Employers are often understanding when their employees miss time at work due to an unexpected emergency or accident occurs. On the other hand, they might not be so sympathetic when staff members start taking random time off, especially if it occurs on a routine basis.
As an employee of a New York employer, it’s a good idea to know what your employer’s policies are regarding paid, or unpaid, time off. This way, you know how to present your reasoning when requesting to take days (or weeks) off from work.
Updated: Excuses to Call Out of Work during COVID-19
Good Excuses To Miss Work
The following excuses are generally legitimate reasons employers typically accept as short or long-term absences.
1. Car (or Other) Accident
Accidents are unexpected events and usually qualify as legitimate requests for sudden leave, especially if serious injuries are involved. In most instances, bosses will allow time for you to attend to the well-being of your spouse, child or other dependent loved one, along with time to deal with any details associated with the aftermath of an accident.
2. Death of a Loved One
Most employers are sympathetic when it comes to needing time off when a loved one passes away. They understand you’ll need to take time off from work to attend and/or plan the funeral. When a death occurs, it’s important to let your boss know immediately so they can arrange coverage in your absence. Check your employer’s official policy to see how much time off is allowed for bereavement.
3. Personal Illness
Personal illness, especially contagious types, are almost always a valid excuse to take off time off from work. Employers don’t want to find themselves with an epidemic of illness spreading through the workplace because this seriously affects operations and productivity. If more than a couple of days are needed to recover, be prepared, as some employers require a doctor’s note. Employers usually have a set policy as to how many sick days are used before a doctor’s note is requested.
The novel Coronavirus first declared a pandemic in the United States in March 2020, certainly qualifies as a contagious disease. With so much about the respiratory illness not yet known, government and health officials have required anyone with symptoms or who has had exposure to someone with symptoms to self-quarantine for 14 days. Although this requirement is necessary for public safety, we at Terry Katz & Associates understand that two weeks is a long time to miss work. We want to assure you that you have legal rights surrounding COVID-19 at both the federal and state levels.
Excuses to Call Out of Work during COVID-19
A dry cough, fatigue, and fever are the earliest and most common symptoms of COVID-19. While these typically remain mild and go away independently without treatment, they are also highly contagious. It would be best if you planned to stay home from work until your symptoms pass. Keep in mind that your employer has the legal right to require you to submit to coronavirus testing and have a negative result before you can return to work.
Here are some less common and more severe symptoms of COVID-19 that qualify as legitimate reasons to call off work during COVID-19:
Chest pressure or pain
Discoloration of toes or fingers
Loss of voluntary movement or speech
Loss of sense of taste, smell, or both
Shortness of breath
Your Legal Rights if You Test Positive or Have Exposure to COVID-19
Under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability. Although federal law does not yet consider coronavirus as a disability, its highly contagious and unknown nature requires flexibility and understanding from the nation’s employers. Unfortunately, some employers have had no choice but to furlough or terminate employees due to the enormous financial implications that COVID-19 has had on businesses.
Assuming you retain your position throughout the pandemic, your employer may offer one or more options as a reasonable accommodation:
Give you permission to work from home until you’re healthy enough to return to the office.
Provide you with personal protective equipment to ensure your safety if you directly serve the public in any capacity.
Offer you the opportunity to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), use short-term disability if offered or use your accrued vacation and/or sick time leave to cover the time you miss.
You also have legal protection under New York’s whistleblower laws if your employer attempts to retaliate against you if you report the company for violating coronavirus restrictions.
4. Child’s Illness
Many bosses are parents and understand the urgency of needing to be there for a child. If you have to take time off from work to attend to your child’s illness many employers allow it. However, there are some bosses that aren’t so sympathetic and will only allow a certain amount of time of PTO (paid time off) per year for employees to use in these types of situations. How you choose to use it is up to you. Other employers may designate sick or personal leave that can be used in certain types of illness situations for children.
What you deem an emergency may not be defined the same way by your boss. Generally speaking, a family emergency is an unexpected event that occurs, affecting the health or safety of your family. It could be a sudden illness, injury from an accident, or another devastating event. In some circumstances, you could be eligible for extended leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected leave per year to allow them to take care of an immediate family member (defined as a spouse, child, or parent) who has a serious health condition. FMLA also protects employees so they can take leave if they themselves have a serious health condition. The law also requires employee health benefits to be maintained during the leave.
6. Car Problems
One unfortunate and common problem people can run into during New York commutes are related to car problems or other issues with transportation. A flat tire, dead battery, accident on the road, or a late train can force you to miss work. If it happens once or twice, an employer might overlook it, especially if you are apologetic and go beyond to make up work or find alternate transportation to get to work (even if a bit late). However, if you habitually are late or absent because of transportation, your boss will likely start raising eyebrows and wonder if you’re being truthful.
7. Medical Appointments
In New York, it can be hard to get medical appointments. Bosses usually understand many doctors only are open during regular business hours. Sick time is often an acceptable use of time for medical appointments, however, it’s a good idea to ask your boss if it’s preferable you schedule your appointment for a morning and come in late or for an afternoon and leave early. A little courtesy can go a long way when it comes to scheduling doctor appointments during the workday.
8. Miscellaneous Absences
Some absences don’t fall into any of the above categories but can still be considered as acceptable reasons to miss days (or weeks) from work, depending upon the situation.
Mental health day if you’re beginning to feel burned out at work
Special occasions, such as a child’s performance, family reunion, or another special event
Military obligations, including annual training or monthly drills (there are specific laws regarding this kind of absence)
House emergency, such as burst pipes or a heating/cooling system issue, occurs
Whatever your reason is for requesting leave, either short-term or for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to be upfront and honest about your situation. Try to estimate how much time you need and be sure to update your supervisor if things change.
Remember, you always want to save any verification you need in the event you need to justify any short or long-term absences due to legitimate excuses. Employers may be suspicious because unfortunately, some employees tend to abuse leave time. You may be requested to provide documentation in some situations to justify your reasons to miss work.
If your employer terminates you for being injured on the job for any justifiable reasons, the experienced attorneys at Terry Katz & Associates can evaluate your situation and determine if you have a case. If you’d like to learn more about New York workers' compensation or would like a free consultation, please contact our office today
Terry Katz, Esq.
Terry Katz, Esq., the founding Member of the firm, handles all aspects of Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability cases.