Career Advice

How (And When) To Call in Sick — Even When You Work Remotely

It goes without saying that at some point in your career, you'll come down with a cold or virus that will require you to stay home from work, drink excessive amounts of tea, and make good use of that gravity blanket you impulse-bought off of Amazon.


The hard part is deciding if you actually should make the call to your boss to let them know you won't be in, what to say, and how to say it. You know you won't nearly be your best self, and will run the risk of getting your coworkers sick, but you also don't want to look like you're slacking or leave anyone in a lurch.

At the end of the day, it is important to prioritize yourself and your health, while making sure you're taking the necessary steps to leave your employer and your teammates in the best position possible.

This is true even if you're a remote employee. Just because you can't pass your germs onto your coworkers doesn't mean you should try and be a work-hero when what your body really needs is rest and recovery.

So, how do you decide whether you should call in sick?

You know your body better than anyone, and ultimately only you can decide if you can work or not. That said, there are some basic questions to ask yourself when you're on the fence about whether that headache really warrants a day at home.
  1. Are you contagious?
  2. Do you have a fever?
  3. Will time in bed help the problem?
  4. Are you in need of immediate medical attention?
  5. Will time on your feet/at work exacerbate the problem?
If you've answered yes to any of those questions, you should plan on spending the day at home. If you know you're contagious but feel good enough to work, request permission to work from home (more on that below). And if you already work from home, you're all set.
If you feel deep down like you're in too much pain and/or too tired to work, the best thing you can do for yourself and your company is to take a proper sick day. Get in bed with some soup and pain meds and rest up. (And make sure you see your doctor if you're not sure why you're sick!)
You're better off working when you can be more effective. In these more severe cases, whether you have the option to work from home or are a full-time remote employee, make sure you're clear with your boss that you're really too ill to work and won't be online (more on that below).

"Ok, I'm going to call in sick... how do I do it?"

Choose The Right Method of Communication and Do It ASAP

We can't predict when we'll get sick — after all, it's not entirely uncommon to go to bed feeling fine and wake up wondering if you got hit by a bus.

But even when illness comes on suddenly, try and decide as quickly as possible whether you can make it to work that day and let your boss/HR department know right away.

Make sure you follow whatever protocol your company has for calling in — and make sure you know said protocol. Nothing's worse than feeling like you've been hit by a boss and then panicking about who you need to tell that you won't be making it to work that day.

Larger companies will often have a hotline for you to call, whereas at smaller ones the expectation may be simply to text or Slack your boss.

If you don't already know, be sure to check whether the company requires/prefers to have documentation of your illness from your doctor upon your return. Yes, it's an absolute pain to drag yourself to the doctors when you've been puking all morning, but if you work at a company that wants to see formal documentation for everything, it may be in your best interest to suck it up and go.

Keep It Short And Be Clear On Your Availability

Once you've followed protocol, be sure to contact your boss explaining what's up and addressing your availability.

Your boss doesn't want to know all the details regarding your illness - they just want to know that you'll be out, why, and what your availability will be throughout the day. For both in office and remote employees, communicate when and if you'll be going to the doctors and that you'll be sparingly checking your email (if you can).

Again, be sure to get a doctors note if you can - even if it's not required of your company to submit one, it's always helpful to have the documentation should any questions arise later on. If you're extremely ill and will be completely off the grid (a.k.a sleeping all day), make sure you communicate that as well. This will help ensure that your team can be respectful of the time you need to recover and save you from any unnecessary requests/emails.

If you're contagious but otherwise capable of functioning and choosing to stay somewhat accessible through email or chat for questions or concerns, be sure to communicate that as well. Let your boss and team know what you'll be capable of doing from home, and what will have to wait (meetings, pitches, etc.).

Finally, if you're playing it "touch and go," be upfront with that. Maybe you've got a terrible headache that you think will pass in a few hours. Or you need to go to the doctor for a sprained ankle and will be able to work after that. Whatever the case, be sure to let everyone know up front that you won't be available until X time, at which point you will provide an update on your status and availability.

Be Clear On Important Information

In the event that you've got an important meeting or are approaching an important deadline, make sure all of those things are communicated to the right people (or at a minimum, let your boss know so they can communicate it on your behalf). Of course this is the last thing you want to do if you're really, really sick, but you'll feel better if you muster up the strength to delegate accordingly.

If you have any important presentations or meetings and there's simply no way you can present, talk to your boss ASAP to develop a contingency plan. Sure, it's not ideal, but that's what teamwork and problem solving are all about.

Follow Up

Once you're healthy and back into your normal work day schedule, the first thing you should do is check in with everyone you interact with regularly and see if they've got everything they need from you and if there are any details from your time away that you should know about. That way, your absence won't have any lasting effects on projects or tasks that need to be completed.

----

It's normal to feel guilty when calling in sick — especially if you work from home already — but just remember that it's not your fault you're feeling ill, and a good team will be ready to support you when you're not at your best. If you follow these tips, you'll show your company and your coworkers that you want the best for your team, even when you're sick.

Let them cover for you so you can focus on your #1 job for the day — recovery.


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