Work Relationships

How to Call in Sick Without Putting Your Job at Risk

Written by Peter Jones

Calling in sick has almost fallen out of fashion. Ever heard of “presenteeism”? That’s the idea that really committed employees come to work no matter what—even when they shouldn’t. Don’t buy into this theory–there are definitely legitimate reasons for calling in sick from time to time.

Follow these rules to make sure you’re using this rare privilege appropriately.

1. If you’re really sick, please stay home.

If you have a virulent new cold—or the flu—or any other highly contagious situation, STAY HOME. You won’t be productive, and you could get other people sick and then take down everyone’s productivity. Stay home for a day or two and come back refreshed. Your team will thank you.

Oh, and a hangover does not count. Have an aspirin and some coffee and get your butt to work. You can’t call in “bad choices.”

2. Protect your mental health.

If you really need a mental health day, take one. Try scheduling in advance to avoid leaving your colleagues in the lurch. If you need to take one spontaneously, it can be okay to use a sick day. A simple “stomach bug” ought to do the trick, without requiring you to invent many details. Tickets to something cool don’t count as reasons to take a mental health day, by the way. Keep it legit.

3. Assess the number of sick days to take.

Does your job even give sick days? It’s a sad world when we have to ask this question, but if you don’t have any sick time, or you’ll be taking a pay cut by staying home, you’ll have to be even more discerning making your day-of decision. But again, if you’re contagious—especially if you work for the elderly or in food service—you just might have to stay home.

4. Follow the rules.

Remember that employee handbook you got on hiring? Look up the protocol for whom to notify and how to set up an away message on your voice and email. Make sure the chain of command is notified. Protect yourself from scrutiny. When in doubt, think about how your boss and coworkers have reacted to others calling in sick, and try to make it as uncomplicated on yourself as possible.

5. Make it easy for your team.

If you routinely do good and thorough work, keep your team updated, and keep all shared files and resources updated and ready for anyone to jump in and use, then taking a sick day won’t ruin anyone else’s week. Make a habit of keeping your tasks in order and dotting all your ‘i’s at the end of every day. This will make it easier for you to tag out for one day when you’re really suffering.

6. Take care of your family.

If you have a sick kid at home, stay home and take care of them if you can. Or if your spouse or aging parent needs urgent care, make that a priority. Most workplaces will be tolerant of a few of these emergency situations per year—just make sure you don’t abuse the privilege. Only take it when you have to and it’s legit.

7. Be smart and safe.

If there’s a hurricane or blizzard or monsoon out there and you don’t have a safe and ready way to work, it’s okay to stay home. Don’t put yourself in bodily danger navigating dodgy roads to get to work. That said, if the weather isn’t seriously dangerous, you should just suck it up. Sometimes it rains.

8. Understand that things happen.

If your toilet explodes, or you have a job interview, or something else emergent comes up, it’s okay to call in sick. Just make sure you have a really good reason and that you don’t pull this trick too often. Take care of yourself, but be sure to also take care of your job.

About the author

Peter Jones