The Do's and Don'ts of Taking a Sick Day

Updated December 5, 2022

A nurse or patient care professional in blue scrubs looks at a patient in a hospital bed. The arm of another medical professional in blue scrubs is in the foreground.

Taking a sick day allows employees to address health concerns away from work. In this article, we discuss the concept of sick time, as well as do's and don'ts for best practices when taking a sick day.

Key takeaways:

  • Take a sick day when your physical health inhibits your ability to work effectively.

  • Communicate with your manager via email, phone or text as soon as you feel sick, provide a brief explanation, explain your availability and offer helpful information your team may need to know before leaving or signing off.

  • Sick leave differs from other kinds of time off, including vacation time, bereavement and parental leave.

What does taking a sick day mean?

Employees can choose to take a sick day when the state of their physical health inhibits their work performance. Most businesses only allow an allotted amount of sick days for employees per year. Some countries, however, legally require businesses to offer sick leave benefits, such as most European and Latin American countries. Sick leave allows employees to earn pay while remaining at home to focus on their health.

Sick leave vs. personal days

Both sick leave and personal days are similar employer-provided benefits, but they do have unique differences. The intent of sick days is to cover employees who have an illness—contagious or otherwise—or have an injury resulting in hospitalization or surgery. Personal days cover other issues such as the illness of a relative, a death in the family, jury duty, religious holiday or other necessary obligations. Some companies now offer mental health days as part of their personal day benefits.

Related: Time-Off Request: How To Ask for a Day Off (Plus Example Form and Template)

Do's for taking a sick day

There are appropriate methods of handling sick time as an employee. The following list describes some of the things an employee needs to do when requesting sick time:

Contact management through the proper channel

Some managers have unique preferences for communicating with employees. For example, even though a manager has access to calls and emails, they may respond to texts or direct messages the fastest. If that's the case in your situation, it's acceptable to send a text or a message rather than making a phone call or sending an email.

Contact management as soon as possible

Along with choosing a proper channel, employees need to contact management as soon as they can. This allows managers to prepare for the coming loss in production. Managers can then make adjustments where necessary to ensure the smallest amount of impact while the employee remains on leave.

Explain availability to both management and coworkers

Sick leave encompasses varying degrees of employee ability. For example, if an employee undergoes surgery, they can't answer emails or texts. However, an employee who has a common illness may have the ability to answer simple messages.

Mention helpful information

If able, employees may provide beneficial information to managers and teams before leaving. For example, if the employee leaves before an all-hands meeting, they can let management know who to contact for meeting-specific information. This eases the employee's and the business's transition into the leave of absence.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Don'ts for taking a sick day

Along with appropriate methods, here are behaviors to avoid when taking a sick day:

Offer unnecessary details

Be clear and concise when communicating with management about sick time. Managers don't need to know personal details about the illness or private discussions with a doctor. Keep the notification about the illness brief and professional.

Only notify a coworker

Some employees only advise their coworkers or teammates of their eventual absence. This is often done with the promise that the coworkers later notify management. Don't leave a coworker responsible for notifying management if avoidable. The manager should know about the sick day directly.

Avoid contact

If able, keep management notified of changes in the illness. In some cases, sick time needs to extend due to a health crisis. Notify management when this occurs so that they can prepare the workplace accordingly.

Use sick time for allergies or other minor illnesses

Although it may be necessary for some circumstances, avoid wasting sick time on minor health concerns. It benefits the employee to save sick time for situations that absolutely require an absence from work. For example, using sick time for allergies due to the weather forces employees to have to take unpaid time if a serious illness or medical emergency occurs.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

Other types of days off

Sick and personal leave are not the only situations in which employees take a leave of absence. Many countries have laws that protect employees, making businesses provide a range of options for varying types of leave. The following list explores some of these options:

Vacation time

Many companies allow employees to either earn or accrue vacation time. All employees deserve breaks from work. This allows them to take the necessary time off to spend with family or friends or actually go on a vacation.

Parental leave

Many companies host programs for parental leave, giving them time to spend at home after the birth or adoption of a child. Depending on company policy, this period can be fully paid, partially paid or unpaid time off.

Voting or jury duty

Some governments require that companies allow employees time off to accommodate citizen duties. These include instances of voting days and jury duty. By law, individuals must comply with jury summons, requiring employers to allow it.

Military leave

In the event of a draft or other form of military leave, employees need to leave work. Similar to voting and jury duty, employers may not interfere with these proceedings, and instead may offer programs or options to facilitate them.


Employees may lose members of their family or close friends. In these cases, most governments require companies to accommodate them with appropriate time off.


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