Calling in sick

Being sick sucks, but calling in sick can be even harder. However, we are only human, and it’s normal to feel under the weather. Here we discuss some tips for how to phone in sick, what are your rights and the one dread on everyone’s mind: can you get fired?

When to call in sick

Wondering when the right time to call in sick can be a little tricky. If you wake up with a slight headache or a runny nose, you can attempt to go into work with the hope the symptoms will soften up throughout the day.

However, if you work in an environment where sanitation is vital, such as working in a hospital or school, then it is best to stay at home (you don’t want to be patient zero!)

If you work in an office, then co-workers may not appreciate you coughing all over their keyboard. Therefore, a good alternative would be to work from home instead.

Nonetheless, it always boils down to how you feel. If going to work will significantly impact on your performance, others and subsequently make you feel worse; phoning in sick will give you time to recover.

So you decided to phone in sick, which brings us onto our next section.

What happens if you take off more than one day?

7 days or less

If you are ill for 7 days or less, then it is not required to provide a doctor’s note to an employer. Instead, there is a self-certification whereby you sit down with your employer, sign a form and email off details regarding your sickness.

7 days or more

If you are sick for more than 7 days, then you will need to provide your employer with a doctor’s ‘fit note’, (also known as a doctor’s note). The 7 days and over includes weekends and bank holidays too.

Doctor’s note can be requested for free if the employee has been sick for more than 7 days; otherwise, they may charge a small fee if it is less.

If you are ill for 7 days or less, then it is not required to provide a doctor’s note to an employer. Instead, there is a self-certification whereby you sit down with your employer, sign a form and email off details regarding your sickness.

Long-term sickness

Employees who are off work sick for more than 4 weeks may be considered long-term sick. A long-term sick employee is still entitled to annual leave.

You can be dismissed if you have a persistent or long-term illness that makes it impossible for you to do your job.

Before taking any action, your employer should:

  • look for ways to support you - eg considering whether the job itself is making you sick and needs changing.
  • give you reasonable time to recover from your illness.

If you have a disability (which may include long-term illness), your employer has a legal duty to support disability in the workplace.

Dismissal because of a disability is unlawful discrimination.

How To Call In Sick?

Sick policies are often laid out in your employment contract. Most commonly, a manager will need to be notified at least thirty minutes before your shift starts. But don’t worry, knowing how to call in sick isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

Firstly, do you call, email or text? This depends on a few factors.

  • Feeling sick the night before work and have a gut feeling that it won’t get better? (pun unintended) Best to send an email. If you’re unsure what to write, we have email script examples here.

  • Follow what has been disclosed in your contract. Companies may specify you can only phone to notify a colleague. Otherwise, most prefer an email as this does not disrupt their working day.

OK, that’s cool, what else should I know?

  • Keep it brief. No one wants to know the extent of your stomach bug and how many times you have been to the toilet.

  • Are you scared of going hungover to work? Unfortunately, being a young student, if you are going to call in sick over the weekend most likely the assumption is: you’re too hungover.

If this is the case, before alerting your manager, try and get somebody to cover your shift. This softens the blow of you not turning up to work on an undoubtedly busy day.

Don’t over dramatise your sickness. Coughing down the phone or giving the false pretence you are dying will only give your manager more cause to disbelieve you.

Finally, knowing who to contact when calling in sick is crucial too.

You may feel more comfortable telling a close co-worker instead of a manager, but unfortunately, that’ll annoy them even more. Know your point of contact from day one, and this could be one of the following:

  • Supervisor
  • Team Leader
  • Manager
  • HR Assistant

What To Say When Calling In Sick

This is not to advocate fake calling in sick; however, for a seamless conversation over the phone below is a concise and effective script to help with you phoning in sick.

You: “Hello [name], I’m phoning up to say I woke up feeling pretty badly today. I think I am coming down with a fever and moving around makes it feel worse. I have already booked a doctors appointment as I’m unaware if it is contagious or not. I should take the day off so I can rest and hopefully can come back tomorrow. I will answer emails from home and will rearrange any meetings for a later date. Thank you for your understanding.”

Can you get fired for calling in sick?

If your employer believes you are fake calling in sick, then they will hold a return to a work meeting and discuss the possibilities. If so, disciplinary action will follow.

Also, if you are phoning in sick to attend a second job, then that is known as gross-misconduct and can lead to a fair dismissal.

In essence, if you are suffering from long-term sickness and your employer has done everything they can to support you and give you enough time to recover, then they can dismiss you fairly.

If the company does not follow this procedure, then it can be unlawful discrimination against disability.

Nonetheless, if you are phoning in sick and they fire you immediately, then you may be eligible to make a claim against them in a court or tribunal.

You can be dismissed if you have a persistent or long-term illness that makes it impossible for you to do your job.

Before taking any action, your employer should:

  • look for ways to support you - eg considering whether the job itself is making you sick and needs changing.
  • give you reasonable time to recover from your illness.

If you have a disability (which may include long-term illness), your employer has a legal duty to support disability in the workplace.

Dismissal because of a disability may be unlawful discrimination.

You will need to figure out if your long term illness isn’t caused by burnout and stress. Because if it is, there could be a chance to address this appropriately and to make a positive change in your life.

If a prolonged sickness is causing you issues, maybe it's time to look for a flexible part-time job, instead? Register and upload your CV for free on StudentJob.

All about well-being at work