Parents typically aren’t frustrated by the fact of their nanny calling out sick – parents do understand that nannies and babysitters are humans who can get sick. It’s about how the callout is done. Here is what frustrates parents:

    • callouts that occur less than two hours before the nanny is due to be at work
    • callouts when the nanny or babysitter is basically supposed to be arriving at the house (what the heck!?)
    • calling out at least once a month, pretty much every month (that’s a lot)
    • calling out with messages such as, “I was feeling bad last night and thought I’d feel better this morning but I don’t think I can make it,’ which means the nanny could have given the parent some notice last night when things weren’t looking good, and the parent could have started making a plan
    • when the parent messages the sick nanny midday to check in about tomorrow, the nanny doesn’t respond at all, and then calls out again late in the evening – the parent was trying to prevent this late evening callout and plan ahead 🤦🏽 🤦🏼‍♀️

Parents feel disrespected when their childcare provider calls out on very short notice, if the short notice could have been prevented. In addition, parent feel real stress because sudden or frequent callouts can jeopardize their job or other commitments.

So, how can parents, nannies & sitters approach callouts correctly?
    1. Write a callout procedure into your nanny contract. A standard workplace procedure is to call out no later than 2 hours before the shift’s start time. It’s ok to add that calling out by 5pm before the following workday is preferred, since nannies don’t have other employees to fill in for them.
    2. Keep in mind that you can’t penalize an employee for being sick or using their sick leave. Apply discipline procedures only to an employee’s failure to follow the written callout procedure.
    3. If you can, avoid scheduling important work meetings first thing in the morning. That gives you a little time to pivot if needed.
    4. Communicate with your nanny when you have an early morning meeting or a high stakes meeting, and you need them to take extra precautions to be on time.
    5. Model what you expect from your employee. If you expect your nanny to give as much notice as possible for calling out, then you do the same. If you need to cancel, let the nanny know ASAP before they start their commute to your house. If your child is pretty sick in the evening, let the nanny know and either cancel then, or make a plan to update the nanny with at least 2 hours notice the next morning.
    6. Model planning ahead and communicating in advance. Give your nanny ample notice when you’re going on vacation, or you have family coming in and you don’t need their service.

Know that it’s your responsibility, as the employer, to have some kind of backup plan when your employee has to call out. This might be a backup care service, neighbors, friends, grandparents, etc. It may not be a perfect plan, but don’t leave everything to hinge on one employee.

    1. Know that communication in advance matters, and that calling out with good notice shows respect. If you’re feeling ill in the evening, give the parent a heads up then to help them avoid scrambling in the morning.
    2. Respect that your employer is a working adult with a boss who expects them to be productive, reliable, and punctual.
    3. Know that it’s not acceptable to call out at or around the time that you’re due to arrive and start your shift. Unless there’s an emergency, this is extremely rude. Promise yourself that you will not do this.
    4. Understand that parents are trusting you to take reasonable precautions to avoid contagious illnesses, and trusting you to get enough rest to be prepared to come to work.
    5. If you’re feeling under the weather but would actually be ok with coming to work, let your employer know. Ask about coming in & wearing a mask, coming in for a half-day, etc. It could be that their child is waking up with a similar illness and the parent really won’t mind the two of you being together.

As you apply to nanny positions, understand that this isn’t a traditional workplace where other employees can fill in when you’re out sick. Parents should have a backup plan as best they can, but there aren’t a lot of options. It’s a nationwide issue. For that reason, working as a nanny is best for people who typically don’t catch kids’ illnesses, and don’t need to call out more than once every few months. For example, if you tend wake up with migraines, it’s not the time to become a family’s one employee.

Parents – how respond when a nanny calls out sick:

Express empathy, and set a time to check in about coming to work tomorrow. That’s it. As the employer and the leader, you need to be the bigger person at all times. Here’s an example:

  • “I’m sorry to hear that! Hope you feel better and get some rest. I’ll check in with you at 4pm today to confirm if you’re able to come in tomorrow. Please check your phone around that time.”

Always acknowledge that you have received the callout. If your employee didn’t follow your written callout policy, notify them in person when they get back and review the callout policy together. Make a written record that you reviewed it together. An email as the record is fine.

Parents – how NOT to respond when a nanny calls out sick:

Anything passive aggressive, unprofessional, or guilting the person, such as:

    • “Oh ok, I have an important meeting but I’ll see if I can move it.” You’re guilting them.
    • “Ok.” This is rather unprofessional and can come off as childish or pouty in a text message.
    • “Again?” 
    • “When did you start feeling sick?” You can ask this but just don’t start with this question.
    • saying nothing & not responding to your nanny at all… 😐
    • “Well you’re calling out with less than 2 hours notice so this is going in your file.” Don’t text sick employees about policy violations in this way. It sounds petty and it doesn’t reflect well on you as the leader. Notify your employee in person when they return, and review the policy together.
    • “Oh no, this is really hard for me today. Could you make it in?” Everyone already knows that an employee callout makes things harder, but that’s part of being an employer. Start any message by expressing some caring for the person who cares for your child, not by focusing on yourself. Starting with something as simple as “I’m sorry to hear that,” is fine.

Nannies – what to say when you call out:

A proper callout includes:

    1. the time & day you are calling out, i.e. “Hi, it’s Wednesday afternoon at 3:45 and I need to call out for Thursday morning…”
    2. the very basics of your symptoms so the parent can monitor their own family for those symptoms
    3. a set time when you will update the parent about returning to work tomorrow

In almost every case, a phone call is more professional than a text. Your employer will get the message faster. If it’s not the middle of the night or the children’s bed time, call your employer. Leave a voicemail if they don’t pick up, and then send a text. Be sure that they have the opportunity to receive the message ASAP.

Your employer does not need the gory details like a picture of the white spots in your throat, a picture of your sprained ankle, etc. They ought to take you at your word. If they can’t do that, there are bigger problems.

Examples of good, professional callout messages:

  • “Hi, I am calling out for tomorrow, it’s a little after 5:45pm, I began feeling off at 4pm and my symptoms are a sore throat, congestion and fever. I will take a COVID test. I can let you know by 4pm tomorrow how I am doing.”
  • “Hello, I was getting ready for work and I suddenly started feeling extremely nauseous. I could update you in two hours of how I am feeling, or I can call out for the day. What would be best?”
  • “Hi, I am sorry to say I rolled my ankle pretty bad this afternoon, I am at the clinic now & I am not sure I’ll be able to walk on it tomorrow. I should have an update in an hour or two. I’ll let you know what they say and send the doctor’s note.”
  • if you have a doctor’s appointment or go to a clinic or urgent care, DO get a doctor’s note for your employee record

Examples of wrong, unprofessional callout messages:

  • “I don’t know what’s going on but I can’t stop puking and I can’t work today.” This is a text you might send to your best friend or your parents…not to your employer! (I have actually received this exact text as an employer) 🤢
  • “My tummy hurts really bad and I have to stay home.” I know we spend all day with kids but use mature language with your boss. Adults have stomachs not tummies.
  • 20 minutes before your shift’s start time…”Sorry but I’m super sick I’ve been up all night and I think I need to stay home.” You could have notified the parent much earlier!
  • Details of what you ate that made you sick, such as, “I had seafood for lunch and it must have been the shrimp, they tasted a bit off.” This is totally unnecessary information. A simple, “I’m sorry to say I’m suddenly feeling really ill and queasy, I think it was something I ate not a contagious illness,” is fine.
  • Don’t send any photos of your illness or injury. No! Yuck!
  • Don’t send photos of you looking sick or you at the doctor’s office. Text those kinds of photos to your parents or your friends.
  • “I’m SO sorry!!!” You got sick and hey, despite your best efforts that can happen sometimes. You can be sorry, but it’s not really necessary to be so profusely sorry.

Nannies get sick. Parents get sick. Kids get sick. A lot of what’s outlined above is really about having mutual respect, communication, and a clear written procedure for what to do in the event of illness.