How to Call in Sick – What to Say & Staying Professional

You’re ill but don’t know how to call in sick. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? You wake up feeling rough as anything but are well aware of how much you are relied on at work.  Do you try going in and risk sharing your germs around the office while probably not making the day? Or do you bite the bullet and call in sick and deal with the guilt you will undoubtedly feel?

male calling in sick to work on a mobile phone

The truth is, we are only human and succumb to illness as much as the next person. It’s normal to feel a little anxious about calling in sick, you might feel it will reflect badly on you. You would need to be some kind of supernatural being to never be ill. Remember this and don’t be so hard on yourself.

We take a look at how to call in sick and what to say, keeping it as professional as possible. This way, you can concentrate on your recovery rather than worrying about the call.

Before You Take Time Off Sick…

Ideally, some notice will suit your boss rather than a last minute call. However, illness isn’t often this considerate and can strike when we least expect or want it.

For this reason, you must understand and follow your work’s sickness policy. You should be able to access this online or view on your contract. Your boss will be more understanding if you’ve shown you’re aware of sick policies and procedures, and have followed them.

Our guide on your rights when off work sick has tips on your entitlements.

See Also:

Understand Sick Pay

It is also important to understand how pay works during sick leave. This will depend on what your contract says. Some workplaces offer a certain amount of days off at full pay, but this is at their discretion.

It’s always wise to have a little extra income tucked away for such eventualities so that you don’t have the added stress of being short on your bills while in your sick bed.

It’s not a good idea to pull a sickie so do ensure you have a genuine reason for being off. Otherwise, when you really need the time off it may not seem as convincing. It will look particularly suspicious if you call in sick right before a big meeting or deadline so it is best to not abuse the system.

How Should You Contact Your Manager?

Hopefully, your sickness policy will state the procedure to follow in the event of needing a sick or personal day. This will usually state to give notice where possible and include how to make contact with the relevant person.

Phoning in Sick

Some employers will prefer a call outlining the reason for a sick day and the estimated time off. Other bosses may be happy with a text or email.

A phone call can be a great way to communicate with work. At the very least leaving a voice message will suffice. It can be useful to have the sickness policy in front of you or in the forefront of your mind while making that call. This will keep the call to the point, professional, and with no awkward silences when under pressure.

It is good practice to follow your employer’s preferred method of contact in these situations. This will reflect well on you, and will avoid awkward interactions when you return to work.

Texting or Emailing in Sick

A text or email does get there fastest. It also means you have time to compose the message and draft out what to say.

However, we all know technology is only advantageous when it works. It is all dependent on the phone signal and of course, if the battery is charged on the other end. In this modern era with so much reliance on technology, many bosses are happy with a text.

But sometimes it may be good to follow this up with an email. At the very least, within the text, ask that your employer responds to acknowledge the message has been received. This will save you worrying about it all day.

How Much Notice Should You Give?

In an ideal world, as much notice as possible when calling in sick will benefit everyone. This isn’t always practical though. Taking a sick day often happens at the very last minute with no time to give a few hours notice of calling in sick. Wherever possible, your boss will appreciate a heads up.

For example, you feel grotty the night before and decide to see how you are overnight. You could perhaps, at this point, give your boss prior warning that you aren’t feeling great and will confirm in the morning if you will not make it in. This way it won’t come as a complete shock when you do confirm you won’t be in and hopefully your boss has a plan in place.

Your work sickness policy should include any illnesses you should stay off with, and what will happen with pay during this time.

For example, many employers still ask staff to keep away from the office with Covid-19. Often staff can work from home during this time if they are feeling well.

Our guide on what happens when you call in sick during your notice period has more info.

Staying Professional When Calling in Sick

When you are feeling unwell and need to make that call, it can make you feel anxious and worked up. Try to prepare and stay calm. It will give a better impression and help your manager understand why you need time off.

Here are our top 10 tips on how to stay professional when calling in sick to maintain good work relations!

  1. Be calm and know in advance what you want to say / how much detail you will go into.
  2. Make reference to your sickness policy as this will show you know the correct procedure.
  3. If you aren’t feeling too bad then you can perhaps offer to do some work remotely as you see fit.
  4. Remember you haven’t done anything wrong and everyone gets ill from time to time. This will  help you feel less daunted when making the call.
  5. Try to let your boss know as soon as possible as this will allow them more time to find cover.
  6. Offer to email colleagues with any information they may need to cover your job role in your absence.
  7. Try to give an idea of the timeframe you will be off – this isn’t always possible but will help keep things ticking over in the workplace.
  8. You don’t need to reveal all the gory details or give your employer private medical information. Just a clear reason you will not be in is perfectly reasonable.
  9. Try to talk to the person who needs to know about your absence – usually your boss. Texting a co-worker and asking them to pass on the message will not come across as professional.
  10. Apologise for the inconvenience and ask if there is anything you can do but don’t feel guilty about being ill.

What to Say When Calling in Sick

Sometimes, the thought of calling in sick and knowing what to say is more daunting than actually doing it. That’s because we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves. Worrying about how your manager will react can also be a stress factor.

How to Call in Sick – Examples of What to Say

These sickness scenarios, coupled with what to say, should go some way in helping you make that call calmly. Remember, your health comes first and everyone needs to call in sick sometimes.

What to say when…

When You Are Sick

It’s best to save sick days for those times you really need them. Try not be tempted to stay off with anything minor.

Some companies pay for sick days but this shouldn’t be abused. If an employer sees a pattern, they may take disciplinary action against you.

Try saying …

Good Morning (name)

I’m afraid I am unable to come into work today as I am unwell with (insert ailment or reason). I hope after a day’s rest I will be recovered enough to come in tomorrow but I will keep you updated and let you know by (insert time).

I’m sorry for the inconvenience and if there is anything I can do remotely please let me know. I will pass on my notes to (staff name) so they aren’t left in the lurch.

Thanks for your understanding,

When There Is A Family Emergency

Sometimes, situations arise that we can’t foresee.It is important to make your employer aware as soon as possible that you need time off to deal with taking time off for a family emergency.

Try saying …

Good Morning (name)

I’m really sorry but a family situation/emergency has come up suddenly and I’m unable to come in today. Example: My son has chickenpox and cannot attend school therefore I have no childcare for him so I am needed at home.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do from home to ease your workload until I am back. I expect to return on (insert date).

Sorry for the inconvenience and short notice.

Speak soon

You Need A Mental Health Day

Taking time off for mental health is as important as a day for a physical illness. Never forget that employer’s have a duty to make the health of their employees their priority. As with a physical illness, you do not need to go into lots of detail for a day or two off.

Try saying …

Hi (employer’s name)

How are you? Just to say I am needing to take a mental health day today as I’m not doing too great. I hope to be back tomorrow but I will update you later when I have focused on myself a little and got some advice.

Thank you for your support and sorry for any inconvenience.

The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to go into all the nitty gritty details. Your employer has no right to ask personal medical questions. The only time you may need to expand on the issue and provide evidence (eg a doctor’s note) is if you are off sick for more than 7 days. Again, this should be laid out clearly within your company sick policy.

More On Your Right to Medical Privacy

You may feel pressure to justify needing time off, but remember you are not obligated to give your employer sensitive medical information.

You only need to inform them you are not well enough to work. If you need a fit note for sick leave, your doctor will not say exactly exactly why you are off. They will only confirm they assessed you as not fit to work.

If you do give your employer private information about yourself, you have the right to the information being kept private. If you are in any doubt, address this directly with your manager for your own peace of mind.

Saying something like “Please keep this information about my medical condition private” will suffice.


If you navigate the process of calling in sick to work well, it doesn’t have to be stressful. Approach it professionally like any other part of the job and it shouldn’t cause you any problems.

Further Reading

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