Last Updated: 02 March 2020
Getting ill is an unavoidable part of life – even the most conscientious of employees will sometimes need to take a day or two off work because of sickness.
You shouldn’t feel obliged to keep turning up for work if you’re not well enough. It’s generally better for everyone if you take some time off, rather than risk infecting your colleagues or performing poorly.
However, making that call to your boss can be tricky, especially if it’s a particularly busy week or you’ve got deadlines to meet.
In this article, we discuss how to call in sick to work professionally, including things to consider, how and when to contact your boss, and what to say.
The most important thing to consider is your company’s policy on calling in sick. Your employer may have a set protocol dictating who you need to contact about your sick leave – and when and how you need to notify them.
You should also be aware of how many sick days you are allowed per year and if you’ll be paid. In general, if you have worked for an employer for six months or more, you should be eligible for five days’ sick leave, and you may be able to carry unused sick leave over into the next year.
It’s advisable to consult the company handbook or check with your boss early on in your employment, to get familiar with the protocol if and when you need to take a day off.
Depending on the industry you work in and your personal situation, you may also consider whether you can work from home instead of going into the office. This may be a suitable alternative if you are feeling generally OK but want to avoid passing on germs, or if you have to stay at home to take care of a sick child. But you shouldn’t feel obliged to do this.
It’s not always necessary to inform your boss of a sick day by phone, so you may choose to make contact by email or text instead.
The advantage of an email or text is that it’s easier to keep it brief and to the point, and you will avoid being drawn into an unnecessary discussion about the nature of your illness. You can also send it as soon as you have decided to take the day off, rather than waiting for the working day to begin.
On the other hand, a phone call is more personal and your boss may be more convinced of your need to take a day off if they can have a conversation with you.
Try to find out in advance what your boss’s preferred method of contact is in these circumstances. And if there are set company guidelines, then be sure to follow these.
If you are uncertain of the protocol, it is generally best to send an email and then follow up with a phone call. This way you will have covered all bases and can be certain that your message has been received.
Give your boss as much warning as you can that you won’t be coming in. If you can tell them you’re having a sick day the night before, or even as you leave the office, then do so. If not, then call, email or text first thing in the morning, to give them all the time you can to reassign your workload or make alternative plans.
There is no need to go into gory or dramatic details about your illness. You are not required to provide specifics, so simply inform your boss that you are unwell and won’t be in.
Having said that, do try to give them an idea of how long you are likely to be away from work, so that they can make plans accordingly. For instance, if you have food poisoning you may only need a day off; for a broken bone, you may need considerably longer.
If you are too sick to work then your priority (and your employer’s) should be taking the time off that you need to get better. But making any provisions you can to ease the pressure caused by your absence will earn you brownie points with your boss and the rest of your team, and may make your return to work easier too.
If you feel yourself coming down with something then consider writing up a handover and/or letting colleagues know that you might be taking some time off.
When you call in sick, pass on any important information about the day ahead and, if you’re well enough, offer to be available by phone and/or email, or even to work from home.
As mentioned earlier, it is worth familiarising yourself with company policy so you know the correct person to contact in the case of illness. But always consider who else may be affected by your absence – such as fellow team members and other colleagues – and let them know too, or ask for a message to be forwarded on.
This is particularly important if you have a deadline looming or are working on an important project together. Reschedule any meetings you may have and remember to set an out of office message on your email and work mobile, so that anyone trying to contact you during the day is made aware that you’re not available.
If you are off work for fewer than seven days, some employers may ask for confirmation of sick leave once you return. This is called self-certification and the procedure will be agreed with your employer.
You might be asked to complete a form or send details of your absence by email, so make sure you know what is required.
When employees are off sick for more than seven days in a row, they must provide their employer with a fit note (also known as a sick note). These are free and can be provided by a GP or hospital doctor. More information about taking long-term sick leave can be found on gov.uk.
Below we have provided three sample scripts for letting your boss know that you need to take a sick day.
Of course, the precise wording of your phone call, email or text will depend very much on your situation and the company you work for.
These examples aim to provide a useful starting point which can be tailored to your circumstances:
Remember, you don’t need to go into lurid detail. Your conversation or message aims to let your boss know in the briefest terms that you are too ill to come into work, but will do your best to be back in the office as soon as you are well enough.
“I started feeling unwell yesterday evening and feel even worse this morning. I’m not well enough to come to the office and I don’t want to risk passing anything on to others. I’m going to take a day off to get better and, hopefully, I will be OK to come back to work tomorrow.
“I will let [team member] know, too, and will forward on any information they need while I’m off. I will also be available by phone or email if there are any urgent queries. Thank you for your understanding.”
Employees have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with an emergency at home, such as caring for a sick child. As with taking a sick day for yourself, you should let your boss know as soon as possible, providing them with a brief explanation and giving them an indication of when you expect to be back in.
“My daughter has a stomach bug and won’t be allowed to return to school for 48 hours, so I need a couple of days off to look after her. I will be available by phone and email throughout and will do any work I can from home. However, I will need to reschedule my meetings for the next couple of days. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes; I appreciate your understanding.”
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees, including their mental health. There is no legal difference between taking a day off for mental health problems and calling in sick with a physical illness or injury.
If you don’t feel mentally well enough to work, then you should not feel uncomfortable calling in sick. As with any other illness, if you’re just taking a day or two off, you don’t have to provide details or proof to validate your need for a sick day.
“My anxiety levels have been particularly high this week and I know I won’t be performing at my best if I come into work today. I’m going to take the day off to focus on myself and my mental health and, hopefully, I will be back in again tomorrow feeling refreshed. Thank you for your understanding.”
We know there are days when you aren’t actually ill but really need to take time off, for various reasons.
You might be able to take a personal day – or ‘duvet day’ – if your employer offers them as part of their package of benefits. But if this isn’t an option, you may decide to call in sick instead.
In this case, you will still need to follow all the guidelines set out earlier in this article, but there are a few extra aspects to consider too:
Before calling in sick:
Above all, don’t feel guilty about taking a sick day when you need to. Everyone gets ill and a considerate boss will understand that taking a day or two off is far preferable to ploughing on at the cost of your health, and potentially the health of those around you.
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