People are often uncertain what to do when it comes to calling in sick at work. Some workplaces are so high pressure and intense that calling in sick is out of the question — you must show up unless you’re in the hospital. Most workplaces, however, allow their employees sick time for actual unexpected illness.

Sometimes people believe they shouldn’t call in sick, ever. They either want to “save” their sick time for when they feel even more sick, or cash it out if they ever leave the company (assuming the company has such a policy). The problem with not calling in sick when you are sick is a public health issue — you’re likely to infect other people in your place of work. People are more suspectible to colds and illness in the winter not because of the change of temperature, but because people spend a lot more time indoors, around other people. If you’re one of those people who believes you should “tough it out” when you’re ill and show up to work anyway, you’re the person who will likely contribute to other people catching your illness.

Common Concerns for Calling in Sick

Most people aren’t doctors, however, and don’t know whether what they have is infectious or not. When in doubt, don’t risk it. The following are a list of common concerns that people have and are legitimate reasons for calling sick into work:

  • Common Cold. For mild colds, most people can manage their day-to-day activities without too much trouble. However, when colds get more severe and you find yourself going through a box of tissues per day, you should stay home.

    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 co-workers 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.

  • Flu or a Fever. A sudden fever, chills, and achiness usually means you have the flu. This can run through a workplace like wildfire taking down everyone in it’s path. You won’t feel up to standing, never mind working, so stay home.

    A fever indicates that your body is trying to fight off an infection. The infection may or may not be contagious so don’t take a chance of sharing it with your co-workers. Besides, a fever usually makes you feel pretty miserable, and you won’t be productive anyway.

  • Rash or Pink Eye. Until you know the cause of a rash, avoid contact with other people. If you know the reason for the problem, the rash isn’t contagious, and you’re not too uncomfortable, you can probably go to work.

    Pink eye, also known by its medical name, conjunctivitis, is an eye infection or inflammation. Its symptoms can include eye redness or swelling, and you may feel like you have sand in your eye. It can be extremely contagious, so you should not have contact with other people until you’ve visited a doctor. If she determines that it is contagious, you will have to use antibiotic eye drops for 24 hours before you can return to work.

  • Stomach Problems. If you have diarrhea or you are vomiting, it could be food poisoning or it could be a stomach virus. The latter is very contagious, so why put your co-workers at risk?
  • Severe Sore Throat or Other Serious Pain. A severe sore throat, especially if you also have a high fever and swollen glands, could mean strep throat, which is quite contagious. Go to the doctor for a throat culture and wait for the results before you return to work. If you have a positive result he or she will prescribe an antibiotic and tell you when you can return to work (usually after 24 hours of taking the medicine).

    Even if you know the cause of your pain isn’t anything that will endanger your health, you should consider staying home from work. You will probably have trouble focusing on anything else but that pain.

  • Mental Health Days. Stress is a serious problem that can lead to physical illness or other problems in your life. If you just discovered you’re going to get divorced, your child is having a surgery, or you have to attend your spouse’s parent’s funeral, these are all legitimate reasons to take a day off for yourself or your loved ones.

Avoid calling in sick if you’re not really sick or don’t have a good “mental health day” excuse for needing the day off. While you can do this once or twice and get away with it, it’ll be embarrassing to you if you’re ever found out.

Tips for Making the Call

Calling in sick is something that sometimes people build up to be this really big thing, because we all fear others will not believe that we are ill. (If you’re not ill, and are just calling in to take a free vacation day, that’s a different story.) Here’s some tips to make the call painless and quick:

  • Call voicemail or send an email. Whenever possible, call your boss’s voice mail or send him an e-mail rather than speaking with him or her directly. This avoids the possibility of questions and awkward advice that often trips up the caller.
  • Keep the message short and to the point. Sometimes people feel the need to go into some degree of detail when describing why they’re not coming in, including descriptions of the particular illness. This is not necessary and nobody really wants that level of detail. Just mention some of the symptoms you’re experiencing and your feeling like it would be best to take care of yourself. If you’re going to see a doctor about the illness, mention that as well.
  • Call as soon as you’ve decided to stay home. The earlier in the day or the sooner before your shift starts, the better. That way your boss can find someone to take your place (if it’s a job that requires a certain staffing level), and will appreciate being given the notice and time to do so.
  • Feeling ill over a number of days. If you’ve been feeling ill for a few days, mention it to a coworker or your boss in passing as you’re experiencing the illness. That reinforces the message that you are indeed sick when you call in to take a day off for it. Don’t make plans at the office for your sick day, even if you know you’re calling in sick the next day. It hurts your credibility if your plans are discovered.

Remember, sick days are a benefit of many modern places of work, and it is something the company has factored into their overall finances and operations. Companies recognize that we all get sick from time to time and need some time off because of it. Use your sick days when you’re feeling sick, and your co-workers will be thankful that you didn’t spread the illness within the workplace or office.