how much detail do you have to give when you call in sick?

A reader writes:

My friends and I (all 25ish, fairly new to the working world) are divided on how to call in sick. Mainly, how much detail are you supposed to go into about what is wrong with you? (“I’m not feeling well”? “I have a cold”? “I was up all night with terrible diarrhea”?) Also, is it legal for your boss to make you give them a ton of detail about what’s wrong with you or request a doctor’s note?

We’re also divided over how to take a mental health day. Are you supposed to lie about the real reason and fake a physical illness? One friend made the point that lying about taking a mental health day contributes to the stigma surrounding mental health issues, which I thought was a good point. Why *is* it okay to say you had the flu, but bad to say you had a panic attack?

I answered this question at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

{ 290 comments… read them below }

  1. Crivens!*

    Good answer!

    Re: mental health days – in a just world, needing a mental health day would be just as respected and understood is needing a day off because you’re physically ill (plus for many of us mental illness issues can lead to feeling physically unwell too), but we’re not there yet, so “I’m unwell and won’t be in today” has to cover it for now.

    1. fposte*

      I think there’s a separate problem, though, as Alison notes–a “mental health day” isn’t simply a day off because of a flareup of a mental illness; it’s often used as a sick-day mulligan for resting or playing. People don’t call off for a “physical health day,” either. If you’re sick, whether it’s mental or physical, just say you’re not well and take the sick day.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Yes! This!

        “Mental heath day” has long been used as a joke that the person doesn’t want to go into work and needs a fun day off.

        Someone with a mental health issue flare up is sick – simply sick – and you don’t need to distinguish between that and the a physical illness.

        1. Emily K*

          And to be honest, the divide between mental and physical health isn’t as sharp as we tend to/want to think it is. Things like inadequate sleep and chronic stress are all stuff we’re supposed to just soldier through because the conventional wisdom was that “it’s all in your head” and “there’s nothing REALLY wrong with you physically.” But that stuff has extremely well-documented effects on your biochemistry and can severely weaken your immune system.

          It’s interesting to me because we’ve gotten to the point where people acknowledge the science but only in a lip service way – most people will acknowledge that they know chronic stress is bad and say they don’t want their employees to suffer from it, but when the work demands escalate, all that goes out the window in favor of “do what it takes because it’s not like this is REALLY hurting you[, it’s just hurting you gradually inside in ways that are subtle invisible right now, which is the same thing as not hurting you, right?].”

          1. Emily K*

            Or in other words, “mental health” isn’t distinct from “physical health” any more than “dental health” or “bone health.” As much as we humans think our brains are so special, in the end they’re a part of the same holistic system as every other part of our body.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I feel a tiny bit guilty about this, because I don’t have any clinical-level mental health issues, and I don’t get physically ill that often. But I definitely did take a “I just can’t today” day off back in October – in my defense I did have some personal things going on I was anxious about, but mostly I felt like I needed a day off. No harm, no foul, I didn’t call it a mental health day to my manager. Still feel like someone might judge me for it :)

        1. KitKat*

          That’s a mental health day. There isn’t any laws saying you need to have a severe mental issue to take a ‘mental health day’. It’s literally a day for “yeah not happening”

        2. Leslie Knope*

          If you had sick days that were unused, you really shouldn’t feel guilty for taking something that’s yours to utilize in the first place. Especially considering it was later in the year and you might lose them if you don’t use them. No judging!

          1. ThatGirl*

            This was my basic justification – we can roll over a small amount of PTO, but our sick time is use-or-lose, and while I was capable of working my head just wasn’t in it that day. :)

            1. Veronica Mars*

              Honeslty this is how you can help prevent serious-diagnosis-mental-unwellness… By recognizing you need a “battery recharge day” long before you are totally empty.

              I had a hard time in elementary school, kids being mean to me and such. My dad would call me in sick once a month and we’d go to the movies together. The school gave him a hard time once and he went super rant on them about how health is about happiness too.

              1. Evil Annie Edison*

                Your dad sounds awesome!

                My company simply calls them “personal days” and allows them to be used at any time, with no more explanation needed than calling in and saying, “I’m taking a personal day today.” (This distinguishes them from vacation days, which must be scheduled in advance, barring an emergency situation.)

        3. Kimmy Schmidt*

          This is the way I look at this – everyone has to take care of their mental health, whether or not they’ve been diagnosed with any mental illnesses. Same as everyone has to take care of their physical health regardless of any physical illnesses (or the number of them or how severe they are). Mental health benefits us all, and the very occasional “I just can’t” day from work keeps all of us at our best.

      3. Lucette Kensack*

        Yes. The example the LW gives — having a panic attack — is cause for a regular, genuine sick day, not a “mental health day”/day to relax/etc.

      4. Mockingdragon*

        The definitions people have are fascinating, for sure. When I’ve taken Mental Health Days, it’s typically been because my depression is getting bad and I need a rest/play day, and I typically schedule in advance (ie, on wednesday, I confirm that nothing important is happening the next Monday and plan it). Now I wonder if that’s thought of as a vacation day instead. My jobs have never had separate PTO buckets so I didn’t have to consider that.

        1. doreen*

          If you’re scheduling it in advance and you don’t have separate leave buckets, then from your employer’s point of view, it doesn’t matter why you are taking the day off – you planning on Wednesday to take Monday off is no different than me planning on Wednesday to take Monday off to catch up on my laundry. When people talk about taking a “mental health day ” as in “I’m sick of going to work”, they’re usually talking about some difference at their job between taking a sick day and taking a vacation/personal day – either there are separate buckets, or vacation/personal days require advance notice or it’s theoretically possible that calling in the morning and saying “I’m taking a personal day today” might be met with “I can’t approve that- I need you to come in today”.

      5. TardyTardis*

        But don’t go to horses races (only to find your boss went there, too). True story from Arkansas.

    2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      I ended up getting intermittent FMLA for my mental illness – I normally manage it okay but I sometimes get severe panic attacks. HR knows why, but my manager doesn’t, just knows that I have the right to be off work without any questions if my chronic illness flares up. It’s a great system if you’re eligible.

    3. cmcinnyc*

      But if you don’t need to go into your gastrointestinal distress, you don’t need to go into your anxiety, either. Also, many people–including me–are not going to know what to do with your information. If you tell me, “I’m sick and going straight back to bed–I’ll try to check email later if I can” I get it. If you tell me, “I have a cold but I’ll be online. I’m contagious and a mess so I’m not coming in,” I get it. If you tell me you’re depressed or anxious or experiencing an episode of XYZ, I… don’t get it. Are you asking for help? Is there… something I’m supposed to do or not do with that info? I genuinely do not know.

      My point: you can’t fight stigma with information dumps. “Hi, I’m Manic Depressive!” is not a useful way to fight stigma. (Yes, I’ve been greeted like that. Absolutely no idea what this person wanted me to do with that info.) Just as, “Hi, I have cancer!” is not an opening line. If I need to know something *specific* to be of service to you or accommodate you or just be respectful of you, please tell me! But announcing your diagnosis ain’t it.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        This. Not only do you not know what to do with the information, but you also don’t WANT to know the information. It needlessly increases the odds of developing an unconscious bias. I am your work-related-manager, not your doctor or therapist or emotional support network. Maintaining those boundaries helps everyone.

        So, if you have a specific need, it makes sense to ask for that – and perhaps provide limited context for the ask. But I honestly believe we’d do way more for the stigma of all health conditions, including mental, if we normalized keeping private medical information private.

  2. Jellyfish*

    My spouse had an hourly job that didn’t provide insurance and also required a doctor’s note for even a single sick day. That meant they lost money twice over by calling in because they had to pay for the medical visit and lost those work hours.
    It also meant they routinely worked when sick – to the point of needing the hospital on one occasion. I definitely get why people freak out over these kinds of things, especially if they’re coming from food / retail into a more office-y setting.

    1. Not sayin'*

      This is a stupid practice! Every town has a doctor or two who will happily write whatever you want on a note. “Want the next 3 days off? You got it.” I would be sorely tempted to ask the doctor to do this if my boss insisted I go to the doctor for a one-day illness that just needed a day in bed.

      1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

        Hell, I’ve seen people trying to grapevine which doctors are willing to write fake medical exemptions for vaccines.

      2. Andream*

        Maybe in a small town, but not in the city I live in. I would have to go in to see the Dr or the nurse to get a note.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Our doctors back home [tiny area] would never give a note without laying eyes on you, unless you had some kind of on going chronic illness. It’s unethical to just write a note without seeing you. You can lose your medical license for that kind of stuff. What else are they just pushing along? Are these the same doctors who coax you along and give you scripts for narcotics without any tests, etc.

          1. Parenthetically*

            “You can lose your medical license for that kind of stuff.”

            IANAD but I seriously doubt medical licensing boards have enough free time to start cracking down on a doctor who emails a note saying, “Jane appears to have a viral infection requiring plenty of rest and fluids and should be excused from work duties until 12/12,” without having seen the patient.

            “It’s unethical to just write a note without seeing you.”

            Eh, I’d say it’s way more unethical to require doctor’s notes for minor illnesses, and I’d actually prefer that doctors write letters like the one that’s made the rounds, in which the doctor basically says, “Jane has, by all symptom description, a cold and needs to stay at home to recuperate and avoid passing it on to her coworkers. Since I have no test for the common cold, it would be a waste of her money and my time for her to come in to my office. I need to spend my professional hours treating patients who actually require my medical care. I ask you to reconsider your policy of requiring doctor’s notes for minor illnesses.”

            1. Quill*

              Yeah, much better use of their time to go after people who are causing human harm instead of lying to a business person who is not, in any way, in need of the info.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Well, I don’t think “By a description of symptoms it appears Jane has a cold. She should stay home from work until she is recovered enough to return, or until 12/12” is a lie, though? Seriously. If I called our awesome NP today and said, “Hey, I have some kind of virus with the following symptoms, does that sound like a chest cold to you and does it seem like a day or two of rest would be good enough, cool, can you email a note to that effect to boss(at)work(dot)com,” he wouldn’t be lying if he did!

                1. Quill*

                  No, that wouldn’t be a lie, I was more responding to the person above who alleged that writing a note without seeing you would be a lie.

              2. Zennish*

                Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never been to a doctor that wrote anything more specific than “So and so was seen in my office on (date). They may return to work on (date).

            2. Asenath*

              Well, in my area I don’t know of a doctor who would give a sick note without seeing the patient! There might be some who do it, just as I hear that there are some who hand out prescriptions for narcotics without examining the patient. The local medical association has argued publicly against employers who insist on notes for workers with short-lived, self-limiting illnesses – I don’t know if they’d consider my employer (more than 3 consecutive days requires a note) to be one of the people they complain about (I doubt it). But they aren’t telling the local doctors to provide notes without seeing the patient! And no doctor notes I’ve had ever said why I was sick. They just said I was unable to work on certain dates.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                My employer only requires a note if you are out sick more than three days consecutively (which is fairly reasonable I think – if your still sick after three days and it’s not the common cold/hay fever I was taught to try and get in to get checked over by the Dr/his nurse).
                I think it’s silly to want a Dr note for less than three days, but some bosses are unreasonable – and other bosses are doing the best they can under unreasonable rules they can’t change.

                1. Quill*

                  Three days is also a pretty good indication that you may be contagious for a wide window around the sickness…

                2. Kendra*

                  Mine’s the same. And the doctor’s note they require isn’t just “I saw a doctor;” it’s “this person is cleared to return to work,” meaning both that they’re well enough, and they’re not contagious. To me, that sends a pretty clear message that they’re trying to keep the whole staff healthy, not treat a bunch of adults like untrustworthy children.

            3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I 100% agree with you that it’s an awful practice to require a doctors note.

              But the licensing board doesn’t play the “well they were unethical, so your response was less unethical but still marginal…so you know, whatever.”

              They see it as a questionable behavior on the doctors part. This is how licensing boards tend to work in general. It’s up to the person with a license to act correctly.

              This is one of those things that wouldn’t get flagged generally because yeah, it’s pretty small in the scheme of things…until you fire someone who knows you have shady practices and they start reporting you for assorted behaviors they observed while in your employment.

              1. Fikly*

                +1

                Someone else being unethical doesn’t make your unethical act ok, if you’re being evaluated on your ethics.

            4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              So years ago someone with a license made a joke online…I wont’ go into specifics, it was an obvious joke and it was not about anything egregious. Think “I’m not your mom, get your own tissues!” kind of thing.

              And someone doxed them. They ended up going through a huge investigation and had to leave their place of employment. They didnt’ lose their license, but it was a real threat.

              That’s how precarious licensing can be. So just keep that in mind.

            5. LizM*

              My large HMO offers telephone and email appointments. I’m required to bring in a note if I’m off for more than 3 days. A few years ago, I had the flu and was not a candidate for tamiflu. My doctor evaluated my symptoms over the phone and decided she didn’t need my germs in the waiting room since there was nothing she could do for me. She gave me a list of things to look out for (If this happens, call when we open, if this happens go to the ER…) and emailed me a note for my boss. I think it just said, “I evaluated LizM on X date, and have advised that she remain out of work until Y date.” Had the symptoms not gone away, I just needed to email her back and she would have updated the note after another online or phone screening.

              I don’t feel like she committed malpractice and appreciated not having to drag my sick self downtown to her office.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                This sounds similar to the “telehealth” program that the biggest hospital/quickcare operator in my area is phasing in to help people that are sick – but may just need sleep and fluids (and also to work on curbing the spread of flu/viruses to other people in the waiting room.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, sadly this still happens. Which is why I’m still quietly waiting for more states to bring on mandatory sick leave requirements.

      I had to retrain a manager awhile ago because we literally cannot ask for a doctor’s note if it’s less than 3 consecutive days. “But they could take advantage and come back the second day and call out a third!” “Yeah, they still only have a certain amount of time they can do this, it’s not forever, we can deal with it if someone games a system that’s extremely limited!”

      1. mcr-red*

        If we are out more than two days in a row, we have to have a doctor’s note. As a result, people will get the flu/virus, be out two days, come back in sick for one day, then call out another day, or just be out sick two days, then come back sick for rest of week. No one wants to spend the money to go to doctor unless they need to. The result is sickness spreads and we are all massively sick for months.

        Seriously, if you give your employees X number of sick days, can’t we just pretend that we are all adults and let them use them at their own discretion?

    3. Pennalynn Lott*

      At one particularly crappy job (which was in a “professional” office setting), we were required to get a doctor’s note for any sick days. So I just created my own. I mean, I had, in the past, gotten a legit doctor’s note and then I modeled mind after it. Fake doctor, fake license number, fake everything. I was job hunting anyway so I didn’t really care if they tried to call the number I had on the paper to verify. Turns out they never did. I shared my template with co-workers. They changed the info and they, too, never had their notes verified. The company just wanted to make us as miserable as possible.

    4. PotatoJoy*

      Ooof, been there – and also had the joy of a doctor at a walk-in clinic who would only write me a note saying that requesting a doctor’s note for a one day illness was a stupid practice that needed to end (he didn’t charge me…but unsurprisingly my workplace wouldn’t accept it either).

  3. Rookie*

    I don’t know where the practice came from, but when I first started managing, I received very detailed reasons people were sick that were just gross. No, I don’t need to know how many times you vomited and where, nor do I want to know the consistency of your loose stools…please, just say you’re sick. That’s enough for me :)

    1. Drew*

      Some of my coworkers have not figured this out and I know way more about their IBS or menstrual cycles than I care to.

    2. Quill*

      Probably school and minumum wage customer service environments where you’re assumed to be “faking it” unless you can provide “proof” and for most adults, a case of Montezuma’s revenge is not cause to go to a doctor even if that was accessible…

      1. Amber T*

        I’m always tempted to go into more detail to “prove” I’m sick – honestly, I’m not sure where it comes from. It honestly took years for me to just switch to “I’m feeling awful and will stay home today,” even though THAT is more information than my colleagues give.

          1. adk*

            This makes me giggle because, while not the person you’re asking, I had perfect attendance in grades 8-12, so 5 years of school. Even missed my grand grandmother’s funeral and a family Thanksgiving because of it. Then I had a boss who wanted all the details and I worked up a nice phlegmy voice when calling in sick, even when what I had was a head or stomachache. When I finally had a job where I could just text that I wouldn’t be in today, it was so freeing.

          2. Amber T*

            Ha, guilty. The Original K below. hit the nail on the head for me too. I was sick a lot as a kid and definitely stayed home, but it was a lot of “are you sick, or are you REALLY sick?” Going to school feeling crappy was pretty normal. Thankfully I don’t get as sick as often (goodbye tonsils!), but I do feel more confident taking sick days when I feel I need them.

        1. The Original K.*

          My parents were pretty strict about school attendance so often, “not feeling well” wasn’t enough to stay home. You had to be coughing, sneezing, feverish, vomiting, or some combination. (Vomiting and fevers were automatic “stay in bed” cards.) So I probably carried some of that with me into my first job. I don’t recall saying anything gross, but I definitely said “I’ve got an eye infection” or “I have strep throat” rather than just saying I was sick and wouldn’t be in. I don’t do that anymore!

          1. What's with Today, today?*

            Yep. My Dad was wouldn’t let me out of school unless I was running fever or throwing up. And if you leave work or school, you don’t DARE leave the house, because, you are sick. That one is SO ingrained in me.

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

              100% this.
              My mum only ever let me have two occasions off school – when I was 9 and had chicken pox (a bit of a gimme), and once when I was 17 and had been feeling generally unwell. She came downstairs to find me pale as a ghost and slumped against the radiator – her response? “Fine. *heavy sigh* Go back to bed then)
              I have also learned how to manage my own vomiting (to the point where I was very ill at my mother in law’s house, got up and *dressed* between each bout of sickness, and no one noticed a thing!

              1. Quill*

                My parents were overall reasonable about sick days. Only time they thought I was faking it was when I got some really weird symptoms (couldn’t move my feet… at all. Still not sure what that one was) and they still didn’t end up making me go to school. Mostly because I couldn’t make it to the door under my own power.

            2. Fikly*

              I remember being home sick at age ten, with the beginning of what turned out to be Lyme. I was terrified to get up to go to the bathroom, because surely if I was well enough to get up and walk, I was well enough to go to school, right?

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                The principal of my elementary school told me when I was eleven that if I was well enough to sit up in bed and read for a little while I was well enough to go to school.

                This is the same school where her later replacement was a promoted former classroom teacher whom I’d known to make a sexually inappropriate threat to a student, sooo… yeah, I’m bitter about that school.

              2. TardyTardis*

                I was sick in junior high with a cold, but the second day of it I showed way too much enthusiasm for someone’s catch and throw during the World Series (it was during the day then).

                “You’re going to school tomorrow.”
                “Yes, Dad.” (he worked swing shift).

          2. The Rat-Catcher*

            My daughter gets one “freebie” per quarter, and it’s working out amazingly so far. (We’re lucky to send her to a school with a generous attendance policy.) It wasn’t something I was ever allowed to do and my mom vehemently disagrees, but I think it’s a huge boon for a kid, especially an anxious overachiever like my daughter, to know that breaks are okay and just because they give out awards for something doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself trying to achieve it.

          3. 'Tis Me*

            I was sick really easily as a kid (for instance, my mum once took 3 year old me to the post office and somebody had bad cold sores and I took one look at her face and vommed… I couldn’t wear turtlenecks because the slight pressure on my throat would make me vom)… If I threw up at school the office learnt to ask me if I was need to go home sick, or need a glass of water to get the taste out of my mouth sick, because 4/5 I was actually fine, something had just triggered my vom reaction.

      2. DawnShadow*

        I work retail (supervisor) and I don’t want to know the details.

        I think it’s school related. It’s all the younger cashiers who do it. They’re used to justifying to mom and dad why they should be skipping school. Cue Ferris Bueller and the licking palms scene.

        Honestly folks. I’m going to cut you off when you go into your list of justifications and just say “you are obligated to either be here or find someone to cover your shift. Have you called around? No? I have a line of customers and don’t call back until you have someone to cover for you.” That’s it. I don’t care if it’s a mental health day or not, I care whether I can count on you to cover your shift one way or the other, or whether you’re going to crap out on your coworkers and leave us all with an extra hard day. They’re not going to get fired. But people develop reputations quickly, and eventually you will lose shifts if you are unreliable.

        1. What’s with Today, today?*

          …”justifications.” And this is exactly the reason people try to prove they are dying.

          1. What’s with Today, today?*

            Also, if I’m sick, I probably don’t give a damn about the line of customers you have.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Exactly. Treating retail, food service, and other low-wage workers like that is classist garbage which ties straight into the mentality brilliantly explained on another thread a few days ago by Richard Hershberger: the distinction so many companies make between the workers they see as human beings and the workers they see as meat puppets.

            1. Mel_05*

              The person who doesn’t care about their “justifications” is usually slow wage earner too, who just doesn’t want to have to work a double and strongly suspects that while their coworker is taking a sick day, they will also be posting concert photos to facebook.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                But the policy is still set by higher-ups, and pitting workers against each other is Oppressive Management 101.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          And what do you do if they can’t find someone to cover, or are too unwell to keep calling around? This is exactly the reason they’re telling you how sick they are.

          Getting sick is not “crapping out on your coworkers.” It shouldn’t get you a reputation as being unreliable. And most importantly, it should be the supervisor’s responsibility to handle the absence. I have never worked at a place (including retail and food service) where a sick employee was expected to find their own cover. For planned time off, absolutely you’d have to swap shifts, but not when you’re sick. That’s bizarre and extremely burdensome on an ill employee.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Oh, I’ve worked multiple retails jobs that expected me to find my own coverage when I had strep throat and the flu. I was a reliable employee who otherwise always showed up, worked double shifts when others didn’t show, and could run a fast, accurate cashier for not a lot of pay. But my good work got me nothing–the second I was sick, I was told to either come in (with my highly contagious illness? bet customers would love that) or find someone to cover me (lol yeah right, good luck there).

            And lol, “they’re not going to get fired.” I had no paid sick days, so calling in sick meant I was already losing money. And despite working there reliably for years, if I had ever called in more than a few times, the company had a policy of writing you up and pretty soon firing you.

            DawnShadow, you say it’s school related, but it’s also related to the attitude you just laid out here. I know retail management is tough game and I appreciate that, but you are absolutely contributing to the problem.

        3. HoHumDrum*

          “You are obligated to either be here or find someone to cover your shift.”

          And this is how I ended up directly working with food while suffering from food poisoning, despite that being a health code violation. No one could/would cover for me and my boss said “too bad, so sad, you need to come in,” and I couldn’t afford to get fired. So yeah, in between bouts of diarrhea I stood at the counter making food for people. I felt bad about endangering people but I didn’t feel like I had been given other options. And yes, my manager knew exactly how sick I was, she still said the above policy.

    3. TurquoiseCow*

      I had a coworker who would call in sick when everyone else emailed, and if she got the boss’s voicemail, she’d call back and tell him in detail about how terrible she felt and how she didn’t want to go to the doctor because what if it was viral and they couldn’t do anything about that and she was so sorry that she was out and would just go on and on, but if he didn’t answer she’d keep calling until she got him. He didn’t want or request this information.

      She’d also come to work sick before and after taking a sick day, so there was never a doubt that she was actually sick, and she was a pretty low-level employee, and not working on anything that was urgent or couldn’t be quickly taken over by someone else.

    4. BRR*

      Probably bad managers who require it and a strong sense from society that you need to justify your sick time. At my last job, the protocol was to email the team when you’d be out and one of my coworkers basically did what you’re describing (thankfully did not involve the GI tract). Not only was that level of description not required (as in actually not required for our office), I would specifically not want enough information that I could take it myself to a doctor for them.

    5. Kate R*

      I know a few professors who complain about students providing this level of detail when they miss a class, and I think the students think they have to provide that level of detail to be believed, which to some extent I get because I also have a friend who was asked to provide a funeral program when she missed class because her grandfather died. He couldn’t just, like, believe her?? I can see that carrying over into the working world too, especially if you have one of the overly invasive bosses Alison mentions. Frankly, if I had a boss like that, I’d be apt to tell them I had explosive diarrhea every time I was out just so they would eventually regret asking.

      1. nuqotw*

        True story: when I was graduate student, I was a teaching assistant for the same course two consecutive semesters. First term, someone failed the class and then begged for leniency because of some difficult family circumstances including a death. We were very sympathetic, but bottom line the semester was over and he’d failed the class; he would have to take it again. Next term, it was a different professor in charge of the course. The student towards the end of the term was on the cusp of failing again and he sent the professor the same story from the previous semester, presumably not realizing anyone was in a position to notice.

        1. Observer*

          So? Treating everyone as a liar just because some people do actually lie is NOT a productive strategy.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            Students who use tactics like that, in my experience, almost always have underlying issues that they are trying to manage through what they see as more acceptable excuses. The number of actual slackers – that is, students who just don’t do any work because they don’t want to or feel like they don’t have to – I’ve seen is negligibly small. The number of students who prioritize the elements of college life differently than I would hope for is larger, but the vast majority of folks with unexpected end-of-semester crises I’ve seen have been students with performance anxiety or who were grappling with something difficult over the long term and only realizing at the end that they hadn’t managed it as well as they’d thought. Citing family emergencies is a lot easier than saying, “I’ve been overwhelmed and depressed all semester and now I’m panicking” and asking for help.

            I’ve had my share of flat-out liars, but I don’t remember them anywhere near as vividly as I remember the look on a student’s face when I, as a second-semester TA, asked her for an obituary to show she’d been at a family funeral. It was enough that I never asked a student for proof again.

            1. Kate R*

              This is really insightful, and I think you’re probably right. I’m sure there are definitely students who are just crappy people and will lie about terrible things just to get a pass, but I’d rather let them by me than add to someone’s grief when they’ve just lost a loved one or are going through a difficult time. Besides, the student above did get caught eventually, and I think students who make a habit of lying generally do.

              1. I'm just here for the comments*

                My grandmother (with whom I was very close and had lived with us since I was 9) died during finals week in college. I had to go home to her funeral and then return back to school to finish my finals, because no professor would make an exception and allow me any extra time. I can safely say I didn’t give a flying rat’s a$$ about the rest of my finals, and did what I had to to get through them. I’m sure my response would’ve been less than stellar if anyone had asked me for “proof “.

            2. Anonymous at a University*

              Yeah, true slackers are rare. (I’m more likely to have people who just disappear and don’t respond to e-mails, which could be anything from “I realized I can’t pass and don’t see the point in turning in the final assignment” to “Mental health crisis”). I did used to work on a small college campus where some students would sometimes send me e-mails like “Have a broken leg, don’t know when I can return to class,” and then later that day I’d see them walking around with no cast, no crutches, no brace, no nothing. I didn’t say anything to them, but they usually saw me and were mortified. The few who did this were persistent and didn’t seem to realize that the more detailed a lie is, the more it trips you up.

              I wasn’t going to pry into it, but running into visible evidence of lying that way always made me roll my eyes to myself. I remember it well because it was rare, though.

              1. 'Tis Me*

                I broke my leg when I was a young teen. It took forever to heal (I had metalwork put in and a bone graft done at the 6 month mark because there was literally no sign of my bone healing; I was in plaster for about 9 months all told). I got permission at the start of term to go to the library instead of PE, sometimes had some theory work to do, other times read or did homework for other subjects. One lesson my PE teacher decided my leg must be better and I was therefore taking the mick and sent a classmate to come get me.

                I came rocking up on my crutches, plaster cast still very much in evidence, concerned as to why my teacher was mad at me… Her face changed from one of rage to confusion. “Oh. Umm, sit on the bench please.” was all she said. Then at the end of the lesson confirmed I could continue not going to PE classes until I was actually better…

                I think this was the same teacher who a few years later, when I turned up a bit late after a hospital appointment and asked if I could sit out coz I didn’t feel great, told me that having an appointment wasn’t the same as being ill. So I threw up on the rounders pitch.

                Because no, these things aren’t the same – but usually people in perfect health aren’t missing school time for medical appointments, are they?

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  Some people really should not be teachers, imo–definitely including that terrible excuse for an educator!

            3. The Rat-Catcher*

              ” who were grappling with something difficult over the long term and only realizing at the end that they hadn’t managed it as well as they’d thought.”
              This has been me this semester. There has been a tremendous amount going on personally and I’m struggling to pull B’s when I’ve pulled A’s in objectively more strenuous courses without breaking a sweat. I explained everything from the semester to my professor and she has been extremely understanding.
              In undergrad, I’m sure I appeared lazy but struggled with depression. I’d always start off strong but then eventually start to oversleep just enough that I’d be late and then convince myself I might as well not go. I didn’t enjoy retaking courses or dropping tens of thousands of dollars just to graduate with mediocre grades and no internships.

          2. Asenath*

            If you know that some people are going to lie, and you don’t want to reward them, you have to use the same procedures for all people is that category in order to be fair. It’s one of the social consequences of “victimless” wrongdoing. Conscientious Sally, should she suffer a bereavement, has to prove the fact because otherwise Lying Lucy will gain undeserved recognition when she’s been excused from completing work or doing exams on the grounds of a false bereavement.

            1. Fikly*

              But is not rewarding a small number worth causing so much pain to a much larger number? What does that say about you?

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yeah, Fikly – your point is exactly why I don’t think we as a society should worry much about things like welfare/disability/unemployment fraud. It’s better to risk a few grifters taking advantage than to let a lot of innocent people suffer. (Also, such payments are usually such a miserly pittance that committing fraud only to live such a bare-bones lifestyle hardly seems worth it.)

            2. Observer*

              Well, no you do NOT have to treat everyone the same way. If someone has a good track record it is just FINE to let that factor in to how you treat them. And, to be honest, if the choice REALLY has to be “treat everyone exactly the same” (which is generally NOT the case), then you should err on the side of >gas< "rewarding" the slackers. It will come back to bite, and the risk if you don't winds up being too great.

              That's one of the reasons why so many localities are outlawing requirements to bring in a doctor's note for people who are taking one or two days sick. The cost to society, not just individuals is just too high.

          3. nuqotw*

            If you look below you’ll see my policy is, in fact, to believe people, because I agree with you. However, I completely understand that there are others out there who have been burned in the fashion I describe who have simply decided to verify everything, even if the verification is typically unnecessary and potentially awkward.

          4. A*

            True, but it doesn’t mean nuqotw can’t comment and share a related story. It happens in the comments all the time. I think the whole “So?” thing is unnecessary and kind of rude. All they did was share a ‘true story’, they didn’t extend it to “therefore all students are liars”.

      2. HoHumDrum*

        I mean students feel the need to give that level of detail because a shockingly large number of people will automatically assume they’re faking or just hungover. In fact, even outside of school I’ve seen so many otherwise nice managers that are eager to jump to assuming any young person calling in is probably just “sick” due to partying or staying up too late or other irresponsible behavior.

      3. mcr-red*

        I have a friend who was hospitalized (she almost died actually) and her husband called her professors to tell them why she wouldn’t be in class for a while. All of them were understanding but one, who said she would have to contact him herself or it wouldn’t be excused.

        Her husband knew the dean and her boss knew the college president. Phone calls were made.

      4. Pretzelgirl*

        I had a professor that required an obituary but also preferred a copy the death certificate. They also specified that the obituary needed to mention your name. Like grandfather of Jane/John Smith. If it was omitted there was some other process, that I can’t remember. It was crazy. It was like a freshman level, lecture class with 200 students. I am not even sure, how he kept track of everything.

    6. Project Manager*

      One of my newer employees told me too much about his food poisoning (including his girlfriend’s symptoms). I told him I don’t need details! Hopefully he will take that on board.

    7. What's with Today, today?*

      Some bosses want that. My direct boss doesn’t, but my Grandboss (the owner) wants to know exactly why you can’t come in, how bad it is, and more. He wants the gory details.

      1. What's with Today, today?*

        And we are msotly all salary exempt except sales, and they are indepenedent contractors.

    8. Can't Sit Still*

      I’m cc’d on my boss’ skip reports absence emails and they are far too detailed. One of the skip reports had an attendance issue that turned out to be for medical reasons, which somehow snowballed into everyone thinking they had to go into details and…I really, really don’t want or need to know about your menopausal issues, your sleep disorder, your 24 hour urine collection, or your endoscopy prep. Or your bathroom/kitchen/deck remodel, either, for that matter.

    9. Goldfinch*

      I felt pressure to be specific when I had to do prep and knew it would affect my behavior at work (two days of fasting and intentional dehydration for an exploratory GERD procedure). I didn’t want to gloss over “I need PTO for a medical appointment” but then later have to explain why I was ditzy or short-tempered that week.

    10. NotAnotherManager!*

      I manage a lot of recent graduates, and we cover this in orientation – you are provided with generous sick leave and it does not require an accounting of your symptoms to use. I’m not a doctor, I’m not your parent, I am here to make sure work gets done whether you’re here or not. Also, please do not bring your germs into the office and share with others.

    11. Mimi Me*

      My husband is one of those people who feels like he has to give details. He rarely calls out so when he does, it’s usually because he’s legitimately sick. He’ll ask me, prior to calling out, what he should say. Up all night vomiting? Should I tell them about the liquid stool? NO! Just say you’re sick and let that be the end of it. Only once has someone pushed back on him for calling out with no further detail and that was because the job was short staffed and they wanted to really make sure he was sick. The push back was “are you sure you’re really “sick” sick?” to which my husband gave a very toned down response of “I really want to be near my own bathroom given the night I had.”

    12. Oxford Comma*

      Based on my personal experience, it’s because they had a prior manager who did want that level of detail or did insist on doctor’s notes.

    13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Tyrannical bosses who fancy themselves the next Rockefeller or Morgan or some nonsense.

      It’s been a thing for the ages, not to trust your employees or treat them like humans. So they have learned to give more details than necessary hoping that they catch a break from their bosses cranking the screws or worse, firing them for daring to need time off.

    14. Ellen N.*

      The practice probably came from being used to their former employer’s requirements.

      At two of the four entertainment business management firms where I’ve worked; I was required to speak in person to a partner or a manager if I needed a day off or needed to come in late. I was not permitted to leave a voice mail or send an email. These managers would grill me to “make sure” that I was really sick enough to need to stay home. In both cases, managers would call me throughout the day to verify that I was at home.

      Once I was in the hospital for a week. I had to call each morning and speak in person to a manager. I asked if my husband could call. The partner said that I would have to call.

    15. Mary Whitney*

      I was guilty of this my first year out of school. I definitely told my boss more about my menstrual cramps that she probably wanted to know. I think the pressure to justify is higher for young people who are presumably healthier and have fewer commitments (like sick kids at home).

    16. Narvo Flieboppen*

      And I had a manager, back when I worked retail, who would quiz us on these details to make sure we were ‘really too sick’ to work. Because people really want you handling their groceries if you only have most flue symptoms but are not yet vomiting.

      That same manager would then guilt trip you for being sick, as though it was a purposeful choice made to undercut the store’s ability to function.

    17. Juliawkiwi*

      I had a manager who used to ask about symptoms when you called in and would then send out email bulletins to the whole company on your health – like: “X is feeling better today. She is no longer projectile vomiting but she still has diarrhea”. Ewww.

    18. A*

      The practice comes from many places, including managers that do require this kind of info. I’m currently in a situation where, for the first time in my life, I’m reporting to a manager that wants this level of details. She won’t request it, or pry, but if I don’t offer it I’ll come in to such wonderful comments as “had too much fun over the weekend?”, or “must have had a case of workitus!”. She also always gives ME this level of detail, leading by example and all that – the gift that keeps giving.

      It’s irritating, but so it goes. I’m slowly offering less and less info over time to try and get her to break the pattern, because it is incredibly demoralizing and very much against industry norms.

      [for context – I’m salaried & my employer has unlimited sick days on the honor system]

  4. Quill*

    Lying is not necessary, but do establish the expectation that you won’t be available for any details beyond “I wasn’t feeling well,” and “It’s not contagious.” Which are the only two things that are your employer’s business!

    (“It’s not contagious” covers mental health, period cramps, pulled muscles, hangovers… so useful.)

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      It’s also important for a boss to know in a setting like a school. If someone here comes in with something contagious, we ALL catch it, and a good principal needs to keep an eye on the sub list so they know they can manage if lots of teachers are out at once. (Last week SIX of us were out sick. That’s a quarter of our teaching staff.)

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yes, when I worked in fitness, if lifeguard staff came down with certain ailments (vomiting, diarrhea) they had to be taken off the schedule for 2 weeks, because the health code prohibited anyone who had diarrhea within the past two weeks from entering the pool. One place I worked, had previously closed the pool for a week or so because a lifeguard came down with meningitis.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          My youngest child’s class currently has around a third of the children off with norovirus. They’re not far off 1/3 of the teachers off as well.

          1. Quill*

            My mom jokes that she’s now immune to most viral illnesses due to teaching for 15 years, except somehow strep and pinkeye keep coming around…

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Former preschool teacher – pinkeye actually has multiple causes. It can be caused by viruses, a several types of bacteria, or also just by good old fashioned hay fever. It takes a Dr to determine which is causing your case of pinkeye.

                  (I hate hay fever season………)

  5. nuqotw*

    Oh my goodness…this is something I agonized over in my 20s and now in my late 30s I am a professor and I periodically have to assure 21 year olds that the details of their illness are not my concern. Please don’t show me your x rays that you have on your phone. Please do not remove the bandage on your hand to show me your wound that needs stitches later today. Please don’t stagger in looking like death warmed over to show me that you really want to come to class. I don’t need or want to know. I am easily grossed out and I am sure you were really sick, whatever that may look like.

    1. Quill*

      I did that to a professor once… I was on crutches and had a 104 degree fever so I wasn’t that rational about whether or not I should show up for my final.

      “I don’t think I’m contagious, but I might be dying” was a terrible way to announce my presence for that test.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Lol, I once stayed up all night working on a paper that wasn’t due for 2 weeks (unbeknowst to me) and I walked into class and said “I think I’m going to faint.”

          1. banzo_bean*

            hahah my thesis is due today! And I finished two weeks ago but knowingly so that I could enjoy my last week of school- EVER!

            There is a slight group component to my thesis.They stayed up all last night working on their thesises. I spent the night studying for my defense and reviewing my notes. I had a cup of sleepytime tea and went to bed by 9:30. I feel so freaking pulled together and on top of life.

            We have a shared slideshow for our presentation today at 3:30 pm and I’m being evil and watching my teammates in a mad dash to add slides at the last minute through google slides. Today I got a blowout, fresh manicure, and picked up my suit from the dry cleaners. I can’t wait to show up to my thesis defense looking my absolute best while my procrastinating, credit stealing, grade grubbing, passive aggressive, backhanded teammates show up looking tired and haggard. You may all bask in my pettiness.

              1. Pennalynn Lott*

                “I want my thesis group teammates to be the ones to lower my coffin the ground so they can all let me down one last time.”

            1. Jellyfish*

              Your pettiness is glorious. I did a similar thing for a smaller academic achievement about 12 years ago, and I still quietly enjoy that petty victory.
              Congrats on finishing and good luck on the defense!

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I spiked a fever the day of a final exam that happened to fall on the last day of the exam period. Just woke up with a fever of 103 and without the good sense God gave a turnip. I emailed the professor and said I was sick and asked if I could take the exam at a different time but didn’t hear back so I just went to the exam and sat in the very back corner. The professor had apparently responded to my email while I was on my way to campus and was like “wtf are you doing here are you okay,” but at that point I was committed and took the exam.

        I got a B. I may or may not have given an entire language course influenza. I definitely did my best not to go near anyone.

        I ended up getting a secondary infection and being sick as a dog for weeks so I guess it’s good I just got the test out of the way.

        1. Quill*

          I wouldn’t have been able to make the exam up for at least a week. I got an A on my exam though, found out later that the professor had picked it up with chopsticks, dropped it in the nearest trash along with the chopsticks, and given me the same grade that I’d been getting in class.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Due to the nature of my chronic illness, in undergrad there were several occasions where I bolted to the in-class trash can, threw up blood, and then sat right back down and continued taking notes. It’s not really feasible to call out sick for existing, nor is it possible to not eat for 24 hours before heading to class, so…

    3. TreeSilver*

      I will always remember the professor who told me that if I missed class a third time (I had been very ill) I would have to repeat the semester.

      I showed up to the next class with walking pneumonia and proceeded to collapse in the back of the classroom.

      They did not make me repeat the semester.

      1. Observer*

        All of the teachers and professors who don’t understand why students give them “too much information” need to read this.

      2. Allypopx*

        *rant about the ridiculous practice of mandatory attendence in college for exactly reasons like this. treat adults like adults.*

        1. Enough*

          I had one class where the requirement to take the weekly quiz that you left on his door. You never had to actually show up for any class. So often it seems that college in the 70s was much more sensible then what my children experienced in the last 15 years.

        2. Alienor*

          My daughter got dropped from a class this semester for having three absences, despite having done all the work and received full credit to that point. The professor didn’t email her or notify her in any other way, and when she showed up for the (eight a.m.) class, walked over to her and said “I dropped you” with an implied “Why are you here?” I asked daughter how she responded, and she said “I just picked up my stuff and left without a word. If she’s going to be like that, then BYE.”

        3. Fikly*

          My sister, in high school, could not get herself up to make her first period class on time. Eventually, the chronic tardiness meant a conversation with her grade’s vice principal and a threat of failing the class. But the guy had a very difficult time chastising her when her average in the class was 98, because clearly the tardiness was not harming her performance.

          I had a similar experience, because the policy was 5 absences per class per year and then you fail. Well, I had surgery and a ton of doctors appointments an hour and a half trip away. Guess how many absences I had senior year! (I crutched into one class after surgery and got a round of applause from my classmates, and the teacher.)

    4. Jennifer*

      I agree with you but at the same time I get why some young people do that. It seems some professors or supervisors at places that tend to employ young people have taken it upon themselves to “toughen up” the younger generation and are really rude about people needing to take sick days. Sometimes I felt the need to prove I was sick or wait for someone to tell me to go home. At least that was my experience.

    5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I showed up slightly late to a 1-to-1 with my Director of Studies, and was noticeably staggering and distracted. He was known to have a very low tolerance for absence, so I had refused to get in the ambulance once my spine was cleared and instead attended, completely unmedicated, with two broken ribs and probably in shock.

      He was more explicit about his absence policy thereafter.

    6. BusyBee*

      Oh man, many moons ago when I was in college, I had this seminar class that I LOVED. It only met once a week, so missing one of those classes was a total bummer. I also never skipped classes in college because I had calculated the cost per class and it haunted me. But anyhow, I broke up with my boyfriend of two years one afternoon, and after much crying on both our parts I decided I should just go to class. I looked a MESS, red, puffy eyes, the whole thing. I made it through the class just fine, but at the end the professor asked if I was ok. Like, the heck was I thinking? Should have just missed class and followed up with my classmates for notes.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Lol. I feel you. I got dumped by a boyfriend of five months in college — not super long, but he was a friend before and I was going through a very bad mental health period. So I was up all night crying, feeling abandoned (while also my roommate brought back a dude to fool around with but then he stopped things and I had to listen to that awkward convo since they both though I was asleep….).

        So I drag myself to my last class of Friday and promptly fell asleep while taking notes. I woke up to a classmate kicking my leg to wake me up while everyone laughed. Cherry on a sh*t sundae. Should have stayed in bed.

    7. Wendy Darling*

      When I was a TA I had a student tell me she couldn’t come to class due to a wardrobe malfunction and then send me a photo of her torn dress strap.

      I didn’t need that level of detail AND we didn’t take attendance!

  6. saby*

    Great answer! I for one do not want to hear about your symptoms, especially if it’s a stomach thing, but a bit of detail re type/severity of illness is helpful when missing the day will be a big inconvenience.

    My workplace has unlimited sick days, but if you’re going to be out for longer than a certain amount of time at one go (I think it’s three weeks?) you have to get a doctor’s note and go on temporary disability. So we’re in the practice of writing in saying we’re sick and if we expect to be out again the next day or not — e.g. “I’m not feeling well so staying home to rest, see you tomorrow” vs “I have caught a stomach bug and won’t make it in today, probably not tomorrow either” vs “Turns out my lingering cough is bronchitis! Doctor says I should rest all week but I’ll try to keep up on emails”.

    1. Ashley*

      I like this as a manager. I don’t really care what you have but roughly when will you be healthy or work and if you can do things remotely are you or aren’t you checking emails.

  7. Sled dog mama*

    I once straight out told my boss that I was calling in to take a “marriage health” day. His wife later told me that he liked the idea so much he once took a day just to spend with her.
    He was also a great boss, and is still a good friend

    1. The Original K.*

      A woman I worked with told me she was taking a day off to spend time with her husband, who she “regularly neglect[ed].” (She was a department of one in a very meeting-heavy office, so she basically spent her days in meetings and her evenings trying to actually get stuff done.) I’m not sure if she said this to her boss when she told him, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she did.

  8. NowWhat465*

    I usually just go with I’m not feeling well and won’t be coming in. It rarely goes into more detail than that for the one off day (and works for the mental health day too).

    I do tend to give more details if it’s a multi-day absence, frequent absences due to a chronic illness, or something contagious. I.e. I will come in 24 hours after a stomach bug, but will refuse to interact closely with coworkers so they don’t get it.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – single day I go with “not feeling well, I’m going to bed and will see you tomorrow.” If it’s going to be multiple days, I’ll give a few more details (still noting brutal/TMI) just so that boss knows roughly how long I’ll be out for.

      It also depends on how the boss reacts and what precedent they have established in the past with me.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      When I was out sick last month, the first day (Thursday) my message was just “Not feeling well, so staying home but I’ll check email.” On Friday, it was “Still sick, definitely not allergies.” When I left work early the following Monday, the message was “Heading out so I can cough in (everyone else’s) peace”. (I could’ve probably taken Monday off sick, too, but I was bored out of my skull staying home and resting.)

      The only details anyone got were “My cough was more productive than I was.” (Except for the NP I saw when the cough came back the following week. But it’s his job to know those details. It’s not my coworkers’.)

  9. Jamie*

    I once worked for a terribly intrusive boss who demanded to know the reason for any appointment you were taking PTO. If you said it was personal he would then nod knowingly and say, “oh the gynecologist.”

    When I was actually seeing the gyn regularly for a short period of time due to a serious condition I just went with dentist. Root canals and crown replacement can cover many visits and while I don’t like to lie it was none of his damn business.

    1. MMD*

      Oh I’d have some fun with that. Thank goodness I have a call off line at the hospital, no humans, just sick or family sick, what shift . No one asks anything.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        My response would be “upper abdominal post-prandial distension”. Let him figure that one out.

        (Yes, it’s a Star Trek reference.)

    2. Kate*

      I had a boss who kept asking more and more questions about why I was had taken a sick day until I went into extreme, disgusting, Tarantino-esque detail which made him uncomfortable. After that, he was okay with vague answers.

  10. Princesa Zelda*

    If your boss insists on “proof” because they’re terrible, what’s always worked really well for me is 1) be reliable to begin with (or else 2 won’t work) and then 2) provide excruciating detail, picture and video evidence, and every law and/or policy and/or ethics code you would be violating if you came in if applicable.

    The first time I was extremely ill at Jobs of the Past and my boss wanted “evidence,” they got it. They didn’t ask anymore. Thankfully, my current job has never asked. I just say “Can’t come in, need to use a sick day” and my boss just tells me to feel better soon. I like my current job. :)

    1. Jamie*

      My current boss is like that as well, but I found myself buried in guilt and overexplaining when I called in sick. Still scarred from a previous employer who insisted on gory details down to how productive your cough was.

  11. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    On my first day, and we were going over policies my boss told me that when calling in sick, “Just tell me you won’t be in. I don’t need to know why. We’re all adults.” I honestly appreciated that.

    1. Just J.*

      Thank you. I was coming here to say that too.

      My office is very straightforward. “I’m taking the day off” is perfectly legitimate as is a simple “I won’t be in today”. This is why we give you PTO / vacation days / sick days in the first place. I don’t need to know why you are using them, I just need to know that you won’t be in.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      I cover that in my new hire info too. Specifically that I do not WANT the details. Don’t feel well? Please don’t come to work and please feel better soon. I’ll get it covered. Also, if you’re sniffing & hacking all over work, I’m gonna send you home because I don’t want it.

  12. mcr-red*

    Don’t get me started on mental health days. I have some anxiety disorders – for which I am very open about that I see doctors for and am on medication for. I went through a very bad time at work in the spring and work stressors and attitudes seriously threw me into a full-fledged attack the likes of which I hadn’t had since getting on this dose of meds. Like hysterically crying constantly. My doctor took one look at me in his office doing this and said take a week off of work. Writes me a doctor’s note that I take into work saying I am sick and need to be off for 1 week, will be able to return on this date. We carry over sick days for years, so I have this huge amount of sick time that I rarely use – like could take off months.

    My work makes me go on FLMA and fill out paperwork, including a four page questionaire for my doctor about what is wrong with me, etc. For 7 days. My doctor FLIPPED. I told him write “None of your f-ing business” for all I care in big letters on the form. He wrote something diagnose-y in the absolute worst handwriting I had ever seen.

    So yeah. Toxic places be toxic.

    1. banzo_bean*

      Oh gosh, I’m truly sorry you went through that, that’s awful. If you had the time accrued and a doctor’s note, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let you take it off. Hope you were able to get at least some of the time you needed.

      1. mcr-red*

        Thanks. I took off my doctor’s ordered 7 days, turned in the 4-page questionaire along with another doctor’s note saying yes, I can be back at work and just have another reason why I hate this place so much.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If your doctor thought you needed FLMA protection, they’re the ones who will tell you FFS. Or you bring it up to them. This is so overstepping it’s giving me rage deep down inside on everyone’s behalf.

      I bet they were trying to play it like it was in your best interest…when really, you don’t just toss FMLA paperwork at someone unless they bring it up, JFC.

      1. TiffanyAching*

        I’m not a leave specialist, but I do know there are some regulations around FMLA where, if you request leave and your employer thinks it qualifies for FMLA, they are required to notify the employee and count the leave as FMLA, even if you don’t explicitly request protected leave. So that may be what’s going on here.

      2. HR Red*

        Companies who qualify for FMLA (generally, companies with 50 employees) are required by law to initiate FMLA paperwork for anyone who they think might qualify. It does not get initiated by the doctor.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I was out for 2 weeks due to surgery and was required to do FMLA even though I was using sick leave. I honestly just assumed that if you need more than a certain number of days you have to go on FMLA, at least fot my place. I wonder if that could be what happened in your situation. I don’t remember that my FMLA forms were all that intrusive. I am fairly certain they didn’t ask for any specifics but they did require some info from the doctor, I guess to make sure I qualified for FMLA. I love how your doctor handled the situation!! Employers shouldn’t be asking intrusive queations about anyone’s health!!

      1. mcr-red*

        Yeah, the nurse was like, “He knows exactly what he’s doing.” LOL. I kinda felt like he was upset on my behalf because they were wanting details on mental health, stigma, etc.

        It was all especially maddening because it was a really bad situation at work that CAUSED this attack. So like someone stepping on your foot and saying, “Get your doctor to explain why your foot hurts, where it’s hurt and how long your foot will hurt. Why is your foot necessary anyway?”

      2. Pretzelgirl*

        A lot of big companies do this (I have noticed). When I had my 2nd baby, my husband had to use FMLA (also used vacation time but had to code it differently). He told his boss I was having a baby, but his boss forgot. His boss got his FMLA request and his boss thought I was very sick. He called my husband into a very solemn meeting, asking if there was anything he could do help us. My husband was like “Well unless you can come over and burp the baby every so often, we’ll be fine” His boss was like “OMG I thought your wife was sick!” After that his boss tried a little harder to get to know his employees, lol.

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        The company I work for will automatically put you on short-term disability if you’re out for longer than 3 consecutive days, which protects your sick leave and vacation time. They’ll also start the FMLA process. When I was out for six weeks for hernia surgery gone very, very wrong, I never saw the paperwork for either one. Granted, I was stoned out of my gourd on morphine for the better part of 10 days… but our HR people and the short-term disability people took care of everything.

        The one thing I found hysterically funny was that when I called the STD people to check in when I got out of the hospital, they asked why I was calling after 14 days. Um, ’cause I just got out of the of hospital and I’m finally coherent. They were totally okay with that as an answer.

    4. RedLineInTheSand*

      I’m glad FMLA exists, though, earlier this year I was off for 6 weeks for mental health… I just simply shut down. It protected my job. I get very little PTO and it’s all lumped together. Literally all my PTO is used as sick time every year (not just because I took so much time off earlier – most of that was unpaid).

    5. Daisy-dog*

      They didn’t make you – they were following the law (from the DOL): “As soon as an employer has enough information that indicates an employee’s need for leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer should begin the FMLA leave process. An employer’s management team and leave administrators play a vital role in ensuring FMLA compliance.” Also: “An employer could be exposing itself to liability by failing to make a timely eligibility determination or failing to provide timely notice to its employees. Failure to timely notify employees of their eligibility status may constitute interference with, restraint, or denial of the exercise of an employee’s FMLA rights.”

      Sick time is different than FMLA. One is to avoid missed wages and one is for job protection. Yes, the documentation does ask for a lot of information, but that should only go to the HR person (or whatever they have at your company).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank you for this!

        I was under the impression that you couldn’t initiate FMLA as the employer do to other past conversations/information that clearly got garbled.

        They certainly didn’t do this when my mom used it but her employer is extra…awful when it comes to most employment law practices so that adds another layer to their ineptitude.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          FMLA is very confusing, but that’s because the lawmakers wanted to leave it as generalized as possible to avoid employers using loopholes to terminate employees.

      2. mcr-red*

        Man I had to dig around in there a lot to find where it says the minimum of days sick to be considered FMLA. It’s 3. 3 days.

  13. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    “I will be taking a (sick/PTO) day today. I expect to be back (tomorrow, Thursday, next week, never…). I will check email (sporadically, once a day, not at all since I’m dying/dead). My projects that need attention while I’m out are… (alternate: none of my projects should need immediate attention).”

  14. Helena*

    In the UK it seems like it’s much more common to give broad details about why you’re out (cold, sickness bug etc). In some workplaces you’re expected to fill out a form afterwards with these details. But you can always lie if it’s just for a day or two! If it’s more that five days you’re expected to provide a doctor’s note to your manager/HR, which will then record the reason.

    1. Randomity*

      Yeah I’m curious about how my fellow UK peeps find this. I’ve worked for universities, arms length bodies and similar and I’ve always had to give the broad category of illness because it’s recorded and reported on (anonymously). So they need to know if it’s a cold or my depression but they don’t need to know details.

      Interestingly everywhere I’ve ever worked also says calling and speaking to a human in your line management chain is necessary, but in my current job I text or email depending on what’s going on that day and no one has ever said a word.

      1. SarahKay*

        Everywhere I’ve worked I’ve been expected to give the information on what was wrong with me, although it used to be just the basic details required. Then about ten years ago my current workplace introduced a form that required quite a lot of detail, plus information about any ongoing medication needed, etc.
        I wasn’t that bothered (not least because, as mentioned, saying what I’d been ill with wasn’t new) but my male manager was … less relaxed about the changes. My site skews male due to the industry I’m in, but my manager had at least 75% of the female workers reporting to him – and most of us were in our thirties or older, so were not shy about giving exact details. He was overheard saying to HR, in a horrified tone of voice, “You do realise that they’re all going to tell me what’s wrong with them?!? In detail!”
        He wasn’t wrong, either.

      2. Rugby*

        “So they need to know if it’s a cold or my depression but they don’t need to know details.”

        Wow. Even that sounds like way too much information. Why does the employer even need to know the broad category? What difference does it make? In the US, I’ve never been required to give a reason. Even for longer term illness, I’ve only had to provide a doctor’s confirmation that I can’t work.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          There are legal protections for certain types of sickness absence (eg relating to a disability or pregnancy) so I suspect it’s working out whether it falls under those or is “other” sickness.

          However, I discovered that my employer could withhold my enhanced sick pay if I refused to give even the vaguest details – I could get the statutory minimum but not full pay. As I was going through a complicated miscarriage I had very little sense of humour for that policy, but couldn’t afford to take the financial hit, and eventually submitted a very vague sick note from the gynae ward I’d been staying on.

          For what it’s worth, it was a central HR policy. My immediate manager was appalled, and I cited the experience in my exit interview (I resigned within about six weeks of returning).

      3. 'Tis Me*

        It always used to be that way at my company but these days most of us work from home at least 2 days/week, so if I can’t get hold of my manager by phone we can email.

    2. Tau*

      Yep, was coming here to say that I think this is culturally dependent. My UK workplace wanted to know what was wrong with me and would schedule a follow-up meeting or call with HR after I came back to work (which I thought was flagrantly ridiculous but have been told by other UK-based commenters is apparently A Thing?). Germany has thankfully been better on that so far, and we get a separate doctor’s note with no medical info to give to employers if we need one. That said, I have the feeling that in both places calling out because of the I Just Can’ts would not be OK, and I’ve seen US people make references to taking sick leave for doctor’s appointments which I am fairly sure would not fly here either.

      1. sequined histories*

        Honestly, from what I’ve heard about Europe, this difference might be due to the fact that generally vacation allotments are far more generous, as are the protections for workers who actually ARE sick. Not to mention protection from being fired for anything or nothing and actual access to affordable healthcare. For a lot of people in the United States, just going to the doctor to get a note can create a significant financial hardship. If you’re only allowing people something like 10 (or fewer) paid days off for an entire calendar year, putting them to close questioning about one of those days seems ridiculous. But if the person has four weeks of vacation, public holidays, and generous sick time for actual illnesses, and inexpensive access to a primary care physician, it doesn’t seem as draconian to think I Just Can’t Today is not a good reason to stay home.

      2. 'Tis Me*

        If you mean an “I need a day off because I’m getting worn down/fed up” day then given that I can book a day off with 2 working days’ notice, I’d use annual leave.

        However saying that I have also been signed off for a fortnight straight at the recommendation of the occupational therapist work sent me to see (when you have laryngitis that stays put for 10 weeks with antibiotics and steroids doing nothing, you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, and you are literally dragging yourself, limping with pain, into work through sheer willpower…)

        I have called up to explain I need to take the morning off because I am at the stage of sleep deprivation where I can’t physically read words on a screen any more (but also gone into the office on literally zero sleep when I’ve felt able to cope with it). I have called in to explain I can’t physically get to work because every time I close the car door I start to hqeave again (yay HG) so will need to work from home.

        This self-care thingy is a hard balancing act.

        1. Tau*

          Yeah, what I’ve struggled with is how to handle the fact that I’m autistic and my overall way of managing life is fairly fragile. There’s usually a day or two per year where my routines break down and I end up horribly sleep-deprived and more or less a zombie. All I really want to do is stay home, rest, and try again the next day, but I’ve felt very awkward calling out sick because of this (especially in the UK, where I’d have to invent something and then lie my way through the meeting with HR after I got back to work). And annual leave isn’t an option since that has to be booked in advance.

          Self-care… sigh.

    3. 'Tis Me*

      Yeah, in the UK and similar. I used to need to do a return to work form with my manager after every time off sick.

      “Are you fully recovered?”
      “Chronic. Illness.”
      “So I should circle yes?”
      “Realistically I guess this is about as good as it’s likely to get, yeah.”

      I also needed to complete a self cert form which asked for details about the nature of the illness. Now I get to just select the broad illness category, list symptoms, state if it’s doctor or self-certified and tick to confirm.

      Some of the questions on the return to work form were about whether or not the workplace was contributing to the illness in the first place/if there was anything they could do to support me (my manager never wrote down “abolish mornings” either), but it felt like a box-ticking exercise really.

      I think they want the details and permission to contact the doctors to confirm because if they ever have reason to suspect that somebody is pulling sickies, and e.g. they’ve been calling out every few weeks for a few days at a time with migraines, if they contact the doctor and they have no recorded medical history of suffering from migraines, etc, I think if you can’t explain that away pretty darned convincingly along with hard evidence, it might be an immediate firing offence.

      As I do have a few conditions that mean chronic pain, exhaustion and headaches, and sub-par immunity (plus 2 young children and a third on the way, and apparently I do morning sickness all the way through) and my company is very understanding, being upfront with them makes sense. Where they can be supportive they are. (In return they know that when I’m able to work, I work hard and diligently, that I follow up on things, contribute ideas, etc.)

    4. londonedit*

      UK here, and when I actually call in sick (except it isn’t calling in, I just need to email my boss to let them know I’m not coming in) I don’t have to give any details. ‘Really not feeling well, I’m going to work from home/take a sick day, I’ll be checking email/not feeling up to checking email, should be back tomorrow/will see how I feel tomorrow’. That’s all.

      If I’ve taken it as a work from home day and not a formal sick day (and my boss knows I have actually worked from home and responded to stuff and whatnot) then I don’t need to record it in any way. If it’s an actual sick day, then I need to record that in the online employee system, and I think I’d have to give a broad outline (cold, stomach bug, injured foot, whatever) but no more detail than that. As Helena said we can ‘self-certify’ for up to five days, and any longer sickness absence needs a doctor’s note and – according to official HR policy but I’ve never actually seen it happen – a ‘return to work’ meeting with your boss to discuss whether you’re well enough to come back. We don’t have set amounts of sick time, I think it’s down to company/management discretion, and long-term sickness would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

  15. banzo_bean*

    My friends and I always argue about wording on Drs/Dentists appointments. I’m allowed to use sick time for doctor’s appointments in my state ( California), and as I’m normally taking an hour or two here and there rather than a full day off I like to say “I have an appointment” rather than “I’m sick.”
    My husband/friend thinks this sounds too ambigous and would assume an employee who said this was going to an interview. So they’ll specifically say “going to dentist, optometrist, etc.” I think that gives too much personal details/would make lie when I don’t feel comfortable disclosing the extact type of professional I’m going to see (gyno, psychiatrist, oncologist, etc). Curious what others do in this situation.

    1. Madeleine Matilda*

      I think you could say “I have a doctor’s appointment.” without specifying the type of doctor if you wanted to provide a little more information. But even that isn’t really necessary.

    2. BottleBlonde*

      I typically say “I have a medical appointment” for any kind of doctor/dentist/etc. appointment. I don’t need to use PTO if I’m going to work at least a half day so it’s more of an FYI. However, if you are asking for sick leave to cover an “appointment,” I’m sure it’s already clear to them that it’s medical in nature!

    3. Paris Geller*

      Hmm, I feel like I say “appointment” all the time, and I wouldn’t jump the the conclusion that an employee is going to an interview. An appointment can be with a doctor, a therapist, a mechanic to get your car checked, the internet company to come by the house and install something. . .

  16. Sour Mash*

    I struggle when calling in sick. Do I put on a sticky voice, how much detail do i give…
    Probably the reason I hardly ever call in sick and just go into work feeling unwell, waaay too much anxiety

    1. Amber Rose*

      That’s why I love emailing in. I don’t have to worry about what my voice sounds like, I just copy and paste the same quick sentence of being unwell and not going to work.

      I do spend a minimum of 15 minutes being very stressed about it though, since I feel awful every time I miss work.

      1. Liz*

        Me as well. My bosses are great, and I can “call out” via email. And all I need to do is say I’m not feeling well, or something equally vague, taking a sick day, and all is good.

        But even if I take one for “mental health” i still feel guilty and am afraid to leave my apt! On the off chance I MIGHT run into someone who’s off, working from home etc. who might inadvertently spill the beans! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized, no one cares or is thinking about it too much.

  17. Spek*

    I have insomnia. For those who have never suffered – I can’t really explain how awful it is. Rather than forcing myself into coming to work after a bad night, being moody and unproductive – it’s to everyone’s benefit for me to just call in sick. However – “I didn’t get enough sleep” doesn’t sound good. So it’s better to just say, “I’m not feeling well”, or if necessary, “Migraine” works well enough. It also works for mental health days – migraine is something most bosses will understand and leave it at that.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I spent two weeks on a drug that made me incapable of sleeping. I was in hell. I understand at least that much, though not what it’s like long term.

    2. The Original K.*

      I battle insomnia too, and have absolutely called in sick after a bad night or series of bad nights. I DON’T feel well after not sleeping for a night or two, and I need to do everything I can to reset my system. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason.

    3. yala*

      Oh hey, same boat! I’ll usually try to tough it out if it was just one bad night, but after more than one, I’m basically useless and need the day.

      …did get kind of reprimanded for too much unscheduled leave. On the reprimand it said I’d taken so much I’d used leave without pay, but I checked my pay stubs and it doesn’t seem as though I have done that? At any rate, it’s a little frustrating, because I can’t exactly *schedule* when I’m going to have a bad night.

      (One time I did try to just take the morning–let my boss know I’d be in later that day, gave a time I expected to be in by, and managed to get a glorious two hours sleep. But then it was counted an instance of me being late in the same reprimand.)

      honestly, at this point I’m just hoping that maybe the new adhd meds work and help mitigate the anxiety/insomnia.

    4. Pomona Sprout*

      Omg, I once made the horrible mistake of trying to go to work when I had literally been up almost all night due to inadvertantly taking a little too much of a new (to me) medication that had stimulant effect. (It was a temp job with no PTO and I felt guilty about the loss of income from missing a day.) So I got in the car and set off…. and ended up dozing off behind the wheel, driving off the road and taking out someone’s mailbox. Not one of my finer moments. :-/

  18. anonandon*

    There are only two reasons I am ever unexpectedly out of the office – I am either “under the weather” or I “have an appointment.” Sometimes that appointment is picking my mom up at the airport. Sometimes under the weather means cramps, sometimes it means I had a panic attack last night, sometimes it means I just cannot stomach going to work today.

    If anyone ever pushes on illness, I usually go with digestive distress and that cuts off most follow up questions.

      1. Saraphina*

        In the Peace Corps, your body does all kinds of weird things to you, and for some reason everyone becomes really comfortable talking about it. Also, your doctor is often 2 days travel away, so whatsapp-ing pics of your stool was normal…

      2. nym*

        poop and other bodily functions are normal dinner table conversation in Peace Corps, whenever you get together with other volunteers. And we never seem to lose the compulsion, afterwards…

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I hope you lose that compulsion whenever you’re talking to people other than your doctor. Otherwise you’ll quickly get cast out of polite company.

  19. Gazebo Slayer*

    “Managers who are determined to violate your privacy for no good work-related reason forfeit any right to an honest account.”

    YES, thank you, Alison.

    I’d generalize this rule to “people who ask questions that are none of their business don’t deserve honest answers.”

  20. nnn*

    Also, if you feel like “I’m taking a sick day today” is too brusque, you can load up with operational details. “I expect to be back to work tomorrow. The teapot report is currently with Kathleen, so if she can take care of finalizing it there’s nothing else on my plate that needs my attention today. I finished my first draft of the llama project yesterday and I fully expect to be able to finalize it by the end of the week, but if anyone needs to look at it, it’s on the shared drive.”

    Another scripting option is “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a sick day today.” Makes it sound more necessary, and reduces the likelihood of being interpreted as cavalier.

  21. Observer*

    Be aware that in some localities, it actually is NOT legal to require a doctor’s note if you are out for less than 3 days. So, if you have a bad boss who asks for this, check the laws that apply in your area.

  22. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    My approach with my current boss is as follows:

    1 Day: I’m not feeling well and am headed to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow.

    Multiple Days: I’ll tell them I’m sick and broad strokes of symptoms so boss has a rough idea of when I may get back (and also if it’s really contagious what to watch for with the rest of the team so we limit the spread – we’re medical field adjacent, so it matters).

  23. Madeleine Matilda*

    Please don’t worry about providing such details as specific ailments. It is unnecessary. The important thing is to communicate your absence and if there is anything urgent you need covered while you are out. Many of my staff, who have all been in the working world 20+ years, love to spill all of their medical issues to me. I couldn’t count how many times I have said that I don’t need all this detail. I finally got my most egregious one to stop writing all the details of every medical appointment in our leave request system. No one needs to know she has an appointment with Dr. Jane Smith at 123 Main St Anytown, USA to receive treatment ABC for condition XYZ and it certainly doesn’t need to be recorded for posterity in the leave system.

  24. BottleBlonde*

    In my experience, “mental health day” has more of a “fun” connotation – as in, taking a fun day off as a preventive measure, so you don’t get too run down/stressed/hateful (lol). I would definitely not use that phrasing for work. If you need to take off for an actual mental health condition, I 100% agree that it is no different from any other sick day and you can use the same type of language to call out.

  25. Loopy*

    Does anyone have a suggestion for a more appropriate term than “mental health day”? I hate to minimize those who truly need time off for mental health but the only other term I can think of is “playing hooky”, which to me calls to mind high school, not work.

    There must be a term that captures the last minute, calling-out nature of a day to destress/recuperate/whatever that’s different from a planned day off or a day off for a specific reason.

    1. TiffIf*

      When I’ve needed a mental health day I’ve simply put it under the same umbrella as what I say when I am physically sick– “I am not feeling well and won’t be able to come in to work today.”

    2. CMart*

      Burnout/stress prevention, perhaps? I could see it getting shortened to “taking a Stress Day tomorrow”. Where it’s a little more planned than an emergent sick day, but also not the same level as planned time off to truly get away.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I guess I think a proactive MH day is what PTO ought to be for – ideally a healthy workplace would permit sufficient and flexible PTO so that employees can decompress effectively, regularly and as needed (and not foster excessively stressful working conditions in the first place).

      A reactive/restorative MH day on the other hand is indisputably a sick day.

      If your sick and PTO entitlement are bundled together then it ends up being moot. If one is limited and the other isn’t then it could affect decision-making.

    4. Jedi Squirrel*

      “I’m not feeling well, and won’t be in today” is all you need. It’s short, it’s true, and the company doesn’t need anything else.

  26. Jennifer*

    I don’t go into detail about physical or mental illness symptoms frankly because they are none of anyone’s business.

    I also think that it’s important for everyone to take care of their mental health, even if they don’t have a mental illness. If they are feeling a bit burnt out or run down taking a mental health day is a good idea and not just a way to play hooky.

  27. ACDC*

    I worked in retail-ish jobs in high school and beginning of college and they always demanded to know “how sick” you were and would really give you a hard time if you didn’t have a doctor’s note. Then my first office jobs were highly dysfunctional and they behaved the same, so I thought that was normal. Last year I started a new job that treats us like adults and was startled when they didn’t care about why I needed a day off.

  28. Stephanie*

    My job luckily has pretty flexible sick leave and a simple “I’m sick and am not coming in today” suffices. If it’s something more serious, then there’s talk of FMLA or short-term disability. Definitely having a flexible WFH policy has helped me fight off most colds.

  29. Treats for Shelby*

    As man others have said, the term Mental Health Day didn’t start off as a day to take care of yourself mentally. It was either a term that gently meant “I need a break from my work/co-workers” or it was an outright joke. Please don’t call in and say you’re taking a Mental Health Day. Just call in and say “I’ll be taking a sick day today”. No detail required.

    1. Treats for Shelby*

      And never fake a sick voice! That’s a dead giveaway – trying to sound sick! It’s middle school stuff seriously.

  30. AKM*

    I have a pretty close relationship with my supervisor/boss (including having a full-blown panic attack and meltdown in front of her) so if it’s a mental health issue, I just say I’m not feeling well and leave it at that. My personal favorite phrase to use if it’s something like diarrhea or IBS is “gastro-intestinal distress” because that could mean anything from cramps to vomiting.

  31. Llama Face!*

    For those who get annoyed when your employees or coworkers give too much detail when calling in sick, please try to be compassionate. Many of us come from abusive/dysfunctional work backgrounds where we’ve been judged and questioned every time we call in sick. There may be oversharing outliers but most of us also don’t enjoy feeling like we have to prove or justify our use of the sick leave we are entitled to. Once you are stuck in that kind of dysfunction it is hard not to assume people are making assumptions about your vague sick leave messages. And maybe take a look at your work culture and see if there is still an undercurrent of judgement towards people who take sick leave. A lot of workplaces make noises like they want you to care for your health but then have all kinds of gossipmongering about people who actually need sick leave.

    OP- The most helpful advice I can give in relation to sick leave is this: If you have any kind of chronic health condition, it can sometimes be in your best interest to provide your workplace with a doctor’s note to that effect. I found this out the hard way after being called on the carpet for too much use of sick time (but still within my allotment). I preferred to keep personal health stuff to myself but it backfired on me. The response from my employers when they knew I was working on managing a chronic condition was much more understanding than when I just called in without context. Especially when I was younger, I noticed assumptions were made about “youthful irresponsibility” even though they knew I wasn’t like that: being hungover- I don’t drink heavily and never have, having been out partying/with friends too late- I’m a sleep-loving introvert, or that sort of thing.

    1. Andream*

      That is so sad that they called you out for taking yoru sick time when you were within the alltment. I can see if you’ve used it up or was close to using it up. If I was a manager and I saw an employee was taking a bunch of sick time I would refer them to HR for FMLA. (if your in the US that is).

  32. Survivor*

    Question about the mental health days and employers asking for Dr note. Let’s say you are having a panic attack or other minor mental health issue. ( I’m not downplaying panic attacks and the like. When I say minor I mean as in your not likely to need to go to the mental health ward and be committed).

    I’ve had some employers who require a drs note for any time you say your sick. I live in a city, so even if I had diarrhea, new that it was something I ate but wouldn’t be able to work, I would have to go to urgent care just to get a Dr note because my primary would t be available for several days. If your having a panic attack, but you either can’t go out or are unable to contact your doctor, what would you recommend if you boss demands a note?

    1. Daisy-dog*

      I would try to push back if it’s a one-day absence and not a consistent problem. Explain that it was an issue that made visiting the doctor inconvenient. Though if you work for a large mega-corp, they may have policies in place which your management cannot ignore. The punishment could mean a warning/strike/point of some kind or it may mean that you’re not paid sick time, so you can weigh the options with what it would require to go to a doctor.

      Does your insurance provide access to a tele-doc or equivalent? Still will cost the co-pay and will unreasonably drive up your company’s healthcare costs, but it’s an easier option.

    2. Fikly*

      There are telemedicine clinics/doctors that will provide doctors notes, given the provider you see is licensed in your state.

  33. MistOrMister*

    It seems pretty normal for places to require a doctor’s note if you’re out 3 days or more. I would be really annoyed to have to provide one for every single sick day though. Sometimes I am not well enough to work but not bad that I need a doctor! When all I need is sleep and to pray to the porcelain god for a while, it would be beyond annoying to have to drag myself to the doctor. No one wants you coming in and throwing up all over the dang lobby when all they’re going to suggest is fluids and rest.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      The 3+ days rule is because you might be contagious!! Well that’s why I require it in my office. There is of course a huge culture of distrust in some workplaces for sure.

      If every workplace required it for each sick day, the healthcare costs would sky-rocket and companies definitely don’t want that.

      1. Fikly*

        As someone with many chronic illnesses, the 3 day thing drove me nuts when I worked at a place like that. Every single time I would have been out that long, I wasn’t contagious, I knew how to manage my condition, and it would just cost me money (that I didn’t have because being chronically ill is incredibly expensive) to get a doctors note.

        And generally speaking, the workplaces that require notes for 1 day absences are also the ones that don’t offer health insurance, so it’s not their costs sky-rocketing. That’s not a coincidence, either.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          With chronic condidtions, it may be worth trying to speak to HR about intermittent FMLA leave or ADA. AskJAN is a great resource for ADA questions.

          The second part is dependent on ACA guidelines, so that might be true in some cases.

          1. Fikly*

            FMLA doesn’t kick in until after a year of employment, which is how chronically ill people get screwed over and stay in terrible jobs where they can get FMLA because it is financially untenable to go to a new job and start the one year waiting period all over again.

            As for ACA guidelines, see every employer who purposefully keeps their employees as part-time so as to avoid giving benefits.

      2. Rugby*

        The 3+ days rule could actually backfire. It could encourage people to come into work while their still contagious in order to avoid having to go to the doctor for just a cold.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          So my opinion is skewed because at every place I have ever worked, myself and my co-workers come to work with colds. Rarely is someone out even for one day. So my comment was referring to the more serious issues.

  34. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Every time I see my doctor she offers to write me a note, and she’s consistently surprised that my employer doesn’t do that. So I guess it’s still a pretty typical practice?

  35. Not Today Satan*

    The only time I ever provide any detail at all is if I’m hoping to come in during the second half of the day. E.g., sometimes I wake up with a migraine but if I take medicine right away I’m functioning by lunch time. In that case I provide some detail just so my boss doesn’t think I’m coming into work sick/contagious.

  36. Earthwalker*

    I’ve had good bosses who only want to know as much as Alison says. I’ve had suspicious bosses who need some serious detail on bodily fluids to be convinced that an employee is really sick. But the real problem, I think, is when the boss says, “Look, if you’re sick, don’t tell me about it, just let me know you’ll be out!” and then they surprise someone with disciplinary action or an employee claims that they did. Every employee who hears the story will tell that boss, and every decent and professional boss that they ever have, all the gory details forever more. Sorry, professional managers, but that’s how it goes.

  37. Andream*

    This just made me think of a company I almost worked for. I ultimately turned them down. It was in healthcare, but not care (think health insurance). Part of the “perks” was that there was a clinic in the building that was available for employees. Which is great if you need a blood test or your yearly physical. However, I heard later that if you wanted to go homesick some managers would make you go to the clinic and you could only go home if the nurse deemed you too sick to work. So it was basically like grade school where you had to go to the nurse’s office and they would say if you were too sick for class! SOOO glad I turned the job down.

    1. Gem*

      I wonder if that’s a holdover from the care side of healthcare? I work for a 24 hr healthcare facility, and whenever my clinical staff is sick I’m supposed to send them to the employee health nurse before ‘allowing’ them to go home. It makes sense in our facility, where we have to maintain specific ratios of patients to staff (it’s also good for infection control purposes), but seems really out of place in a traditional office environment.

  38. Special Agent Michael Scarn*

    Ugh my manager gives way too much detail when he’s out sick, which of course makes US all feel like we have to, too. Once he told us he couldn’t come in because his nose was “leaking like a faucet.” Another time, his son got hurt while riding his bike, and my manager felt the need to tell us his kid had several lacerations in the “most private of areas.” Can you say TMI?!?!

    1. Wintermute*

      I always wondered why there is a hierarchy of privacy. People talk about the most private place, but that implies there is a LEAST private place on your body (the tip of your nose? your eyes?). That also implies there is a second-most-private place on your body, and so on down the line. And really, there’s a few areas I can think of as equal in privacy, it depends on how specific we’re getting here, as in how large an area does “area” cover?

      It’s confusing, I tell you.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        The most private spaces on the body are those which tend to produce the most disgusting fluids/solids. I’d rather not hear about anything medical going on with your nethers, thanks!

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      EEEEWWWWW!!! That manager may be giving fetish fuel to perverts by telling that much detail about his child. No, I’m not kidding or exaggerating.

      1. Special Agent Michael Scarn*

        Right?! My co-workers and I felt awful for his son (14 years old), who would surely be mortified if he found out his dad told the whole company every detail about his injury. The next day, my manager was telling people how many stitches were needed/how many inches long the lacerations were… it was horrifying!

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Sounds like his dad got dropped once too often when he was little. And who wants to hear about medical stuff at work, particularly involving someone’s nethers? EEEEEEEEWWWWW.

  39. lost academic*

    I was going to post this as a question on Friday! I have a new supervisor in another city’s office but my old, local supervisor cannot let go and to keep the peace, I cc him when I am out of the office/working from home/sick. He flips out at my supervisor because I don’t provide what he thinks is sufficient detail around being sick and not coming in (our firm has a much touted remote work policy and most of us travel quite a bit and at last minute notice often – but he doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo). It’s exhausting.

    1. Observer*

      So, unless you are being told otherwise, stop cc’ing OldBoss. What’s he going to do to you?

      Just let HR know you are doing this.

      1. lost academic*

        Nope, has to be done to keep the peace. But if he doesn’t read it, he flips out because he assumes he wasn’t told. A lot of the HR structure here enables him deliberately. He’s got some major memory problems on top of that…

  40. greenius*

    I generally try not to give any detail when I call in sick. I also very rarely call in sick, maybe 3 times in the last 4 years.

    But my current role is as a temporary contract employee at a large, very regimented company. I get 10 days of unpaid time off in a calendar year, and I don’t qualify for FMLA. I’m all out of time off, and the system is very strict. The managers I immediately report to are understanding, though, and will work their way around the system if I give them a reason to.

    So there I was yesterday morning, crying in front of my manager, as I told her how I miscarried over the weekend, and needed to ask for time off I don’t have available to go in to my doctor for tests. My manager was very compassionate and supportive and immediately approved the time… but I don’t know if I would have told her if I didn’t need her to waive off policies. It’s not always the people who have us employees oversharing, but the systems that were decided over their heads.

    1. Observer*

      Oof. That’s rough. This is hard enough, and the whole policy issue makes it so much worse.

      Bosses, please don’t get annoyed when your staff overshare. As others noted, there is probably a good reason / history there.

  41. Lizbetann*

    FWIW, I handle all time-off requests for a 24-7 tech support team (I am not a manager as such, but I handle scheduling and anything associated with it). It’s my job to make sure that we always have enough people on to handle customer needs.

    You never need to tell me about:
    – Bodily fluids, not limited to:
    / * Projectile vomiting (yourself or others)
    / * Explosive diarrhea (yourself or others)
    / *Blood (etc.)

    You do need to:
    – Tell me that you have considered whether or not you can work (we do allow limited work-from-home privileges) and you have decided that you would not be able to put in an adequate day’s work.

    Many of the people on my team have chronically bad brain chemistry (“mental health”) (including, incidentally, myself). I consider that on the exact same criteria — do you think you are able to put in a full day’s work? If you think you can, please try (and let me know if your assessment changes). If not, you can use your allotted sick time as you choose.

    The benefit of this policy is that people will let me know when or if they might be able to come in if there are too many people out or if we have a busy day. “I had a panic attack last night and I’m pretty exhausted so I’d like to rest up today, but call me if we go into emergency mode and I’ll do what I can”. Or “I seriously need a day off, let me know if today is okay, if not, can I have first crack at tomorrow?”

    Being honest all around (To wit, “Dude, I hear you on the hangover, but we’ve got 4 people out and Kevin is warning me he is not long for this earth”) means I can schedule with a lot more knowledge and know when I can risk letting someone take the day sick (and am more inclined to trust them when they just say “I. CAN’T. *thud*”).

  42. Pretzelgirl*

    Thankfully I have worked places, that are understanding and have had ample sick leave. One time I was so sick and it was in the height of H1N1. I had a bad case of strep and my manager was so concerned it was H1N1 that he called me to check on me periodically.

    This also worked to my advantage when I had newborns. The 4th month sleep regression is real people. I took a sick day to send the kid to the sitter and sleep.

  43. Lonely Aussie*

    Gah this is timely. This morning after less than four hours sleep (I’ve had an infected tooth and not had much sleep in the last five days) and while dealing with effects of codeine (first time use) and an antibiotic that I’m allergic to (makes me sleepy and foggy) I had to call in. Pretty sure I rambled down the phone for five minutes about how I was having some kind of drug induced reaction and I was hoping to be in tomorrow. Hopefully the rambling at least made it clear that I should not be behind the wheel of a car.

  44. Vicky Austin*

    Last year, I had a panic attack and had to stay at a psychiatric hospital for several days. (I’m fine now. It turned out I just needed my meds adjusted.) My husband called my work and told them I had the flu, because I didn’t want my supervisor to know what really happened. She was one of those new-age people who believes that you can improve your mental health just by thinking positive thoughts.

    My husband called my.

  45. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    I know someone who had an hourly position at a bank where calling in sick was really frowned upon. People were pretty much required to go into work even if they had the flu. They would spread their sickness to everyone else they worked with, and to the customers. It sounded just horrible. I get that some people are irresponsible and call in sick just because they don’t feel like working or decide to make other plans. However, individual cases like that should be dealt with accordingly. I also understand that it can be difficult to find coverage at the last minute when someone calls out. Companies and managers need to have scheduling contingency plans in place for that. But to create a culture of making employees work when contagious is downright awful. Especially when they will inevitably spread it to everyone else who will in turn be required to work when they get sick too. It is a manager’s job to make sure there is coverage (not by making sick people come in) and it’s also a manager’s job to deal with the few employees that call in sick when they really aren’t. Refusal to do so is just laziness in the manager’s part. Any manager that has a rule requiring employees to work when sick is not worth working for. Managers like that should be ashamed of themselves.

  46. Overworker*

    Note: I work for a small NGO so my experience probably doesn’t apply to bigger offices.

    There are some situations where I think giving more information can be helpful to the office as a whole. For example my office had a lot of people working from home for mental health days and this prompted my boss to ask why coming in to work was so hard. Turns out the only problem people had was that the office is very social and a bit loud (Open plan office).

    Boss implements quiet spaces and a system for letting coworkers know they’re not feeling chatty today. Suddenly way fewer people are working from home.

  47. amm*

    I have a direct report that provides too much information about why they need a day off, though I’ve been careful not to ask. (Think pictures from the emergency room, and forwarded emails for visibility into appointment re-scheduling). Is there a script you recommend using that will (1) make it clear that I don’t need/want that level of transparency, but (2) not sound like I’m uncaring/uninterested in their personal life?

    1. Princesa Zelda*

      “Hey Links, I’ve noticed that when you request days off, you also send me corroborating evidence. We don’t need that here! I know some places require it, but we don’t. All I want from you when you have a sick day is to let me know when you think you’ll be back.”

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Here’s what I tell people. “You’re an adult. I trust you when you tell me you’re sick, so that’s all I need to know” then when they call in sick, I tell them to feel better soon and let me know if they need anything.

      I show I care about them in how I treat them every day.

  48. Green*

    I was just talking with the head of HR about this issue, and she told me “Some people explain things to me – like color, or consistency,” and shivered in revulsion as she said it.

    SHE DOES NOT WANT TO KNOW.

  49. Jennifer Juniper*

    A friend once told he got his boss to back off when he used the word “proctologist.” His manager said, “That’s OK, you got the time off!”

    This strategy could be a way to get revenge on micromanaging, distrustful bosses. Give ’em enough TMI and they should get grossed out enough to hang up.

  50. Emergency surgery*

    About a month ago, I had a medical emergency and ended up in the ER and getting emergency surgery on a Saturday. I agonized for hours about what to put in my email to my team (and how many of the 20+ people I work with on a weekly basis to include).

    I didn’t want to say I was “sick”, because I think that implies cold/flu/something contagious, and that I might be back in the office quickly. I ended up saying, “I had a medical issue over the weekend and will be out at least the next two days to recover. I’ll let you know then if it will be more.” I told my direct supervisor (who I hardly ever work with, ha!) that I had emergency surgery, but not what it was. My out of office said “I am out of the office due to a medical issue, contact person/team X while I am out.”

    I ended up being out 8 days total. I needed to work with our short-term disability provider on specifics of my issue, but no-one at my actual company. I told a few people when I got back to work that I had had surgery, but people mostly either only were happy that I was back and seeming to be doing OK or were respectful when I declined to give details. So I needn’t have agonized! Hoping this script might help someone else.

  51. Anonforthis*

    For employees with nosy bosses: “I have a bad stomach bug” covers a lot of ground, implies it’s icky and contagious, and doesn’t invite a lot of questions. It’s been a go-to of mine with bosses who wanted “convincing”. You can also have a stomach bug for an indeterminate amount of time…could be a 24 hour thing, or last a few days. So it’s also helpful in that way.

  52. Bookgal*

    I am one of those people who hate to call in sick, and one day I was feeling a little “off” but went to work anyway. As the day went on, I felt progressively worse, and I ended up going to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with “acute anxiety / panic disorder”. I was put on medication and along with therapy, I am doing much better. Had I just stayed home I probably would have eventually called my doctor, seen her, gotten the same diagnosis & treatment without a $2500 ER bill! Since then, I have learned to listen to what my body is telling me. My employer told me that I should never feel bad about taking a sick day; they are not micro managers or tyrannical about us missing work. I just have one of those “I hate letting people down” things that sometimes prevents me from taking care of myself.

  53. Sickly Assistant*

    This sort of relates to my current concern. I am home sick now with what I think is mono (which, as an adult, feels kind of a silly thing to get). If I do have it I’m likely going to remain under the weather for a while to come. Should I tell my coworkers? Obvious my boss would need to know but I’m anxious about my coworkers thinking I’m lazy or something if I’m taking more sick days (this is my second in a week for exhaustion already). Do I have to like announce to everyone?

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      See your doctor to get a diagnosis and a note. Then show your boss the note. As for your co-workers, tell them you’re out on leave for a medical issue. You don’t have to say what it is.

  54. Enginear*

    The advice I give my friends when calling/emailing/texting in sick: less is more. Just say you’re taking a sick day.

  55. Trisha*

    Speaking as a manager – please don’t give details. I have had far too many voice messages or emails with details I really don’t want to know. I don’t care about how much (or what) you’re throwing up or how much time you’re spending on the toilet or what bad shellfish you ate that you think is giving you food poisoning coming out both ends….really, I’ve had people leave me really gross stuff all in the vein of “I feel like I have to justify why I’m not coming in.”. No, you don’t. Tell me you’re taking a sick day – if I have any concerns or issues, I’ll talk to you (like if you’re sick every Friday or 1 hour sick every Monday morning). I tell my new staff this but it usually takes a few times for it to sink in.

  56. BigRedGum*

    At my office we use the very simple “I am going to take one of my sick days today.” I have a good relationship with my boss, so if it spills into two days, I let her know I am ill. There are all kinds of illnesses, so that still covers a lot. After 3 days, we are supposed to bring in a doctor’s note, which is totally fine, since I work at a University and we have access to the employee health clinic.

  57. Amethystmoon*

    I’ve always sent an e-mail when sick. I do have pretty high standards for staying home, though. Generally, it has to be serious, like the flu.

  58. Librarianne*

    For those of you in Europe who said you don’t take sick time to go to the doctor– when do you go, then??? Since most doctor’s offices are on the same schedule as most businesses? I’m so confused by this!

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