A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
When Is It OK To Call An Employee At Home?
Dear Sue: Is it appropriate to call a coworker at home if it is
not an emergency? I wonder what you think of this: A coworker of mine was
sick with the flu and out of work for a few days. On the second day she
was out, another coworker (who is known for his abrasive manner) called
her and insisted he obtain some information from her that day. He is not
her superior, but took it upon himself to demand she get back to him. She
was very upset by this and in no condition to be working, which is why she
Is this appropriate? If not, how can we let this insensitive coworker
know that his actions were inappropriate?
Sue Says: I wish I could answer your question with a definite
response one way or the other, but I cannot. In theory, I agree with you
that it was insensitive of your coworker to bother his sick coworker at
home. However, it may have been unavoidable. Was he bothering her because
he was too lazy to find the information himself or didnít want to wait for
her return or did he have a legitimate reason for bothering her?
No one wants to be bothered when they are at home and are feeling ill.
Depending on how sick someone is, even talking on the phone can be a
chore. It can be difficult to think clearly, sit up or do much of
anything. When someone is sick, they may choose not answer the phone, so
depending on getting information from someone who is out ill is not a good
Ideally, when someone is home ill, that person should be resting, and
be left alone to recover. A business should be able to manage without
someone for a short period of time. Itís might not be easy for the
coworkers who have to pick up the slack, but it is expected; when people
get sick, others need to pitch in and help out.
Of course there are always exceptions. A smaller, growing business may
be hit hard if one key person is absent--it all depends on the way the
business is set up. There are situations in which it can be impossible to
complete a transaction without a critical piece of information that only
one person has, or provide an answer to someone in need.
If your insensitive coworker called his sick coworker because he didnít
want to wait for her to return or be inconvenienced, he was wrong.
However, if he called her because the consequences of not calling her were
too severe, he may have been justified. Itís one thing to bother a person
by calling several times a day to ask questions that could wait, and
another to call one time out of necessity.
If the coworker who was ill was upset by the call at home, she is the
one who should complainóI donít think it is in your best interest to get
involved in reprimanding your coworker. What you can do is initiate a
conversation about what to do in the future.
My suggestion is for you to address the issue with all of your
coworkers and try to establish a protocol for dealing with similar
situations in the future. Decide under what conditions it is appropriate
to call someone at home who is ill, and how to handle his or her absence.
Anyone can become ill at any time, so rather than being taken aback by
it, prepare for it. Devise a plan that will enable your business or
department to run effectively with or without everyone in attendance. Once
you do, everyone will benefit.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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