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Career Development Tips

A Guide to Calling Out Sick

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

What does calling out sick mean? How to call out sickKey differences between calling in sick and using your PTO

Guide Overview

An introduction to calling out sick

If you're too unwell to work, opting out of work temporarily is essential. Working while you're sick can damage your health, the wellbeing of your coworkers, and your job prospects. When calling out sick, it's important to communicate effectively, and failing to do so can harm your career. To learn about the importance of handling this communication competently, and learn the process for doing so, keep reading.

What does calling out sick mean? 

When you call out sick, you communicate with your employer representative that you are unable to perform your job duties temporarily due to a health problem. This communication can be made due to a diagnosed illness or the symptoms of an undiagnosed one. Typically, a worker exchanges this information to access health care services, use a period of rest to help their recovery process, or regain the energy needed for their job duties. The following factors impact calling out due to sickness:

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Currently, FMLA enables workers to take a maximum of 12 weeks off work each year for certain medical and family reasons. While taking leave in accordance with the act protects your job, you’re not entitled to paid leave.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): According to FLSA, employers are not required to provide their workers with paid time off (PTO). Consequently, each employer can grant or refuse paid sick leave.
  • Employer policy and protocol: Despite the fact that employers are not legally compelled to provide their workers with PTO, many employers do offer this benefit. For example, in the private industry, 73% of workers were given paid sick leave in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most employers have policies and procedures for sick leave.
  • Unique situational factors: Each situation in which a worker communicates their need for sick leave to an employer differs due to its unique circumstances, such as current workload, company characteristics, worker’s professional brand, manager’s leadership style, and company procedures.

Calling out sick competently matters for several reasons, including:

  • It communicates your reliability. Reliability is a valuable soft skill that all employers seek in their workers. By explaining your choice to take sick leave competently, you show your boss you’re reliable.
  • It avoids jeopardizing your job. Failing to tell the right person of your unavailability for work in the right way can cause problems for your colleagues and managers. Additionally, doing so indicates your lack of essential skills for any job.
  • It protects team performance. Most jobs involve working in team settings where responsibility for output is shared between people. Consequently, it’s important to keep your team in the loop about your health issue. This enables team members to handle any urgent tasks and stay motivated. For example, properly informing your employer that you will be unavailable will prevent your team members from wasting valuable resources while waiting for your contribution.
  • It makes a positive impression. For a worker, making a good impression on the company management and maintaining it can lead to better performance reviews and more opportunities for career advancement. By notifying your employer of sick leave efficiently, you will help your career in the long term.
  • It communicates key skills. Discipline, conscientiousness, and communication are essential soft skills employers seek in workers. By following a practical process, you can demonstrate these valuable skills.
  • It avoids misunderstandings. Unless you handle this situation properly, you could cause resentment and underperformance in the workplace. For example, failing to explain why you’re not coming to work can cause your boss to distrust your commitment to your job.

How to call out sick

There is a process you can use for notifying your employer that you will be out sick. With it, you can develop good communication that helps your employer understand your decision to take time off work. Use the following steps:

1. Do the necessary research in advance

Research factors that can impact sick leave before you need it. Use the following checklist:

  • Assess the FMLA to find out about the medical situations that it covers.
  • Reread your employment contract and check the provisions made for PTO.
  • Evaluate company policies and procedures that cover calling in sick.
  • Talk to the HR manager and be informed about employer expectations in this situation.

Learn more: How To Request Time Off

2. Outline your communication

When affected by an illness, it can be difficult to formulate professional communication. Address this by writing an outline for calling out due to sickness when you’re in good health, so you do not have to spend much time on this communication when you’re unwell. Include the details you have at the moment in an outline with the following sections.

  • A personalized, formal salutation to the relevant company representative, such as “Mr. Field”
  • A brief statement that summarizes your need for sick leave
  • A summary of your health condition that necessitates the sick leave
  • The amount of leave you’re taking or requesting
  • A breakdown of any urgent work with your strategies for delegating or deferring them until you return to work
  • An expression of interest in returning to work
  • A thank-you for the manager’s consideration
  • A formal closing

Learn more: Answering ‘What Are Your Long-Term Career Goals?’

3. Develop a strategy for calling in sick

Aim for an approach that can protect your job and maintain your professional relationships. Develop this strategy before you need to use it. When doing so, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Should you use email, a phone call, an in-person meeting, or a video chat to communicate?
  • If you’re an on-site worker, can you work remotely until you’re well?

When choosing a communication medium, consider the following:

  • A phone call enables you to have a conversation with your manager, so it’s likely to be one of the best methods for this communication.
  • Emailing all the necessary details and following up with a phone call is another effective method
  • Text or email are good forms of formal communication.

Learn more: Short-Term Goals: Definition and Examples

4. Leverage your preparation to communicate effectively

If calling in sick becomes necessary, do the following:

  1. Regardless of the communication method you’re using, refer to your outline and write down what you’re going to say.
  2. Include all the necessary details in your outline.
  3. Review what you have written.
  4. If you’re requesting sick leave via phone, practice your delivery a few times to improve your confidence.
  5. If you’re emailing this communication, edit your content for grammar mistakes.
  6. Contact the relevant company representative as soon as possible.
  7. Despite feeling unwell, communicate confidently and professionally.

5. Handle the post-communication stage

After making this communication, use the following tips:

  • Contact your boss within a few hours after calling out sick to get feedback.
  • Regardless of the format you used to call out sick, keep the line of communication open.
  • Give your boss a chance to ask questions and clarify any concerns.

Learn more: How to Ask for a Day Off the Right Way

6. Provide supporting information

It’s best to be transparent about how you used your sick leave. Doing so will avoid any misunderstandings and communicate your key skills in reliability, conscientiousness, and discipline. When you get back to work after taking your sick leave, formulate a thank-you email to your boss. Attach documentation that shows how you used your leave to address your health condition, such as a doctor’s report.

Key differences between calling in sick and using your PTO

There are several differences between calling in sick and using your PTO, such as:

  • PTO is a type of employee benefit that enables workers to take a number of days off work each year, which the employer pays for. Unlike PTO, calling in sick is a communication sent by an employee to an employer representative who explains their inability to work for a specific period of time.
  • Workers can use their PTO for many reasons, such as when taking a vacation, addressing a family issue, or taking sick leave. You should only call in sick when a health condition prevents you from working.
  • Using PTO involves informing your manager of your decision to take the leave that has already been provided. In contrast, requesting sick leave is an attempt to engage with your manager, help them understand why you need it, and manage your workload.

There are several differences between requesting sick leave and using your PTO. However, both can be used concurrently when taking a temporary break from work to address a health issue. Basically, try to support your decision to use your PTO for sick leave. Use what you have learned about calling out when you are sick to prepare an effective message that helps you to recover quickly from a period of illness and progress in your career. Handle this difficult situation well by investing in the necessary preparation.

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