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How to Write a Professional Sick Day Email (With Examples)

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You wake up feeling terrible and you realize you can’t report to work today.

Telling your boss that you can’t come to work is scary, even if your office has a lax policy on absences. You don’t want your boss to think you’re slacking off, but you also don’t want to divulge so much information that the conversation gets awkward.

Sick Day Email
When you can't come to work you need to write a sick day email. (Image Source)

This tutorial covers everything you need to write a professional sick day email, plus easy-to-edit templates. You’ll also find tips for writing a sick day email for recurring or invisible illnesses.

1. Follow Company Protocol

Follow the protocol for absences in your employer’s handbook or go with your manager’s preferred communication method. For some people, this means you’re required to inform your manager at least two hours before your shift. Some companies may require you to call in sick instead of sending an email or text. You may also need to inform your colleagues and clients that you’re out of the office.

Some employers need a doctor’s note for leaves that will last longer than three days. But there are also strict companies where you need to submit a doctor’s note even if you'll only be absent for one day. Ask your manager or check your employment contract if you’re not sure where your employer stands on doctor’s notes.

2. Do it Early

Email in sick or call ahead of time, as soon as you realize you can’t come in to work. Sudden illness and trips to the emergency room can put work out of your mind. But it’s still your responsibility to call your manager as soon as you're able. You don't want to leave them clueless about your whereabouts.

3. What to Include in Your Sick Day Email

Keep your email clear and concise. Below is a list of what you need to include when you call or email in sick:

  1. Reason for your absence. Keep this part clear without going into too much detail. Write the specific illness and the main symptoms that prevent you from coming to the office. You don’t have to list everything.
  2. How long you'll be absent from work. This is predictable for many illnesses, such as flu or a cold, where the worst is over in one or two days. If you’re not sure when you'll be back, ask your doctor how long it might take you to recover.
  3. Address your availability to communicate. Inform your boss about whether you can answer questions via email. You may also include an emergency phone number in case they need to reach you. If you’re too sick to respond to emails, be honest and make it clear that you’ll be unreachable during your absence.
  4. Clarify whether you'll work or not. This applies to telecommute, remote, or senior-level employees expected to continue working even while on leave. Your supervisor may allow you to telecommute if you're contagious, but not too ill for a full bed rest.
  5. Doctor’s note and other documentation. Mention any doctor’s note, prescription, or medical certificate that you can provide to back up your request for a sick leave.
  6. Name your point person. Mention who will take over your current projects and meetings, so your manager will know who to approach for questions about your tasks. You can simply write, “Ben will take over my client meetings this afternoon, and he’s also up to date on my projects with Client X.”
  7. Professional Closing. End your sick day email with a simple closing and your name.

You can also email your team with an abridged version of this email that doesn’t include details of your ailment and doctor’s note.

Sick Day Email Sample for Your Team

Hi Team,

Sorry, but I can’t make it to work today. I've got a (flu/cold/stomach ache, etc.), so I’m going to take the day off. I’ll be available to (answer emails/work remotely)."

It’s also a good idea to set up an out-of-office email to keep everyone else you work with informed.

4. Sick Leave Email Templates

Here are different templates to show you how to email in sick, depending on your circumstances: 

1. Simple Sick Day Email Sample

Use this template when you’ll only be absent for a day. It’s short and doesn’t include a lot of details because a one-day absence doesn’t need five paragraphs to explain. 

“Hi (Manager’s Name),

I’m emailing to inform you that I can’t make it to work today, (Date), as I’ve come down with a (your illness). I'll be available to answer emails if you need urgent help, but (Co-worker’s Name) will handle my workload today to ensure all deadlines are met.

Thank you for understanding,

(Your Name)”

The phrase “urgent help” is there to suggest that you won’t be checking and replying to emails the whole day. Think of it as a subtle way of saying that you need time to rest, but you also honor your obligations and will be available to step in if a situation arises that only you could fix. Remove the phrase “urgent help” if you plan to answer emails like you would on a normal day at the office.

2. Sick Day Email Sample with Request to Use Paid Leave

Use this template if you've got a doctor’s note and if you’ll be using your sick leave to cover the absence.

“Dear (Your Manager’s Name),

I won’t be able to report to work today because I’m under the weather and have a (symptoms you’re experiencing). I went to the emergency room last night and the doctor confirmed that I've got (doctor’s diagnosis).

The doctor prescribed (X days off from work) as I (need to rest, am contagious), so I asked (Co-worker’s Name) to take over my meeting with (Client’s Name) this afternoon. They'll also handle my pending tasks while I'm away. I'll be available via email for your urgent needs.

I’ve also attached the doctor’s note to this email. I'd appreciate it if you would forward this email with the attachment to HR so they can process my sick leave. Thank you for your help.

Regards,

(Your Name)

Remove the phrase about going to the emergency room if you didn’t, or just switch it to “visited the doctor” if you went to the doctor after coming home from work.

Note that U.S. Federal law doesn’t require companies to offer a paid sick leave according to the Department of Labor. Other countries may have their own labor laws regarding sick leave. Check your employment contract before using this template.

Human Resources (HR) isn’t always responsible for approving sick leaves. Sometimes your manager has the final say, so you may want to tweak that part of the template according to your employer’s policy. 

3. Out Sick Email Template for Indefinite Leave

Use this template if you’re not sure when you can report back to work.

“Dear (Manager’s Name),

I’m writing this to let you know that I can’t come to the office today. I’ve been feeling (sick, light headed, etc.) since (last night, yesterday, etc.), and only saw a doctor yesterday.

They diagnosed me with (your illness) and prescribed medication that will last for (X days). I feel a bit better now that the first dose of medication has taken effect, but I was advised to stay home because it will take time for me to fully recover.

I'll do my best to inform you if I can’t make it to work tomorrow, so that we can make some temporary arrangements for my workload. In the meantime, (Colleague’s Name) has agreed to look after my tasks for the day."

For more general information on how to write professional emails, refer to the following tutorial:

5. Arrange for Someone to Cover You

Have you noticed that all the email samples above include a hand-off of your tasks to a trusted colleague? You should already have a predetermined arrangement with that colleague way before you need to be absent, so you can just call on that favor when you need it.

Your colleague’s lack of consideration isn’t the only reason for a predetermined arrangement. Your colleague needs to know how to do your work, where to look for certain files in your computer, and who your contacts are with clients or vendors. Otherwise they'll look clueless while filling in for you.

You don’t need to prepare a textbook’s worth of information about your job. Just compile some notes on your tasks, such as:

  • reports you write and when they're due, so your colleague can do them in case your sick leave coincides with a deadline
  • contacts at other departments and companies you work with, including their names, emails and job titles
  • running list of pending projects and the people involved in each one
  • instructions on how to handle tasks only you can do, so that someone else can do it if you’re too ill to work from home
  • relevant sources, such as websites, books, or people

6. Set Up an Out-of-Office Message

If you haven’t done it already, set up an out-of-office message to inform people that you’re not at work and are unable to answer emails. You only need to activate this message if you called in sick and also informed your boss that you won’t be able to answer emails at home.

This isn’t like the sick day email you wrote for your boss and co-workers though. You’re not required to inform people outside your team about your illness, much less your symptoms. They probably also don’t want to hear the details.

Below is a simple out-of-office message you can set-up on your Gmail, Outlook, or other email provider.

(Greeting),

I'll be out of the office from (start date) until (end date).

Please contact (Name) at (email address) or (phone number) for your urgent concerns. Otherwise, I'll attend to your emails upon my return. Thank you.”

7. Special Cases: Sick Day Emails for Recurring & Invisible Illnesses

A few years ago, I called the workforce hotline to call in sick, a standard procedure for my job back then. After explaining why I couldn’t make it to work, the person on the other line berated me because this was the third time in six months that I called in sick for the same reason. My reason was an invisible illness--one of the many ailments where the person seems fine unless you see all the prescription medicines they’re taking.

Lots of invisible and recurring illnesses exist, some of which are manageable enough it’s possible to have a job. Based on my research, it looks like I’m not the only one who feels  guilty and scared of awkward conversations when calling in sick. This section is for people looking for advice on how to handle this situation at work. 

Julia Esteve Boyd, an Etiquette Consultant with an international background in corporate etiquette, says, 

Recurring illnesses are problematic, but most employers are understanding when they know all the important facts.”

Disclosing your recurring or invisible illness at work may trigger further scrutiny from your boss or HR. That’s why it’s in your best interest to research your employer’s policies regarding absences before you broach this topic. If there’s nothing in your contract or employee manual about recurring absences, ask your coworkers if they know someone with a similar situation within the company. Then talk to that person to see how they handled previous sick leave requests, and how their boss and HR handled it. Their experience will give you a clue on what you can expect.

Eva Doyle, a manager with more than 20 years of experience, advises employees with recurring illness to talk to their manager about their condition before they need to take a sick day.  She continues,

“Come prepared to discuss your plan to manage your condition and its effect on your work.” 

Doing this allows you to collaborate with your boss in creating a contingency plan for your tasks, while minimizing bad surprises, like if you email in sick multiple times in one month.

As for possible awkward conversations regarding your illness and symptoms, Boyd and Doyle both agree that you only disclose the important details of your condition. You can disclose what your illness is and a general explanation of how it prevents you from working, such as migraine, pain, or fever. Leave out the finer details about what you’re going through. Your boss will be happier not knowing about them.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees of covered U.S. based employers up to 12 weeks of unpaid sick leave for specific medical conditions, which they can use for themselves or a member of their immediate family. Check if your employer is covered by the FMLA act, so you can use this benefit if you need a sick leave even if your boss is reluctant to give you one.

Wrapping It Up: Email in Sick the Right Way

You many not remember everything on this tutorial when the time comes that you need to email in sick. That's okay. If you think you might need this information, bookmark this article so you can refer to it later.

One thing you should remember though is to follow your company’s sick day policy. Following instructions ensures your sick day doesn’t earn you a scolding the next day you report to work. 

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