Reasons to Call in Sick

Do You Have a Good Reason to Stay Home From Work?

Young woman sitting on edge of bed, holding head in hand
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When you wake up with an upset stomach or a stuffy nose, is your first thought "Oh no," or do you think it's okay to take a sick day even when you aren't ill? If you are a member of the first camp, you may be underutilizing your sick days, but if you count yourself among the second, you may be misusing them.

5 Good Reasons to Call in Sick

Your sick days are yours to use when you need them. Put your workaholic tendencies aside and realize that it's a rare organization that falls apart because of one employer's absence.

You may even save everyone else from catching what you have. Going to work sick means you will spread your germs around the office, which is sure to annoy your coworkers. You also won't be productive. Here are some good reasons to stay home:

  • You Have an Illness That Might Be Contagious: If you suspect you have something that your coworkers could catch, stay home until you are better or know for sure that you have an illness that isn't contagious. For example, if you are throwing up or have diarrhea, you could have a stomach virus. The sudden onset of symptoms like fever, chills, and body aches, could be symptoms of the flu. That is something that can spread through a workplace like a wildfire and take down everything in its path. If your eyes are red, swollen, and crusty, you may have conjunctivitis—also known as pink eye—which is highly communicable. A severe sore throat with swollen glands is a symptom of strep throat. It can be spread to coworkers.
  • You Have a Fever: You will get a fever if you are fighting an infection. Not only is it a symptom of a contagious illness, it will also keep you from being able to work efficiently. You will likely also be very tired. Go to the doctor to find out if you need an antibiotic. Whether or not you do, get plenty of rest.
  • You Have a Rash: A rash can be very uncomfortable and some rashes are communicable. Until you know its cause of a rash, avoid contact with other people. If you know it isn't contagious, you can go back to work, but don't be surprised it your coworkers are concerned. While you don't have to go until detail, you can inform them they can't catch it. If your rash is itchy, scratching it is going to be very off-putting, so try to take care of that in private.
  • You Are in Significant Pain: Headaches, injuries, sprains, broken bones, and other problems can cause severe or significant pain. After you have taken the proper measures to make sure nothing that can endanger your overall health is causing it, you can go to work if you choose. Realize, however, that that you may not be able to operate at your peak performance and pain medication will compound that problem. You will benefit from rest.
  • You Have a Common Cold: Whether or not you should call in sick because you have a cold depends on its severity. If you are rapidly emptying boxes of tissues and have an uncontrollable cough, you've got a pretty bad cold. You will have trouble concentrating and will likely spread germs to others. If your cold is not that severe and you must go to work, wash your hands frequently and keep your phone and computer germ-free by wiping them down with alcohol wipes if others use them. If your coworkers keep their distance, don't be offended. It may not be the garlic dill you had with lunch, but instead their fear of catching what you have.

    If you have a serious illness that requires taking time off from work, you may be able to use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks off from work. Your employer doesn't have to pay you for this time—unless you live in as state that has its own family and medical leave law that requires it to—but the organization must allow you to return to your position or a similar one when your leave ends.

    5 Bad Excuses for Taking a Sick Day

    If you call in sick excessively, it may get your boss's attention. As opposed to taking a personal or vacation day, you will notify your boss that you can't come to work shortly before you are supposed to be there. That could leave everyone scrambling to cover your duties. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use the days your employer has allotted to you when you are truly ill and unable to do your job.

    However, you should not take advantage of sick days to tend to matters for which a personal or vacation day would be more suitable. Whenever you can notify your boss ahead of time that you need to take off, you should do so. Here are some examples:

    • You Have a Previous Engagement: If you know in advance about something you need to attend—for example an event at your child's school or an appointment—use your personal or vacation time.
    • You'd Rather Go to the Beach: When you wake up and the sun is shining, your thoughts may turn to sand and surf. It's unfair to leave your colleagues in the lurch so you can have a day basking in the sun. Plan your trip to the beach ahead of time and request a vacation or personal day.
    • You Have a Job Interview: Congratulations! Interviews sometimes come up suddenly so it's understandable that you might need to schedule one on short notice. If your boss doesn't know you are looking for a new job, telling her you need to take off for one isn't an option. Instead try to schedule it before or after work. If your schedule is flexible, perhaps you can adjust it so you can come in early and leave early, or come in and leave late.
    • You Are Tired: Did you stay up too late? Unless you are feeling really sick, that isn't a good enough reason to take the day off. Suck it up and head to work. Take a quick nap during your lunch hour and plan to go to bed earlier that night.
    • You Have to Observe a Religious Holiday: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers with over 15 employees to allow their workers to take time off for religious observance unless it causes the organization undue hardship. This absence should come out of your personal or vacation time.