6 Acceptable Reasons To Call in Sick to Work

Updated December 5, 2022

With many different people sharing space on a daily basis, sickness tends to circulate around offices from time to time. Taking time off occasionally to recover from sickness is normal and expected. If you are not feeling well or have a condition that requires medical attention, you may have to take sick leave from work to rest and heal. Although workplaces may have slightly different sick day policies, there are some generally accepted reasons for using sick leave. In this article, we will discuss some reasons you might call in sick to work. Other permissible reasons to take sick leave may exist in employer policies and state and local laws.

Read more: Tips for Calling in Sick

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Reasons to call in sick

Check with your human resources (HR) department if you need clarification on your company's policies. It is important to know how your company distinguishes between personal days, vacation days and sick days. The following cases are usually acceptable reasons to call in sick:

1. Contagious illness

If you are contagious, you can protect the health of your coworkers and customers, if applicable, by staying home. Preventing the spread of sickness is one method of minimizing the impact of your absence. You can also demonstrate your work ethic and respect for your coworkers by staying home to recover so you can return to work focused and productive. Some examples of illnesses that can spread easily in an office setting are the common cold, stomach viruses and the flu.

2. Injury or illness that negatively impacts productivity

Many workplaces consider any condition that makes you unable to perform your job to be reasonable sick leave. This condition may be caused by illness or injury. If the condition persists and your doctor prescribes bed rest, you can usually consider the required recovery time sick leave. In many cases, supervisors try to avoid presenteeism, or working inefficiently while you are ill, and prefer that you recover quickly at home and resume work responsibilities when you are at your best.

3. Medical appointment

Some workplaces allow you to use sick days to attend doctor appointments, including non-emergency preplanned appointments. In this way, you can maintain your health and possibly reduce the likelihood of using sick leave in the future.

4. Diagnosed medical condition

When you begin a new job, make sure to notify the HR department if you have a diagnosed medical condition that may require regular appointments or rest time. Provide your employer with documentation from a medical professional and consider discussing flexible work options to minimize the impact of your absence. People who have migraines, for example, can develop a plan for instances when their condition may cause them to miss work. Your employer may consider these absences as sick leave.

Related: Q&A: What Is Sabbatical?

5. Hospitalization

If your condition requires hospitalization or treatment by a medical professional, you can use sick days to cover your absences. In the case of hospital stays that extend beyond your sick leave allowance, your workplace may offer unpaid leave for extended recovery periods. 

In some cases, if your treatment takes longer than three days, your absence may be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This coverage is sometimes unpaid but covers extended absences from work for up to 12 weeks for people who have been employed at their company for more than 12 months. You can discuss your extended leave options with your human resources department.

6. Pregnancy or delivery

Some workplaces consider a person calling out if she is unable to work in relation to her pregnancy to be an acceptable reason for sick leave. Pregnancy and delivery are usually covered by FMLA, so women can often use FMLA for absences related to prenatal care and to recover after delivery if their workplace does not provide paid parental leave.

Related: How to Write a Sick Day Email Message (With Examples)

Tips for sick days

When you begin a new job, your company should provide you with information about your sick leave policy. Learn whether your sick leave is paid or unpaid or whether you have to accrue hours to earn sick leave. You should also know the number of sick days your company provides per year and the best ways to communicate your absence.

Here are some helpful tips to properly navigate using sick leave:

  • Recognize symptoms. If you are unsure whether you are able to work, try to determine signs you are developing an illness, such as an above-normal temperature. Concrete evidence that you are ill is helpful to make your decision and to clearly communicate your condition to your employer.

  • Understand what constitutes a sick day. You should understand what your employer considers a sick day and how to contact your workplace before you have an absence from work.

  • Track available sick leave. If your workplace provides a limited number of sick days, keep track of how many days you have used and how many you have remaining. Know how many days your employer allows per year or how many sick leave hours you have accrued before taking leave.

  • Request flexible work options. Consider requesting to work from home if you can. In some cases, you may have a contagious illness but feel you can complete some or all of your work successfully. If your workplace allows you to work from home, you can minimize the impact of your illness.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

Tips to effectively communicate your absence

Follow these tips to communicate your sick day absence effectively to your team and employer:

  • Be prompt. Notifying your work as early as possible during an illness can allow coworkers and stakeholders to make arrangements to delegate your responsibilities.

  • Contact the necessary party. Identify the best person at your company to contact in the case of an illness or emergency. In some cases, you may need to call human resources and your supervisor, and in other cases, your company may only require one email to your manager.

  • Prepare for your absence, if possible. Update your supervisor on any tasks, projects and meetings that need attention and work with them to identify who can cover your responsibilities while you are out. If possible, give an approximate date when you plan to return.

  • Set up an out-of-office email response. You may receive correspondence while you are gone. This message can notify anyone who needs to communicate with you that you are out of the office and who they should contact in your absence. Your message may also provide alternative contact options if the message is urgent.

Read more: Guide: Out of Office Email Messages (With Examples)

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Example sick day phone call

When you notify your employer of your absence, provide as much information as you can to explain why you are taking leave and what responsibilities need to be covered while you are gone. Keep in mind, however, that it is not necessary or required for you to disclose any details about your sickness such as symptoms you are experiencing. You can follow this example phone call template to notify your supervisor or HR department:

Example: “Good morning, Mrs. Jones. I am calling to let you know that I developed a fever last night and won't be able to come to work today. I expect to be back in the office on Wednesday. In the meantime, Emily Smith will present our team's progress at the 1:30 meeting today and Jason Williams will respond to urgent emails for the current project. Please let me know if there are any additional steps you would like me to take. Thank you.”

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