The Etiquette Of Calling In Sick To Work

Do you call, text or email? And how much detail do you give?
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If your alarm goes off and you’re feeling unwell, unable to make it into work, how do you let your boss know? It might be tempting to drop them a quick WhatsApp message, but is that the best way to do it?

The issue is topical, considering the first Monday of February is dubbed ‘National Sickie Day’ – the day people are most likely to call in sick to work.

In 2018, an estimated 141.4 million working days were lost because of sickness in the UK – that’s 4.4 days per worker. Those most likely to phone in ill were women, older workers, people with long-term health conditions, part-time workers, and those in organisations with 500 or more employees, according to data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Among the most common reasons for absence were minor illnesses like coughs and colds; problems like back pain and neck; and mental health conditions including stress, depression and anxiety.

By calling in sick when you’re ill, you’re doing your colleagues “a courtesy” by containing the spread of anything that might be contagious – so try not to feel bad about it, says Lucy Hume, associate director of etiquette training company Debrett’s. So how do you do it?

Phone, email, text message?

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, says you need to make sure you follow your employer’s policy. “The best way is the method that has been agreed by your workplace,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“In some instances people will be required to call and try and speak to their line manager, while in others an email or text will be fine.”

Hume suggests the method you use should also depend on the time of day. “Typically a phone call is best, but if it is outside of office hours, send an email,” she says.

Let your manager know as soon as you make the decision you’re not well enough to work, so they have as much notice as possible. This will be first thing in the morning for most people, says Willmott. Or if you’re feeling really unwell the night before, you might want to send them a message to let them know.

What do you say?

Should you ask permission for a sick day, or simply tell your boss you’re taking it? “You are within your rights to inform your employer that you are ill and will be taking time off sick,” says Willmott. “Employers have a duty of care for the health and wellbeing of their staff and if they are not seen to have acted reasonably in this regard, they are likely to fall foul of the law.”

It’s worth noting that employees must give their employer a doctor’s ‘fit note’ (sometimes called a ‘sick note’) if they’ve been ill for more than seven days in a row and have taken sick leave.

And what about the gory details?

It might be tempting to go into detail about your illness, so they don’t think you’re making it up. But they probably don’t want to know the number of times you’ve rushed to the bathroom to vomit. “Keep your message short and to the point,” says Hume.

All you need to do is provide a broad reason for your absence, like whether it’s due to a cold, flu, tummy bug, headache or mental health condition. Ultimately, your health is your business, says Willmott, so you don’t need to provide any more information than you’re comfortable with “unless there is a clear workplace health and safety reason for doing so”.

Providing some information about the reason for your absence can also help your boss consider what support you might need and how long you’re likely to be off for.

Any definite no-nos?

Plenty. First up, don’t wait until you’re due in to let your employer know you’re sick, as this gives them little time to organise cover for your absence. Secondly, don’t rely on a colleague to leave a message with your manager that you’re not coming in – tell them yourself.

“Don’t completely drop off the grid,” adds Hume. “Always make sure your phone is nearby, in case of an emergency at work.”

And don’t assume your manager will know you’re not coming in because you were sick the day before, adds Willmott. It’s important to keep your employer up-to-date.