9 to 5 Culture

How to Call in Sick to Work

Everyone needs some time off. Everyone gets sick. Whether you belong in the former camp or the latter, your boss my not believe you when you tell him you have the sniffles (or a fever of 107) and need a day. If you know the right way to call in sick, you can make this process a lot less painful and anxiety-inducing for yourself. Here is a guide I have put together to help you through one of life’s more painful processes.

How and When to Call

There are definitely some important do’s and don’t for calling in sick.  One of the “don’ts” is to call at the last minute.  In fact, call early in the morning (like 6:30 or 7) if you can, for reasons given below.

Also, never disguise your voice or make it “sound” sick. Most people can see right through this, and when you are really sick (unless you have laryngitis) you don’t generally sound much different anyway. One tip a friend of mine gave me is to call right after you wake up when your voice is still “froggy” sounding from sleeping. This sounds far more realistic and you don’t have to “act.”  This is one good reason for calling early!

The other reason for calling early is that it gives you the option of speaking to an answering machine instead of a real person.  This always makes things easier.  Since nobody is usually in the office at 6:30 in the morning, you will not have to speak to a live person.  This will make your life much easier!  Your “illness” will be far more convincing because there is far less anxiety when speaking with a robot. Robots don’t talk back.

However, if there are no answering machines, or you wait too long, try to speak to a receptionist when you call. It’s much easier to talk to a gatekeeper than your actual boss when calling in sick.  It’s the far lesser of two evils.

What to Say

If you cannot talk to an answering machine, you need to be firm. If you say something like “I am not really feeling well… it might be hard for me to get to work today,” then you leave the door open for your boss asking you to be on call, to call in later if you feel better, or worst of all, to come in anyway.

There are hundreds of reasons your boss might say, “well, we have a busy day today. Please come in! If you don’t feel well you can leave early after getting your work done.” Right.

My favorite question is “Well, unless you are on your deathbed, can you come in and gut it out?” I feel like responding with “So, anything short of certain death gives me a summons to make coffee for you?” This is what you do NOT want. Don’t give him or her the opportunity.

Just say “I am sick and will not be coming in to work today.” End of story. Don’t leave any doors open. Make it short and simple. Don’t worry if you think he doesn’t believe you – the damage control will be done when you return to the office, which is more important!

When You Return to Work

If you play hooky from work, don’t underestimate how important it is to complete the lie. Your return to the office is actually the point in your “illness” where you have the least margin for error. If you are going to take a day off and call in sick, you should plan on acting accordingly when you do return. Your great story and cover can be completely destroyed when you return just because you got too much sun during your day off and your new tan gave you away.

Remember, you’ve created a masterpiece. Don’t spoil this perfect cake by forgetting to take it out of the damn oven!

When you do return, act normally. When someone asks if you are feeling better (especially your boss) say, “Slightly, but I might still be contagious. You should probably keep your distance.”

This serves three purposes:

  1. It makes your story more believable
  2. You may be given the option of leaving early (taking another half day if you wish)
  3. (The best) Your boss will keep his distance from you and leave you alone!

The best kind of illness to fake is a stomach virus/food poisoning. This is because nobody can work when they are puking. It leaves absolutely no room for shoulds. Nobody will expect you to have come into the office the day before if you couldn’t hold down liquids. Plus, this kind of illness is easier to lie about. Put some rice cakes and crackers on top of your real lunch (which will be hidden deep within your bag) and say, “I am trying to recoup my stomach by eating light food.” People will be sympathetic (and scared to get too close.)

Whatever you do, though, don’t let anyone see the cheeseburger beneath!

[poll id=”7″]



  • Wendy September 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    I think I’ll take tomorrow off. Tuesday sounds like a good day to me. I HATE Tuesday. And you’re right. The three days that follow Tuesday are a piece of cake compared to facing a five-day week. Good idea, Mike.


  • Mike September 24, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Hey, I’m glad I was able to help someone make a sound decision. I hope your day off is fun, productive, and fulfills you!


  • robis779 September 16, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Need courage! I work in retail and my boss has to go to a corporate rally this whole next week, and the only other associate(who calls in ALL the time) is taking the same week as her vacation. There are only three of us in the office and they are leaving me alone the entire week of my wedding anniversary. As luck would have it, the only band my husbands likes is playing on sunday night 6+ hours away and I have tickets. I am dreading calling in sick since no one from our department will be there. It doesn’t effect the store if we aren’t there for a day and I always go to work sick or not! Please help I need the courag to go through with this or ruin my husband’s anniversary present!


  • Bob October 13, 2009 at 7:33 am

    I am a manager at my job. People call in for the *****iest reasons. We are not stupid. We see through you. Oh and by the way we are looking for your replacement


  • Lucy February 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I was up all night with stomach cramps so I’ve only had about two hours sleep. I feel terrible now obviously but I’m no longer actually sick. I’m so anxious about calling in, last time I did they hung up on me :/


  • Mike February 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Hi Lucy,

    How frustrating! Not getting enough sleep is just as good a reason to take a day off at times, as you likely will not be much more productive at work than if you were still sick. Calling into work is always a bit stressful – you are not alone! But once you get it done and over with and have the whole day to rest to look forward to you will feel much better. Good luck to you!


  • oliver February 25, 2013 at 3:54 am

    I am at work right now. i was sick al last night but i had to come in today to finish my work to send it off. what should i say to get sent home?


  • joehath5@g.mail October 9, 2016 at 5:27 am

    I am not feeling well 2 moro i come to work pls forgive
    Me i am very sorry if i hurt u


  • Jacob June 5, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    I’m a manager and if my staff do it once a year where I can tell they are lying I don’t care that much I use to have to do it a lot when I was just an assistant because my job was miserable and I couldn’t get out so don’t judge people @bob


  • Alex August 7, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    Called in sick for a stomach ache on my 4th day of work


Leave a Comment