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Knowing how to call in sick in a professional way not only helps you recover from your illness without extra stress but also keeps your team informed and minimizes the disruptions that absences cause.
What you say and when you ask for sick time will depend on your circumstances, but there are some best practices to keep in mind. We will cover reasons you can call in sick, things to consider before writing your message—such as needing a doctor’s note—and how to contact your employer.
We’ll also provide examples of how to keep your request brief, honest, and informative.
Reasons for Calling in Sick
You can request a sick day if you’re feeling unwell. It’s important you take care of yourself since working while sick decreases your productivity and could make your health worse overall.
If what you have is contagious, coming in sick to work also risks infecting others.
There are many valid reasons to call in sick, including the following.
- You have a viral/bacterial infection
- Your chronic health condition is hard to manage
- You’ve been in an accident
- You need a mental health day
- You have a doctor’s appointment
- You’ve got menstrual cycle pain
- You’re caring for sick family members
- You’re recovering from burnout
Things to Consider When Calling in Sick
Before you make your request over a call or a message, take a few minutes to consider some basic elements about your situation, for instance, what is in your benefits package, how much PTO your employer offers, and how your absence will impact the team.
Here are some examples of things to consider about how to call in sick. Your responses to the questions below can impact the best way to phrase your request.
What is your company’s sick leave policy?
Before calling in sick, you should understand what type of sick leave you’re entitled to. Many companies outline their sick leave policy in the employee handbook, which might explain the specific steps of how to call in sick to work.
Check if you have paid or unpaid sick leave and calculate how many days you have left. A common industry standard is six days of paid sick leave per year for full-time workers.
If you haven’t got any sick leave allowance, you may be able to take days off from your paid time off (PTO) allowance.
🧠 Did You Know?
While there are no federal regulations regarding paid sick leave, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if an employee meets certain criteria. Employees are also eligible to use this time to take care of a sick family member.
To qualify for FMLA, the employer must have at least 50 employees, and the employee:
- Must have worked for their current employer for at least a year
- Worked 1,250 hours or more over the last year
- Work within 75 miles of their home
Is it an emergency?
Emergencies can include being in an accident, being in acute pain, or supporting a family member through a mental health episode. In such situations, you haven’t got much time to spare, so you must make quick decisions.
Let your employer know there’s an emergency—they will likely understand and approve sick time immediately. If it’s not an emergency, think carefully about what your team needs to know about your tasks while you’re away.
How long is the illness likely to last?
Estimate how many days you’ll be off, so your team can plan their workload around remaining resources.
If you’re taking a couple of mental health days, your work could be covered by a colleague or even be put on hold until your return. However, recovering from a serious accident could take several weeks or months, and your employer may need to hire temporary staff to get the work done.
Will you need a doctor’s note?
You may have to visit the doctor and ask for a sick note, depending on your company’s policy and how long you’re away for. Employers don’t usually ask for a doctor’s note for one or two days off, but many require one for absences longer than a week in order to discourage absenteeism.
Check your employee handbook on how to call in sick or speak to your manager if you’re unsure if you need a doctor’s note.
Do you need someone to cover your tasks?
Enabling your team to continue their workflow as planned is a great example of work ethic—if your health allows it. Identify your closest team members and delegate, inform, or delay.
Delegate tasks that need to be done, such as field duties and logistics. Inform team members about processes and customer details in case a less experienced colleague needs to step in. Delay any non-business critical activity that can wait until you’re returning to work.
Who needs to know you’re off sick?
In most cases, telling your line manager is enough. But, sometimes, you also need to inform an HR representative so that they can track your sick days. To find out who you are contractually obligated to notify about sick leave, consult your employee handbook or ask your manager.
If your company uses software that manages time off, such as Connecteam, you can request time off within the software, and it will automatically be sent for review to the right person in the organization.
Approve Time Off Requests With Just a Click
Customize time off policies and get an overview of who’s in and who isn’t using Connecteam’s time management software.
When to Call in Sick
You should ask for sick leave as soon as you know you need it. For example, you could notify your team several weeks in advance if you’ve had surgery scheduled. Or, in cases where you can feel the flu coming a day before it starts, you can call in sick as a precautionary measure.
However, many illnesses and injuries don’t give warnings. In a last-minute situation, try to let your company know at the beginning of the day you wish to take off. It’s also reasonable to leave during the workday if your poor health is making you unproductive or risks infecting others.
Sometimes, calling out of work isn’t necessary if you can work from home, so this may be an option to explore. For example, if you normally work in a hospital, you might be able to take calls with patients from home.
How to Contact Your Employer
Where you inform your boss that you’re sick can make all the difference. Make sure it’s a channel they regularly use, whether it’s email or text, or they could miss your message.
For best results, use their preferred communication method. Call your boss if it’s how they confirm team availability. The advantage of a phone call is that you can be sure they’ve received it, but its downside is you might be asked follow-up questions.
Email is also a valid channel on which you request time off, and you’re less likely to be put on the spot. Or, if your manager prefers text messaging, this may be an efficient way to get the message to the right person while letting them respond when they’re ready.
📚 This Might Interest You:
We wrote a guide on how to write a PTO-request email and even included some examples for you.
A basic example of texting in sick is, “I’m not feeling well today, so I’m going to take a sick day. I’ll probably be better by tomorrow.”
You may also have to update your availability on your company’s time-tracking software if your company uses one.
💡Pro Tip for Managers:
Take advantage of a time off app, like Connecteam, to manage PTO requests and approvals. Employees can easily request time off, view remaining vacation days, and receive notifications, and you can keep track of it all on one single platform.
What to Say When Calling in Sick
There is no exact right way of how to call in sick, as this depends on your circumstances, company culture, and your relationship with your boss. No matter what channel you use, it’s a good idea to consider their personality when crafting your request. Are they the type of person who needs fewer details or more context?
Also, check whether your company’s sick leave policy requires you to seek your manager’s approval or simply to inform them of the sick day. If requesting approval, you can write something like, “I’d like to day the day off to recover. Can you approve this, please?” Otherwise, inform them by saying, “I’d like to take the day off and I believe I have three sick days left for this year.”
While every situation is unique, the tips for calling in sick below can help create professional messages for most employees.
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If you manage a team, you may be interested in how to handle last-minute sick calls from your employees.
Contacting your employer as soon as you know you’ll need time off contributes to how the message is received.
For example, “I need to be with my father while he’s having surgery,” may be met with more understanding if it’s said two weeks before the event rather than on the day itself because surgeries are often scheduled in advance.
You may feel the urge to exaggerate your illness, but try not to do this. For example, “This is the most terrible illness I’ve ever had,” is likely to sound unprofessional and untrue.
Instead, be honest about how you’re feeling, as this helps build trust with your team.
For instance, you can say, “I need to take a personal day to deal with some issues which are causing me anxiety. I’ll be back at work tomorrow, when I can be more productive.”
Remember that your online activity while off sick, including social media posts, might be visible to work colleagues. While you don’t have to censor yourself, consider whether a certain caption or photo could be misinterpreted.
Keep it short
Keep your request as short as possible while covering everything that’s relevant to your circumstances. Don’t go into too much detail about your illness, as it can put some people off.
For example, say, “I woke up with a cold and a stomach bug, so I’m not coming into work today in case it’s contagious,” but don’t add how high your temperature is and what medication you’re taking.
Give your team an idea of when you’ll be back at work, as this helps them plan. For example, if you’re having a standard outpatient hospital procedure, your doctor should indicate how long the recovery period will be.
An example of confirming availability is, “I injured my knee while ice skating this weekend. My doctor said I should take the day off and rest. But I hope to be feeling better by tomorrow.”
You can also mention whether you will be checking emails or your workplace’s internal communications app or doing any small tasks while on leave.
Mention task status
If the task you were doing when you became ill is critical to the team’s workflow, you should provide your team with information so they can deal with it in your absence.
Then, let your manager know the status of the task by saying, for example, “I’m about halfway through completing my part of the project. I’ve asked Jane to cover for me today and tomorrow, and then Peter will take over until I’m back.”
The best way to call in sick to work is informed by your circumstances and what is considered professional in your company. However, in most cases, it’s advisable to ask your manager for sick leave as soon as possible, estimate when you’ll be back, and provide relevant job-related information to your team.
When writing or sharing your request over the phone, be honest and keep it brief. For example, “I’m not feeling well today, so it’s best I stay home. I’ll let you know if I’m better tomorrow,” is an acceptable way to call in sick.
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