Like every other aspect of our professional lives, sick days also come with unspoken etiquette. We can all name coworkers who have broken these implied rules and not let anyone know they were sick, leaving everyone wondering where they were. Or even worse, those who refuse to take a sick day and end up getting the rest of the office sick.

Most of us have an allotted amount of sick days given to us, but they are never planned and usually leave supervisors and coworkers scrambling. Before the onslaught of sniffles starts, let’s review the best practices.


Pay attention to how other colleagues go about taking sick days. An unexpected sick day is never convenient, but is there anything in particular that seems to really irritate your boss? Is there a preferred method of communication? Is he or she going to expect a doctor’s note? Learn from others’ mistakes for when you’re the one under the weather.


Those who “stick it out” and stay at work when they’re sick are doing no one any favors. Whatever it is you think you “just have to get done” will soon be negated by the number of people you get sick who then have to take additional sick days. If you know you’re sick, go home. If you’re a manager or supervisor, make sure your employees feel comfortable enough to tell you when they aren’t feeling well and be quick to send them home.


Obviously, sick days are not like pre-planned vacation days. You can’t work ahead or delegate your tasks ahead of time. You can, however, have things organized to make it easier for your coworkers to pick up your slack when necessary. If there are tasks you perform regularly that you know would be the responsibility of a coworker in your absence, consider having a folder filled with directions just in case. If you’re in the middle of a project, make sure your coworkers know how to access any documents or other resources they may need.


After you’ve done your due diligence to ensure you’re making your absence easy on everyone else, rest and get well. If you’re neglecting to take care of yourself, your employer and coworkers are going to suffer in the long run. Don’t forget your allotted sick days are part of your compensation package. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not utilizing them when you truly need them.

Our employee handbooks cover a lot, but navigating flu season probably isn’t one of them. For more advice on sick day etiquette, click herehere, or here.