis. Paying for extra child care is certainly more cost-effective than losing your job.

3. Last but not least, have a discussion with your husband about the seriousness of the issue. I'm making an assumption, but usually falling from two incomes to one is a detrimental thing to a family. See if there might be a way for him to help out. I understand that the military often wins in these discussions, but I also find that sometimes military spouses and service members are afraid to ask.

Perhaps if the sickness is dragging on like the last one you mentioned, your husband could speak to his supervisor and arrange to take leave for the latter part of the week so you could get back to work? Again, I realize this may not be possible depending on his position and responsibilities, but it's definitely worth exploring. Something has to give.

I know this is frustrating, but try to keep your chin up! I wish you the best for the discussion with your supervisor, and I hope you find a solution quickly.

Best of Luck, Career

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