How to Call Out of Work or Call In Sick

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on

No matter how dedicated you are to your job, there will be times when you can’t make it to work.

Perhaps you have the flu. Maybe you have a family emergency. Or, maybe you just need a day to relax.

Regardless of why, it’s essential to understand when and how to communicate that you’re going to miss work. We’ve gathered some tips for you that can make reaching out to your boss more straightforward.

What It Means to Call Out of Work

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“Calling out of work” doesn’t refer specifically to a phone call. It means notifying your manager that you cannot fulfill your duties.

You might be out for an afternoon if you begin feeling unwell at lunch. Or, you might need several days or even a few weeks to recover from a more severe illness.

Good Reasons to Call Out of Work

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The two most common reasons people call out are sickness and family emergencies. But other reasons are also valid.

When You’re Sick

Woman sick with the flu

If you have a virus, it’s best not to come into the office and risk infecting everyone else. Many companies have policies in place for that specific reason.

Managers generally want contagious team members to isolate and avoid spreading germs. And if you work remotely, it’s perfectly acceptable to request time off if you need to rest and recuperate.

When You’re Caring for Someone Who Is Sick

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When you’re the caretaker of an elderly parent or a young child who is home sick, you’ll need to stay home and care for them.

Some employers offer backup care as one of their perks. You can have a licensed caregiver come to your home while you go to work.

But you’re the only one who can determine if that’s the best option for your family. They might find more comfort with your presence.

When There’s an Emergency

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Emergencies aren’t always newsworthy, but they can still result in a bit of missed work. Suppose you have a teenager who had car troubles away from the house. You might need to assist them with safety and logistics.

What about a pipe bursting in your basement? You might need to take off a few hours or an entire day to get it repaired.

Most managers realize life happens, and there are unexpected events that can’t wait.

When You Need a Mental Health Day

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Taking a mental health day can boost your productivity if you’ve had a stressful week or month. You don’t always have to wait until your next vacation or holiday weekend to recharge.

Employers want their team members at work, but they also value employee morale. It’s OK to call out from work once in a while to prioritize your wellness.

How to Call Out of Work or Call In Sick

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Communicating clearly when calling out from work is essential. Your supervisor needs to know what to expect from your absence so that they can support the business appropriately.

Here are some tips for getting it right.

Be Polite and Concise

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Do your best to be courteous but brief when calling out.

Leave out details unless asked. Your manager doesn’t need to hear the entire story. They need to move into support mode, assessing how your absence will impact the team’s work.

Talk to the Right Person

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Don’t text your teammate and ask if they can let your boss know you won’t be in.

First, you can’t guarantee when they’ll get the message to your boss. Second, that’s disrespectful and doesn’t allow your manager to ask clarifying questions.

Find Out if You Can Work Remotely

African American woman working on computer at home.
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Depending on your job and how you call out, it may be possible to work remotely while handling your personal needs. This is usually an excellent option for absences when you’re not personally ill.

Follow Up When Necessary

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If you’ve called out from work with an extended illness, ensure you follow up with your boss. Clarify what’s expected regarding communication and updates during that time.

How Not to Call Out of Work

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Along with best practices, there are some communication styles you should avoid when communicating an absence to your leader.

Avoid Being Disrespectful

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Even if you don’t like your boss or your job, remaining respectful of their position is critical. You don’t need to explain yourself, but avoid being antagonistic or demanding.

If you’re calling out to interview elsewhere, remember you still rely on your paycheck. You don’t have the other job yet.

Avoid Calling Out Last-Minute

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If you can help it, avoid waiting until the last minute to call out unless it’s an emergency. You’ll look unprofessional if you do.

But more than that, you’re also showing a lack of respect for your manager and team members.

Don’t Make It a Habit

Stressed or bored woman working on laptop and avoiding taxes or work
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Calling out from work every once in a while is understandable, but it should not become a pattern. If you find yourself frequently taking days off, it’s time to reevaluate if your job is a good fit.

Different Ways to Communicate That You’re Calling Out

A young woman in glasses works at a table with a smartphone, tablet and laptop computer
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In today’s technology-driven world, you won’t always use a phone to “call out.” Depending on your job and the standard communication methods, you might send an email, a Slack notification, or even a text message.

Communicate with your leader via standard team technology. If you use several methods of communication, choose the one which will get the message to them the quickest.

Most importantly, ensure you’re acting appropriately regarding the impact your absence will create.

Sample Messages to Use When Calling Out of Work

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If you’re wondering how to put that all together, we’ve provided a few examples of how to call out of work.

Hi, _____. I won’t be able to log on for work today due to a family emergency. I may be available to work from home later this evening, but will keep you posted. Please let me know what needs to be prioritized in the event that is possible.

Hello, _____. I need to take an unexpected day off today due to my child’s school closure. I’ll do my best to keep up with emails and tasks as I can. Is there anything else you need from me before then?

Sample Message for When You’re Unsure of Your Return Date

Woman blowing her nose with Kleenex
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Or, when you’re sick and unsure of precisely when you’ll return, you might communicate something like this:

Hi, _____. I’m not feeling well and will be out today and likely tomorrow. I’ve already reached out to the team to update them on the two urgent proposals I’m working on. Let me know if you need any other information from me. Otherwise, I’ll keep you updated on my condition.

Balancing Self-Care and Your Career

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You should be honest and respectful when calling out from work to create an atmosphere of trust between you and your supervisor and between you and your team.

With clear communication, everyone involved will know what to expect during an absence. And this makes returning to work smoother for everyone.

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