How to Send a "Not Feeling Well" Message to Your Boss

Woman sick, illustrating how to send a "not feeling well" email

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 19, 2024 at 3:45AM UTC

Calling (or, really, emailing) out of work can feel uncomfortable. You likely worry that your boss will be upset with you for not showing up, or 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.

But in reality, the chances that your boss will actually deny your request to not work while sick and be upset about it 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). 

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. 

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 tell your boss that you're not feeling well?

Communicating to your boss that you're feeling sick sounds way harder than it actually is. You only need to pay attention to four simple aspects: timing, conciseness, clarity, and having your workload under control. Here are our tips to write your “I'm not feeling well” message to your boss:

Contact your boss promptly

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.

Don't give too much details

When letting your boss know that you're sick and can't work, less is more. Spare  them the details about your snotty nose and/or unpleasant bowel habits. No one needs to know what your deathbed is looking like—they just need to know what it's feeling like, which is why you can't make it into work.

Be clear and straightforward

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.

Offer a plan to your absence

What's perhaps more important than what's wrong with you, 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?

OK, now that you know what to keep in mind when writing a sick leave email, let's see what your email should include. Here are our tips on crafting your message:

  1. Set the tone of your message according to your relationship: Every boss-employee relationship is different. Some are closer, while others barely interact with their bosses on a daily basis. When writing your “not feeling well email,” begin by greeting them accordingly.

  1. Explain what's happening in one or two sentences: Don't start making a thousand excuses or oversharing. You don't want your boss to think that you're lying about being sick. So keep your email clear and direct, as informative as it needs to be, and reassuring.

  1. Inform who will cover for you, if applicable: To follow up, 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.

  1. Thank them for their understanding: To wrap up your email, express gratitude for their understanding. Even though it's your right to have a sick leave, saying a thank you is the most polite and professional way to finish an email like this.

Email “not feeling well”: Example

Hi Sophia,

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, Harper has offered to help out in covering my shift today. I appreciate your understanding.



What to put in the email subject for a “not feeling well” message?

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” work well. Your boss will be able to immediately tell what your email is about before even opening it, and it will 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 a “not feeling well” message to your boss?

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 “not feeling well” message examples:

Example #1:

“I have the flu and will need to take a sick day today. Chloe already agreed to cover my shift for the day, and I should be feeling better enough tomorrow to come back to work.”

Example #2

“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.”

Example #3

“I’ve come down with a cold 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!”

Example #4

“I have a stomach bug and will need to take the rest of the week off. Zoey 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."

Example #5

“I came down with an allergy yesterday and visited the doctor who recommended that I take a few days off. I will return to work on Monday. In the meantime, Chloe will be helping with my workload, and I'll be able to pick up where I left off when I come back."

Example #6

“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 the flu—let me know if you need a doctor's note, and I'm happy to get you one."

Example #7

“I'm really not feeling well and visited a doctor who thinks I may have COVID. 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, Harper is going to help out with my workload.”

Example #8

“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 Zoey is going to cover my shift, and I'll let you know my status once I get back from my appointment.”

Sick day email and text message takeaways:

With all that said, here are some key takeaways for your sick day email or message:

  1. 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.

  1. Keep it clear 

Don't beat around the bush because you feel awkward. Again, just say what you need to say.

  1. Keep it honest

Don't over-exaggerate details that might haunt you when you return. Just be honest about your situation.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Don't feel guilty

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.

If you work from home it’s also completely valid to call in sick while. 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. So, it's better to take time to rest and come back one hundred percent.

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