Job Flexibility/ Priority Declaration

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about work absence because a sick child:

Hi, I am a single parent with a 15 month old daughter. I attend college full time and I work part time. My boss doesn’t have children so when my daughter gets sick and I want to stay home she acts really funky about.The very first time I asked to stay home with my daughter because she had an ear infection in both ears, my boss said, “Well you told me that your mother could watch her. You don’t need to be home with her.” I felt very hurt about that. I am looking for another job that has flexibility to the point that I can stay home a day with my ill child. This is her first year in daycare and the sicknesses are striking her. I don’t want to stay home with her EVERY time, just when she needs me bad. How do I tell the interviewer of another job that I need flexibility?

Signed, Concerned parent

Dear Concerned parent:

It sounds as though you have a very, very busy and responsible life! Going to school and working would be enough of a challenge–and you have a child too! I have experienced both single-parent child-rearing and supervising those who are involved in it, so perhaps I can assist you with some thoughts.You specifically asked about how to tell an interviewer that you need flexibility for such things as the illness of your child. I would not approach it in that way if I were you. Legally you cannot be asked about your marital or family status, and you should not bring it up either.(I think it’s a shame that employers can’t ask about any personal issues, because it can create a more comfortable interview environment to chat about family, hobbies and so forth. But, that type of question was often used wrongly in the past, so EEO laws were developed to protect employees.)

You CAN be asked about situations that might keep you from performing work or performing it effectively–and you can ask about those situations yourself. For example, you cannot be asked, “Will issues involving your children create problems about coming to work?” But you can be asked, “Is there anything that would prevent you from being at work on time and as scheduled?” You should be able to be at work on time and as scheduled, so obviously you want to answer something like, “My work history will show you that I don’t miss work unless I am ill or have an emergency or very unusual situation. You can depend upon me to be here and focused on work.”

That would also be a good time to ask if the job has personal days (days that can be taken without giving a reason) or sick days only. And if there are only sick days, what are the requirements for their use. You don’t need to discuss why you are asking that question–it is a perfectly valid question and many candidates ask it. Do not make that the sole focus of your interest and attention during the interview. But most employers understand that it is an important issue.

You might ask, “While we’re talking about that subject, I wanted to ask how sick time or personal time is handled.” Just listen and thank the interviewer for the information. If no personal time is given, you know then that you will need to take your own sick time if your child is ill. Or, the interviewer might mention that personal time can be used for such things as a sick child.Even if your potential employer is flexible about child issues, your interview is not the time to make an issue of it.

Few employers would want to hire someone who implies it is inevitable he or she will be gone from work for childcare or child illness issues–even though most employers know a parent WILL likely miss work for those reasons. The employer wants to think your focus is on being at work not being absent. But you can still ask about the leave time, as a way to find out about flexibility.Regarding your current situation: It does seem that your employer is being tough about the matter. But, she may simply to reacting to the fact that she needs you there and has no other employee options when you are absent.In a big company one employee can be gone, but the work that employee would normally do can be taken care of by others. In a business with few employees, every employee is vitally important to keeping the doors open!It may also be that, even though she is not happy to find you are going to be gone, she realizes your work is good and wouldn’t want you to quit. Her remarks may not be meant to say that you can no longer take time off for such reasons–she’s just complaining in general!It might not be easy to do, but you may want to try talking to her about your worries in this area.

Find a reason to discuss it, such as mentioning that your child has been able to avoid several colds that other children have had at preschool. Then, you could say, “As you can imagine, I live in dread every day that he’ll get sick. Not only because I don’t want him to be ill, but because I know it creates problems if I have to take a sick day for that. If that should happen–and I hope it doesn’t–is there a time frame for me to notify you that would make it easier for you?”

That time frame issue is important to know. For example, it might be that if you let your employer know the night before, she could plan on it better than if you call her a few minutes before the doors open. Or, you may be able to be home for a few hours, but not the entire shift, if your mother could help in some way. I realize your employer should try to see your perspective as well. But all you can control is yourself. Try to see her perspective and do what you can to help her have fewer worries about how to get the work done without you. That is her primary concern and it is understandable.If you have teachers you respect and who have experience or expertise, consider asking them about potential ways to approach your next job interview and how to handle that issue. Your school may even have counselors for that purpose. They may have suggestions for how to deal with it that would be more specific to you and your situation.I hope these thoughts will help you as you prepare for your future. You have already shown that you are capable of great accomplishments. Think about how you can help your employer and help yourself at the same time. Both of those elements are needed for you to be successful in any work. That’s true whether or not one is a parent! Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.