Ask the Readers: How Can You Get Women to Work on a Day Without Women

I’m a manager in a female dominated profession that serves some of the most vulnerable in our society. March 8 is a protest day in the United States called a Day Without Women. From employee lounge and other overheard hallway conversations, I’ve learned that many of my co-workers plan to be absent on this day and call in “sick.” We have separate vacation and sick time banks. One of my employees has put in for a vacation day on March 8; I have no idea if this is related to the protest or not. When I look at the payroll system, very few employees have put in for vacation on March 8. I expect that there will be multiple sick day call-ins that day.

I have no issue with the protest day itself, and I get that the point is to disrupt the typical work day to showcase the many contributions women make. It will be a struggle to cover everyone who calls in sick that day; my organization will cope, but we’ll ultimately be creating additional work for ourselves over the following week or so as those we did not adequately serve on March 8 get shifted to future days. There may also be a point at which we close our office (we are open to the public on a walk-in basis as well) because we may not meet minimum staffing requirements.

My question is whether I/my organization can require employees who call in sick that day to bring in a doctor’s note affirming that they were actually ill and eligible for a sick day on March 8? Our policy says that we can ask for a note at our discretion, but would this be discrimination? Even if we asked everyone who calls in sick on March 8, male or female? Anyone who can not/does not bring in a note would be charged a vacation day instead.

I’d like to bring this to our director and the other managers so we can have a uniform plan to address this, thanks for your guidance!

I think this is sticky and so I want my readers to respond as well. Please respond readers!

But, here’s what I would recommend: Tell your staff that you love and appreciate them, and that you know how much good they do. But, that said, because you serve people who are in need, having call outs would be damaging to your clientele. Therefore, if anyone calls out sick on March 8, they will need a doctor’s note, otherwise, the absence will be counted towards their vacation.

Frankly, I think you’re being bend-over-backwards generous in allowing them to use a vacation day and not counting it as an unexcused absence. You know your people better than I do, however.

Readers, what say you?

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31 thoughts on “Ask the Readers: How Can You Get Women to Work on a Day Without Women

  1. If the company does not have a policy about requiring a doctor note, it doesn’t seem wise or fair to now require people to provide them.

    1. Thank you! We do have a policy that gives management discretion in asking for a doctor’s note for any absence due to illness. I can think of two times in the five years I’ve been here that this has happened, but I’m not privy to every HR issue, so it may be more than that.

    1. Actually, almost certainly not, because they are not acting regarding the conditions of their employment.

  2. I’m with you — the company is being generous if it does not discipline people who “strike” that day. And I expect to see some well-justified firings, just as we did over “Latino Appreciation Day” a couple of weeks ago.

    Politics becomes the company’s business when it prevents the company’s work from getting done.

    1. Surely it’s not reasonable to fire an otherwise-good employee for a single day’s absence.

  3. I believe that you cannot ask for a doctor’s note for a one day absence in New York City. I believe it would violate the New York City Paid Sick Leave Law. You can charge a vacation day.

  4. In reply to Christine, I do not think this would be protected under the NLRA since they are not protesting a working condition.

  5. I would say that it depends on the Sick Leave Laws of the State or Locality in which you work. Many sick leave laws do not permit employers to request doctor notes. So be sure you look at that first. If your state or locality has no specific sick leave laws, you are probably okay with letting all employees (not just the women) on that particular date know that they will need to provide a doctor’s note for the absence.

    1. I think that’s only in locations where there’s statutory *paid* sick leave. There aren’t that many of them (compared to the overall US population).

  6. I would question any policy that would require a doctor’s note for one day of sick leave. Most people incapacitated for only one day do not go to the doctor, as a condition that transitory — whether it be a headache, digestive upset, or whatever — would, normally, not be serious enough to require a doctor visit. Furthermore, some people suffering from a flare-up of a chronic condition — say, migraine — might already have already obtained the necessary medical guidance and medication, while, at the same time, be incapacitated from making the trip to the doctor’s office. It is also very difficult to obtain a same-day medical appointment at some doctors’ offices, meaning hours of — otherwise unnecessary — time and expense wasted in the Emergency Room, simply to get a doctor’s note. If you trust your employees enough to do the work involved in their job, you need to trust them regarding a one-day absence.

  7. I would probably take a vacation day if I were the employee (easy enough for me IRL, since I don’t have a job right now, LOL). I’m thinking the majority of people planning to strike didn’t want to ask for one, fearing they may be turned down, which is why they want to call in instead.

    Skip the doctor’s note–you’re not going to get them, as they go directly against the strike conditions of no work, no spending money that day, and if it were me, I’d resent having to do that. If you want to let people know they can/should take a vacation day, that would be pretty generous. I imagine you’ll have some workers show up anyway–not everybody can afford to take off, even if they want to, so they will choose to resist in other ways.

    As to folks who don’t think standing up for your basic human rights is important enough to miss work for (or if you can’t miss work), we’ll do it for you. We got your back. #resist

  8. I would say (as long as your state allows this)…anyone calling in sick should have a doctor’s excuse or it would be taken as an unexcused day with no pay. We have the same policy where we can request a doctor’s note at our discretion. An employee should not be dishonest about being sick. No business would willingly allow half their staff to take a vacation day on the same day and be understaffed. So, my opinion is, if you’re willing to inconvenience the underserved, vulnerable people in our society and not show up to work possibly causing their appointment to be cancelled, you can do it with no pay. The employee is truly not doing anything to sacrifice for the cause, if they’re not willing to do it as a day with no pay.

    This is probably not a very popular opinion but I think it’s fair.

  9. I may be a bit more proactive by addressing the staff and asking if women feel discriminated against or unappreciated at work. Actually, I’d be tempted to set a meeting for the 8th to discuss these issues. Employees can protest or be proactive.
    BTW, I’m a woman in the US and I haven’t heard about a women’s walk out on the 8th.

    1. It’s pretty low key so if you don’t agree with the politics you might not have heard of it. The taking of a sick day without coverage is not cool, but asking directly is the way to go. In advance of the day because it doesn’t sound like OP really wants to punish all staff.

      I will be taking a vacation day.

  10. I think past practice may be an issue here. If the OP’s company doesn’t ordinarily require a doctor’s note for a single day’s absence, s/he’s on thin ice requiring it for this event.

    The OP and company may simply need to suck this one up, close down if needed and shift clients to other days. That’s the point of the event. You can only control what you can control.

  11. For employees working in California, which is an at will state, a doctor’s note could potentially be required by an employer dealing with a worker who wanted to claim sick time. Out here, the law heavily favors employers in that regard.

    1. Actually, California is one of the places where you could be getting into trouble doing that, because the DIR says that could be interference with the statutory right to sick leave.

  12. I would recommend a different approach. If the talk is substantial and you are concerned a large population (80%?) of your employees won’t be at work, then why not offer a positive alternative? The company can put out a memo of support stating the company understands many individuals want to participate in the strike however attendance repercussions and the loss of earned time off can be burdensome therefore we we’ve set a demonstration for the lunch hour or another scheduled time to show our support as a company.
    I understand this might set a future precedence for all sorts of protests but from what you say about being a “female dominated” company, this could really unite your staff then show you don’t support them.
    Best of luck!

  13. Of course I think employees should take this as a vacation day! What to do about a large percentage of your staff being out the same day is a challenge. But don’t a lot of companies have policies where people have to request vacation and not everyone can go the same day? What do companies do for popular holidays that everyone wants off? Can’t it be the same policy. For them to lie and say they’re sick isn’t ethical – no matter what day it is. If you have a PTO policy that combines sick and vacation, then we’re back to everyone requesting vacation time on the same day. I am taking a vacation day for the record….

  14. Wow! Just wow! to those who “serve some of the most vulnerable in our society” if they decide to “call in sick” just to make a political point.

    By all means strike if you have unfair or otherwise “needs improvement” work conditions.

    But, to do a work stoppage or other action against the organization and the clientele when they have done nothing to deserve it seems very unfair to me.

  15. I’m going to be political incorrect. If some of the clients stop being able to pay for the company services, would you still send employees to help them? If the answer is no, then telling your staff how much your clients would suffer is emotional blackmail. Many caring jobs are “vocational” and rely in this to underpay and undervalue employees. And usually is women who end in those jobs.

    Now, when women fell that their human rights are under threath, they plan a strike and suddently people remember how dependant are on womens work. And funny enough, some think it’s “unfair”. Why it’s unfair of women to stand for their rights when everyone else just take care of their own? You are so used to women being there and being dependable that you fell is unfair when they chose to walk away. But men do that all the time. They fell they are undervalued and they walk away from that job. They want more and they go into strike or go to another company. Or vote. How is this different?

    Sure, you can ask for a note or even fire them. You can also do emotional blackmail. But at the end of the day the message that your employees would get would be “bussiness is more important than your human rights”.

    Sorry if I’m blunt but strikes are a desperate measure when everything else have fail and aren’t meant to acomodate bussiness. And belive me, your employees know that would mean more work the following week and are willing to asume that cost. This means you have to chose to support your (mostly) female employees and assume those loses or be resented and assume loses on the long run. I’m afraid that is a lose/lose situation.

    Did you considered hiring someone for that day to do those shifts? Maybe that’s an option. But if it’s not, that means firing might be a bad choice and you would have to plan on being shortstaffed that day.

  16. “Day without women?” What pretentious, shroudwaving nonsense.

    Do you really want employees working for you who would, at the drop of a hat, not turn up to work for the current political cause de jour?

    More-so if they’re “planning on calling in sick” on the day instead of booking the day off in advance?

    I’d follow what happened the last time this sort of thing happened – sack them if they don’t have a more genuine reason for calling in sick on the day.

    “It’s about work ethic,” he said by phone Sunday. “They were warned: ‘If you do this, you’re hurting the company, and if you go against the team, you’re not a member of the team.'”

    Deese said they broke company policy by not giving notice and not calling in to say they would be away from work. The employees were given an opportunity to provide a doctor’s note, but failed to do so, he added.

    Why fire them, then?
    “They just forgot about the 50 other people who work here,” he said. “If the cooks don’t show up, then servers don’t have jobs, and customers can’t eat.”

  17. Almost any woman can argue that the one-day strike is to protest working conditions. In almost every job, women are paid less than men, and have to deal with sexual harassment, bias and other unfair practices. In care-giving industries, such as the OPs, the entire industry pays poorly BECAUSE it’s dominated by women who put up with it. This is your chance to be heard and counted. I’m taking the chance and I hope you do too.

    1. “In almost every job…”

      I sense a smidgen of hyperbole there.

      “women are paid less than men”

      No they aren’t:

      “have to deal with sexual harassment”

      In every job? All women? Even the student zombie ‘surveys’ only go as far as 1 in 4 or 1 in 3, with “sexual harassment” defined so broadly that a man merely standing within 3 feet of a woman and looking at her would result in a positive. (

      “bias and other unfair practices”

      You’re just throwing words out, and hoping they’ll ‘stick’ now.

  18. Good grief. Day Without Women?! I’m a woman, and I’m between jobs right now, starting my new job next week. I wish I was already at the new job, so I could defiantly show up tomorrow!

  19. Seriously,

    I think it’s pretentious bull****. I think it demeans women in the workplace.

    I live and work in a very liberal area – but haven’t heard a thing.

    If enough people “sicked” out – I would be definitely be looking at other options.

    1. The main thing for me is the domestic labor, which my husband will be entirely responsible for one day. (He contributes much more than many but still has to be prodded sometimes.) He can handle it. You can consider it pretentious bull**** if you like, I am just tired.

  20. If a company has separate buckets for Sick Time and Vacation/Personal utilizing sick time when you are not sick is fraud. Should the Original Poster’s company require doctor’s notes per their managers discretion policy and make non medically excused absences spend vacation time that would be on the generous side of outcomes.

    For full disclosure (just in case it is not obvious from my name), I am male, father of three daughters who I am raising to be strong, determined, and to have integrity.

    No matter how small, fraud is fraud, misrepresenting personal time as sick time would at a minimum earn you a persistent black mark, identifying you as having less than optimal integrity.

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