The Dos and Don'ts of Calling Out of Work

Here's how to master the art of calling out of work, plus the types of reasons that are typically acceptable for taking a day away from the job.

Published September 28, 2023
Young woman lying in bed covering her face with a pillow

Your alarm clock is buzzing next to your ear. It's a workday. And the idea of going to work? Forget about it. You don't think there's any way you can drag your body out of bed and out the door, or maybe you have an emergency that requires your presence.

Each workplace has a different protocol for the right way to call out of work, but these tips will help get you to destination time off the responsible way. 

How to Call Out of Work: Should You Call, Text, or Email? 

As soon as you know that you won't be able to make it to work, clock in, or log on, let your appropriate supervisor know. There are a few ways to not only call out of work appropriately, but in a professional way, no matter whether you work at an amusement park or you're a remote worker.

We spoke with Tamarin Hannon, LoveToKnow VP of People, and she tells us that the first step is to be familiar with your company policy and the steps your company says to take when calling out.  If you're not sure what your company policies are, she recommends reaching out to your supervisor or HR department.

You might need to call your job until you reach the appropriate manager, send an email to a specific person and/or department, or make it known via an app. Each business will have its own specific way for employees to call out. 

Although each company policy can vary, Hannon generally recommends that employees use a written form of communication whenever possible when calling out. She says, "I suggest an email message, Slack message (or other internal collaboration tool), or text message first. I would consider those preferable to leaving a voicemail or asking a co-worker to deliver the message for you. In the first three examples, you have a date- and time-stamped, written record that you have reported your absence. A voicemail can get lost or deleted, and a well-meaning co-worker may forget to inform the supervisor that you're going to be out, for example." Having a written record may help cover you in ways that verbal communication can't. 

Need to Know

There isn't one right way to call out of work: you'll need to follow the process your company has in place for calling out. This is usually outlined in the employee handbook, or you can ask your supervisor or HR. 

Acceptable Reasons to Call Out of Work

Besides an illness that leaves you stuck on the couch or in bed, there are several acceptable and appropriate reasons to call out of work. 

young man with migraine
  • When you are sick, whether with a virus, food poisoning, or other illness. This also includes any last-minute or sudden medical procedures or doctor appointments as well.

  • You are caring for someone who is sick, such as an immediate family member, and they cannot care for themselves

  • The same applies when you are caring for a sick pet, if they're having a procedure, or if you need to go to the vet

  • You have a family emergency that involves your immediate family, such as an accident

  • Your scheduled childcare is suddenly no longer available and you cannot find alternate childcare

  • For remote workers, if you are having an internet or power outage, you may not be able to work and will need to call out

  • You have been summoned for jury duty — although this should come with plenty of notice

  • You need to take a mental health or personal day (Not just because it's sunny and you're feeling like hitting the beach.)

  • Natural disasters and life-threatening weather are also acceptable reasons to call out of work, such as a hurricane or flooding, or if the only travel permitted is for necessary individuals, such as healthcare workers

Need to Know

Employers will have different policies when it comes to transportation problems. Some are more lenient when it comes to car troubles or public transportation issues, and others may have a stricter policy. It's best to know your own company's policy. 

What to Say When You're Not Able to Make it to Work 

Your workplace handbook may not include an outline of exactly what to say when you can't make it to work. But there are a few simple things that you can include for almost any situation. These can help if you're not sure what to say. 

woman typing on phone

Be Honest, But Keep It Short and to the Point

Your manager doesn't necessarily need to know the details about your night spent in the bathroom or if you spent the night cleaning up after a sick pet. Hannon says that in most cases, employees aren't required to give a lot of details about their ailments — and she generally advises for simple call-outs that employees keep medical specifics private. 

Letting your supervisor know what the situation is with a statement like "I'm under the weather with a virus" or "I need to care for my family member," can give your boss a better perspective and make it clear as to why you'll be out.

Quick Tip

Remember, everyone, including your boss and co-workers, has needed to call out for some reason or another over their career and time of employment. 

Include Timeline for When You'll Be Back 

Giving an estimated timeline of when you'll be back (and providing your company updates if needed) is also a good idea. As Hannon explains, "The goal is to keep your company informed as your situation changes so they know when to expect you back and how to handle work projects until you return."

If you think you'll just need a single day, you can state that you plan to be back the next day. If you feel you need care from a doctor or it's a situation where you may need more than a single day off, you may want to include the soonest day you plan to be back. It makes it easier on everyone if they know when to expect you back. 

Quick Tip

If it's a situation such as a scheduled surgery or another in-advance time off request, you can include any specifics that you've done in advance to prepare for your time off. 

Be Respectful 

You can never go wrong with communicating respectfully. Your company depends on you to do certain tasks when you're scheduled to work, and that can impact your manager, the people you work with, and the company's day-to-day processes and goals. While you don't need to feel bad when you have to call out, you can acknowledge that you know it impacts others around you. 

You can simply let your manager know that you appreciate their (and the company's) flexibility and patience with the situation.

Tips for Calling Out of Work Appropriately 

Here are a few final tips to follow when you need to call out from work.

Call Out as Soon as You Know You Can't Make It to Work 

Let your work know as soon as you can that you'll be absent that day, so that there's time to shuffle any plans or projects if necessary.

Try Your Best to Make Sure the Communication Goes Through 

It's best not to just leave a voicemail, unanswered call, or text message unless your job indicates otherwise. Try your best to speak to someone or get a response before calling it a day.

Try to Get Your Shift Covered (For Some Positions)

If you work somewhere with scheduling, such as a restaurant, warehouse, or other position, you might need to try to get your position covered. Do your best to do so rather than just calling out.

Consider trading shifts with someone, offering to pick up a shift for them next week, changing hours, or that you owe them coverage in the future. And don't flake on that coverage. 

Tie Up Loose Ends, if Possible 

Take a quick glance at your calendar and let your supervisor or co-workers know of any meetings you'll be notably absent from. Or, Hannon points out, you can try to cancel or reschedule meetings to free up the meeting attendees’ time. If you're working on projects, square away any documents or emails that might be important or share any relevant information if necessary, especially if you have the time. 

Communicate Your Status

Set up an out-of-office reply or adjust your status where you communicate the most to let others know they may not be hearing from you today or right away. Keeping others in the loop is important.         

Provide Updates on the Situation 

If it's a situation with illness, surgery, or other circumstances where things may be beyond your control and you can't pinpoint the recovery time, it can be helpful to provide updates to your manager so they have a better idea of when you'll be back to working your regular schedule. 

Don't Make Calling Out a Habit 

Don't make a habit of calling out just because you're not in the mood to work. Being an unreliable employee and leaving others in a lurch isn't a great look. 

Calling Out of Work the Right Way

Just because you're snuggled up with a box of tissues, tending to a sick pet, or in need of a day to decompress doesn't mean you can shrug off your responsibilities — particularly when it comes to your job. They might need to shuffle around projects, meetings, or even scheduling.

Calling out of work promptly, respectfully, and only when it's really needed will help you thrive in your job and help your career over time. 

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The Dos and Don'ts of Calling Out of Work