what’s your boss allowed to ask when you call in sick?

You wake up feeling sick, and you call your boss to let her know that you’re taking a sick day. Most managers will simply tell you to feel better soon and let you get back to resting. But what if you have a manager who demands to know exactly what’s wrong with you and makes you feel like you need to prove you’re sick enough to justify the day off?

Most workers are unclear on what their employers have the right to ask when they call out sick. And many employers aren’t sure either!

In general, employers are allowed to ask for the details of your illness. “It’s reasonable for a manager to ask an employee what’s wrong. Otherwise, it would be a no-questions-asked sick leave policy, and that would quickly be abused,” says Bryan Cavanaugh, a St. Louis-based employment attorney. “Asking what is wrong requires the employee to give a brief and general explanation about why he or she is absent, e.g., the employee’s child is sick, the employee has a general illness or the employee has a major or minor injury.”

In general, when you call in sick, your manager can ask any follow-up questions she wishes. Of course, as a general best practice, managers should respect your privacy and stick to asking about when you expect to return to work, but the law does give nosy employers some leeway in most cases.

However, there’s a key exception to this: if the reason for your absence is a medical condition that’s protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA offers protections to employees with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking or breathing. A person with, for example, epilepsy, HIV or a substantial hearing or visual impairment would generally be covered, but someone with a minor condition of short duration – such as a cold, the flu or a sprained ankle – generally wouldn’t be covered.

“The ADA does allow an employer to make inquiries into the ability of an employee to perform job-related functions,” Cavanaugh says. “Therefore, the manager can and should still ask the employee with a probable ADA situation when he or she expects to return to work.” However, the ADA states that your employer is not allowed to push you for information beyond questions that are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” So if, for example, you explain that you’re calling in sick because you need dialysis treatment or need to check into a mental health facility (both things likely covered by the ADA), your employer can ask when you expect to return to work but shouldn’t question you beyond that.

Can your employer require you to produce a doctor’s note verifying your illness?

Employers can indeed require doctors’ notes when you use sick leave. However, they should not require the note to include a diagnosis or other private medical information; rather, the note should simply state that you were seen by a medical office and/or confirm your need to use sick leave.

That said, just because the law allows employers to require doctors’ notes doesn’t mean they should do that. Minor illnesses, such as colds and the flu, don’t generally require a doctor’s care, and requiring a doctor’s note in order to use sick time discourages employees from staying home when they’re ill. That’s an unfair burden on truly sick employees, who will have to drag themselves to a doctor when a few days of resting in bed will cure them. This tactic also drives up health care costs by pushing people to the doctor when they only need home care. It also signals to your employees that you don’t trust them enough to treat them like adults.

So, what should you say to your boss when you’re taking a sick day?

Ultimately, it’s useful to consider why your boss is asking what’s going on. Most bosses ask this question for non-troubling reasons: They’re concerned about you and want to make sure you’re OK (or think it’s polite to at least sound concerned), and/or they need to know how long you’re likely to be out, so they can plan for your absence.

Generally, it makes sense to simply explain the nature of your illness. If your boss pushes for details that you’re not comfortable sharing, it’s OK to say something like: “I’d rather not get into the details, but I should be back in tomorrow.”

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. chump with a degree*

    I Had a boss back in the day who told me, with a straight face, that she preferred to come to work when she had diarrhea. I did not, and stayed home.

    1. AMT*

      What on earth was the context of this conversation? “Say, you know that thing where liquid poo shoots out of your butt? I like to have that happen to me noisily in a flimsy stall next to one of my co-workers.”

      1. Anon for this*

        I once did this for a while on purpose when I had ghastly plumbing problems at home. Also not while sick! But nothing makes you feel “at home” in your apartment more than not being able to poop there. (Not.)

      2. Ad Astra*

        When I was hourly, I joked (to my very closest friends) about not wanting to use the bathroom on my lunch break when I could be using it on the clock.

        And, I mean, my office bathroom is cleaned way more often than my home bathroom. But still… ew.

    2. Elsa*

      I guess it depends on how good the janitorial staff are at work. At home, ain’t nobody gonna clean that sh-t up but you!

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    How common is this? I hear these horror stories, and I know they’re true, but I’m really hoping they’re not commonplace. Maybe I’m lucky, but I’ve never had an employer question me about sick day usage or require a doctor’s note.

    1. Spinanch Eater*

      That is pretty lucky.

      At OldJob management liked to send passive-aggressive emails to all employees in their department with messages like “We have seen a lot of people call out sick lately. We understand that illness happens but please remember that it is very important to make it here everyday and that calling out sick puts a burden on your fellow workers.”

      By itself would may not have been a problem, except these “reminders” were sent immediately after co-workers returned from using sick time for the death of a father, a miscarriage, and a serious, injury-inducing car accident. Somehow management was shocked to find out that employees using legitimate sick-time for these horrible, unavoidable events took the receipt of these emails the day the returned very poorly. Turnover at that place was insane.

      1. Brandy in TN*

        At my old job, they never plow the parking lot, or salt in, during ice and once an older, heavy lady fell hurting her ankle. Later that day an email went out encouraging us to be careful and not fall while walking in on ice. How about, if you want us to come in, scrap the parking lot.

        1. James M.*

          In my mind, I call that a “crocodile-filled moat” situation. A known hazard is present where customers/employees are likely to encounter it, but the employer/proprietor feels that a warning sign (or worse, a verbal post-facto warning!) completely absolves them from all responsibility.

        2. Father Ribs*

          So true! Out facility has always had problems with automated gates and traffic signals not registering motorcycles, random open and close times, etc. So a gate finally injured a rider and the solution, instead of fine-tuning the sensors and open/close speed, was to send someone with big orange signs that they affixed with rubber bands to everyone’s handlebars (it’s sort of a no-no to touch a person’s bike without permission), warning them to be careful around the gates.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Ugh, that’s awful. I just got one of those passive-aggressive emails at my job, and it also reminded us to schedule appointments only outside work hours. But when you get out of work at 5:30 Monday-Friday and it takes you an hour and a half to get to the doctor’s office from work, how is that possible? I had to cancel an appointment with a specialist for a chronic condition with no chance of rescheduling anytime soon. (I have zero PTO and apparently I’m not allowed to take unpaid time either. And no, I haven’t been at my job long enough to be FMLA-eligible.)

        1. Charby*

          People who write/say/think things like that always struck me as vaguely alien. Like, they aren’t really familiar with human biology. They seem to view things like illnesses and injury as pathetic frailties that only affect lesser beings/vermin. There’s this undercurrent of contempt and revulsion at weakness that really belongs more among Klingons or Vulcans.

          1. Eric*

            To be fair, Vulcans would be very logical about illness, would tell you how much rest to take, and have been show to make great (if not warm) doctors. Klingons, not so much. :)

            1. Windchime*

              Yeah. Because they are truly SICK. Not like the rest of the people who are probably faking it.

              But seriously. When my youngest boy was in preschool, he was sick a lot and finally had to have his tonsils out. My boss was confused and didn’t understand why I wanted to stay home with him not only on the day of the surgery, but the following day as well. I guess she thought I should tell my toddler to just suck it up and get over it already.

          2. cstop56*

            Yes! My boss just made me come in last week. I had flu-like symptoms and work for a small restaurant (!). Absolutely treated me as if I was pathetic and even said I owed her: “I’m not closing my business because YOU’RE sick!” So now, on top of being home sick all week (I haven’t been back since), I’ve had to think about quitting, too!

        2. JayL*

          Did you know about your appointment ahead of time? PTO is typically for both sick and vacation, and while it may be tempting to bleed your bank dry for that awesome trip, or even a staycation to get things done at home, it’s​ up to you to make sure you have what you need for your health as well – especially if it is planned. There are laws to protect our jobs if the unforseen occurs, but really we have responsibility in this too.

      3. Mixed Messages*

        My boss lays it on thick when I’m out sick. Copies me on every email and adds a completely superfluous note like, “copying Jane, who’s out sick, for when she gets back,” whether or not the message pertains to me in any way on that day or any other day. Sends emails and texts that are all flustered, as though the very building may collapse at any moment while I sit around on my duff. Once I went home a little early and was out the following day with a cold; on the third day, I went to the doctor for a previously scheduled and unrelated appointment. Since the doc assured me that I was no more contagious that day than I had been the day before I got sick, and since my boss had been acting like my absence was the end of the world, I thought maybe I ought to stop by the office for part of the afternoon. He threw a FIT when I showed up. How could I be so insensitive as to expose him to my infectious particles?! Well, dude, you acted like you really needed me here, it’s not my fault you oversold your own act!

    2. Retail Lifer*

      I don’t know how it is in more professional jobs, but it’s always hard to call off in retail, especially when you’re a manager. There has to be a minimum number of people to staff a store, and always a manager. If you can’t find a replacement then you’re expected to come in.

      And then infect the rest of the staff and customers.

      A doctor’s note is usually only required if you miss several days or a mandatory shift, like Black Friday. Or if you didn’t get your shift covered and they were short-handed.

          1. Anx*

            So I got my health inspection license and I do wish I could have broken into the field, because this really needs to be rectified. I never felt more pressure to come in while sick than I did as a waitress. It was definitely one of those things where they stress during training and officially never to come in sick, but in practice actually calling out sick could get you fired, in trouble, or put on all weekday lunches.

      1. CA Admin*

        When I worked in retail, I was an Assistant Manager and had to come in, sick or not, because we only had the bare minimum number of managers assigned to our location for the amount of business we did (2nd in the company, but same number of managers as 90% of the stores).

        The second week at that store, I went to a store-wide function on a Sunday night and was feeling fine until toward the end. By the time I got home, I felt like death. I had the next day off, so I hoped I’d be feeling better by my shift on Tuesday night, but by Tuesday morning, I was feeling worse than ever, so I dragged myself into the doctor, hoping for some meds to get a pick-me-up by the time I had to get to work.

        The doctor examines me and finds that I have tonsillitis and a heart rate so rapid and thready that she would’ve admitted me to the hospital if I wasn’t so young and resilient. I was told that if I went to work that night, I probably wouldn’t make it through and I’d likely end up in the hospital by the end of my shift. So, I got a doctor’s note and called the store to let them know I wouldn’t be coming in for the next 4 days.

        That night was Valentine’s day, I was young and engaged, I was new to the store and the low woman on the totem pole, so nobody believed that I was actually sick until I’d been there for months. It tanked my reputation there and set me up for so much resentment on the part of the other managers.

        Nothing breeds contempt like working in retail and having to cover a sick coworker on a holiday.

      2. Kix*

        Yes, I caught influenza B a couple of years ago thanks to a deathly ill employee working the customer service counter at Big Box Grocery Store. She said she’d been out two days already and couldn’t take a third without going to the doctor. Ugh.

      3. Lizzie*

        Wow, times have improved since I was in retail. Back when I was working it in college we had to provide documentation if we missed a single day. The real nail in the coffin for us students was that if you got your healthcare through university health services (as most of us did), they didn’t provide notes, just “walk-out notices” that said we’d been there and our general manager didn’t accept those. We came in sick all the time because we didn’t really have a choice.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I came to work sick a lot of times in my first job because I knew it would be difficult to get someone to cover for me, and it was one of those jobs where someone must do those tasks each day; I couldn’t just catch up when I returned. Once, I had car trouble in another city and had to call in a few hours before my shift. Another time, I was feeling so rotten at work that I finally said something to my manager and he told me not to come in the next day. Both times, someone who was scheduled to have the day off had to cover for me on short notice.

      So, even if the people in your office are empathetic, reasonable people, your workflow could still be set up in a way that strongly discourages sick days. Nobody asked for proof, but I’m sure you’d be tarred and feathered if anyone truly suspected you took a sick day when you didn’t need one.

    4. davey1983*

      When I worked fast food, I had to provide a doctor’s note anytime I called in sick. As such, I (and just about everyone else) would come into work sick. We didn’t have sick leave, so going to the doctor was a double whammy when you had to lose a day’s pay, then pay to go see the doctor (actually, it was a triple whammy– going to see the doctor could prolong the illness a little longer, causing you to miss more work).

      When I worked for the US federal government, my managers never asked when I emailed them I was sick and would be taking the day off. The agency did have a policy that if you were gone three days or more, then you needed a doctor’s note. To my knowledge, my managers never enforced that rule, but I always decided to work from home if I was going to be out for a third day to avoid the policy (my managers were awesome, but some busybody managers would make trouble if they thought you weren’t following any policy to the letter– it didn’t matter that they weren’t, you know, actually your manager).

    5. Anonyby*

      Also amusement parks! I worked at one the summer between hs & college. If you called in sick, you needed to present a doctor’s note the next time you could come in for work (one for each day you had to be out). If you didn’t, then it would count as a strike against you. Three strikes and you were fired (and strikes could be unexcused sick days or written warnings).

      Most of us were either operating heavy machinery (the rides) or handling food. Not a job that you want someone sick to be handling.

    6. SevenSixOne*

      One co-worker at OldJob who was extraordinarily proud of only taking one sick day in the 10+ years she’d worked there. One time she stepped on broken glass and sliced her foot badly enough to need 16 stitches. She was still at work less than 12 hours later, even though she could barely stand or walk (both essential functions of the job) and her foot was so swollen she couldn’t wear a shoe on it.

      Another time, she got injured at work. Even though worker’s comp would have paid her full salary while she recovered since the injury happened at work, she begged with her physical therapist to OK her to go back to work early since she was “going stir-crazy being at home”. So she was cleared to return to work as long as she didn’t lift more that 5 pounds, which meant whoever was working with her had to do a LOT more work since nearly everything we did meant lifting more than 5 pounds.

      Why didn’t management ever say anything? Because she WAS management. Whenever someone tried to call in sick, she’d shame them for it– “well, I came to work the night after I went to the ER for 16 stitches, but if your bronchitis is really that bad, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    7. Nobody*

      In a perfect world, we could all trust each other to call in sick only when we’re actually sick, and in that world, there would be no need for doctor’s notes. Sadly, there are too many people who are looking to cheat the system. I had a coworker brag about how clever he is because when he wants to take a long weekend, he doesn’t call in sick Friday — he calls in sick Thursday, and nobody suspects a thing when he’s “still sick” on Friday. Another guy I know says his kid is sick when he wants a day off because the company can’t demand a doctor’s note for his kid. Employers know this kind of thing is going on, so they make it harder for everyone just to discourage people from cheating.

      1. Amy UK*

        The answer to people cheating the system is better managing of the system, not punishing everyone for the transgressions of a few. If the people you work with genuinely are pulling stunts like that more than once, a good monitoring system would have flagged that up. All the system you describe does is send employee morale plummeting while having no effect on those with less qualms about behaving badly.

  3. FuzzFace*

    Whenever I call out sick I need to notify both my supervisor and my coworkers. I have no problem including in my email “I have a migraine” or “I ate something that didn’t agree with me.” The few times I haven’t (either just forgotten or didn’t particularly want to give the details as to what was coming out of me) no one bothered asking. I just got a whole bunch of “Feel better!” emails.

    We have an unlimited sick day policy, which is very, very nice, but I think better for the company overall. At my last job, I was given 5 sick days, and at the end of the year when I had two left over you bet your butt I used those like vacation days. Unlimited sick days allows workers to stay home when they could be contagious without making them worry, and I’ve found (and my coworkers agree) I’ve used less sick days under this policy.

    1. Bwmn*

      I imagine that having unlimited sick days would ultimately work out far better than simply having a very generous package. At Old Job we had 17 sick days (overseas job), and sure some people needed close to the 17 – I’d say in all most people didn’t abuse the policy. However, there was also 100% a spike in December head colds that greatly benefited from a day or two off.

      By making it unlimited, sure there will always be a few staff who either abuse the policy or are genuinely working through serious healthcare situations – but you’d also probably take away that automatic thinking “it’s December – enjoy a few extra days off!”.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yep! Although, if you have limited days but they can be banked and roll over, you also take away that December splurge, based on my experience at $LastJob. I mean, all a December run on sick days does in that case is bring you into January with no buffer when you could’ve had one. (Assuming you don’t genuinely need them in December, of course.)

        1. SevenSixOne*

          You can also avoid the December splurge by having sick days roll over based on the employee’s hire date or birthday.

          Some employees might still splurge, but at least they won’t all do it at the same time.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I think my ideal setup would be unlimited sick days with generous (but not necessarily unlimited) vacation days. That way I don’t have to worry about burning PTO or going without pay if I have a particularly unhealthy year, but there’s still not much incentive to call in if I’m not truly sick.

      1. Revolver Rani*

        That’s what I have at my job – there is no cap on sick days, and a reasonably generous (not insanely generous) number of vacation days.

        I have not heard of anyone abusing the sick days but I’m sure it happens. It’s up to the manager to catch it and address it if needed.

        Most of our work is not work that has to be covered on a particular day, though. I have my assignments, and they are due when they are due, and as long as I get them done and handle my other responsibilities in a reasonably timely way, no one particularly pays attention to when I come in, when I leave, how many sick days I take, etc. Different managers within the group and the company may handle this differently, though.

    3. Meg Murry*

      I worked somewhere where there technically wasn’t a limit on the number of sick days for salaried staff, and basically, as long as your manager didn’t have a problem with it, you didn’t officially get into trouble. In reality, however, it meant that you never knew exactly where you stood and if this call off was going to be the “one too many”. I can see how it made sense though – because some years most people would only need 1-2 days, whereas the years swine flu came through almost everyone was out for 3-5 days. I think it was understood that as long as your manager didn’t complain and you got your work done there wasn’t a worry – but for people that had a pattern of calling off when important work was due, they would look at the overall sick day averages and whether the person fell in the top 5-10% of call offs.

      The other thing that was awkward at that place was that technically, sick days were only supposed to be if the employee him/herself was sick – if you called in to take care of a sick kid, etc it was supposed to be a vacation day. My boss, however, basically told our group that she had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy for anyone that wasn’t a sick day abuser – if we called in and said “I need to take a sick day, I expect I’ll be back in tomorrow (or the next day)” she was not going to pry as to whether it was actually for the employee or the employee’s kid, spouse or parent, or if the nanny got sick, etc. In my case, it almost always happened that when my kids were sick, they kept me up all night with it – so even if I wasn’t technically “sick” – I was in no shape to drive to work, and wouldn’t have gotten anything done that day anyway – and might have wound up having to take a different day off later that week due to the exhaustion.

    4. Rebecca*

      Yeah, I usually give my boss some idea of what’s going on without getting too much into details.

      We have a limited number of sick/personal days, but my boss is a big believer in taking care of yourself and not getting the whole office sick. I rarely use all of my days during the year (just don’t get sick often, thankfully) so she’s let me know that if I want to use any of those as “mental health days” she’s fine with that.

  4. Retail HR Dude*

    One caveat: if the employer is FMLA-covered and the day of absence could ever be used negatively against the employee (such as being included in disciplinary action for absenteeism), then FMLA actual requires that employers probe a little more when it seems like something might be FMLA-qualifying but the employee hasn’t made it clear. Otherwise, the employer can get in trouble for not providing FMLA coverage. The ADA does not interfere with this, because finding out whether time off should qualify as FMLA is consistent with business necessity.

    So, if you work at a place at which calling in sick is tracked and held against you in any way (such as most retail jobs), then when you call in and tell your employer that you “are sick and at the hospital today”, a savvy employer should actually be inquiring a little further. (“Will you be admitted to the hospital overnight? Will you be off work for at least three days? Will there be continuing treatment, such as a prescription or follow-up visits?”)

    In short, FMLA requires that bosses be nosy sometimes.

  5. blackcat*

    When I was a first year teacher, and if you’ve ever known a first year teacher, they get sick ALL THE TIME. Darn kid-germs. So I was used to going into work when I didn’t feel great.

    One time, I went to an urgent care place on my way into work–I knew I had a sinus infection, but I didn’t feel *that* bad first thing in the morning. But while I was waiting there, I did start to feel really unwell. When I mentioned that I had intended (note the past tense!) to get antibiotics and then drive into work, the PA I saw was extremely firm in telling me to go home. She took my nonchalance about going into work feeling under the weather as a sign that my boss would give me a hard time about it. So she also insisted on sending me home with a note.

    24 hours and lots of sleep later, the antibiotics had done their magic and I was at work. I jokingly offered my boss the note. He LOL’ed. That’s the right attitude towards doctor’s notes.

    1. the_scientist*

      Oh gosh, I have also done this. I used to do some research work with extremely strict timelines and had to go into the lab with a raging sinus infection one morning. I had been feeling unwell on-and-off for a couple of days, but that day I woke up with a fever, a headache, and it actually hurt to move my eyeballs around in my head. I *had* to go into the lab (that, or destroy three weeks worth of work) so I fever-sweated through my clothing and lab coat for an hour and then hightailed it to the urgent care centre for some antibiotics.

      Hilariously, I had a scheduled meeting with a financial advisor that couldn’t be cancelled, so I went, and legitimately left the meeting not remembering a single thing that was said. I actually had to call back and explain that I was super sick at the time and I was really sorry but I actually don’t even remember what we talked about, so could we meet again? It was pretty embarrassing.

      1. Rebecca*

        Ugh, yes, I’ve had to do that. Something absolutely had to get done that day so I just went in, told my boss that I was getting X done and then going to the doctor. It was also a sinus infection, which I’ve had enough of that I know what they feel like, plus it’s not contagious.

    2. Brett*

      Glad you had a district that made that less nerve wracking.

      My wife’s former district (as well as many other districts around it) had a strict policy that a first year teacher using more than 3 sick days for any reason would be non-renewed. She hated this, since it meant always having sick teachers around (and she went to multiple campuses, so that made it even worse).

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      I’d say 99.99% of teachers I know (and same for me when I was a teacher) loathe being sick, because they know they can’t / won’t take a sick day for it. Even if you can arrange a sub, you know the quality of the teaching won’t be the same for those classes than if you were in that day (even sick). It’s one of the reasons I’m glad I’m no longer a teacher, though I miss a lot about teaching. Now, working a non-teaching job, I can call in sick any time I’m sick and not feel the least bit guilty about it.

      1. Meg Murry*

        And at the school I worked at, you had to have very robust, almost as good as the teacher being there plans for the sub. It was not ok to just have a backup plan like “show this video and give them these word searches” as some teachers did when I was a kid. We used to joke that it was 2x the work not to be there as it was to be there in terms of lesson plans prep, so unless a person physically couldn’t get out of bed, they almost always just went in anyway. Technically, teachers could be surprised audited on their sub plans at any time, but in reality the principal was usually nice enough to give people advance warning.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          We used to joke that it was 2x the work not to be there as it was to be there in terms of lesson plans prep

          Unfortunately, it’s not a joke. I wish it were…

        2. blackcat*

          Ah, see, that was okay at my (private) school, so long as you didn’t make a habit of it and it wasn’t at a crucial time (eg before finals). Even better, our sick day didn’t “count” if we found internal coverage and didn’t require an outside sub. This meant that there were days when I taught Spanish (“Hola! Uh… Ok, here’s what you’re supposed to do, and I’m giving instructions in English because that is the extent of my Spanish.”), but it also meant scheduling appts that took a half day didn’t mean using up a sick day (and I’m sure the Spanish teacher did a great job teaching science. At least a better job than I did teaching Spanish). There are many fewer protections in the private school world, but there can be an upside of greater flexibility.

          Most of us had a supply of videos for each unit that were relevant but not necessary. They were busted out in these occasions (and I was SO GRATEFUL that PBS has NOVA streaming), and no one seemed to mind. The couple of times I knew I’d be out the day before, I’d prep a plan. But unless I had the one sub I loved, it was REALLY hard, because most generic subs do not know enough science to teach it.

          (My best teacher-absence was when I left for a conference late in the school year and had great faith in that group of students. I sent *the students* the plan for the day, asking different kids to take care of different parts. The sub emailed me after and said something like “That was amazing! I did nothing other than take attendance. Sections 1 & 3 got through the entire activity close to the end of the period. Sections 2, 4 & 5, finished up with 10 minutes to spare and so they got started on their homework. Let me know when you need a sub in the future. I’m happy to cover for you!” Telling the teenagers that 1. I trusted them, and 2. they would be held accountable for that work was just magical. Teens want to be treated like responsible adults. And quite often, when you treat them that way, they act like responsible adults.)

  6. Spinanch Eater*

    Honestly, it’s times like this I am willing to pull out a white lie or two.

    Got a bladder infection making me pee every two minutes? Totally willing to let a female boss know, since in general ladies get these more often and are more understanding. Going to tell a male boss I have a mild fever and prefer to work from home today to prevent spreading germs.

    Was constipated in the morning and it made me late to work? Going to apologize to the boss and tell him/her I overslept. ;)

  7. A Teacher*

    That’s the nice thing for us in my district, its all by computer. You put in for a sub and you put in your absence. If you need to run into school to post plans you do, if you can attach them and email them the secretary or principal will print them off. I’ve only ever had to call off once after the 6 am window where online shuts down. My boss was very nice about it–no questions, just told me to feel better.

  8. Sascha*

    I had one of those bosses that wanted us to call and talk to her – not just leave a message – when we needed to call in sick. If we weren’t able to reach her to actually speak to her, we had to come in. I think she would have required doctor’s notes for every absence if she could, but her boss overruled her on that. She also made a rule that we couldn’t leave right at the end of business – we had to linger a few minutes in order to make her feel like we loved our jobs and hated to leave, because otherwise it made her feel bad to see us “rushing out the door at 5.” No one stayed long at that job. It’s so nice to be at a job with a supervisor that treats me like an adult now!

    1. Spinanch Eater*

      Sounds like my old boss! Except we were able to not come in, we just had to keep calling. It was really annoying though to keep having to make phone calls at 7, 7:30, 8, 8;30 … until she finally picked up. I mean, when I am bed ridden with the flu I want to do nothing more than curl up and sleep. Instead I have to keep making phone calls.

      1. Nashira*

        When I had the flu last year, the only reason I managed to call my supervisor and my manager was, literally, my husband getting me my phone and talking me through it. Then I fell asleep again.

        This did not stop my manager from screwing me over at year end, for daring to call out and not take influenza to work (with a very vulnerable to illness, organ transplant recipient coworker!), but whatever.

  9. Retail Lifer*

    I can’t call in sick unless (a) I find someone else to cover me and (b) I have a vacation day to spare (I don’t have any more) or I have a plan to make up the hours. But even with strict policies like these, on the rare occassion I can stay home when I’m sick, my employer hasn’t ever asked me for a doctor’s note. If *my* employer doesn’t, I can’t imagine who does.

  10. Ad Astra*

    I always feel the need to provide some information about my ailment to justify calling in sick. I’ve never once been diagnosed with influenza, but I’ve said “I think I might be coming down with the flu that’s going around” more than once because “I have a cold” sounds like I’m just sniffly. Maybe the person I’m really trying to convince is myself?

    1. NickelandDime*

      I do give information about my illness. I just try to not give out too much information. No one really wants to know it’s coming out both ends at the same time.

      And for some reason all of my colds might as well be the flu, because they mess me up for an entire week. :-(

      1. Ad Astra*

        Yes, that’s how my colds are! Severe body aches, monster headache, sometimes chills, painful sore throat, occasionally an ear infection… but almost never a fever. Every time the doctor has tested me for strep throat or influenza, it comes back negative. I almost never have the kind of cold where you just take DayQuil and go about your normal life.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Gah, mine too. Though I sometimes start coming down with something and if I can get home in a hurry and get to bed, I can fight it off–I’m pretty healthy overall.. I used to do that at Exjob–I’d come in and work until my backup arrived at 11:30, then go home and go straight to bed. I often was able to come back in the next day and was mostly fine.

        But if it gets hold of me, NOPE. Total misery.

    2. Ama*

      I always wind up providing a timeline, especially for mid-week absences when I was fine the day before. (“I started feeling bad late last night, and this morning I’m worse, so …”) I’m pretty sure this is a habit I got into when working in a department where the manager tended to call in sick often, to catty comments from the staff (“she was fine when we went for drinks yesterday” that kind of thing).

    3. simonthegrey*

      My current workplace, all I have to do is text my supervisor that I don’t feel well and that’s it. It’s an academic position but not full time, and while I may have students with appointments, I am not the only tutor on campus (just the only one in this specific office) who can help with the range of writing assignments. My supervisor never asks follow up questions, but because my background before this was retail, I inevitably provide information (or overshare). My biggest reason for missing the last couple of years, and it is still very rare, maybe twice a semester, is for menstrual cramps. I’ve retrained myself to say that I am sick and can’t come in, because I am positive my supervisor doesn’t want to know I am cramping.

  11. Anx*

    Does this apply to all employees, or just ones covered by FMLA?

    I don’t have paid sick days, but my work is pretty cool about calling out. I didn’t call out today because I didn’t want to lose a pay day, and our students come in sick all the time, so I don’t know how much I’d be protecting coworkers; I was extremely careful to keep my germs to myself.

    But I probably could have.

    Whereas I’d had other jobs where I’d worry about throwing up on the floor because calling out wasn’t just a paycut, but also could result in worse shifts later on.

    So I don’t think whether or not you’re covered by FMLA or have PTO affects the culture of calling out without a doctor’s note too much.

  12. Teamo*

    I live in Israel and most companies here have very generous sick leave policies. Our company provides 18 sick days a year,and it rolls over every year. We do have to get a doctors note if were out 2 or more days. When I’m sick,I just text my boss that I’m not feeling well. He usually just texts back Feel better. He’s never asked for any details or made me feel even the slightest bit guilty.in fact,once I came back to work too soon after an illness,and didn’t feel great. He insisted I go home! I can’t even imagine feeling like I have to go to work when I feel sick.

  13. Lia*

    I worked for a boss who insisted on the “you MUST talk to me directly, no voicemail/email/leaving a message with the admin assistant” bit, and he tried to write up a co-worker who got food poisoning at a work event the night prior (so did a bunch of guests, eek –basically everyone who ate a particular entree). Co-worker was deathly ill, left a voicemail and then went to urgent care and then home to bed. He was SO p.o.’d at her that he threatened her with “insubordination” for not trying to call repeatedly until she got him on the line — despite the fact that we got slammed with angry calls from guests who’d also been ill and several of us pointed out that um, she’d been on the list to get the same entry as all of the ill people…

    He also had the charming habit of calling people BACK in the afternoon after they called in and spoke to him if they called out, to “make sure they were still sick”. If he didn’t get an answer, he’d keep trying until he did!

    1. NickelandDime*

      I noticed this post was in the past tense. I’m glad you’re no longer there. Let me guess – he is the type of person to come to work contagious and infect everyone with his cooties, right?

      1. De Minimis*

        Former workplace had a rule that you had to speak on the phone with someone who had the ability to authorize leave. We had a delegation memo so people would know whom to call if the administrator or the CEO were absent. It was still a big pain.

        The only good part was that you usually weren’t given any grief about calling in sick, but you did have to call and speak to someone. There were a few times I ended up just leaving a message–the #3 person tended to not be in their office much. It was technically against the rules, but no one really knew–when you got back you submitted your sick leave request into the system after the fact.

      2. Lia*

        Amazingly, NO. He took sick time, but didn’t bother to let the rest of the office know he’d be out. Made for good times when you’d be waiting on him for a meeting, and have to go hunt him down, only to not find him in the office. He did the same thing with vacation time. His rationale was that if we knew he was out, we’d either bail early or slack off. That had never happened, but he was convinced it would.

        Nope, no longer there, and neither is he — he got out in lieu of being fired, but from what the grapevine tells me, is about to get canned from his current job for…being a dictator who also gets almost nothing done. LOL.

    2. davey1983*

      I hope you no longer work for that manager! Horrible.

      The biochemist in me feels compelled to point out that food poisoning/illnesses don’t work that fast. With a couple of very rare exceptions, symptoms of food poisoning don’t show up until a couple of days after eating the tainted food.

      1. Anx*

        Funnily, anecdotally I hear about the insta-food poisoining so very often. I usually attribute this to people not knowing much about food microbiology and not realizing it was Friday’s dinner that has them sick Monday morning. But I here so much about the group illnesses the same day as the joint meal, and that makes me wonder if there’s a non-pathogen agent causing so many upset stomachs.

        Yeah, usually if you get sick that fast, it’s a toxin (staph) or viral infection.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I think it depends very strongly on what the pathogen is – there are a wide variety of different pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, both straight up food poisoning as well as virus transmission, and onset of symptoms can vary from hours to days. Intolerances/sensitivities can kick in very fast – I react to xylitol within about 20 minutes, for example.

          I was surprised to find out that for a straightforward norovirus infection, you’re actually contagious for at least 48 hours after you feel better.

      2. Not Myself*

        Interesting. I frequently get quite sick within about an hour of eating. I keep a black list of foods and restaurants that precipitate this effect – excessive raw apples, miso and watermelon, for example, and many chain restaurants of widely differing quality levels and food styles. It’s probably not food poisoning, true, but it’s clearly related to certain foods or chemicals present on those foods or in those establishments. From a biochemist POV, what would you think it is?

        1. Nashira*

          Tbh, that sounds like IBS or IBD triggers. I can’t eat a lot of raw fruit, for instance, and fatty pork* is my nemesis due to my IBD. Have you talked to your doctor about it?

          *The day I realized carnitas can be made with pork loin was the best day ever. In the crock pot even!

        2. Anx*

          (Not a biochemist)

          That sounds to me like IBD, maybe UC? Or perhaps its a sensitivity to a preversative or additive in foods. Can you handle fiber rich food?

          If you’re getting food poisoning within a few hours from something pathogenic, it’s probably be staph aureus, which is usually transferred to a food by contact with skin or a contaminated utensil, and then incubates in the food and ends up producing toxins. Which means there’s a good chance the source of contamination could be transient, like a sick food preparer, instead of habitually undercooked food or a workflow that promotes cross contamination.

        3. Jenna*

          It took me months and a visit to a gastroenterologist(plus a colonoscopy) before my unpredictable stomach ailment got diagnosed. Turns out that I am celiac, so any wheat or barley at all in anything can set me off.
          It is much better now that I know what to avoid, but, I still occasionally get poisoned. If I still didn’t know what it was it could look like food poisoning, stomach flu, or gall bladder trouble.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Food poisoning doesn’t, but if there’s something else wrong with the food like chemical contamination, it can.

        When I was a young college student working in food service, we all got the cautionary tale of the idiot who used an empty #10 can of dehydrated potatoes to store soap flakes.

      4. OriginalEmma*

        That’s not true. Depending on the pathogen, you can become ill anywhere from 6 hours to several days later. Salmonella, for example, has an incubation period of 6 to 72 hours, Campylobacteriosis is 2 to 5 days, etc.

  14. T3k*

    I had a male supervisor for my 2nd internship where I missed several days during my 2 months there (not counting a week for a relative’s death and funeral). A little TMI, but almost every other period hits really badly to the point sometimes I have to stay home/leave work. One of those days hit in the morning so I texted him to let him know I was sick and going to miss that day. He asked the next day when I had recovered enough to return what it was (like a genuine “are you ok?” type, not nosy) so I just said I had a really bad migraine. Didn’t want to embarrass him.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I will always support every worker’s right to lie about the nature of their illness when it’s something kinda icky but otherwise irrelevant. I have learned not to ask what, specifically, kept someone out. If I’m really curious, I’ll ask “Are you feeling better now?” If they want to fill me in on the details, that’s their chance, but they can still just go with “Yes, thank you!”

      1. Jennifer*

        I wouldn’t mention if it was ah, lady issues because then someone would be all “Is this going to happen EVERY month?!” (Which with some poor folks, yes, it does!)

        1. Ad Astra*

          And, if it does happen every month, you should really bring that up with your doctor! For many women, finding the right hormonal birth control can reduce or even eliminate these symptoms. A lot of young women don’t realize that their experience isn’t normal because it’s all they’ve ever known. (When I was having just one or two periods a year, I thought my cycle was “irregular” like all the other girls my age. Turns out I had PCOS.)

          1. Nashira*

            Yesssss. It was a revelation when I got a Mirena IUD and no longer was flattened by my periods. My mom always told me that the awfulness was normal. Turns out nope.

          2. Jenna*

            Birth control made my periods more regular and far, far less painful. Definitely see if there is something that can help.
            My ultimate solution for the fibroids was a hysterectomy but not everyone wants to go that route, and many doctors resist doing hysterectomies.

          3. simonthegrey*

            Hormonal birth control did help a lot with my worst cramps, but my husband and I are trying for a family so I am not taking it. However, I was on in for 3 years and my cramps now are nowhere near as bad as they were before I went on it.

    2. Anx*

      This is one thing I struggle with how to handle.

      I get dysmenorrhea rarely. I am not on HBC so I can only predict the start of a cycle; every once in a while it’s a surprise. Usually that surprise only costs a few extra minutes in my morning routine, but if I’m having a bout of dysmenorrhea it means being practically immobile for a few hours. In an ideal world, I’d let my boss know that a few times a year I may have to cancel in the morning and show up late. But not only is that a little TMI, but I’m also worried that it may help fuel the justification that women are less reliable, are inherently not cut out for working in certain jobs.

      I’m also concerned that I’d be judged for choosing not to manage something with medication when it clearly does interfere with my ability to do work when so many other people do. I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to go on medication nearly 365 a year to avoid 0-3 late days a year.

      In the past, I’ve just pushed through, and usually the psychological affect of being actively working distracts me from needing to use the bathroom.

      What also tricky about this one is the signs and symptoms are pretty similar to some pretty infectious diseases where coming into work immediately after feeling better is not recommended at all :-/

      1. Kelly L.*

        but I’m also worried that it may help fuel the justification that women are less reliable, are inherently not cut out for working in certain jobs.

        Been there. In my case, it was a male boss who was new and didn’t know me very well, and I didn’t want him to get an early bad impression of my reliability, so the morning I had cramps so bad I couldn’t stand upright and then nearly passed out in the shower from dizziness, I had a “stomach bug.” I told myself, hey, it was in general the region of my abdomen at least…

        That’s really only happened twice in my life, thank God(dess) and knock on wood, and the first time was when I was 14 and not working yet.

    3. pony tailed wonder*

      I had an elderly male supervisor who was squeamish about certain things and I was ‘not in the mood’ to answer his questions about why I was sick. I was out with severe period cramps and I then just described it out EXACTLY. I think I used terms like “river of blood”, etc. He couldn’t hang up quickly enough and he wouldn’t look me in the eye for days afterward.

      1. NickelandDime*

        My husband would find this hilarious. He despises adult men that act squeamish about women’s periods.

  15. HRChick*

    I got a formal write-up once for using two sick days in a quarter. Problem was, I happened to get sick two times on Mondays. They said I was obviously trying to extend my weekend. I told them that if there was an issue, I could have gotten a doctor’s note. They obviously didn’t believe me.

    I stayed in that job for far longer than I should have.

    1. Paige Turner*

      Ugh :(
      This is like the joke (from Dilbert maybe?) where the manager complains that 40% of sick days are being taken on Mondays or Fridays!

    2. been there done that*

      Thankfully no leave issues but Husband took personal leave Friday to go out of town but ended up at the doctor’s instead and now he’s out sick today.

    3. Joan*

      The Big Big Boss at my last job was fixated on Monday/Friday sick days to an extent that I can only describe as insane. Among the policies that she tried to institute: required doctor’s notes for Monday or Friday absences only (as in, you could call out sick with no questions asked any other day of the week), publishing lists of the names of employees who “abused sick days” (aka called in sick on a Monday or Friday), and dinging us on annual reviews which went to the state licensing board for taking off Mondays or Fridays.

      Luckily, the board, the union (thank God for unions!), and the various department managers came back to her and said, no, that’s crazy, you can’t actually do any of those things.

  16. sophiabrooks*

    In my day job, I work with nurses and they are usually interested in what is wrong with me, and sometimes they can help. Most of my sick days are due to “bathroom issues” because am on a bus for an hour and a half to get to work, and that can be scary if you aren’t sure when you are going to need to poop!

    At my theatre job, I have to either go no matter how sick I am (if there are rehearsals or fittings) or take things home to sew. There is absolutely no room for sickness in theatre!

  17. Nurse Ratched*

    I am an RN, and my toxic old job began requiring physician notes any time we wanted to use sick time, as if we weren’t already medical professionals who have a very good idea of when we shouldn’t be around sick patients. The docs we worked with were super cool and would always write us a note when needed, until the administrators decided that wasn’t good enough, and instituted the requirement that the physician couldn’t also be employed by the hospital. The way our insurance worked, this meant that we *had* to go out of network and pay full price if we wanted a sick note, if you could even find a clinic taking same-day new patient appointments. One day I had it coming out both ends, and I didn’t feel like jumping through all those hoops so I just sent my nurse manager a picture of the toilet and said that in my current condition I didn’t think I could make it to the clinic, and that she consider this proof that I was legitimately sick. Shortly thereafter they dropped the note requirement.

      1. Nurse Ratched*

        In my nurse manager’s defense, she was a good manager, just hamstrung by the nurses’ union which prevented her from getting rid of toxic/unsafe nurses, and the hospital administrators who had no clue what good patient care actually looks like. We had a great relationship, and we were both sad when I got my new job a few months later. Even though my new job is exponentially better, I would never do that to my current nurse manager unless I wanted to be fired that day!

    1. Lizzie*

      I’m sad that I cannot finish my cheesecake now, but I am so amused that I’m glad I read this anyway. Hahahahaha.

  18. Chinook*

    Can I add one point about what to tell your boss when you call in sick? I would hope that an employee would let the office know if they had something highly contagious or something that cad adversely harm others. I am thinking things like pink eye and strep throat. The boss could then let people know that it is going around and either a) hire a company to sanitize the entire office (there are companies who do this!) or atleast give employees a heads up if they are showing symptoms.

    1. fposte*

      But that’s likely to be most things that people get, so where do you draw the line? Do staph and strep carriers have to notify their workplaces that they’re carriers?

      In general, I’d stick to the public health recommendations on notifications and hygiene, otherwise it’s laypeople with little idea of risk assessment who are driving the disclosure of personal information and additional office expense.

    2. OhNo*

      I mean, anything could adversely harm others… Especially if someone happened to have a poor or suppressed immune system, or a family member with a poor/suppressed immune system, or a new baby at home, or one of a thousand other things. Sanitizing the entire office every time someone gets sick would definitely be a step too far, I think.

      That said, I do think it’s nice when my coworkers let the rest of us know (in very general terms) why they’re out, so that we can wipe shared stuff down with disinfectant wipes if we need to. Even just a quick mention of “flu”, “cold”, “migraine”, “food poisoning”, or whatever, makes it easier for the rest of us to keep an eye out for symptoms so we can hopefully catch any illness early.

      Even so, I really wouldn’t feel right encouraging people to tell the office what they’re sick with. And I certainly wouldn’t feel right, if I were the boss, sharing anything they told me with the rest of the office without their express permission. I totally respect people’s right to keep that to themselves, since I know there are definitely some things I just wouldn’t want to share.

    3. CMT*

      This is really crossing the line when it comes to privacy. If an announcement goes out that such and such illness is going around and one person is missing from the office, you’re going to know exactly why. Plus it’s a little on the paranoid side.

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh but with things like pink eye? Where you really need to wipe down surfaces or everyone gets it? I think it’s reasonable to tell people this. It may be an invasion of privacy, but my husband has only one useable eye. If I found out after they came back that someone had something very contagious like pink eye I’d flip a gasket, him getting that could completely blind him. And I’m immunosupressed AND have major lung issues. I’d be very annoyed if flu or pneumonia or strep was around and nobody warned him to take extra hand washing and sanitary precautions before coming home to me.

        Anything you could seriously catch by careless (or ignorant – some things are contagious before they show symptoms) people handling common areas (microwave, door handles, etc.) needs to be announced to people. I’m not talking the common cold here. I’m talking the big stuff.

  19. Elizabeth West*

    Most of the work we do in my department can be done remotely, so if I think I might be coming down with something, I will take my computer home with me just in case. My company seriously does not want your bum in the office if you are sick, to the point where there are signs everywhere–“Stay home if you have a fever!”–and they give you free flu shots.

    I don’t know what the policy is if you’re out for a while–I’ve been lucky enough to not have that happen. A coworker in a different department has a cold and worked from home most of last week. As long as your work gets done in a timely manner, my boss is pretty cool about it.

  20. marxamod*

    But what you *should* ask is: anything you need from me?

    AND THAT’S IT. Let people be sick, it’s better than them coming in and getting everyone else ill or coming in and doing crap work.

  21. Erica*

    I worked for a firm that required a note stating you are fit to return to work after an absence longer than 3 days. Management did not explain the need for such a policy, but I suspect it is to reduce risk of being sued by someone injured on the job after being seriously ill and not completely healed. We were operating computers, not heavy equipment. Is this policy legal?

      1. De Minimis*

        I’ve seen that policy at just about every place I’ve ever worked, both public and private sector.

  22. Michelle*

    It’s bad enough to get questioned by a manager/supervisor, but when you have a legitimate injury, voluntarily bring in a doctor’s note, the note says ” I want this employee on bed rest for 3 days and restricted duty for 2 weeks”, specifically lists the restrictions and dates, and then the manager hears other employees talking crap and doesn’t stop them, that’s the kind of thing that makes me angry. Didn’t happen to me but did a couple of days ago to an employee who pulled a muscle in his back that required bed rest, restricted duty and will have to have physical therapy as soon as he can move without severe pain.

    Sorry to kind of hijack the thread, but this kind of stuff really irks me. If it’s an employee who calls out a lot, then I can understand questioning them, but when it’s an employee who is dependable, I think mangers ought to quash that crap.

  23. JP*

    I still remember working in food service when I was 16. I had some awful stomach thing and had to call out sick. “But you don’t sound sick.” Would you like me to have called while I was on the toilet so you could hear everything? I don’t get some people…

  24. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    My former employer was huge on needing an explanation. I think I’ve told this story before but I had been seriously ill-throwing up on the hour for 5 hours and I called into work, said that I was throwing up incredibly frequently, and was told I needed to “be more specific.” This same place was also displeased when I called them from the ER with abdominal pain. They hadn’t figured out was wrong with me but told me I would absolutely not be able to work for at least two more days and might not be allowed to go home that night- “emergency surgery” was being thrown around as something I might need. So I call in but since I can’t say explicitly “I have a this” because we were waiting on test results I had to put my manager on the phone with one of the ER nurses. The nurse probably didn’t ingratiate me to my employers but she got me three days off work and wrote me a note. It was such a frustrating place to work for, when you’re feeling crappy(/in the hospital) the last thing you want to do is jump through hoops to justify why you feel like hell.

    1. JessaB*

      I once got written up/an occurrence in an occurrence system because I had one of my semi annual completely uncontrolled asthma attacks with chest pain, and could not call in early enough because it happened literally as I was walking out the door of my apartment to go to work. I was in hospital for three days. And I got in trouble for it. Geez some places are awful.

  25. Blackout*

    At my previous job, I called in sick once and my boss asked me what the problem was. It was a “female” thing and I didn’t want to go into details, so I told her it was personal (I don’t remember my exact wording). She then asked me in what I can only describe as a b**chy tone of voice, “Are you REALLY sick?” (I had worked there for 7 years and only taken maybe 3 sick days per year, so I was not abusing my sick leave)

    This is the same boss who wouldn’t let me take a sick day for a migraine. She said I should take some aspirin and wait a couple of hours, then come in late. Another time, she tried to force me to get a doctor’s note for taking 2 1/2 days off when I had the flu.

    Soon after that, I found a new job and my new manager is absolutely wonderful about taking sick time off.

  26. Sparty07*

    I had a boss for a little while that told me he would fire me if I came in sick. We shared an expanded cube (no walls to speak of) in an “open office” concept and he was a germaphobe who used hand sanitzer 5-6 times an hour. Then my last job was great because the company was very flexible on working from home (I did it twice a week) and would have no problems in you signing in from home with a sick child, or being sick yourself.

  27. pony tailed wonder*

    I had a manager who wanted us to e-mail if we were out sick. I don’t have a computer at home and it was aggravating.

  28. JL*

    Something I’ve always wondered: I’ve only ever had male managers, and I wonder if they ever caught on to my multiple euphemisms for ‘debilitating period cramps’ – stomach pain, really bad headache, small stomach flu etc. They’ve never been nosy about it, and certainly didn’t push for more information or a doctor’s note, and I wonder if it’s just general politeness, or because they figured out what was really going on (they all had wives after all).

  29. Jonno*

    In my current role at a university I have called out several times. I have never been required to have a note, which is good because I didn’t have insurance until recently so a doctor’s visit would have been costly. There was one exception however…on my way home from work one night, I got off the subway and some teenagers followed me, mugged me and beat me to a pulp. Skull fractures, almost lost eyesight….it was truly awful and while I’ve completely healed the psychological scars run deep. ANYWAY, I went to the emergency room and they dressed me up but having no insurance there was not alot they could do. I was sent home and the next day called out. I offered the papers that my doctor had but was told they weren’t necessary. I ended up being out of work for a total of five days. I had enough sick days to cover it…but when I tried to come back to work my manager barred me and said that I could not return unless I had a note. I told her I had tried to give a note before, but she said I needed to go to a DIFFERENT doctor to provide a note saying I was fit to return to work. I had no idea what she was talking about and I was really irate and honestly, still shaken up by the incident so I hung up on her. Finally I was able to go to a minute clinic at a CVS where I got a flu shot and the “doctor” there was explained the situation…they didn’t know what my manager was talking about but I had to do something for the doctor to be able to write a note saying I was healthy, so the flu shot served that purpose, I guess. So I gave that to my manager and she was all smiles. It was the weirdest experience ever, and when everyone got wind of what she did, everyone resented her but nothing really came out of it. Now that I have insurance I should be okay…but I’ll never forget how very confused I was that I offered a note and was refused, but then was put into a situation where I could not produce a note without going to extreme lengths. I felt like I was being set up!

    1. Kyrielle*

      That’s actually normal and your manager explained it really poorly! If you are out of work for more than about three days, many places will require a note saying that you are healthy enough to *return* to work. The doctor at the CVS probably short-circuited that, since the note is supposed to indicate that you’re sufficiently recovered from whatever-it-was to return to work, and they gave you a flu shot, not evaluated your injuries and recovery…so it goes. But “Jonno was seen at the emergency room” is not a note that says, five days later, you’re okay to return to work – it just says you got seen, and had been injured.

      With both my pregnancies, after FMLA leave, I had to provide a note saying that I was recovered and able to return to work – that required a follow-up appointment (which in that case I needed anyway, and I did have insurance which made it less painful).

      In theory, what your employer expected is that you would see a doctor who would check the healing of your skull, eyes, etc., make sure any concussion had recovered sufficiently, etc., and say you were healthy enough to return to work. It’s not about “proving” you were sick enough to be out, but demonstrating that you can safely return to work – that you don’t have injuries or illness ongoing that a) might make you a danger at work (such as someone with ongoing vertigo issues operating heavy machinery) or b) put you at risk by coming back to work (such as injuries that need further rest to fully recover, and straining them too soon could lead to additional problems with recovery), or c) possibly cause health exposure for other workers (an issue when disease is involved, if it’s a serious one and you’re still contagious).

  30. David*

    The flip side of this conversation — employees who OVERSHARE.

    Since we are 24/7 and have rotating shifts, we have a call-in line where employees can leave a voice mail to report unplanned absences.

    I had to tell my staff that if they are describing the color of any bodily fluids, that the TMI line has been crossed.

  31. Lynda*

    The one time I was asked to produce a doctor’s note I had some virus that I was sure was going to kill me. I was buring up, and had vomiting, diarrhea; that left me so weak I could barely move. I called my supervisor who wanted a doctor’s note. I actually started crying when I got off the phone because I knew I couldn’t drive myself anywhere. I was too sick to get up and get dressed. So I called my PCP’s office to speak to the nurse and she told me that they didn’t want me coming into their office infecting other people. She asked for my work fax and sent in a sick note. She told me to stay hydrated and I would start to feel better in 2-3 days. She wrote me off work for 4 days. My supervisor was ticked off because from the time she called me until she got the fax was probably 30 minutes and she knew I hadn’t left the house…but then again, I couldn’t.

  32. Ella*

    My current job recently changed the policy from accrued sick time to a set amount. Starting January 1st, we’re going to lose all our current time. I’ve only been working there for about 5 months, and I have yet to take any time off because I have a very “minimum wage mentality” about work, where unless I’m actively dying or have suffered loss of limb, you go into work. So there have been a few days where I would have rather not have gone in and I went anyway. I have 28 hours saved up. Because I’m such a good/nice employee, I wanted to warn my boss and coworkers that I might be using up my sick time before the end of the year. My boss flat out told me no, that sick time was for when you were sick, and that I should come to work. My father works for the same company in a different location, and he told me I should just not say anything; but if I’m going to cause a bunch of trouble for my coworkers because I don’t come in, I’ll feel bad. So I tried to subtlety hint to my boss that I wanted to take the three days off on Christmas week, he told me no again.

    But I’m a singer, and I’ve had vitamin deficiency problems, and I’m pretty sure I have a gallbladder issue, and it caught up with me this weekend. I couldn’t sleep last night because I couldn’t breathe, and I was worried about what my boss would say. I sent an email to my boss this morning, saying how sorry I was, but how I felt truly awful and I decided to stay home rather than infect everyone else. He replied saying that he was “extremely disappointed” and that he would “need to see a doctor’s note when I returned.” As far as I know, no one else on my team has been required to show a doctor’s note, and I have worked late nights and weekends in an attempt to prove myself in this job (it’s a IT job and my two degrees are in music). I’m so angry that I have to waste time and money to go to the doctor. (Granted, I probably need to get an update on my deficiency and have an ultrasound, but that’s neither here nor there.) I’m just so angry. I offered to work from home if they needed anything! So much for being treated like an adult.

  33. Danielle*

    Just a question regarding calling in sick. Are employers allowed to take a shift away or cover the next day without you calling in sick. I’m assuming it a punishment for being sick…

  34. Empress*

    What about the flip side of this? We have employees who call on Mondays, Friday’s, midterms, and finals with “an upset stomach”. I know if employee has a final on Thursday she will call out on Thursday. Every semester. Employee B calls out on every Monday when his supervisor is coming back from a trip or vacation. It’s always a generic stomach problem. It creates a problem for other staff, but I look like the big meanie if I question the validity of the illness.

  35. Anton*

    I have been off work for 8weeks now with a knee injury, and my manager hasn’t even rang or txted me to see how I am doing, I am a supervisor, so part of the management team and I feel I have been let down by this. Is it the managers duty of care to do this?

  36. Chris*

    Is it against the law for a manager to read out a sick line in the reception area in close proximity of other workers who now know my business because of this ? Could I take this further as I have been embarsssed by this ??

  37. Victoria*

    I have a co-manager tell me today to suck it up and deal with being sick. I have bronchitis, the dctor gave me two days off to recover and my Co manager is mad and Dissappointed in me for not going to work. He also tells me there is no room for me or my children to get sick cause my job comes first. Is he allowed to speak this way? And I am also a grocery manager and have not called off. Any advice?

  38. Jun*

    Why should I explain in detail if I call in sick. I think that’s very wrong – if I can provide medical certificate that should be enough.

  39. Vicky*

    I suffer with a stress disorders n migraines in the past week I’ve had sickeness. Bug n my boss is about to give me a disciplinary is able to God this there is another time I went into work to tell them
    I wouldn’t be going in because I wasn’t well at all n they could see this were do I stand ?x

    1. Mimi*

      Are you working with a doctor to manage your condition? We have a person who also suffers from migraines. She refused to go to the doctor though so the manager warned her she would be written up for excessive absenteeism unless she was under a doctor’s care. Once she went to the Dr. they got her on FMLA and created a plan for her to address her issues. Now she doesn’t miss so much work and when she does, it is all supported by management and the Dr.

  40. Mimi*

    I always speak to a live person at the office when I have to call in sick. We’ve had some people who abused sick leave – one actually got fired for chronic absenteeism. We still have a couple who think any time they don’t feel like working they just claim they are sick. Since we have a generous sick leave policy those days are paid leave. The company actually used to pay 100% of your salary for short term disability but had to reduce it to 60% because they thought it was being abused. They say the number of claims dramatically dropped after they reduced the payout which proves to them that is was abuse. (If the number of claims had not dropped them they would have believed that all were legitimate. ) I definitely do not want to be perceived as someone who abuses the system.

  41. Paul*

    Ive been of sick with a really damaged knee. I have a manual job whuch requires constant lifting of boxes so i knew i couldnt do thd job.
    I was due to attend thd course and my supervisor asked if i could come in to work to talk about the course, to my shock i was greeted by the HR manager and my supervisor to talk about my si kness. There was no letter to confirm this or did i have any idea of this. I was not asked if i wanted someone as a witness ive recieved a letter this morning from HR saying they want to see my doctors notes which is fine but my question is did they follow the right process

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