Communicating Employment Status Publicly

Shawnee Love   •   August 21, 2020

Employment status is one of those things which is supposed to be a private matter between the employer and worker.  However, it is usually fairly obvious when someone is actively working for an organization.

Thus, many employers struggle with what to do when someone isn’t at work or unavailable, and co-workers want to know why?

Additionally, causes for celebration such as births, vacations, weddings, moving on for exciting new opportunities, etc. are often shared without hesitation, so when the boss simply says a person isn’t going to be in the office “for the foreseeable future”, it is only natural for coworkers to:

  • Be a bit curious,
  • Conclude the reason for the absence isn’t celebratory.

If workers jump to conclusions (check out our blog for help curing that practice), they may come to you out of concern for whatever they assume happened to their poor colleague (death or illness of a loved one, personal illness or injury, termination of employment, etc.).

If that wasn’t enough, currently employers are navigating workers that refuse to return to work and/or issue ultimatums regarding when and how they may return to work due to fears about Covid.

These refusals are creating division amongst coworkers regarding the validity of concerns and perceived fairness of workload not to mention judgments about work ethic and these discussions inflame interest in the employment status of the absent co-worker and so it goes.

Here is what I recommend when someone isn’t at work for whatever reason:

  1. Simply say that the person isn’t at work and you will provide an update when you can.
  2. If the employee gave consent to speak about the reason(s) why s/he is away, feel free to share as much as appropriate. Remember, for the most part, personal information is “need to know” and if the coworkers have a good relationship with the person who is away, they will likely know the story already. If you don’t have consent, stop at point 1.

If you stopped at point 1, but you get pushed for more information, it’s okay to say the polite version of “mind your own business” by saying they are requesting personal information which is not yours to share.

As an aside, if you want to watch a short video regarding the responsibility to return to work post COVID, check out this informative video from a employment lawyer in Ontario.