How to tell others that you’re taking a sick day

Give colleagues a heads up that you're under the weather.

How to tell others that you’re taking a sick day

Use these step-by-step instructions for calling in sick.

Health experts agree: If you feel sick, stay home. It’s a simple rule to follow, but it’s a vital one, especially as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country. If you need to stay home to recuperate, there are some protocols to follow, including crafting a sick day email, when informing your boss and co-workers that you need to take time off because you’re feeling under the weather.

Although there’s no federal law that ensures paid sick leave for all workers, around three in four civilian workers (76%) in the U.S. have access to paid sick leave, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and there’s a big push behind a federally mandatory sick leave policy in Washington, D.C.

For the time being, use these step-by-step instructions for calling in sick to work.

Let your manager know ASAP

Email, text, or call your boss when you begin to feel sick. (You know your manager’s preferred form of communication.) Sounding an alarm as early as possible will give your boss more time to prepare for your absence. Let’s say you develop a fever at night and know that you’ll need to take a sick day. Email your boss that night; don’t wait until the morning to let your boss know that you’re ill.

In a recent survey by Zippia of 2,000 American workers, 3% of employees called in sick after they were due to arrive at work. Don’t do this.

Keep your explanation brief

No one wants to hear you describe the gritty details of your stomach flu. Simply put, keep the symptoms of your illness to yourself, and just offer a short explanation of why you’re calling in sick (“I have a fever”), and leave it at that.

Offer to make up any missed work

This may seem like a given, but it bears emphasizing: Let your boss and colleagues know that you’re more than willing to catch up on any tasks that you miss while you’re out.

Let people know how to reach you

If you’re up to it physically, consider providing your phone number to colleagues, or making yourself accessible by email, in the event that someone has to reach you. The caveat? Be honest with your peers and with yourself about your limitations. Don’t make yourself available if you’re too sick to respond. After all, the faster you recover, the sooner you’ll get back to work.

Call in backup

You don’t want to leave any clients or customers high and dry while you’re off work, so arrange for a colleague to cover for you in your absence. Let the person know that you’ll be providing their contact information in your out-of-office auto reply.

Set up an “out sick” message

In addition to alerting your boss and immediate co-workers that you’re taking sick leave, you’ll want to set up an out-of-office message that will let people who email you know that you’re unavailable. Once again, keep this sick leave email brief, but make sure it includes a reason for your absence, how long you expect to be out, and contact information for the colleague that’s covering for you.

Here’s a universal, no-frills “out sick” auto reply example:


     Thank you for emailing me. I am currently unavailable because I am under the weather. I expect to return to work on [date]. For       immediate matters, please email [co-worker’s name] at [co-worker’s email address].

     I will reply to your message promptly upon my return.

     Thank you for your patience.

What to do if you need extended medical leave

If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or have an accident, you might be entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave, without losing health insurance, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You can find more information in the U.S. Department of Labor's Employee's Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act.

The same guidelines for alerting colleagues apply. Let your boss know as soon as possible. In this instance, a phone call may be more appropriate than a text since you’ll be out of the office for more than a day or two and arrangements will need to be made to cover your workload.

Remember to send an explanatory short sick leave email to co-workers and set up an auto-reply for clients and customers. Example:


     I broke my wrist and will be out of the office for two weeks to recover. I expect to return to work on [date]. I will be checking              email, though I may be slow to respond. For immediate matters, please email [co-worker’s name] at [co-worker’s email address].

     I appreciate your patience and look forward to being back in action as soon as possible.

    Thank you!

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