How Not to Respond When Your Nanny Calls in Sick


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Let's just dive right in. Nannies get sick and will miss work from time to time. There, I said it. Sadly, all too often, parents seem to forget that nannies are still human. I can only assume that lots of parents think their nannies are superhuman (which we kind of are in some ways), based on the countless nannies I encounter who are told they HAVE to come in even when very sick or are simply made to feel guilty for calling out. Or worse, FIRED for getting really sick and having to miss several days of work. One nanny says she has been made to feel so guilty for calling in sick, that she hasn't taken a sick day in 6 years. Many nannies have even reported being guilt tripped for needing surgery -- like it's something they can control.

Parents, please know that your nanny already feels guilty for having to call in sick. There is no need to passive aggressively try to make your nanny feel even worse for something that is completely out of their control. When you do this, it does not bode well with your nanny -- especially if your nanny is very reliable and rarely misses work. Plus, most of the time when nannies get sick, it is a direct result of taking care of their nanny charges, especially when said charges are sick.  Nannies will catch something from their job, and then are made to feel guilty for it. It's wrong. Even more common is a nanny getting sick early into a new job. When a nanny starts with a new family, they are exposed to lots of new germs/bacteria, and it can take several months before they build up their immunity to the specific household they are working in. The worst illnesses I have contracted have been within the first 6 months working for a family. If your nanny is continually calling out, then that's a red flag, but if your nanny (even a new nanny who has only been with you a few months) is otherwise reliable, take it at face value: your nanny is legitimately sick and needs to stay home and rest. Every time I hear a new story about a nanny being mistreated by their boss because they are sick, all I can do is shake my head.

So parents, how should you respond when your nanny calls in sick? Let's look at this real life example (yes this is an actual text a parent sent to her nanny) of what NOT to do, and go from there:

I texted my boss to let her know I'm really sick and unable to come in. This is the response I got: "I am expecting you. I have several meetings scheduled. Sorry to hear you're not feeling well. I am a bit at a loss. My meetings are mostly in the morning so I am in a bind. Let me see if I can make some arrangements."

Suggestion #1: There is no need to add in all this extra info about how you need to make arrangements and are now in a bind. Your nanny is calling in sick and already knows it will be an inconvenience -- nannies do not take this lightly. Your nanny is very familiar with your family life and understands just how important your job is. After all, that's why they're there. This is why many nannies still work even when they feel under the weather and will only call out for a major illness. One nanny says, "I hate how parents add all that extra, unnecessary info in. We get it. It sucks. It's inconvenient. But it's NOT important to us that you have to sort stuff out. It's like parents want to guilt trip us majorly and make us feel even worse! It really is one of the biggest things I hate about being a nanny. The fact we do so much and are usually always reliable, and then the one time we need support, it's a big deal". I also want to mention that if your nanny does come into work when under the weather, let them have an easy day. Let your nanny know that they do not need to keep up with their regular chores and they are free to just veg on the couch watching movies with the kids. It's okay to let your kids have extra screen time for ONE day -- I promise it won't kill them ;) 

Suggestion #2: Be proactive. As parents, it is your responsibility to have backup care in place. It is unrealistic to expect that your nanny will never be sick. If you have a nanny and you don't have backup care options in place, as soon as you finish reading this article, start making arrangements. Your nanny should not have to worry when calling in sick. Your nanny shouldn't have to hear "Let me see if I can make arrangements". As a parent who is ultimately the only one responsible for your children, of course you will make arrangements and you will figure it out. It will all end up working out in the end. There is no need to give your nanny the play by play. If you opt not to have backup care in place, then you must be prepared to take off work from time to time to care for your kids when your nanny calls in sick. If you're overwhelmed with the idea and are not sure where to start with the process of finding backup care, talk to your nanny about it! Nannies are delighted when parents show interest in having backup care, and are generally happy to help you get it sorted out. Most nannies are connected with other local nannies and will even send you referrals of qualified and reputable candidates. Another excellent and reliable backup option is if you know another family nearby who has a nanny, both families can work out an agreement where if one nanny is sick, the other nanny will cover for both families at the same time and get paid extra (while still paying the nanny who is out sick).

Suggestion #3: You should be offering your nanny between 2 to 10 paid sick days per year (lower end for newer nannies/part-time nannies and the higher end for experienced nannies/full-time nannies). Even if you don't officially offer paid sick days, you should think long and hard before docking your nanny's pay when they have to call out due to an illness they caught from your family. Nannies are required to expose themselves to some pretty nasty illnesses (i.e., HFM, strep, stomach bug, pneumonia, flu, bronchitis, etc) and that's comes with the job. What's not fine is when your nanny then contracts one of these awful illnesses, and then must lose out on pay because of it. Please take a moment to really think about what it would feel like to take care of someone else's very sick children (which is obviously incredibly hard work), and then when you inevitably catch what they had, you are forced to lose pay and may not be able to pay all your bills that month. The best families I've ever worked for offered me a set amount of paid sick days in our contract, but then verbally told me that I would be given unlimited sick days for major illnesses I caught from their family. With one of these families, I actually had to take them up on their offer. I caught a bad case of bronchitis from them and was out for an entire week. I had to get steroid shots, an inhaler, and fainted at the doctor's office -- that's how sick I was. Had I lost out on pay for that whole week, I would have been incredibly stressed about my finances and felt even more miserable. Thankfully, the amazing family I worked for understood that I would not have even caught bronchitis had I not been working in their home, intimately caring for their kids to help get their household healthy again. So parents everywhere, please keep in mind that while rare, sometimes nannies will have to miss up to a week of work if they are REALLY sick. Illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia, the flu, etc. are no joke and can often take a full week in order to recover. It's imperative you are prepared for something like this. If you have to miss several days of work because you weren't prepared with backup care, that's on you, not your nanny. 

Suggestion #4: If you as parents catch a bad illness and are so sick that you have to miss work, if/when your nanny catches the SAME illness, please be prepared for your nanny to miss work as well. I can't tell you how often nannies report being required to come into work when they catch the same illness their boss had to miss work for. Parents will say that because they were sick and had to miss work, they simply cannot miss anymore work, so the nanny still needs to come in. This is why a backup care plan is vital! Nannies also report that when they do manage to drag themselves into work, the parents say something along the lines of, "you must not have gotten it as bad as me. I was so sick I couldn't go to work". Uhh...what??!! Parents, please give your nanny the same courtesy you gave yourself when you were sick. Or on the other hand, if you're the type of person who never takes a sick day even when you should -- do not compare yourself to your nanny and think, "well when I was really sick I still worked". If you choose to not properly rest and recover while you are sick, that's your own personal choice, but you cannot expect others to live their life that way.

Suggestion #5: If your kids and nanny are all really sick with the same virus, let your nanny stay home and rest. Too many nannies report being told that since everyone is sick, the nanny can just come into work and they can "recover together". Let's be real -- your nanny will not be resting very much if they are responsible to care for your sick kids at the same time. When this happens, take one for the team and stay home from work to be with your sick children. Unfortunately, in this type of situation, backup sitters don't work well-- most won't work for sick kids since exposure to the illness could impact their ability to provide care for other children, plus sick children likely won't take well to someone they do not know well. It truly is to your benefit to do this. Ultimately, a nanny who isn't given the opportunity to properly recover will likely end up missing more days of work than if they had originally been able to take a day or two off to care for themselves.

So, with all these suggestions in mind...what exactly is the best response when your nanny calls in sick? It's pretty simple -- your response should be short and sweet -- something along the lines of, "Oh no! I'm so sorry you're not feeling well. Get some rest and let me know later this evening how you're feeling so I can schedule backup care for tomorrow if you're not better". This response is empathetic and lets your nanny know that you understand they may not be back at work tomorrow. When your nanny has recovered and is back at work, do not act rudely to them or be passive aggressive -- too many nannies report that when they get back to work after being sick, their boss won't really talk to them/is short with them. That is just so wrong on so many levels. 

As frustrating as it is to have to scramble when your nanny calls in sick, it's something you just have to realize is inevitable. However, it can be made much less stressful if you just accept the fact that nannies will miss work from time to time, and therefore plan ahead. At the end of the day, try and be thankful that your nanny will take care of your sick children whereas a daycare will not allow a sick child to attend. Finally, the responsibility doesn't fall entirely on the parents. As nannies, we are responsible for informing our employers that these types of situations do arise and helping to ensure that parents have a plan in place. A good place to start is with a solid nanny contract -- the Nanny Counsel contract includes a backup care policy, which is a great resource to get the conversation started with your employers. Oh and nannies -- please remember that when you call in sick, you are not asking for permission -- you are informing. When you're sick, you're sick -- it's not something you can control and you do not need to ask permission to prioritize your health.