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Calling in Sick to Work

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.

Calling in Sick to Work

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). Calling in Sick to Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.