Calling (or, really, emailing) out of work can feel uncomfortable. You likely worry that your boss will fire you for daring to come down with the flu or having the audacity to contract a stomach bug that prohibits you from coming into the office or logging on from your work from home desk. You might be concerned that you'll lose your job for taking the time off to take care of yourself, as you might worry that your absence will make you seem unreliable.
The fact is that people get sick. We're all only human, and life happens. Sometimes, you need to take the day to recuperate. And, frankly, if you're actually sick, no one in their right mind will want you spreading your contagious germs around the office anyway. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t take the chance to infect others if we’re feeling unwell.
It’s also completely valid to call in sick while working from home. Just because you’re not seeing your coworkers doesn’t mean that you can work in the same capacity. Working while sick can lead to presenteeism: being on the job while ill but not working at full productivity or efficiency.
The chances that your boss will actually refuse your ask to not workwhile sick are slim to none (unless, of course, they have a very valid reason for absolutely needing you at the office or you have a history of, ahem, playing hooky). Likewise, the chances that your boss will actually penalize you for catching a cold or eating bad sushi for dinner last night aren't very high — most people will understand because they've been there, themselves.
Besides, you may have sick days you're entitled to use. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average number of paid sick days is eight for any employee of at least a year. That number increases to 11 for an employee with 25 years of experience with the same company. (Remember that this is a blanket estimate; sick days vary by employer!)
So what do you say in an email to your boss when you need to call out sick? We've got you covered.
How do you let your boss know you're sick?
First things first, let your boss know that you're sick as soon as possible. Give them as much notice as you can so that you and your boss (and your team!) can work together to figure out how to handle your absence if necessary. Besides, notice is respectful and appreciated, regardless of whether or not your absence will take a huge toll on the day's work.
Next, when letting your boss know that you're sick and can't work, know that less is more. Seriously, spare your boss the details about your snotty nose and/or unpleasant bowel habits. No one needs to know what you're deathbed is looking like — they just need to know what it's feeling like, which is why you can't make it into work.
You don't need to send a super long email asking your boss for their permission to stay home while sick. Rather, you need to let your boss know that you came down with a fever and you're really not feeling well enough to come into the office or log on from home. If you need to and can, offer to provide a doctor's note for proof.
What's perhaps more important than what's wrong with you, however, is what you're going to do about it. Don't just leave your boss and colleagues hanging in your absence. Reach out to your team to see if you can get some coverage and/or delegate some of your tasks for the day. If you can't, at the very least, have a plan for how you're going to catch up when you get back to work — and reassure your boss that you have your workload under control. You might be out for the count, but the show must go on, and the responsible thing to do would be to ensure that it can and will without you.
How do you write a sick leave email?
Writing a sick leave email can be short and sweet and to the point. Again, don't get into the nitty-gritty of how your morning stuck in the bathroom is going. Just make your boss aware of your situation and ask them to use a sick day to take care of it.
To follow up your ask, let them know of your plan to take care of your work — whether how you're going to delegate your work or how you're going to tackle it when you get back to work.
Whatever you do, don't start making a thousand excuses or oversharing. You don't want your boss to think that you're lying about being sick, and your boss probably doesn't have time or care to hear your sob story (sorry, but it's true!). So keep your email clear and direct, as informative as it needs to be, and reassuring.
Here's an example email:
Hi [Boss's Name],
I'm not feeling well today and will need to take the day off to visit the doctor and rest. I hope to be feeling better by tomorrow, but I will keep you in the loop after my appointment. In the meantime, [Coworker's Name] has offered to help out in covering my shift today. I appreciate your understanding.
What do you put in the subject line when sick?
The subject line for your email calling out sick should be clear and professional. Subject lines like "[Your Name] - Calling in Sick" or "Not Feeling Well Today" can work well. Your boss will be able to immediately tell what your email is about before even opening it, and it will hopefully catch their attention quicker than a vague subject line so you won't have to worry about them missing your email.
How do you text in sick?
Texting in sick is a lot like emailing in sick, in that you're not picking up the phone to call your boss. While an email might be more professional, according to some bosses, a text might be more efficient and offer quicker notice since most people keep their phones on them.
Here are some text-in-sick examples (compared with these email examples!) to help you:
“I have [sickness] and will need to take a sick day today. [Coworker’s name] already agreed to cover my shift for the day, and I should be feeling better enough tomorrow to come back to work.”
“I’m really not feeling well today, so I don’t think I will be able to do my job productively or efficiently. I will need to take the day off, but I will catch up on what I've missed tomorrow.”
“I’ve come down with [sickness] and need to use a sick day today, but I’ll be back at work tomorrow. I don't want to get anyone else in the office sick!”
“I have [sickness] and will need to take the rest of the week off. [Coworker’s name] already agreed to cover my shifts for the rest of the week, and I should be feeling better enough to come back to work on Monday next week."
“I came down with [sickness] yesterday and visited the doctor who recommended that I a few days off. I will return to work on [return date]. In the meantime, [coworker's name] will be helping with my workload, and I'll be able to pick up where I left off when I come back."
“I need to take today and tomorrow off from work but should be set to pick up again after. I visited a doctor because I have [sickness] — let me know if you need a doctor's note, and I'm happy to get you one."
"I'm really not feeling well and visited a doctor who thinks I may have [sickness]. I'll need to take some sick days to recover. I'm not sure how long I'll be out for, but I will keep you posted on how I am feeling over the next few days. In the meantime, [coworker's name] is going to help out with my workload."
"I woke up not feeling well, so I'm going to go to the doctor this morning. I won't be able to make it in today, but [coworker's name] is going to cover my shift, and I'll let you know my status once I get back from my appointment."
Sick day email tips
With all that said, here are some quick tips for your sick day email:
Keep it short.
Don't overburden your boss with a long email giving your whole backstory. Just make your point: You're sick and shouldn’t be working.
Keep it clear.
Don't beat around the bush because you feel awkward. Again, just say what you need to say.
Keep it honest.
Don't over-exaggerate details that might haunt you when you return. Just be honest about your situation.
Spare the details.
Your boss doesn't need to know all the dirty details of your illness. Just tell them that you're sick, with what if you want, and that you can't make it to work that day.
Have a plan.
Have an idea of how you're going to delegate or later handle your workload, and let your boss know what they can expect.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at HerReport.org. She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.