We're all human, and sometimes we get sick. It's a practically inevitable that at some point you won't be able to go to work because of an illness.
Sick days are important — not just to make sure you take time to heal your body but also to ensure you're not spreading your germs around at work — but there is still a lot of guilt and hesitance around taking them.
In fact, recent statistics suggest that one in five American workers took zero sick days last year. These trends are linked to rising concerns that many workers are coming into work when they really shouldn't be.
Of course, paid sick days are a luxury afforded to few Americans. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 31% of American workers with average wages in the lowest 10% had access to paid sick days, illustrating a troubling lack of access to fair labor practices.
1. Notify your manager as soon as you can.
Sometimes we can feel a cold coming, other times an illness can sneak up on us without warning. Regardless, make sure you notify your boss as soon as you suspect you'll need to take a day off to help alleviate any logistical challenges.
2. Keep unnecessary details to a minimum.
It can be tempting to recount the horrors of your current state — your high fever, the length of your current migraine, how many hours you spent on the floor of the bathroom — but your manager really doesn't need to know these things. Plus, it can set a slippery precedent for qualifying the legitimacy of a sick day. Simply stating that you'll need to stay home due to an illness is enough.
3. Be clear about your needs.
No matter what your relationship with your manager is like, make sure your email subject is straightforward. A simple subject line like: "Sick day," or "Sick today," should suffice.
4. Set clear boundaries and expectations.
Every work culture is different, some places require and expect employees to be 'on' even if they're sick — which could include periodically checking Slack or work emails — others may not expect a thing. You know your workplace best, so be clear in your email about how available you'll be.
If you're semi-coherent and want to stay in the loop, let your manager know. If you're in a Nyquil-induced stupor, it's probably best for everyone if you stay offline. Also, if you have a hunch you'll need more than one day out, make sure you address that in your email and let your manager know that you'll follow up about your state.
5. Be proactive and think ahead.
Even if you work in an understanding office, missing a day of work can bring about a few hiccups, especially if you're missing a meeting or something else that could affect pre-existing timelines.
Keeping this in mind, it may be helpful to acknowledge anything that you might be missing and either delegate to someone else or make sure you clarify that you'll be able to pick up the slack once you're back in the office. This will not only help your team, but will also demonstrate that you're thoughtful and proactive.
6. Remember that, by taking care of yourself, you're doing your team a favor.
Never mind the germs that you'd be bringing in if you're sick — which could potentially knock out more of your colleagues — taking the time to care for yourself and heal whatever it is that you're dealing with is, in the long-run, better for your team and your company. Going into work when you're sick doesn't make you a hero — it means you're probably not going to be doing your best, most productive work while also putting your teammates at risk.
Hi [Manager name],
I've unfortunately come down with [insert illness or condition here]. In the interest of recovering (and avoiding spreading my germs around the office), I need to take a sick day today.
I will not be checking email or Slack while I'm out, but have spoken with [colleague name] and they are able to step in if anything pressing comes up in my absence. Otherwise, I'll prioritize any pending responsibilities once I am back in the office.
I'm hoping to be back in on [date], but I will let you know if anything changes.
Please let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for understanding.