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Ask Sue
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 was home.

Is this appropriate? If not, how can we let this insensitive coworker know that his actions were inappropriate?

Ė Jenny

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 idea.

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 asksue@suemorem.com or visit her web site at http://www.suemorem.com

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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