How to Call in Sick to Work in 2022
Illness is an inevitable part of life. Even the most conscientious of employees will occasionally need to take time off work due to sickness, even if it’s the last thing they had planned.
There are several reasons why you may not feel able to attend work and want to call in sick.
- You are feeling generally unwell and unable to attend work
- You are physically unwell with a contagious illness
- You are suffering from food poisoning
- You have a physical injury
- You are hospitalized
- You need to attend a medical or doctor’s appointment (in some cases, your boss may require you to take a different type of leave to cover this)
- You have a long-term disability or medical condition that is affecting your ability to carry out your daily activities
- You require a mental health day
- You have stomach cramps
- You are pregnant and feeling unwell
- You are experiencing serious menopause symptoms
- You are taking time off to look after sick family members
- You need to attend a job interview
- You just want a day off work
If you are not feeling well enough for work, you should never feel obliged to attend. In most cases, it’s better for you to take some time off, instead of risking infecting your colleagues, performing poorly, or in extreme cases, experiencing burnout.
However, making that phone 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 what to consider, how and when to contact your boss, and exactly what you should say.
The most important thing to consider is your company’s policy on calling in sick or missing work.
Your employer may have a set protocol to outline who you need to contact regarding sick time, as well as how and when you should notify them.
You should also find out how many sick days you are allowed per year, and whether you will be paid for time off sick.
In the UK, you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Check your employment contract to find out whether you are entitled to any contractual sick pay benefits.
You can self-certify your absence for the first seven days, but you will be required to provide a doctor’s note (GP fit note) if you are unwell for more than seven days (this includes non-working days like weekends and public holidays).
In the US, only around 68% of civilian workers are entitled to some form of paid sick leave.
The average entitlement is eight days per year, although some employers do not specify a maximum number of days. Check your employment contract to learn more about your entitlement to sick pay.
You may be allowed to carry forward any unused sick leave into the next leave year.
It’s advisable to consult the employee handbook, read the employee absence policy or check with your boss early on in your employment. This will ensure you are familiar with the protocol if and when you need to take time off sick.
Depending on your job role, industry and personal situation, you may be able to work from home or take vacation days instead of attending your usual place of work.
This might be a good option if you are recovering from a contagious illness but want to avoid passing on any germs, or if you need to be at home to take care of sick family members or relatives.
However, you should not feel obliged to work from home if you are not feeling well enough to do so.
This will depend on your location and contract of employment.
In the UK, at the time of writing, you are entitled to £99.35 per week SSP if you are unable to attend work due to sickness. This is paid by your employer for a maximum of 28 weeks.
To be eligible:
- You must have employee status
- You must have already completed some work for your employer
- Your average earnings must be a minimum of £123 per week
- You must have been unwell for at least four consecutive days (including non-working days like weekends and public holidays). The only exception to this rule is if you have tested positive for coronavirus, when you will be eligible for SSP from your first day of sickness absence.
You may also be eligible for company, contractual or occupational sick pay, although this varies between employers.
If your employer offers a company sick pay scheme and you are entitled under its terms, you should be paid for time off sick in accordance with this. Otherwise, your employer should pay SSP if you meet the eligibility requirements.
Company sick pay schemes offer an enhanced level of sick pay when compared to SSP. Your employer can offer any sick pay scheme they see fit, providing it is not lower than the legal minimum.
The details of any company sick pay package you are entitled to must be provided to you in writing, during the first two months of your employment.
If a company sick pay scheme is not offered, this should be set out in writing within your written contract or employment particulars.
In most cases, employees will be eligible for company sick pay after a minimum period, such as an induction or probationary period. Many employers offer an initial period of full sick pay, followed by a further period during which you will receive only half pay.
The US does not have a federal law requiring paid sick leave. However, 16 US states have laws in place to mandate paid sick leave, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington.
23 cities and two counties also have the same laws, with others expected to follow suit in the future. These laws allow an employee to be paid when taking time off to look after sick family members. In some states, this extends to caring for a close friend.
Every state’s sick pay provision is different, so it is important to check the terms and conditions of employment outlined in your contract or company handbook.
Some state laws provide time off for people affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. This is sometimes referred to as ‘safe time’ or ‘safe leave’, which allows an employee time off to attend court, move home, attend counseling or receive other support.
Some employers work out an employee’s entitlement to paid sick leave according to the number of hours that they work each week. In other cases, they will withdraw the funds from a ‘bank’ of sickness pay that is front-loaded at the beginning of each financial year.
If you work for a company that does not provide entitlement to paid sick leave, you will be expected to take unpaid leave for serious illnesses under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
It’s not always necessary to inform your boss of a sick day by phone but this will depend on company policy. If a phone call is not required, you may choose to make contact by email or text instead or leave a message on a central voicemail system.
The advantage of an email or text is that it's easier to keep your message brief. Unlike a phone call, you can avoid being drawn into an unnecessary discussion about the nature of your illness.
You can also send an email or text message 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. Your boss may be more convinced of your need to take a day off if they can have a conversation with you.
If you are making a phone call to your boss, be sure to use the appropriate phone etiquette.
It is important to find out your boss’s preferred method of contact in these circumstances. If your company has guidelines on calling in sick, be sure to follow these carefully.
If you are unsure of the protocol, it is best to send an email and follow up with a phone call. This helps to cover all bases, and you can be certain that your message has been received.
While some bosses might just say that they hope you feel better soon, others may require further information from you.
It is reasonable for your boss to ask for more information about the reason for your absence. If they do, you only need to give a brief, general explanation of the problem (for example, that you have a migraine, you are recovering from a gastrointestinal virus or you are taking care of your sick child).
They might also ask how long you expect to be absent or when you hope to be able to return to work.
In the US, if the reason for your absence relates to a medical condition protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your boss should only ask job-related questions that are necessary in a business context.
For example, if you need to attend a hospital for specialist treatment relating to an ADA-protected illness or you need to spend time in a mental health facility, your employer can only ask when you expect to return to work.
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 provides additional protection to employees with a disability or long-term health condition.
Some employers categorize disability-related sickness absence differently from regular sick leave, but many do not.
However, the Equality Act 2010 sets out the requirement for employers to offer reasonable adjustments, such as time off for appointments and flexible working arrangements for employees with a disability.
To be protected, you must have made your employer aware of your disability or health condition.
Provide as much notice as possible that you won’t be attending work.
If you can tell your boss that you will be taking a sick day the night before, or even as you are leaving the office, then do so.
Otherwise, call, email or text first thing in the morning. This will allow them sufficient time to reassign your workload or arrange cover.
Although sickness can mean a last-minute absence is unavoidable, do what you can to help your team prepare for your absence whenever possible.
There is no need to go into gory or dramatic details about your illness. Simply give a brief reason for your absence and explain that you won’t be at work.
Try to give some indication of how long you expect to be off work. This will ensure they can make plans accordingly.
For instance, if you have food poisoning, you might only need one day off to recover. If you have broken a bone, you will probably need considerably longer.
If you are not well enough to attend work, then your priority (and your employer’s) should be allowing you the time off you need to recover. However, making any provisions you can to ease the pressure caused by your absence will be appreciated by your boss and the rest of the team. It may also make your return to work easier.
If you feel as though you are coming down with something, consider writing up a handover and/or letting colleagues know that you might need to take some time off.
When calling in sick, pass on any important information about the day ahead. If you’re feeling well enough, offer to be available by phone and/or email, or even to work from home.
If you are happy to be contacted while off sick, explain your availability, setting out exactly when and how you wish to be contacted.
For example, you might agree to answer phone calls during the morning between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and check and reply to emails between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Be specific and try not to overcommit as this could compromise your recovery from the illness.
Always ensure that you are familiar with the company policy on sick leave. This will set out who to contact in the case of illness. This could be your boss or human resources.
However, you should always consider who else might be affected by your absence (for example, fellow team members, external stakeholders and colleagues in other divisions).
You can either let these people know about your absence directly or ask for a message to be passed on.
This is especially important if you have an upcoming deadline or you are working with others on an important project. Remember to reschedule any meetings and set an out-of-office reply on your email and work mobile so that anyone trying to contact you knows that you’re unavailable.
If you enjoy using social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, it pays to be considerate about what you post when off sick from work.
This is especially true if you are taking time off from work when you are not actually sick.
Remember that if you are ‘friends’ with or ‘followed’ on social media by your boss or work colleagues, they will be able to see everything that you post.
For this reason, it is not sensible to post updates of nights out or trips to the beach when you're off sick from work.
The best approach is to avoid posting anything on social media when you are taking sick leave from work. This will avoid anyone questioning your honesty and integrity.
If you are absent for under seven days, some employers will ask for confirmation of your sick leave upon your return.
This is called self-certification and the exact procedure will be set out by your employer.
You might be required to complete a form or send details of your absence by email, so make sure you know what is required.
You may also be required to participate in a return to work interview.
In the UK, if you are absent due to sickness for more than seven days in a row (including non-working days such as weekends and public holidays), you must provide a doctor’s note (also known as a Fit Note or sick certificate).
These are usually free and can be provided by a GP or hospital doctor. You can find out more information on long-term sick leave in the UK on the gov.uk website.
Below, we have provided sample scripts and advice for letting your boss know that you need to take a sick day.
Remember that the precise wording of your phone call, text or email will depend on your situation and the company you work for.
Our examples are here to provide you with a useful starting point, which can be tailored to your circumstances.
Remember, there is no need to go into lurid detail. Your conversation or message should aim to inform your boss in the briefest terms that you are too ill to attend work, but you will do your best to return to the office once you are feeling well enough.
You may wish to let them know if you have booked a doctor’s appointment.
I started feeling unwell yesterday evening, and I feel even worse this morning. I’m not feeling well enough to come to the office, and I don’t want to risk passing anything on to anyone else.
I’m going to take a sick day today to recover. Hopefully, I will be able to come back to work tomorrow.
I will let [team member] know too, and I will forward any information they need while I’m off. I’ll be available by phone or email for 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 providing care for a sick child or another dependent.
However, this may need to be taken as unpaid parental leave or holiday time, rather than a sick day. Check your contract or employee handbook.
If you need to take the day off to look after somebody else, you must let your boss know as soon as possible. Provide a brief explanation of the problem and when you expect to be able to return to work.
My daughter has a stomach bug and won’t be allowed to return to school for 48 hours after her last episode. I need a couple of days off work to look after her.
I will be available by phone and email throughout and will do any work that I can from home. However, I will need to rearrange my meetings for the next few days.
I’m sorry for the inconvenience that my absence causes and appreciate your understanding.
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of employees, and this includes mental health.
There is no legal difference between taking a day off for mental health reasons to calling in sick with a physical illness or injury.
If you do not feel mentally well enough to attend work, you should not feel uncomfortable about calling in sick to ask for a mental health day.
As with any other illness, if you’re only taking a day or two, you won’t have to provide details or proof to evidence your need for a sick day.
My anxiety levels have been particularly high this week. I know that I won’t be performing at my best if I come to work today.
I’m going to take the day off to focus on myself and my mental health, and hopefully, I will be back tomorrow feeling refreshed. Thank you for your understanding.
Most job interviews are scheduled for normal working hours, so it can be difficult to take time off to attend them at short notice.
In most cases, you won’t want your current employer to know that you are looking for another job. If you can’t schedule the interview for lunchtime or at the beginning or end of the working day, you might decide to call in sick instead.
If you decide to call in sick to attend a job interview, try to keep the reason for your absence brief and concise.
You might tell your boss that you need to take the day off for an appointment, or that you need to attend to a few urgent matters at home.
If your employer is unlikely to allow this, you could say that you are feeling unwell with a migraine or other minor illness, but it is always best to avoid being dishonest if possible.
If you are considering alternative job opportunities, it is best to tell recruiters when you are available to attend interviews in advance.
For example, you might say that you are available between 12:30 and 13:30, provided they give you a few days’ notice of the interview, or that you could attend anytime from 17:30 onwards.
We know there are days when you aren’t actually unwell, but you really need to take time off. This can be for various reasons, such as needing to attend a job interview or to recover from a late-night flight.
In these situations, your employer might allow you to take a personal day or ‘duvet day’, but only if they offer this as part of your benefits package.
If not, you may decide to call in sick instead.
In this case, you will need to follow the guidelines set out earlier in this article, but there are a few other things to consider:
Time it Right. Calling in sick on a Monday or Friday, or just before or after a holiday (or the office Christmas party) will always look a bit suspicious. Your boss might assume that you’re trying to extend your time off, or that you’re recovering from a heavy weekend. Also avoid pulling a sickie right in the middle of a particularly tricky period at work. If possible, time your sick leave for a quiet day when your absence is unlikely to be noticed as much.
Keep it Extra Brief. If you’re faking an illness, you won’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about the reason for your absence. The more lies you tell, the more likely it is that you will be found out. Avoid a phone call, unless this is required by your employer, and explain your reason for absence as briefly as possible. If your boss asks you any questions, keep your answers short and to the point.
Don’t Confess to Your Colleagues. If you’ve told your boss that you’re sick, don’t let your co-workers know that you just wanted to have a day at home on the couch. Information like this has a way of spreading – even the people you are friends with might slip up and reveal the truth about your absence to your boss. This could have repercussions on your employment contract.
Be Careful with Social Media Posts. It’s a bit of a giveaway if you call in sick and then post selfies of yourself sunbathing on the beach. Avoid posting anything about your day off on social media. This will prevent unwanted information from being passed on to your boss.
Don’t overdo it. We’ve all seen actors in films pretending to call in sick to work. However, putting on a fake voice or sneezing violently on the phone is not the way to go. Keep it simple and believable.
Work Extra Hard on Your Return. After your day off, you will probably need to work extra hard to catch up when you return. This is especially true if you have taken a surreptitious personal day. You will need to allay any suspicions or concerns your boss might have by demonstrating that you are a conscientious employee who is committed to your job.
If you are feeling unwell and too sick to work, it is best that you do not attend. As well as being less productive, you could risk passing on contagious illnesses to others working alongside you.
There are many reasons why you might feel unable to attend work, including physical ailments, injuries and mental health issues.
If you have a stomach virus like gastroenteritis, you should remain off work until 48 hours have passed since your last symptoms.
Speaking in a nasal voice and coughing regularly may give the impression that you are suffering from a cold or flu-like illness. But beware of sounding fake or over the top.
Where possible, you should always make contact with your boss personally to inform them of your sickness absence. This may not be possible if you are hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated. If that is the case, your next of kin or another close friend or relative should contact your boss on your behalf.
Check your employer’s sickness absence protocol or policy and ensure that you are following all of the steps outlined.
This might include giving a certain number of hours notice, finding someone else to cover your shift or using vacation time if you have already used your allowance for sick pay.
You also need to consider whether attending work would mean breaking quarantine or isolation rules for illnesses such as Covid-19.
Depending on your contract, you might not be paid for time off sick.
Ultimately, yes. However, there is usually a lengthy process in place to reach this point, during which you will receive several warnings that further frequent episodes of sickness absence could lead to you being fired.
To avoid this outcome, it is important to follow all of the steps outlined in your employer's sickness absence protocol or sick leave policy.
If you regularly take time off sick, your boss might start managing your attendance using the company’s absence management policy. This could lead to termination of your employment, either on the grounds of not attending work regularly enough to fulfill your employment contract or incapacity due to ill health.
This will vary from employer to employer. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to notify your boss of your sickness at least two hours before your shift start time. This should allow them sufficient time to arrange cover if required.
When calling in sick with back pain, it is important to be honest about the reason for your absence.
You might also wish to discuss whether your employer can offer you any support to resolve the issue, such as a physiotherapy referral or adjustments to your duties.
It is important to let your manager know a brief reason for your absence. If you are suffering from a migraine, you should let your manager know.
If you know your triggers for migraine, you may wish to discuss whether any adjustments need to be made to your work environment.
Calling in sick for mental health reasons is a legitimate reason for taking time off from work.
If you are struggling with your mental health, explain this briefly to your manager and let them know what steps you plan to take to improve things.
If work is affecting your mental health, you must discuss this with them so that they can help.
Sick leave should only be used when you feel so unwell that you can’t attend work.
Different employers have different approaches to sick pay, so it is difficult to pinpoint how often is too often. Some companies allow each employee a set number of sick days per year, whereas others allow employees to take as many days of sick leave as they need.
Many employers use the Bradford Factor system, which highlights frequent episodes of short-term sickness absence.
A trigger point is used to identify those employees who are taking regular sick periods of one or two days. If you have two episodes of sickness absence each month, this is likely to be a cause for concern.
If you need to call in sick, you should:
- Ensure that you are familiar with the company procedure
- Keep communication with your boss concise and professional at all times
- Take steps to reduce the burden on colleagues who will be covering your work in your absence
Most importantly, don’t feel guilty about taking a sick day when you need to. Everybody is ill from time to time. A considerate boss will understand that it is better to take a day or two off to recover, rather than risking your health or infecting your work colleagues.