How to call in sick: Message examples and tips

When you’re feeling under the weather, taking care of yourself is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, this may mean that you have to call in sick to work from time to time.

Knowing how to call in sick by following the message examples and tips below can come in handy when that time comes.

Time off benefits vary from company to company, so it’s imperative to know your employer’s policy regarding sick time. Things like how many sick days you are allotted, whether sick days are paid or unpaid, and if personal days are also available to employees should all be covered in your employee handbook or new hire literature. 

The following tips and examples are best used for times when you simply need to take a sick day or two. Seeing a doctor if you think have a severe cold or illnesses like the flu is a good idea, especially if you anticipate being out of work for more than a day or so.

However, if you are severely ill need to be out of work for more than a week, it’s important to have a more detailed conversation with your boss and with human resources to discuss your options.

Tips for when you need to call in sick

1. Notify your employer ASAP – As soon as you know that you’re too ill to work, let your employer know that you will be out sick. Unless you truly do start to feel under the weather immediately before work, waiting until the last minute can be seen as unprofessional and put your boss and coworkers in a bind — especially if your boss needs to find someone to fill in for you.

2. Follow your employer’s protocols – If you are debating whether to call your employer directly or send an email message to call in sick, check your employee handbook. While some employers allow messages to be sent via email or messaging apps like Slack, some do require an actual phone call to be made. 

3. Note your availability – During the call, let your employer know whether or not you will be available at all while you’re out sick. Depending on how sick you are, you may still be able to perform some work tasks or be in touch with your team to check in on projects. If you feel up to answering a few emails, for example, it’s ok to let your employer know that you can be reached by email with any pressing needs. 

4. Don’t overcommit – Although making yourself available to address urgent issues or answer emails while out sick can help you from falling behind at work, it’s important not to put too much stress on yourself to try to work if you are truly very ill. When your body needs time to recover and heal, don’t overcommit to performing work tasks if you’re concerned that you may not be able to complete them.

5. Keep it brief – Letting your boss know that you’ll be out sick should be quick and easy. Don’t overcomplicate the situation by providing too many details about your illness. Simply letting your employer know that you will be out sick and what your availability is is enough. Answer questions if you’re asked directly, but there is no need to explain your exact symptoms in detail. 

6. Follow up – If your employer requires documentation after returning to work such as a doctor’s note, be sure to have that on hand or send electronically when it’s time to get back to work. 

Example messages for how to call in sick

If you need some inspiration for the next time you need to call in sick to work by sending an email or text message, try using one of the templates below based on how long you anticipate being out of work.

Out one day:

Hello [Manager’s name],

I am not feeling well and need to take a sick day today. I will be available by email for any pressing needs and anticipate being able to return to work tomorrow. 

Thank you,

[Your name]

Out multiple days:

Hello [Manager’s name],

I am sick with [the flu, a cold, strep throat, etc.] and my doctor has recommended taking [number] days off work to recover. I hope to be well enough to return on [date]. I have contacted my team by email with instructions for how to proceed in my absence.


[Your name]

Unsure of return:

Hello [Manager’s name],

I am ill and need to take a sick day. I will be seeing my doctor today and will update you on an anticipated return date once I know more. In the interim, I can be reached by email. 

Thank you for understanding,

[Your name]

Although not every workplace allows messages to be sent when you need to call in sick, you can use similar wording over the phone as well.

What if you’re not really sick?

Sometimes, you might also need to take a sick day for reasons other than being truly ill. For example, if your company does not offer personal days, calling in sick when you’re not actually sick may be your only option. 

A June 2020 Zippia survey revealed that 52% of American workers have faked sick to get out of work, which means this phenomenon is fairly common. Whether you’re feeling the effects of burnout, have to attend to a sick child or family member, need a day to complete personal errands, or any other number of reasons, the process for how to call in sick is the same. 

When you’re calling in sick to work, but aren’t really sick, try to stick to a brief email or text message if your company’s notification guidelines allow this method. (Making up a wild excuse instead of simply saying you’re sick is not recommended.) Also, it’s a good idea to stay off of social media and not notify any co-workers that you’re stretching the truth about being sick, lest your boss finds out.

What if you have COVID-19?

Instead of a simple message to call in sick, if you think you have been infected with or have been exposed to COVID-19, it’s important to let your employer know by phone or email immediately. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that each employer provide a workplace health and safety plan for employees to follow in the event of coronavirus exposure or infection. It is imperative to follow your employer’s plan if you suspect you may have COVID-19 or have tested positive.