How to Call In Sick Without Jeopardizing Your Job

If you decide to call in sick, speak with your boss by telephone as early in the day as possible. Don't send an email.
Eric McCoole, 37, called in sick on St. Patricks Day in 2000, and no, he didn't have a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection. He didn't even have the sniffles. "Being of Irish descent, I wanted to take the day off," says McCoole, a government employee in Alpine, Calif.

He called early enough so he could leave a message and skip the awkward talk with his boss. "The next day a supervisor came over the PA system and announced, 'Two people called in sick yesterday, St. Patrick's Day: Eric McCoole and Brian O'Malley.' Luckily, everyone laughed. He said next year we should flip a coin to decide who takes that day off."

Ah, the good old days. Few folks in today's workplace are calling in sick even if they have a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection. Given the economic meltdown, the highest unemployment rate in 16 years, and layoffs around every corner, workers are more likely to drag themselves into the office even when they feel like death warmed over.

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The fear? If they call in sick, they won't have an office to drag themselves into the next day.

Why you should call in sick
While they might feel heroic, sick employees who come to work—a phenomenon known as presenteeism—can actually hurt companies. Even if youre not scheduled to scrub into the ER and save lives, you can still endanger others by showing up for work in a cloud of germs.

"You always have to weigh the risks and the benefits," says Aaron E. Glatt, MD, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and president and CEO of the New Island Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y. Dr. Glatt suggests asking yourself, "What greater good can I do by being there?" If its not essential for you to go in, and you know you wont be productive, stay home.

People who are coughing or sneezing (symptoms of illnesses spread by airborne transmission) should probably stay home anyhow, according to Dr. Glatt, as should anyone with an open wound or those incapable of keeping good hygiene. "We have to be conscious that we are not only taking care of our own health, but the health of other people," he says.

Even if you are not contagious, you should still consider calling in sick if a splitting headache is making you dizzy or if an over-the-counter cold remedy has your brain in a fog. If your symptoms will affect your performance—if, say, your job involves driving, operating heavy machinery, or wrangling persnickety clients—youre better off at home.

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Lead writer: Sarah Klein
Last Updated: January 15, 2009

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