(MoneyWatch) "My boss doesn't believe I had the flu, and that was the reason I missed a week of work. What should I do?"
A reader sent me this question last week, and it occurred to me that during this already record-breaking flu season this issue is going to come up in offices across the country. So I asked career expert Caroline Ceniza-Levine, partner with the SixFigureStart career consulting firm in New York for her advice. Although the answer will certainly depend on your particular relationship with your boss, here are some things she says to consider.
Know your office guidelines for illness. If your office only asks for your honesty, great. "But there are many workplaces where absence over consecutive days requires a doctor's note," notes Ceniza-Levine. Try not to take it personally. "There are good reasons for employers to require medical documentation of prolonged absence. They need to set standards for all to follow so as not to appear as if they are treating some people preferentially over others," she says. Some doctors may write a note after documenting a phone call with you, but most will need to see you.
Share your perspective. If your boss is aggravated by your sick days, he or she may simply be irritated with a string of unexplained absences in your group. If you can't document your illness (and you don't look particularly ill once you're back), you'll want to share why you didn't push yourself to come in. "Gently remind him or her that you didn't want to infect others and have the group fall further behind. There are ways to make a strong case that don't require you making your boss feel bad and putting him or her on the defensive," Ceniza-Levine says.
Come back with a catch-up plan. Your boss wants your work to get done, so on your first day back explain how you'll get back on track, Ceniza-Levine says. Ask for an update on things that have come up while you were out, summaries of meetings you missed and about any concerns they might have -- and address them.
If you follow company protocol, show your reasoning and minimize any interruption to the flow of work but your boss is still giving you a hard time, you may have to speak to HR and try to move to a different team. You might even need to start looking for a new job.
"Yes, you need to take care of your health, and in an ideal world employers would wholeheartedly support this, but that may not always be true. You need to decide how you want to respond in that event," Ceniza-Levine says.
Has your boss ever held a sick day against you? Please sign in and share in the comments section.
© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.