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Academics - what do you do when your kids are ill? How do your institutions deal with it?

(24 Posts)
dodi1978 Thu 21-Sep-17 21:57:04

So... I had to stay at home because DS2, almost a year old, had some strange nappies on Tuesday and nursery asked us to observe the 48 hour rule. My husband covered Wednesday, I covered today. Really annoying timing as I am preparing for the new semester and am behind as it is. Plus, I don't have a properly sick child that sleeps a lot... oh no, I have a baby who is just learning to stand, can't be left alone for a second and didn't think much of the idea of sleep.
In this case, I didn't say "officially" that I would be at home looking after a sick child - I just cancelled a meeting with PHD student (he would be meeting the co-supervisor by himself) and that's it.

The precedent to this is that, a year ago, DS1 had chickenpox. I made the mistake of e-mailing the administrator that I'd be working from home for the next few days and that I wouldn't be there for certain meetings. This was at the end of May, so no teaching, just lots of marking. The e-mail was a mistake in the sense that I got a snotty reply from my line manager that she couldn't approve me working from home whilst looking after dependants, and that I would have to take one day as annual leave (the other three were put down as carer's leave). I felt a bit annoyed at the time as, if I hadn't done my marking from home (I used nap times and evenings), nobody would have done it for me and the deadline was close. But never mind!

So how do you deal with this? Say nothing and just 'work from home' (unless you have teaching)? How do your institutions deal with this? I actually think that my current line manager, who has kids himself, will be much more flexible with all this.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 22-Sep-17 08:39:44

I don't know if this helps, but when my newborn was ill in hospital, I was due to do some teaching. My colleague who'd arranged the teaching discovered the situation and point-blank refused to let me do it (in a very nice, 'no way are you doing this for me, I will sort it' way). It is different because I was (and am) freelance, but her attitude was very much that it would have been unprofessional of her to expect anyone to prioritise work over a sick child when she could find a suitable alternative situation. She said it would be bad professional ethics.

UAEMum Fri 22-Sep-17 08:41:06

I would just work from home.

user918273645 Fri 22-Sep-17 10:48:44

I think it is very much dependent on your institution.

I've heard that some UK universities are getting much stricter about academics filling in time sheets, reporting holiday days and sick days. In such places you probably can't deal with it informally.

But most departments would still deal with this in a common sense way internally, and not involve HR.

geekaMaxima Fri 22-Sep-17 17:25:15

If I think it's going to be just for one day, and I have teaching or a committee/dept meeting that day, I'll usually take annual leave. However, because our admin/HoD has been known to get snotty about people taking annual leave during teaching term (for no good reason - it's not university policy), I have also taken sick leave, especially where it was 2-3 days rather than one day.

Mostly, if no teaching or meetings, I tend to say nothing. I have no contracted hours, after all.

Summerswallow Fri 22-Sep-17 19:05:31

My institution is hands off and has no interest on what we do on a daily basis, just has a huge workload which would require you to work more than full-time which means you end up having to work long hours anyway.

So, if I'm ill or the children are ill I just work from home or don't work much at all, work sitting up in bed, don't tell anyone. I wouldn't report sick unless off for weeks. If I'm teaching I try very very hard not to be ill and to get cover for the children who are older now, when they were little I used to emergency call my family if they were suddenly ill, and if push came to shove, just reschedule my class. That's once in a year though, hardly ever.

Meetings I'd just email to say I'm ill and can't come in, or children now ill can't come in, this is quite normal at my work- I wouldn't give a reason unless I was very important in the meeting, which I am usually not! Otherwise 'sorry for short notice, I won't be able to come due to sickness' would cover it. No-one wants a sick colleague.

MaverickSnoopy Fri 22-Sep-17 19:16:59

I worked in University HR up until a few months ago. Our academics were always accountable for themselves. They often worked from home and didn't have to report in ill or that their children were ill. Some would mention in passing but nothing was reportable. If they were on an EU grant and doing timesheets then everything got marked down with their hours as worked unless they took the day off as annual leave.

In your shoes I would suss out your new manager when your child/you were not ill so you can make sure you're on the same page.

Marasme Sat 23-Sep-17 11:57:59

I don't report since I am always working in some way (weekday / WE / hols).

However, if my line manager had make me be accountable like yours did, I am afraid I would make a point of doing NOTHING on these days. The main reason I am still in this career is the relative flexibility and lack of accountability - the day this goes, I go.

geekaMaxima Sat 23-Sep-17 15:13:14

There is creeping culture change in many universities towards properly documenting sick leave, annual leave, etc. In my present institution, it's presented as a wellbeing thing, encouraging academics to take their full holiday entitlement for the sake of their mental health, and to document sick leave so if (for example) an academic has multiple cases of stress-related leave they can use it as a reason to request flexible working or reduced hours, etc.

I think I see where they're coming from but I doubt the motives. I preferred the benign neglect of my previous institution where no one would notice if you disappeared until you didn't turn up for teaching a month later. shock

try2hard Sat 23-Sep-17 15:15:59

I'd just take the day and not tell anyone. I've been off with flu before though for 2 weeks and rather than cover me they just rescheduled all my teaching for when I returned (and didn't asks me when I could return) meaning I went back before I was fully better and had x3 the workload that week!

NeverEverAnythingEver Mon 25-Sep-17 12:40:19

geeka I doubt the motive too. These days we are asked about annual leave, like there is actually a period of a few continuous days where you are not harassed by somebody who expects an instant reply.

dodi1978 Mon 25-Sep-17 13:05:16

Interesting answers, thank you!

Yes, generally it is also my policy to not say anything and just work from home. That is, unless I have teaching! If I have to stay home on a teaching day, it'd be tempted to lie in the future and to say I am ill in order to not count down too much on my three-a-year paid carer's days (I'd like to reserve these for more long term things such as chickenpox).

The related issue is your own sick days. Whilst, on average, I think I've had about one sick day a year since I've been at my current university, I have normally, unless absolutely unable to, come in to teach, knowing that, if I don't, I then have horrible catch up days / weeks. Two years ago, I then reported in sick the next day (although I was actually feeling better that day) just to catch up with myself.... and on sleep!

NeverEverAnythingEver Mon 25-Sep-17 13:50:31

If I teach I would do almost anything to turn up, because rescheduling is next to impossible. In 13 years of teaching-with-kids I've never cancelled a lecture. Though I've taken sick DC to lectures before...

murmuration Tue 26-Sep-17 07:17:36

I just suddenly had a freak out about this, as DD started school and immediately got a stomach bug, so had the 48-hr thing. I'm scheduled heavy teaching during 2 weeks when DH is out of town - as long as DD is at school (minus two late days I still need to sort), it won't be a problem. But I realised - what if she gets a stomach bug? I can't send her to school. And I can't send her anywhere else, either, because of the bug. (Closest family is ~3500 miles away). I'd just have to cancel the teaching, I guess. Fingers crossed it doesn't happen.

I'd approach a fellow academic with the issue, though, not an administrator. I had a similar experience to you, dodi, early on but without the child aspect - I had the flu and was working from home (flu hits me like a load of bricks - usually can't stand, but can work lying down). For some reason the department administrator wanted to talk to me, so I emailed her my home number explaining just that, and she called me. While on the phone she asked how long I'd had the flu and been at home - it was a Tue and I'd gotten sick over the weekend, so I said yesterday too. Then she tells me she's going to put two sick days in my record and to let her know if I was still at home the next day!!! I was WTF?? I'd just spent two days flat on my back with my laptop on my chest working some good 9 hour workdays and she was putting them as days off???? (Nevermind this was back in the days I worked weekends too, so had done the same on Sat/Sun as well) No amount of explaining or logic - I had no reason to be campus, I was working over full time - seemed to get through. Needless to say I didn't report that I was still home ill the next day. And it set in me a healthy fear of communicating with the administrators.

murmuration Tue 26-Sep-17 07:25:23

Actually, thinking further - I would do my best to not cancel, actually, and see if I could get cover instead. I had to get one of the things during those two weeks covered once already (not illness - I was trapped in snow and couldn't get to campus), so have a very detailed write-up of exactly what someone should do for that, plus another one I made for someone doing another component of teaching during my mat leave. The only thing not prepped in that way would be my new lectures (not yet written). I may think seriously about writing enough in the PPT notes that someone else with familiarity with the subject could give them. Hmm. That way I just let the module coordinator (academic) know and also whomever I might find who can lecture for me. Yeah, that's my current backup plan...

NeverEverAnythingEver Tue 26-Sep-17 08:06:46

Murmuration We get emails from colleagues now and then asking for cover - they would always provide notes and details about the lecture. For my old course I had EVERYTHING written down, though I've never had to ask for cover.

That incident with the admin sound awful. Though these days with all the flexible this-and-that they should be more happy for people to work from home. Especially if they are too cheap to provide working space. The bastards. (Bad patch recently with senior management round where I work ...)

Summerswallow Tue 26-Sep-17 08:14:12

I wouldn't get cover for a one-off lecture if I missed it, I record all my lectures so I could put them online if worst came to worst and then see students in office hours if they had further queries. Longer periods, we would have to seek cover, which is just the good will of your colleagues which is why I dread doing it- but people do, say, for funerals/sudden bereavement.

dodi1978 Tue 26-Sep-17 15:16:39

OP here. Argh!

Baby being well again, DS1 vomited at school today. 48 hours exclusion.
Luckily, I can at least stick him in front of the TV.

Tomorrow is induction day though. Whilst the programme director role for the programme I am responsible for is split, and the other PD can easily give the talk by himself, I feel bad for not being there. Do I...

... try to get DH to cover? It's his penultimate day in his old job and he will have to do handovers.
... tell the truth?
... call in sick myself?

If I tell the truth, there is a possibility they are making me take a carer's day, and I would like to save those up if at all possible!

I haven't worked a full productive day in two weeks and am slowly loosing the plot as I am sitting at my laptop every evening to catch up. No exercise, crap eating.

Rant over.

DoctorDoctor Tue 26-Sep-17 15:22:17

Any chance you can split the day with your DH? So you go in for the morning (assuming that's when the talk is) then come home and let your DH go into work for the afternoon. I have done this when I've had teaching in one half of the day and split it with DH so I didn't have to cancel a lecture, but at least both of us were able to show our faces in work.

dodi1978 Tue 26-Sep-17 16:52:51

Unfortunately, the induction talk is in the afternoon, and DH has a long commute, which makes it not worth him going in for the morning only. Luckily he is changing jobs next week and will be much closer! The only option is me going in for the morning and the induction lunch (to chat to the new students) and then let the other PD do the talk in the afternoon.

Argh! I so wanted to go swimming tonight but knowing that I will have at least a day's work to catch up on, if not to, it's not going to happen....

worstofbothworlds Tue 17-Oct-17 16:36:10

Our institution is fairly intrusive but also (at least, latterly) quite sensible.

When DC1 was in hospital, I didn't have any teaching, cancelled some meetings, I took I think 2 days off, both as carer's leave, DH took one ditto (he isn't an academic).
When each DC had chicken pox, one of them was mainly in the Christmas holidays thank goodness, and the other one I think we each took one day AL and one day carer's leave.
And when I had to go and get DC2 from nursery early due to vomiting and temperature I told my department I'd try and get some work done during naptime but if not would catch up after bedtime. It was less than a full day and everyone just said "how very sensible".
I had to stay off the next day too - but DC2 was still very lethargic and happy to potter/have the occasional intervention. I just did not very intensive stuff, worked from home and caught up evening/naptime again.
I rarely do this (as my DCs tend to the dramatic including hospital admission or one one occasion being completely full of beans and yet not allowed to "take exercise" gosh that was fun with a 2 year old) but if you aren't taking the mick they seem OK about it.
They are v keen on you logging all your AL (we think this is a new HR mandate but it also means people are being encouraged to actually take it) and also if you are off site (which I interpret as not being in town - I take my home office to be an extension of my department office)

We also get separate "sick child" leave and "childcare emergency" leave, the latter is only 2 days a year and only 1 day per emergency but has proved helpful for an emergency closure of childcare once.

allegretto Tue 17-Oct-17 16:41:02

I am abroad. My contract includes paid sick leave for my children up to 12 years old but I never use it (or for me) for the odd day as the bureaucracy is too painful (e.g. I need a dr's certificate from my first day of illness which is just about impossible to get - unless you aren't that ill!) I prefer to just tell my students and reschedule if possible.

HouseholdWords Tue 17-Oct-17 20:08:49

We're encouraged to apply for our annual leave properly and I do, because then I can put an Out of Office on my email, basically Fuck Off. In August I have an OoO that asks them to resend any important messages in September.

We have a department policy that you do need to notify our administrator if you're ill, but only if you have to cancel teaching - mainly undergrad or taught Masters (PhD supervision can be done via Skype or rescheduled). Most of us just power through because undergrad teaching is so hard to reschedule. But a couple of years ago, we had an issue with a colleague who was sort of "hiding" a serious illness and missing lots of teaching sessions and causing serious difficulties with a whole year group. This happened three years running. The first 2 years, a part-time colleague covered the teaching - greatly to the detriment of their health, and then when we realised what was happening, I took over cover- to the detriment of my research. Luckily I'm an old work horse, but it was not good for me health wise either. So now, we know about this colleague and we have support for when their health relapses, acknowledged and backed up by HR. That wouldn't have happened if we'd kept on with a somewhat improvised approach to staff illness during the teaching terms.

So there's another angle to informing people about taking sick days. Our case was extreme but it had serious impacts on several staff.

Missing a department-based meeting we wouldn't worry about not working from home because of an ill child. Leaving early fine as well. A meeting outside the Department we'd probably email around the Department to see if someone else could attend, and usually someone volunteers. If not, it's fine to send apologies. I've missed meetings for all sorts of reasons- as long as someone is doing enough of that sort of "service" then there are no grounds for complaint.

So it's quite sensible: if you're not teaching, then do what you need to do from home. I doubt colleagues would cancel teaching for a sick child- they'd bring them in, if they had no other person to help. I've had some lovely times with colleagues' children for the hour they're giving a lecture!

murmuration Tue 31-Oct-17 12:22:31

Oh, my! So I was worried about DD getting a stomach bug. Guess what - DH out of town, and I came down with one. At least this thread had gotten me thinking of the plan - I contacted the module organiser and Director of Teaching and they got someone to cover for me. They want me back as soon as recovered, though - no 48-hr thing at Uni, apparently! Now paranoid DD will get it off me. Hopefully she won't, or will over the weekend.

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