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How to Manage Unexpected Absences at Work

You’re a good worker with an excellent track record on the job. But even the best workers can be pulled away for brief periods. Some things can’t be avoided. It could be for a few hours, days, weeks, or even months.

You might know about some absences ahead of time, like an appointment with a medical specialist. Other times, you might have to attend to an emergency family situation with little to no warning. Or, you might fall ill or sustain an injury.

The last thing you need at times like these is added stress because you missed work.

Away is OK (when you do it right)

When you miss work, you might feel guilty about letting down your team or your boss. You might worry about damaging your attendance record. Maybe you fear your reputation as a good worker will suffer.

Missing work does not mean you’re messing up. In fact, the way you approach taking time off can deepen people’s respect for you. Here are some tips to help you get it right:

  • Try to book required appointments outside work hours. If that’s not possible, consider when your absence will be the least disruptive. You may choose early morning before business ramps up for the day. Or you might pick a time over your lunch break.
  • Give your employer plenty of notice—in writing. Advance notice allows supervisors and coworkers to plan ahead. Written notice helps them remember. And, if they forget, it shows you’re not to blame.
  • Provide a note from your doctor. This confirms that you need to miss work for medical reasons. It validates your request for time off and invites respect for your situation.
  • Make a point of catching up before you leave. This will ease the workload you leave behind for others. It will also reduce any confusion your absence might cause.
  • Let others know you’ll be away. After your employer has approved your time off, let your coworkers know about it. You don’t need to provide details, but anyone affected by your absence will appreciate a heads-up.
  • Keep records. Make note of dates and times taken off work, and why. Note any time you have worked to make up for time off. This can help you respond to questions about your absences. It can also help you manage any doubt or guilt you may have.

Don’t worry

Alberta’s employment standards spell out the legal requirements regarding employment basics. This includes things like minimum wage, overtime pay, vacation entitlement, and job-protected leaves.

The Alberta Human Rights Act [pdf] ensures you can’t be fired from your job due to mental or physical illness. The Act describes employers’ duty to accommodate employees who need medical leave.

This kind of legislation outlines employers’ duties to workers. It explains to workers the minimum they can expect from employers. When workers and employers know their rights and obligations, everyone has peace of mind.

You have options

You are definitely not the first person to have to miss work. Employers have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Many have processes in place to help. Social supports are also available. You are not alone.

Know before you go

Get to know the different types of leave and employee benefits available through your employer. Do this now, before you need time off. Knowing your options before a situation arises may help you to better manage the stress when the time comes.

Job-protected leaves

A job-protected leave is usually unpaid time off. In some types of leave, you may qualify for Employment Insurance (EI). But the biggest benefit of this type of leave is knowing you have a job to return to afterward.

You can only be laid off while on a job-protected leave for one reason: the organization you work for goes out of business while you’re away.

Job-protected leaves include but are not limited to:

Can’t afford to give up your pay?

You have to miss work, but you still have bills, rent, or a mortgage to pay. Now what?

Vacation time might be an option

If you need time off work with pay, you might be able to use some of your earned vacation time.

All workers earn vacation pay. It is a percentage of your regular pay. You can get vacation pay with each paycheque or in a lump sum, usually when you go on vacation. If you’re not sure how much vacation pay you have earned, ask your employer.

Taking vacation pay with each paycheque can seem like a good way to boost your income. This can be very helpful if you work for a low wage. But what if you then have a personal crisis?

Knowing you have even a small amount set aside can help at an already stressful time. If you don’t need that lump sum to manage a crisis, you can use it when you actually go on vacation.

You’ll have to notify your supervisor that you need to take a job-protected leave. That will be a good time to ask for your vacation pay.

Employment Insurance might be an option

If you need time to deal with medical challenges, whether your own or a loved one’s, you may qualify for Employment Insurance (EI).

EI sickness benefits and caregiving benefits provide 55% of your earnings, with some limits. If you qualify, you could receive up to 16 weeks of benefits. This will be enough to deal with many situations. If not, you’ll need to explore other options.

Be proactive

Life isn’t always predictable, but it’s harder to be surprised if you’re paying attention.

An increased need for medical care can be a sign that something else is going on. Something that may not yet be obvious. Something that could lead to a crisis.

For example, sleepless nights can leave you exhausted, but they can also be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety can trigger health issues such as high blood pressure. This can lead to headaches, shortness of breath, vision problems, and even heart failure. Pay attention to the signals your body gives you about your health.

Also pay attention to what’s going on with loved ones. If an aging parent seems more tired than usual, look into it. Same thing if your child seems oddly grumpy. Take control of what you can with these few simple steps:

  • When something isn’t quite right, take notice. Don’t ignore it or hope it will go away.
  • Take action to identify any underlying causes. Don’t put it off. Do it now.
  • Address the underlying causes early on. The sooner you act, the more likely you’ll get it under control quickly and easily.

Being proactive can give us all a head start so we can effectively control or manage change.

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