A Guide to Handling Student Absences Due to Minor Illness

Instructors are asked to refrain from general requirements for written excuses from medical personnel for absence due to illness. Many healthy people experience a mild-to-moderate illness and will recover without the need to seek medical attention. University Health Services (UHS) does not have the capacity to provide documentation excusing brief student absences. However, UHS will continue to provide documentation when a student is being treated by Tang for an illness that necessitates a change in course load or an incomplete. 

From time-to-time the Academic Senate has issued guidance concerning missed classes and exams due to illnesses such as influenza advising that students not attend class if they have a fever. Should a student experience repeated absences due to illness, it may be appropriate for the faculty member to ask the student to seek medical advice. The Senate guidelines advise faculty to use flexibility and good judgment in determining whether to excuse missed work, extend deadlines, or substitute an alternative assignment. Only the Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI) can waive the final exam. However, a department chair can authorize an instructor to offer an alternative format for a final exam (e.g., paper, take-home exam) on a one-time basis (http://academic-senate.berkeley.edu/committees/coci/toolbox#16).

Take note that if a student is repeatedly missing class with unexcused absences, it may indicate a deeper problem exists. If you are concerned about a student, or if they are showing any signs of distress, refer to Getting Help for a Student of Concern and the UC Berkeley Gold Folder.

As faculty determine how to excuse missed work, extend deadlines, or substitute an alternative assignment in the event of student absence due to minor illness (or other unexcused scheduling conflict), we have begun to compile a list of examples from colleagues across campus. If you have an effective way of handling student absences due to minor illnesses, we would like to include it as an example on this webpage (see details at the bottom).

Handling Absences on Teaching Days

Unexcused Absences

Many faculty outline in their course syllabus anywhere from 1-3 unexcused absences allowed across a semester (usually equal to, or less than, one week of class). Students may use them for any reason without explanation, but they are only given these few absences and are encouraged to use them in case they find themselves coming down with a minor illness like the cold or flu. If used unwisely and a student gets sick late in the semester, attendance policy penalties are justifiably applied. In fact, some faculty have policies that allow these unexcused absences, but any unexcused absence above that number may result in a reduction of the course grade or failure of the class.

Note that often, unexcused absences are not applicable to defer due dates of assignments, projects, presentations, etc. They are allowed only on instruction days and students are responsible for making up any missed work in line with the Scheduling Conflicts with Academic Requirements Guidelines.

Handling Absences When Assignments are Due

Slip Days

The Department of Computer Science has popularized the use of Slip Days for many of their assigned student projects. Course syllabi often detail how many slip days are allowed for projects assigned throughout the semester (often up to 5 slip days in total). Slip days are used by students to turn in an assignment after the specified due date. They allow students who either have a minor illness, or other schedule issues (I.e. three other projects or exams due the same day), to turn in the assignment late without penalty.

Note that slip days are often not allowed for assignments where solutions or feedback are given that would provide an advantage to those who choose to use a slip day. Most slip days are counted in distinct 24hr blocks, and one minute late is counted as using another full slip day.

It’s always a good idea to be prepared to offer accommodation to students who must miss exams or assignment deadlines due to a more serious illness, such as the flu or an injury from an accident or an assault. Keep in mind that trauma can seriously disrupt a person’s ability to focus and concentrate for a period of time. Have a plan for handling requests to make up work that maintains fairness and equity.  Recognize that in some instances work or exams may simply need to be excused or an alternative assignment substituted.  Consider how you might use educational technologies to allow students to work from home once they are feeling better but are still self-isolating.  This can also be useful for students who are concerned about safety issues secondary to an assault or stalking situation.

*Do you have an effective way of handling student absences due to illnesses? If so, we would love to hear about it and include it as an example on this webpage.

Send an email to teaching@berkeley.edu with a description of your practice/policy and any language used in your syllabus. We want to post it on this page and give you credit for the idea!