12 Rules to Follow When Calling in Sick to Work

Sick woman in bed

You’ve woken up with what feels like a frog stuck in your throat, a banging headache, aching bones and a runny nose – all a clear indication that you should stay in bed today and get some rest. Even if you’ve got an ever-growing pile of paperwork waiting for your on your desk at work, sucking it up and seemingly overdosing on your non-drowsy medicine of choice simply won’t do the trick. Especially if it means infecting the rest of the office with your germs.

Taking time off work is tricky business, especially when it’s an unplanned sick day and while there’s no easy way to call in sick to work, these tips will help you beat the blues and minimise the throwback of being absent.

1. Consider Your Contagiousness

If you’re suffering from a contagious illness like gastroenteritis, the flu, chickenpox or whooping cough, it’s clear that you should stay home. Not just for your personal safety but that of your colleagues, too. You don’t want to wipe out the whole office with your germs now, do you? Any spreadable illness is a red flag to stay home and get yourself better; otherwise, you won’t be able to fully recover if you’re putting yourself under unnecessary stress to go into work.

2. Think about Your Efficiency

If you won’t be able to do your job properly, it’s best if you don’t go into the office, especially if you have a long drive ahead. After all, it’s no good staring at a screen with fuzzy eyes and a pounding headache if you’re just going to end up making mistake after mistake. If you haven’t slept well the night before, you’re groggy or you’re taking medication that induces drowsiness, then your safety and the safety of your colleagues is at risk if you head into work.

3. Consider Remote Working

If working from home is an option and you’re able to check emails and complete your most important tasks from the comfort of your own bed, offer to do just that. It’ll show that you’re genuinely interested in completing your tasks. You’ll first need to assess whether you are physically able to do this, though, or if it’s actually better you sign off from work and sleep off your sickness.

4. Don't Try to Sound Convincing

Managers can see through fake coughs and exaggerated ‘sick voices’ – and let’s face it: when you are actually ill, you don’t sound too much different than your normal self (unless you have a blocked nose, of course). You don’t need to put on a show, just a heads up that you’ll be out of the office until you’re feeling better.

5. Follow Company Protocol

Follow the correct protocol that’s mentioned in your company’s employee handbook or the preferred method of your manager. For some, this means calling a few hours before the start of your shift, while others prefer being notified via email as soon as the first symptoms begin. Some employers will require a doctor’s note if you’re ill for more than a day, while in the UK it’s a legal requirement to obtain a doctor’s note after four consecutive days of sick leave (including non-working days).

6. Do it Early

Send your manager a quick email or text message as soon as you know that you won’t be going to work. If you have to take a trip to the emergency room, in the meantime, work will of course be the last thing on your mind, so it’s best to get this out of the way as early as possible. You can follow up with a phone call in the morning to ensure they received your message.

7. Stick to the Facts

Unless you’re best buds with your boss (which you most likely aren’t), just stick to the facts instead of giving an elaborate story of how you fell ill, what your symptoms are and what happened. You’ll only end up sounding like you’re lying if you give them a last-minute long-winded story. Communicate only what you need to as clearly and concisely as possible.

8. Apologise for the Inconvenience

It’s important to apologise for any inconvenience caused by your absence, as this effectively demonstrates team morale and responsibility. Make sure you end the phone call with an appreciative tone and ask if there’s anything you can do while you’re off.

9. Know the Unspoken Rule

Every office has an unspoken rule when it comes to sick leave, and it usually goes a little something like this: although you have a sick day allowance, it’s generally frowned upon if you take those sick days. In other words, beware of the backlash you’ll receive when you return to work.

10. Make it Easy for Coworkers

If you keep your work in an accessible folder, your colleagues will be able to pick up where you left off in your absence. If you’re the only person who knows how to do something, make a list of instructions and leave this in a shared folder in a time of emergency. It’s also wise to arrange for a colleague to look after your while whilst you’re away.

11. Don't Fake It

This isn’t a guide to skive off work; you’re an adult and should be passed that by now – you’ll have a holiday allowance for that anyway! It’s completely unethical to fake it and you’ll probably get caught out one way or another if you do. Don’t even think about pulling a sickie in order to carry out work for another job – it’s considered gross misconduct and can result in serious legal repercussions.

12. Decide Whether You Should Call or Email

Your heart starts pumping, you’ve got a dry throat and your hands are shaking – but why are you so anxious if you are really sick? It’s most likely because you don’t want to disappoint your manager for taking an unexpected day out of the office. And sometimes it’s a little easier to deliver this news via email instead of on the phone.

You should always check with your employer when you begin your job on how you should deal with emergency situations and sick days, and they’ll advise on their preferred method. In most situations, email is just fine and is actually preferred by many employers. For one, it gives them the time they need to shift schedules and resources to cope with your absence, and it also gives them a paper trail. 

When you’re sick, it’s important to take the time out to recover so you can perform to the best of your abilities. After all, presenteeism (which is essentially going into work while sick) is bad for business – it reduces employee productivity, it increases risk of injury and it drives up healthcare costs.

How do you inform your employer that you’re going to be out sick? Join in on the conversation below to let us know if you’ve experienced any difficulties…