How to Call in Sick to Work

Image shows a woman in bed with a teddy bear and her laptop; she's on the phone and on her nightstand is a cup of tea and some medication. Text reads: "Tips for calling in sick to work: contact your boss ASAP; keep it brief; let your team know; explain your availability; mention any important information; provide follow-up documentation"

Jo Zixuan Zhou / The Balance

Everyone has days when they feel too sick to go to work. Many of us also have days when we need time off but aren’t actually sick. Sometimes, we may use sick days to cover the gap.

It’s more common than you might think. A Zippia survey reports that 52% of respondents have faked sickness to get out of work.

What's the best way to notify your manager that you won't be in? Whether or not you are actually sick, the process of calling in sick to work is the same. You want to let your boss know as soon as possible and keep the explanation of your illness (or fake illness) very brief.

Follow company policy and guidelines when there is a set protocol for calling out sick. Some companies have a limit on the number of sick days you can take or rules regarding who you should notify and when you need to advise the company that you won't be in. Not following those guidelines could be grounds for dismissal.

Paid vs. Unpaid Sick Leave

Will you get paid for the time you are out sick? That depends. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, including sick leave, personal leave, and vacation time. However, many employers provide paid sick days to employees.

How Many Sick Days Do Employees Get?

A Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey reported that 78% of civilian employees had access to paid sick leave in 2020. The BLS survey reports that, on average, workers in private industry received eight days of sick leave per year. Most workers with paid sick leave receive a set number of days per year. About a third have access to leave through a consolidated bank of paid time off.

How to Notify Your Boss

It's important to choose the right method for contacting your boss. While people use the phrase “call in sick,” you might not actually need to call your boss on the phone. Instead, you might send an email, a letter, or even a text. The Zippia survey reports that 53% of workers call in sick on the phone, while only 25% send a text.

Make sure you know what your boss’s preferred method of contact is. Check out some sample sickness and absence excuse letters and emails to help you write your own.

Tips for Calling in Sick to Work

Regardless of why you’re calling in to work, observe a few guidelines:

Call as Soon as Possible

Let your boss know about your illness as soon as possible. If you are feeling ill the night before and know you won’t make it in to work, you can send your boss a message that evening. Otherwise, tell your boss first thing in the morning.

Keep It Brief

Don’t go into great detail about your illness. No one wants to hear the specifics of your flu or stomach virus. Keep your message short and to the point.

Let Your Team Know

Consider sending another message to your department or team, letting them know that you will be absent. This is especially important if you are working on a team project or have a deadline coming up. Make sure they know you will not be available that day.

Explain Your Availability

Let your employer (and perhaps your team members) know if you will be able to respond to email or do any other work while you are home sick. If you are too sick to check your email, say so.

Mention Any Important Information

Similarly, let your boss and your team know if there is any information they will need to know for that day. For example, you might tell your boss, “I am sorry I am missing the staff-wide meeting at 2 p.m., but Ellen should have all of the data from our department.” This kind of information will keep others from struggling in your absence.

Follow Up

Make sure you know whether your company requires you to complete any sort of follow-up documentation. For example, some companies require employees to bring a doctor’s note to prove that they were ill.

Tips for Calling in Sick When You Just Need a Day Off

What if you don’t feel sick, but you simply need a day to relax and recharge? Your best option is to take a personal day. However, not all employers offer these. For example, many retail and other hourly jobs do not offer personal days.

In that case, one option is to call in sick. If you do so, you will still want to follow all the same steps. However, there are a few more things you will want to keep in mind.

Think About Your Timing

It is easier to convince your boss you are really sick when you pick a random workday. However, if you pick a Monday or Friday (or a day right before or after a holiday), your boss might be suspicious that you are simply trying to extend your weekend. If you don’t care which day you take off, you might try a day between Tuesday and Thursday.

Avoid a Phone Call

Unless you are confident you can lie to your boss over the phone, you might want to avoid a direct conversation with him or her. Instead, send an email or text (whatever is preferable to your employer). If your boss would prefer a phone call, try calling early in the morning—it will increase your chance of being able to leave a voicemail instead of speaking to your boss directly.

Keep It Very Brief

You always want to keep a call about your absence brief, but in this case, keep it very brief. The more you talk, the more you will be lying, and the better your chances are of getting caught.

Simply say you are calling in sick. If your boss asks more questions, answer them, but keep your answers short. There are some excuses that work better than others when you need a day off from work, or when you need to leave work early.

Don’t Tell Anyone You Lied

Don’t tell any of your coworkers that you were not really sick. Even if they are your friends, you run the risk that one of them might tell your boss (on purpose or even by accident).

Be Careful with Social Media

A lot of employees have gotten caught faking an illness due to social media. They say they are sick, then they post a picture of their day at the beach, and their boss finds out. Avoid posting anything about your fun day off on social media. This will prevent any information from getting back to your boss.

Work Hard Afterwards

After taking a day off work, you always want to work hard to catch up on any projects. This is especially the case if you took a secret personal day. Show your boss that you are still a committed team member who can work hard and get the job done.

Key Takeaways

  • Federal law does not require employers to offer paid sick leave; however, many companies do offer paid time off for illness.
  • If you need to take sick time, follow company guidelines and your manager’s preferences as to how and when you communicate your situation.
  • It’s best to take a personal day if you need time off when you are not ill.
  • If you need to use sick leave to cover personal time off, don’t tell anyone at work that you’re not really sick.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.