Sick Days

Rebecca Nelson Lubin
guest Last week, just before the Christmas holidays hit, so did the dreaded flu. It had been cooking for a while, me and the family I work for have been walking around since Thanksgiving coughing and sneezing and feeling generally like crap. I slugged through my work days, with tissues and hand sanitizer in my pockets, gave up on going to the gym and going out socially, tried to get as much sleep as possible, and spent each morning in a long steamy shower cleaning out my sinuses with a neti pot. I even, as suggested by my housemate, poured a capful of hydrogen peroxide into each ear every morning and let it bubble around for a minute, the theory being that it was killing off whatever virus was attacking my ears, nose and throat, for as she pointed out, it’s all connected in there. Such dramatic measures only seemed to hold the cold at bay, until the weekend before Christmas, when it exploded and I found myself croaking into the phone at 7am Friday morning,

“I’m really sick. Can’t come to work.”

My employer said something very sweet and supportive and after a rather extended couching fit, I crashed back asleep until 3pm that afternoon. I looked at my clock with bleary eyes. Had I just slept eight hours? It was hard to think about. I closed my eyes and woke again at 9pm, had some toast, and went back to bed. By Sunday I was feeling pretty chipper. I phoned my bosses and told them to expect me as usual Monday morning, but when I woke at six, I realized that was not going to happen as I found myself running for the toilet, totally ensconced in phase two of the dreaded flu- pukey time. It lasted a full 24 hours and at times I found myself curled up on my bathroom floor wondering, “How do people deal with this for more than one day?”

My employer sent me encouraging texts. “How r u feeling?”

I texted back “Kill me.”

“Can I do anything 4 u?”

“Make it b 2morrow so I can be @ work.”

The she texted something really nice. She said not to worry. This is what sick days were for, and besides, I still had two left in the year. Stay home and get better.

It is not always like this in the Nanny world. Sick days are usually nowhere in the work agreement. I know I was too na├»ve to even ask for them in my first big time nanny job. It was only after the fact, work agreement agreed to that I said, Uh – what about sick days? My boss told me I wouldn’t need them. Now all the nannies out there know that we work in a profession that puts us in contact with as many germs and viruses as flight attendants and emergency room orderlies. The little monkeys we love and care for are little germ factories, with a finger always up their nose and the entire viral weight of their preschool world on their little shoulders when we pick them up. We care for them when they are sick, we get sneezed on and vomited on and we provide extra hours when their parents fall ill, and then we catch the bug too…and usually get no sympathy. Has any other Nanny than me ever found themselves at one end of the phone, dizzy with fever and begging for a day off to simply be sick and have the time to regain our health? Previous employers I have had have grilled me during these early morning phone calls, making me describe my symptoms in intricate detail, making me feel as if I'm begging for a stay of execution. I have never abused my paid sick days. I follow the guidelines that the schools send home in the beginning of the year newsletters. I stay home if I have a fever, or if I am so obviously contagious I will spread the virus, or if I am so sick, I will not be able to do my job. I mean, isn’t that what it’s all about? Keeping your employees healthy so that they can provide the proper care for the children? It makes sense to me. Employers: Provide your nanny with paid sick days so when the flu and viruses strike, as they tend to do during this cold and flu season, they can stay at home and convalesce without guilt or worse - worry about bills and rent. Trust me – fever and throwing up and a hacking cough are enough. It was amazing last week to have nothing on my mind but the thoughts of getting over my bug. A Christmas miracle, one might say.
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a writer and Nanny who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may read more of her articles at


Nanny in AZ said...

I am a professional nanny and I will only work for families who treat me with such dignity. I require fair wages based on my education, work history, and qualifications (and of course passion for what I do.) Additionally, I require paid sick days, a few personal days paid, all major holidays paid, and 2 weeks paid vacation.

I must say, over the past 7 years I have used VERY few sick days. I never use my personal days but I do use my vacation to recharge (every other year I do humanitarian work in a 3rd World Country).

No family that I have ever worked for would demand I come to work if I was ill enough to call in. In fact, the few times I was severely sick they would ask if there was anything they could do (and one even offered to drive me to the Doctor).

As I always counsel new boils down to respect. Respect yourself and your profession and you will attract those who will respect you. :)

alex said...

It seems so common sense but employers seem to think when you are sick you are still totally okay to work. I know I was speaking to my boss on the phone and was telling her how sick I felt etc. and she honestly could have cared less. Actually, I notice anytime I mention something even just in passing, like "ah I need to go to the clinic I have had this pain all day" she just pretends I didn't say anything. And honestly I think I've said something like that twice in 6 months, but it does bother me that I don't get any reply.

CuriousDad said...

Bosses can be like that in any field. Its never fun.

agreed said...

i've worked at my job for 6 years, probably taken 6 or 7 sick days total and my employer's response is always off the rails furious, and she doesn't work. when I worked part time, no work, no pay.

really weird realm of nannying and very frustrating, thanks for bringing it up for debate.

Texas Nanny said...

I just always start a new job by making sure my new bosses have backup childcare: a family member or friend, one of my friends, or a service they can call.

My job does not provide healthcare, so it's essential that if I start feeling sick I'm able to call in and say "I'm not feeling well. I will be spending the day in bed." And not worry that my employers are left in the lurch. Luckily I have a great immune system so there are rarely issues - I've dealt with 4 sick kids in the last year and only got sick myself one time.

AnnapolisNanny said...

Putting hydrogen peroxide in your ear to prevent ear infections is a myth. Coming from someone who has dealt with chronic ear infections since birth, ENT's, and have even had tubes surgically put in my ears three times, I can tell you h.p. in your ears will do nothing to prevent an ear infection. The infection is caused when your ears won't drain (snot, mucus, etc. from a cold) properly. It gets backed up into the eustachian tube and can cause infection if it stays in there long enough. It really depends on how well your eustachian tubes drain if you are suseptible to ear infections. Just a little FYI.

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

Great, well-written and very entertaining piece!
Regarding sick days, I have always believed it is the family's responsibility to have back-up childcare in case the nanny cannot make it. Nannies are not super-human robots, we fall ill just like the next person does. Especially when we are surrounded by germs all day! I understand that having the nanny not show up leaves the parents in a lurch since they cannot go to work, but it is up to them to plan ahead for stuff like this. Life happens. It's reality.
As a parent, I would not want my nanny showing up ill either. Little kids are so susceptible to all kinds of stuff that whatever an adult has may affect them much worse.
All parents should take heed to what you wrote in your article.

NannyA said...

I think sick days are really important as a nanny. Nannies feel guilty enough taking time off.. they don't need to worry about the family getting angry or not paying them.

I also think it's prudent of nannies to get an annual flu vaccine though!!

NervousNanny said...

I do not have sick days at my job. This last week I had a few days off and I actually spent them sick. In a way I am glad that I was sick during my vacation because then I did not have to miss work.
I am overly cautious about my health. I wash my hands constantly, use sanitizer, and take vitamins. I try to up my vitamin C in the winter especially. Also, I got a flu shot at the request of my boss. So far, this past week is the only time I was sick, and I am so hoping it does not happen again!
I know the parents have a few backup options, but I start at 7:30 in the morning, so I just worry if I have one of those "wake up sick" days....

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

NervousNanny, the fact is that many parents I have worked for hate it when I wake up sick and cannot work that day. They always say to me, "Why didn't you give us at lEAST a 24 Hour notice?" Then they proceed to tell me how much I am inconveniencing them since now they are stuck at home and cannot go to work. And how they have a very important meeting that day and now they might get penalized for not showing up, etc..
Come on. I am sure there are some illnesses that come on strong first thing in the morning. It's not realistic to expect every illness to appear 24 Hours before a work day. Food poisoning is one of them.
It is their responsibility to plan ahead..not the nannies.

anonymous by request said...

I have offered my nannies a 1,000 bonus in addition to pay for their 3 allotted sick days if they do not take them. I have also todl them that if they do come in to work feeling sick, they will not be expected to perform. I know it would be more comfortable for the nanny to be home in bed, and for that I'm sorry, but the reality is as a female executive; I can't call in sick because my nanny is sick. In the past three years, since developing this plan, I have paid the bonuses every year. Last year, my nanny came to work truly too sick to stand. We sent her home in a car service and she still was paid the bonus. There is not much I wouldn't do for my nanny, but I need her to show up as scheduled.

GetOverYourself said...

A bonus is nice, but what would be even better is having BACK-UP childcare. You'd think a 'female executive' would know how to have all the bases covered, rather than simply using money to buy unrealistic expectations. A bonus would be better used as an incentive for nannies to try not to use MORE than the allotted sick time--not to not use ANY. That's just selfish and irresponsible. Even execs get time off, I'm sure. You should be ashamed.

Margo said...

I agree with GetOverYourself. If your nanny was truly ill, why not have a few back-up nannies in your database that you can call when needed? Or try an agency..they can send someone over right away. Or try
Many options exist..instead of making your poor feverish and puking nanny show up.

petra said...

A lot of people don't have back up childcare. Also, keep in mind that some of us may have children that have been victims of bad nannies leaving us unable to dial up a nanny service to send over a stranger for the day. I see no problem with the 1,000 bonus. I don't offer sick days. I do have a back up plan, but it cost me more than my nanny. The nanny knows if she is sick, I need the money to pay for alternate childcare. And cry me a river with all the other benefits she gets such as any lunch she wants to eat any day of the week.

Thandie said...

Petra, you're stupid if you do not arrange a back-up plan for childcare. Then it is your own darn fault if you cannot go to work. Like my mama always told me.."Always have a Plan B in life..ALWAYS."
Enough said.