A Guide to Calling in Sick

Calling in sick can be a source of anxiety for workers who wonder when to call, what to say and how to say it. They may question whether they are truly sick enough to take the day off or worry missing work will reflect poorly on them.

“First, there is a worry about the work they are going to miss,” says Christy Pruitt-Haynes, global head of talent and performance practice for NeuroLeadership Institute, a human resources consulting firm. “Second, there’s a bit of the unknown. You don’t know how your manager is going to respond.”

Certainly, many managers are skeptical when their workers call in sick. Nearly 4 out of 5 managers believe someone they supervise has faked an illness to take a day off, according to a Bamboo HR survey of 1,500 adults who are full-time office or knowledge workers.

To a certain extent, they may be right, as 43% of survey respondents report they have requested a sick day when they weren’t physically sick. What’s more, 64% of workers say they feel negative emotions such as anxiety, guilt or fear when requesting a sick day.

If the thought of taking a day off has you feeling stressed, keep reading to learn how to call in sick to work and what to say. This guide will cover:

— When to call out sick.

— What to say when calling in sick.

— What are good excuses for missing work?

— Can you call in sick if you’re a remote worker?

— How should you call in sick? Can you text in sick?

— What your boss is allowed to ask.

— Can you get fired for calling in sick?

— Can your boss force you to go home if you’re sick?

[Read: Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do.]

When to Call Out Sick

Ideally, you would check to see if your company has a sick policy prior to falling ill. However, in the absence of that, a good rule of thumb is to stay home if you think you are contagious, says Amanda Augustine, a career expert with resume writing service TopResume.

“An employer would not want to have you spread your germs,” she says. Vomiting is another clear sign that it is time to stay home.

What to Say When Calling in Sick

Calling in sick doesn’t need to be a drawn-out affair. Some workers may be inclined to dance around the issue by saying they will try to make it in later if they feel better, knowing the chances of that are unlikely. It’s better to simply say you won’t be in and leave it at that.

It is good form to explain why you won’t be coming in, but you don’t necessarily have to share any specifics of your illness. Providing lengthy explanations as to why you can’t come to work also might give the impression you are exaggerating or lying.

Still, “You don’t want to leave your employer in the dark,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of “Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work” and a business etiquette expert. “If you know how long you’re going to be out, let them know.”

[Read: How to Ask for a Leave of Absence From Work.]

What Are Good Excuses for Missing Work?

A physical illness that leaves you unable to complete your job duties is the most acceptable reason to miss work. Mental health days and caring for sick family members can also be appropriate reasons to call in sick at some workplaces, but they may be frowned upon at others.

However, calling in for a minor illness such as a slight headache or runny nose might not be in your best interest. Some managers could consider it akin to faking an illness to stay home or avoid work, and taking days off unnecessarily could exhaust your employer’s goodwill and put your job in jeopardy.

“If you do call in sick, make sure you stay off social media,” Whitmore advises. Telling your employer that you don’t feel well and then posting photos from the beach could be considered grounds for termination in some workplaces.

Can You Call in Sick if You’re a Remote Worker?

For those working remotely, the decision to call in sick may not be as clear-cut.

“People have a tendency to be sick and work from home, but that actually can extend the illness,” Pruitt-Haynes says.

While some people may be powering through an illness to work from home, Augustine says employees shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. “Just because you work remotely does not mean you should forfeit the use of your sick days when you need them,” she says. “If you’re sick, you’re sick.”

It makes sense to skip work if you don’t think you’ll be productive. There is little benefit for you or your boss if you aren’t able to concentrate or get work done.

How Should You Call in Sick? Can You Text in Sick?

While we refer to the practice as calling in sick, sending a text or an email is perfectly acceptable in many work environments.

“When it comes to the best mode of communication for delivering such a message, consider your relationship with your boss,” Augustine says. If you normally text with your employer, texting in sick would be acceptable. However, if communication is normally done via the phone, sending a text might not be appropriate. Also, asking someone else in the office to pass along your message typically isn’t appropriate.

No matter how you inform your employer, make sure you are providing as much notice as possible. If you don’t contact your employer until after you were supposed to be at work, some companies might record that as a “no call, no show,” which can negatively affect your work record, Pruitt-Haynes says. She recommends calling in as soon as possible and following up with an email to create a paper trail of your communication.

What Your Boss Is Allowed to Ask

Your boss’s natural reaction may be to ask what is wrong, but you are under no obligation to provide details of your illness. Many times, employers ask partly out of concern for your well-being and partly to gauge how long they will need to cover your shifts or workload. To address the latter concern, let your employer know when you expect to return, if possible.

“Organizations do have the option of asking for a doctor’s note,” Pruitt-Haynes says. For instance, some businesses use a three-day rule and request verification from a doctor after three days’ absence.

If you need to take an extended medical leave, you may need to fill out paperwork to qualify for the job protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act, more commonly known as FMLA. However, even in these situations, medical information should be kept confidential by your company’s human resources department and does not need to be disclosed to a supervisor or co-workers.

[READ: What Employees Should Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act.]

Can You Get Fired for Calling in Sick?

Workers who belong to a union may have some added protections, but for most people, the answer depends on your state laws.

“If you’re working in a state with at-will employees, they can fire you for anything that’s not illegal,” Augustine says. That means that unless you qualify for legal protections under FMLA or the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is nothing stopping an employer from firing you for calling in sick.

Employers may not be inclined to fire an otherwise good worker who calls in sick occasionally, but if they feel as though you are faking an illness, they may not be so understanding. “I definitely wouldn’t make a habit of calling in (sick),” Whitmore says.

Can Your Boss Force You to Go Home if You’re Sick?

Yes. If your boss thinks you are ill, he or she can send you home. In this case, you may have been better off calling in sick.

If you need to call in sick, don’t be afraid to do so. Just be mindful of giving your boss as much notice as possible and follow any company policies regarding documentation.

More from U.S. News

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A Guide to Calling in Sick originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 10/23/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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