Whose Job Is It To Find Coverage for Shifts When Employees Call Out?

What do managers do?

In many low-wage service jobs, the managers collect paychecks and berate their employees but don’t do anything close to “managing.”

The disparity is most apparent in shift coverage. Managers make the original schedule (in theory) but refuse to adjust it to their employee’s needs.

Workers who need a day off are out of luck. They must swap shifts or find a replacement on their own. 

The “finding coverage” idea applies to everything, from needing a Saturday off for a wedding to an entire vacation and even taking a sick day. 

Workers Think It’s Ridiculous

A user of the popular R/antiwork community on Reddit posted a vent about the common practice, calling it absurd. 

“How am I supposed to find someone in less than an hour when there are only some people with available phone numbers, half of the people I text are busy, and a third of them don’t respond because I only gave them an hour’s notice?” they asked. 

Managers know how difficult it is to find coverage at the last minute, so they offload the responsibility to their employees. 

They don’t want to do it, but they also don’t want to be short-staffed. If the onus is on the employee, they must come in if they don’t find coverage or face disciplinary action. 

If You Can’t Find Coverage, You Must Come In

Most low-wage workers can’t afford to lose their jobs, so they come in if they can’t find a replacement. 

It works for the managers who get a fully staffed store, but it is terrible for employee wellness. 

It’s also terrible for the customer. 

The closer to a shift, the harder it is to find a replacement. A worker who wakes up with a cold an hour before their shift starts is the least likely to find coverage. They must either come in or risk their job. 

When they choose to come in, they risk infecting their coworkers and customers. The illness spreads throughout the community because a manager refused to step up and manage their schedule. 

Employees Deserve Time Off

Although forcing employees to come in when sick is the most glaring problem, we can’t negate the impact on employee well-being and work-life balance

No one’s job owns them (except the military). People should be free to have lives outside of work. If someone needs time off for family events, vacations, or any other reason, they should be able to have it, no questions asked. 

Many managers don’t consider their employees’ needs when making the schedule. Requests for time off go unheeded. Even requesting months in advance won’t guarantee the day off. 

Work Needs People

We understand that most companies need workers to function, and when employees need time off, it affects operations. 

It’s also true that some service workers don’t care about their jobs. They constantly call in sick and request weekends off, refusing to work any shift they don’t like. 

But Who’s Responsibility is Coverage?

Coverage should not be an employee’s responsibility. If a business doesn’t have enough people to cover sick and vacation days, it needs to hire more people, not burn out its employees. 

Managers must address individual employees who abuse sick leave and time off requests, not offload their scheduling responsibilities to everyone else. 

Who is Responsible for Scheduling?

Most employees aren’t in charge of scheduling; that’s a management function. Managers decide who works what shifts, which shifts need extra people, and how to run their store best. 

A good manager would work with their employees to ensure appropriate coverage while offering everyone the best work-life balance, but as we all know, good management is tough to find. 

Instead, managers fill the schedule however they see fit, refusing to engage employees in the process. If an employee doesn’t like it, it’s up to them to find a swap. 

Managers Should Step In

Sometimes, an employee calls in sick shortly before their shift, and finding coverage is impossible. In these cases, the manager should step in.  They could work the shift or accept that the staffing will be low and find ways to deal with it. 

The manager’s job is to ensure the shift runs smoothly, not the employee’s.  

But Legally, They Don’t Have To

Unfortunately, US labor laws do not protect employees forced to do their manager’s jobs. 

“When you call in sick or need to have off for any reason, there is nothing in the law, federal or state, that prohibits a manager from asking you to find a replacement,” says Martin Gasparian, owner and attorney at Maison Law.

Gasparian believes there should be worker protections in extenuating circumstances. Companies shouldn’t be able to penalize employees for calling off if they’re incapacitated or suffer a massive upheaval, like a death in the family. He says if they are, they should raise the issue with their supervisor and go to HR if it isn’t resolved. 

Min Hwan Ahn, Attorney at Ahn Law Firm, agrees this practice has no legal limits but says employees may have recourse in certain situations. 

“If an employee’s job description or contract clearly outlines their duties and finding shift coverage isn’t included, a manager repeatedly asking them to do so could be seen as a unilateral change to the terms of employment,” he says. 

Ahn also says asking employees to find their own coverage could be considered an unreasonable or undue burden in certain circumstances, and some employees may have recourse under laws prohibiting retaliation or discrimination, especially if they take leave under protected programs like FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act).

Work Culture Makes It Employee’s Responsibility

America’s toxic work culture ensures employees get the short end of every stick. They have management responsibility without getting paid and limited options for taking time off, even when sick. 

Employees must push back on toxic management practices. Change will only come when we come together and collectively demand better working environments.