How To Call In Sick, From The Guy Who Answers The Phone.

Photograph of Women Working at a Bell System T...

Call now, operators are standing by (Image by The U.S. National Archives via Flickr)

I have been supervising people since the early ’90’s. Part of being a supervisor entails being the person people call in sick to. Over the years I have dealt with people who were very good at the art of calling in for a sick day. I have also dealt with complete hacks.

Today I am going to review a few important points I’ve developed from my years of picking up the phone and taking those “I’m afraid I can’t make it in” calls. By following these few simple tips, you’ll keep yourself in the boss’s good graces.


When you call in sick is as important as the reason you do it. Calling in sick moments before you’re due at the office doesn’t tell the boss you’re sick, it sends the message that you woke up late.

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

Timing is critical (Image via Wikipedia)

How do you avoid this? The best at calling in sick do it around the time they’d have to leave their home to be at work on time. Making your call at this point delivers a more positive message – ” I tried. I got up and could be there if I weren’t so ill.”

While we’re talking timing, let’s explore the after hours call to the boss’s cell phone.

Calling the boss the night before can be helpful in situations where your absence requires that someone be located to fill your position at work for the day. Outside of that circumstance, it is generally a bad idea to call the boss at home to tell her that you’re not well. It isn’t that your supervisor doesn’t care about you, she probably just doesn’t care at that moment.

Remember, your boss probably doesn’t like thinking about work when she’s at home any more than you do. Be courteous, call in the morning.

When You Call In Sick, Make An Actual Call

Text messages and emails are great, in their place. This is not their place. Supervisors want to hear your voice in this situation.

When you call in sick, your boss does a quick calculation of the pitifulness quotient of your voice and your tale of woe. A quiet background and sick sounding voice (I don’t have to describe it, you know how to do the sick voice) will result in your sick call being well received.

A text message that says “I’m sick, can’t make it in” might as well say “I flew to Vegas and lost my shirt at the casino; I’m not sure how I’m getting home, and I may be married to the person I found in my hotel room this morning.”

When you are truly ill, don’t rob yourself of the value of a high pitifulness quotient with an ill-conceived text or e-mail. Call the boss.

Is It Ever Permissible To Text In Sick?

Actually, it is, but only in the most dire of circumstances.

CAT scan

Ask yourself – Does my treatment plan involve a CAT scan? (Image by Muffet via Flickr)

Allow me to define dire circumstances for those who might need some extra help. If you are in a place that is not your home and have heard any of these words…

gurney, suture, I.V., stat, bedpan, heart monitor, CAT scan, x-ray, morphine, anesthesiologist

…used in sentences that involve you, you are in dire circumstances and may text in sick.

Here are two examples of text messages I have received in the middle of the night letting me know I would not see someone at the office in the morning. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which person got an unpleasant response.

4:30 am: Appendix. They’re going to cut me. Not working. Will call.

3:15 am: I’ve got a sore throat. Put me out on sick leave please.

Calling In Sick When You’re Not Sick

You know it happens, I know it happens, so does your boss. Both of us would encourage you not to call in sick simply to get an extra day off. There may come a day that you need that sick leave, it will hurt to go without pay if it happens!


It seems one of my employees found race cars very germy. (Image via Wikipedia)

That said, if you choose to do it, don’t insult your boss’s intelligence. We all know people get sick on Fridays and Mondays. But if you seem to be getting sick too often on Friday or Monday, know that you’re going to be getting some face time with the supervisor that neither of you want. I’ll make my point here with a true tale from my experience.

I had an employee who was frequently ill on Monday. Eventually I figured out that his sick Mondays correlated with how close that weekend’s NASCAR race was to our town. If it was within a day’s drive, he’d have some ailment that made him unable to make it to the office. Weekends where there wasn’t a race within reach were followed by healthy Mondays.

I tell you this tale to make a point. If you get called in to discuss  your sick leave, and you’ve been faking it a little, odds are that the jig is up. Contrition is in order.

My race fan chose the strategy of strict denial. It didn’t go well for him. Any boss worth his or her salt is not going to take that sort of meeting lightly and will have done their homework. The NASCAR schedule is on the internet. Like I said, it didn’t go well for our race fan friend.

Be Smart. Call When You’re Sick, Show Up When You’re Not.

It is the cold and flu season. If you’re feeling puny, you’re not helping anyone by going to work and sharing your misery. Be sure that when you’re under the weather and can’t work that you are smart about it. Keep the goodwill of the people who sign your paychecks – pick up the phone.


56 Comments on “How To Call In Sick, From The Guy Who Answers The Phone.”

  1. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Yes – the Monday, Friday thing – who buys that? Also, unless it’s the day after New Year’s day and you’re still badly hung over or in jail, stretching out the holiday weekend by calling in sick is pretty darn suspicious.

  2. planetross says:

    Excellent advice for the mere mortal, … but I am Iron Man!!!
    I don’t think I’ve ever phoned in sick.
    I’d have to be dead to phone in sick!
    I am Iron Man.
    Did I say that already?

    • omawarisan says:

      from now on I am going to listen to Iron Man whenever I read your blog, as all people should be doing. Ok, I dont care if they listen to Iron Man, but they should be reading you.

      he has turned to steel, in the great magnetic field…

  3. writerdood says:

    We’ve got some strange unspoken policy whereby if we call in sick it’s a convention to spam the entire engineering department with the tale of woe, letting everyone know what it is and that you’re not coming in. I’m not sure where this policy originates, but it does “appear” to have the effect of making it somewhat difficult to call in sick unless you’re really feeling crappy. As for phone calls, no one seems to care. We live out of email around here anyway. Calling without also emailing would be… strange and probably bad.

  4. Betty says:

    Can you do me a favor, please, and next time you use a NASCAR image, select one that has the #88 car in the lead followed by the #14, #39, and #24? Oh, wait, how are your PhotoShop skills?

  5. I work with a lady who we used to call Ms. Monday as at least every other Monday she was ill. The jig was finally up one day, she had ‘the talk’ with the boss lady and she then turned into Ms. Denial but its funny how all of a sudden her Monday illnesses have been cured.
    A miracle I tell you!

  6. shoutabyss says:

    I don’t know how to call in sick. Maybe I should work for you? I think it’s been six years or more since I called in.

    Can’t call in sick scenarios

    Also, you forgot one of the funnest things.

    When I was younger I worked for a big company that wasn’t very nice. You’d put in a days off request months in advance for an important day and they’d deny it for no reason at all. Then, when that day came around, you’d call in sick.

    It was the quintessential move. They knew exactly what you were doing but you did it anyway.

    We did that for a while, but eventually we learned to only use days off request forms for days we didn’t really care about. For the days that were really important we’d forgo the request, wait for the day, then call-in. That must have been how they wanted it because that’s how they trained us. Why take a chance when you could go for the sure thing?

    Of course, eventually they caught on to that, too, then came Phase 2. That’s where they punish you by requiring a doctor’s note before you could return to work.

    If you ever make it to Phase 2 then you know you’re working for a top flight company.

    • omawarisan says:

      See, we had a phase two…three days out required a note, but that is no more. Truthfully, I’m glad of that. When I’m sick, thats really not their biz. We also used to have to write the reason they were sick…flu, migrane, whatever, on this form that hung in the office. Hated doing that. I eventually started writing things on sticky notes andputting them in the bosses office to at least limit the invasion into peoples privacy.

  7. educlaytion says:

    Good tips for sure. Would you also say that people build up reputations over time? I’m guessing that some people can call and say whatever they want because they never miss. Conversely, you probably have some people who could text “gunshot. liver. Brazilian ninjas. hospital.” and no one would believe them. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t believe that either. Like a Brazilian ninja would shoot a gun.

    • omawarisan says:

      Ohhhh yeah on the reputation. Some people get sun poisoning. First really nice day after a rainy stretch, they are out. You can set your weatherman by it..or something like that.

  8. Hippie Cahier says:

    I am relieved to know someone still calls it “calling IN sick.” Lately I hear everyone saying “calling OUT sick.” I’ve been confused.

  9. You’ve been supervising people since the early 90s, oma? You must be exhausted.
    I have heard the most amazing “sick calls” over the years too – I wanted to award Oscars to most of those callers, but they needed to be a little better at acting.

  10. Jane says:

    He, he, he. You could present workshops on this to businesses for new employee training. It’s amazing how many people haven’t yet learned about the Friday / Monday illnesses. I think it’s sweet the way bosses pretend to believe that.

  11. pattypunker says:

    i have severe cramps. i’m going to need to take a nuclear powered narcotic to combat them and i am not supposed to drive when i take them. also, it’s more fun to read blogs when i’m home and in an altered state.

  12. Katybeth says:

    Love working for myself–this is something I just don’t have to deal with…on the other hand when I am sick…my campers still want breakfast and need to go out before they cuddle up to commiserate with me.
    My kid takes mental health days from school. I would rather he tell me he needs a day off than he doesn’t feel good. He has already learned the value of not taking Monday and Friday off it seems those are usually test days and he would rather not face a make-up test at lunch–mmm his teacher may be smarter than he gives them credit for…

  13. Hmm…you know, there IS potential that he got sick from the NASCAR races. You’ve seen the people that go to these events! (Seriously…just kidding to anyone who goes to them – I know they aren’t that bad…they’re not monster trucks at least…and I’ve been to a WWE event, so I know what the bottom of the barrel looks like).

  14. When I worked in a call center, there were a lot of “kids” working there, who thought nothing of calling in sick for a hangnail…young people now don’t have the work ethic we were raised with (Oh no…I think I just said something my Grandma would have said!).


  15. linlah says:

    I find it helpful to call first thing when I get up, when my voice sounds like Lucille Ball.

  16. I love this topic. We once had a PA who was so bad at calling in sick (in spite of doing it once a week).

    In NZ, when someone calls in sick and co workers think it’s genuine you say, “Joe’s out sick.” When there is some question as to validity you say, “Joe threw a sickie.”

  17. Rob G says:

    Good tips! Here is a sort of related story that you might find interesting. I once was in a scheduling meeting where someone on my team wanted a vacation day but could not get it because the only person who could cover for him had already requested the same day off. Frank was making an ass of himself and trying to convince the other guy that he had something he absolutely needed to be at and could not miss. When the boss finally stepped in and asked him what was so important, Frank said he had to attend a funeral. Realizing the date they were competing for was two weeks away, I had asked the question that put the issue to rest. My query was whether Frank was planning a murder or had a relative on death row.

    Frank didn’t get any choice days off for quite a while after that.

  18. Todd Pack says:

    I will always avoid calling in sick on a Monday or Friday, just because I assume my boss assumes I’m lying. Of course, what happens then is that I sit at work coughing and feeling puny and looking pitiful until enough co-workers come by and say, “No, really, you should go home,” or, “Seriously, why are you here?”

  19. dottiemaggie says:

    “They’re going to cut me”
    that made my day. i’d totally send that text message.

    as it is, though, i never call in sick. thankfully because i’ve never been so sick i can’t function on a day i’m supposed to be at work. while i totally agree with the ‘if you have the flu stay the frick at home you germ bag’… when you’re the vet, it’s a bit tricky :S the other vets are likely also fully booked, and all my appointments need to be rescheduled, blah blah blah… and having drawn the short stick many many MANY times when other vets have had to call in legit unable to work, I can’t bring myself to call in sick unless I’m pretty sure i will die otherwise :/

    on the flip side, our support staff can call in sick willy nilly. and they tend to do so before the manager is in and leave a voicemail. i personally find it suspect when someone seems to be trying to get an overnight (when they are asked to stay all night with a patient, and they then get the following day off), they DON’T get that overnight, and then call in sick the next day…. FISHY. (this has happened more than once..)

    • omawarisan says:

      my position is similar to yours in that there are two of us, one has to be at the office 7 days a week, 365. my general policy is that I dont call in on my partners days off unless I am on a gurney.

  20. Val Erde says:

    How about if you’re a zombie and you’re texting from the morgue? Or do you have to go to your workplace and eat your employer’s/supervisor’s brain instead?

    • omawarisan says:

      Welcome Val.

      This is an important question and one that I solve with one word. Discrimination. I am completely opposed to that practice involving peoples race, faith, sexual orientation, etc. I think it is a vile practice.

      However, when it involves people who eat brains, I discriminate like crazy. I refuse to hire them.

  21. guidopip says:

    I find the best ‘sickness’ to have when calling in sick, if you can swallow your pride, is the embarrassing sickness. Some sort of leaking earwax symptom normally will net 2-3 days off, made all the more authentic by turning up to your next day at work with a large bandage around your head.

    • omawarisan says:

      Oh yeah, bizzarre and awful are the best things to call in with and people know it. Even now at my place, people dont have to say what’s wrong anymore, but when people have it bad, they say it anyhow to up their pitifulness quotient.

      Welcome to Blurt!

  22. Pauline says:

    At my job I have to tell three people when I’m sick, so it’s much easier to do this with email. It’s the system that was unoficially set up by my supervisor, so it seems fine. 🙂

  23. Deboshree says:

    I hate calling in sick – ain’t I the model employee? 😀
    It has happened only once or twice so far and on those occasions I have called up my TL – in the morning and at the right time – and let her know. What helps like you said is doing it when you are actually ill. That way you don’t have to worry about the right voice and the right excuse. 😉

  24. shoutabyss says:

    13 months early? Wow, that’s sick! Most places don’t let you carry it over.

    • omawarisan says:

      Aye. I will be 52 years old, far too old to be in my biz. The competition always gets younger. Actually, by the time the time comes, I will be able to leave about 15 months early, but will hang in until the end of the year so I can stick it to the man!

  25. […] be afraid, friend. Stop over for a visit, and then stay awhile. You’ll be glad you did. Here’s a link to his guide to calling in sick, and to one of my very favorites, dealing with anonymous […]

  26. Michelle Gillies says:

    The only time I ever called in sick was when I had scheduled surgery and then I had a month. I still got dumped like yesterdays bathwater when the economy hit the crapper.

  27. RJ says:

    I am no good at faking a sick voice over the phone. I also would be too nervous that I would get caught. As a result, I don’t recall having ever called in sick when I wasn’t.

  28. lewiscave says:

    What about the drunk tank? I called my boss just before going into the drunk tank. He was pissed! What did he think he was going to get hiring a ‘Junior Account Executive’ right out of college?

  29. I have totally texted in sick. But only because my supervisor never answers his phone and doesn’t have voicemail. It’s usually only in dire circumstances requiring a trip to the hospital, like you said though, because sick leave isn’t handed out lightly in Japan.

  30. lorithebrave says:

    This is great advice, and funny.

  31. Or just work in Korea where taking sick days pretty much means you don’t deserve your job.
    At least it’s made me more appreciative of the sick days I needed when I worked in Canada.
    As usual, grrrrrrrreat post!! 😀

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