Suppose you are in a company and things start to get toxic(company slowly heading towards insolvency), and you want to leave but you cannot get your vacation approved on short enough notice(under 1 month) to be able to interview during working hours(because they are afraid you will go interview).

Meaning you will not

  • Stand a fair chance against candidates that have better time availability
  • Be able to find something within a decent time to not have to spend another month in the toxic environment

How do you approach this situation? One possibility is taking sick days which is unethical (and would easily be interpreted as having taken off to interview), and another is quitting before you have interviewed, which is risky.

What better alternatives are there?

I do not currently have this issue, but I have been through it half a year ago. I went for the sick day, but in retrospect I do not feel particularly confortable with it, just as I didn't back then. Nevertheless, everything worked out fine. In my particular case, I had discussed with my manager ahead of time and told them I intend to interview - perhaps I shouldn't have, in which case taking a day off for something trivial like 'plumber is coming' would have been an option.

Regarding the simple alternatives: This question assumes that all simple alternatives such as doing it outside of working hours or during lunch break have been considered and were not an option (I normally try to interview towards the end/at the end of working hours and just leave a bit early to make it in time).

  • 67
    It is not "unethical" to take sick days for the purpose of interviewing. If you have a really serious lead, and can't get PTO approved, just take a day and do it. This is your career at stake here.
    – teego1967
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 10:53
  • 5
    That kind of behaviours has to be scarce. If not, you'll get a reputation. But, once or twice in your life, for a definitive reason, why not?
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 11:01
  • 38
    But not giving vacation time on short notice I would also say is unethical. Is there a legitimate business reason to not allow that sick day. Will your absence for one day significantly impact the business? If they are blocking a vacation day just to block an interview then I would call that unethical.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 13:53
  • 7
    Have you considered scheduling the interview during your lunch time? This could be a decent solution if the other company is not that far from your current workplace.
    – Laf
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 15:59
  • 16
    Note that asking for a days' leave which is denied and then phoning in sick on that same day is a red flag to most managers, so be careful about doing that
    – Matt Wilko
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:42

8 Answers 8


"Throwing a sickie", i.e. taking a sick day, is the time-honoured solution to this perennial problem.

Yes it is not exactly 100% factual, and that may be considered lying or, in extreme viewpoints, unethical. But really it is the only practical option you have and whilst no-one will admit it, it is what everyone does when they cannot get legitimate time off, management included. It's not as if you can be easily found out (unless you are very unlucky) so it is highly unlikely to negatively affect your career.

Go for it. As always, look out for yourself, it is your life.

  • 10
    "They" won't care in any meaningful sense, it happens all the time, it's a part of the grown-up world of employer/employee relations. Whether you care or not is between you and your conscience.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 11:17
  • 6
    "If a doctor's note is required for even one day's sick leave" -- they deserve their bankruptcy then.
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:14
  • 5
    Be prepared for the interview question "where does your current employer think you are now" - I have had that before. If you have thrown a sickie, this could you may need/want to lie to your new employer as well.
    – Matt Wilko
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:44
  • 6
    @MattWilko if the company I'm interviewing at expects other companies (and by extension themselves) to know where I am at any given moment while I'm not at work, I probably don't want to work someplace that draconian. If they expect any answer to that question besides "Not at work, obviously. Outside out that it isn't their business where I am" RUN AWAY! And the fact that they are asking means they don't expect that as an answer, so......
    – Shane
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:09
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    Occasionally I'll "throw a sickie" for occupational visualosis. Most of the time it's just because it's such a fantastically nice day outside that I just cannot see myself wasting the day on going to work. Where I live, those extremely nice days happen but once or twice a year; they're a terrible thing to waste. But once a decade or two, a more severe case of occupational visualosis arises because I can't see myself wasting even one more day (nice or not) working for that particular employer. Employers change, and sometimes the best thing to do in response is to change employers. Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 18:33

Firstly you work for a horrible company. Anywhere that tries to make it difficult for staff to leave rather than address the reasons people want to leave is not a good place.

Based on that you need to look after your own career, and I would suggest you take the following steps:

  1. When offered an interview see if you can schedule an interview a month in advance, you don't need to bad mouth your current employer for it's policy, just say it's very busy and it's difficult to get leave at short notice currently.

  2. If that isn't possible check if you can interview outside of 'normal' hours. If they're very keen on you as a candidate companies can be flexible in difficult circumstances.

  3. You then have a decision to make, if you're keen on the role and think you have a strong chance you should either take the interview and call in sick or try and come up with a VERY strong case to your manager for a holiday.

It's worth remembering that if you request the leave and it is declined, this puts you in a bad situation as ringing in sick on a declined vacation day would probably lead to disciplinary action.

I think what you have to remember when saying taking sick leave for an interview is unethical is that to most people adopting a holiday policy like your employers is equally or more unethical.

  • 4
    I completely disagree with your statement "ringing in sick on a declined vacation day would probably lead to disciplinary action". In order for such an action to be valid the company would have to be able to prove that you were not sick on that day. That is impossible to achieve. No company would waste its time on such a pointless exercise in my view and in my entire experience.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 11:56
  • 9
    I would argue you're wrong, I have attended such a disciplinary at a previous company (so clearly the assertion 'no company would' is incorrect and seen it listed in the employee handbook at other companies I have worked for.
    – Dustybin80
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 11:58
  • 1
    Of course checking if it's possible outside of normal hours is the first thing to try. I actually did call in sick to go to an interview after my vacation had been declined, and like Marv said, it's extremely difficult to prove, and without proof they are legally in the wrong. There were no hard feelings in the end, but there was a week of awkwardness and subtle references/uncomfortable eye contact.
    – dataguy
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 13:22
  • 1
    Phoning in sick on a denied holiday day would not be grounds enough for dismissal, but what happens if you don't get the job, then you want another day off, or you get a second interview?
    – Matt Wilko
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:47
  • 1
    Regarding your first sentence, depending on where in the world the OP lives there may be other factors at play. While I work in the USA and can pretty easily take vaca whenever I need to, my colleagues in the rest of the world have to notify in advance (Brazil has some weird employment rules) - the flip side is they have considerably more vacation and if they can't take it, our company can get sued/etc..
    – enderland
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:18

At several previous employers, we called in and took a "mental health day". We used sick leave for it. However, not every employer is quite so forward thinking.

I do not consider it unethical to take a sick day in order to interview for a new position when your current position appears in jeopardy. The loss of a job, and the worry associated with it, is significant. If your current employer has created such an unhealthy environment, then they truly are making their employees sick.

You could try to lay your cards on the table, and perhaps win the day through bold, honesty. "Hi Boss, can we talk for a second? I have an interview with another company, and I need to take off work on the <whatever day>." This alone may be enough for the Boss to say, "OK, fine. Submit the Leave, and I'll approve it. Good luck."

Be prepared if the Boss attempts to draw you into a deeper conversation asking, "Why do you want to leave?" Do you want to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? "Well, quite frankly, things seem very toxic, and it appears to me that the company is headed toward insolvency." Or do you want to deflect, evade, and avoid with vague platitudes? "I talked to the recruiter over the phone about the position, and it really feels like a good fit for my career future. However, I won't really know until I interview and can find out more details." At different times I've used both, but anymore I give the whole truth, whether they want it or not.

  • 3
    Further you might offer to make the time up. But honesty is the best approach. They "know" people want to interview, and it is a "recurring" situation that people come-and-go at work. Nothing is forever.
    – Arluin
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:59
  • 1
    Part of being prepared for the boss drawing you into a deeper conversation is what you will say when/if he lies to you, "No, all is well, we're not insolvent!" I had that happen at 2 different startups. They were lousy places to work, so I quit, and then both went under. Each time the bosses assured me the future's so bright, you're gonna need shades. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 20:54
  • 1
    @DaveisNotThatGuy excellent point. I too have heard the "all is well" story. In one case, the first wave of layoffs hit just over a month after I left. In that case, I was able to turn it around. "I appreciate that. And if things don't work out for me at the new place, does that mean I'd have someplace to return to?" Oh course, I was assured and reassured. "Oh sure. Absolutely! Even if it's 5 or 6 months down the road." Smile and lie. Smile and lie. Must be a course at MBA School.
    – Kennah
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 21:07
  • 2
    Nice perspective on taking a mental health day off. You could also call it "Taking a sick leave because of being sick of the company" :-)
    – Nav
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 15:05
  • It is also known as anal glaucoma--"I can't see my butt coming in there today."
    – Kennah
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 17:37

I will extend my comment to an answer.

If the company put you in a position of no alternative but take a sick day then I don't think it is unethical.

If the basis to deny a vacation day on short notice is merely to block an interview that is unethical. Would there be a significant business impact if you are out for one day?

Yes a single day makes it pretty obvious you are interviewing. But a sick day or vacation day is no different. The work place it calling more attention to it by making you take a sick day.

I would continue to ask for the vacation day in case they fire you for taking a sick day as you can come back with you gave me no choice. I think they would have a hard case of saying you were fired with cause if it was a day you had asked for vacation.

Clearly you want to pick and chose your interview to jobs you would likely take and likely get an offer.

  • Say to whom that they were fired for cause? Unless it goes to court, any other situation will just be "he said, she said." Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:36
  • Being fired when you want to leave is actually a blessing in Europe, due to the law forcing the employer to allow you to go interview during working hours, and in the worst case, there would be some social insurance kicking in. Regarding the basis for denying, our company was inactive, and we were in the office 'just in case'. Of course, the communicated reason was not to block from interview, but to be available 'just in case'
    – dataguy
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:40
  • @AmyBlankenship It is not just limited to court. An employment commision. "He said she said." You really think you cannot get record of a vacation request and response. No I don't know all the scenarios it might play out but I still think a record of requesting a vacation day can only help you.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:43
  • @dataguy No kidding the communicated reason is not "block interview". I think you are getting into issues not in the question. I hold with taking a sick day is not unethical if a vacation day is blocked. If vacation day is not denied 30 day out then "just in case" does not hold up. Is there that specific business need or constraint that requires 30 days lead. Based on the nature of the question I am pretty sure no.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:57
  • "a position of no alternative but take a sick day" -- presumably the company would say the questioner has the alternative of only applying for jobs with employers able to interview at times that the questioner is not on duty. And another alternative, of quitting. Not saying I support their view that this is adequate, but that it's never going to be entirely clear that the questioner has "no alternative". Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:47

There is another option, which is to disobey orders and take the day despite it not being granted. Don't ask for leave, inform them that you will not be available to work that day. This is a lot like resigning, and you shouldn't do it unless you're prepared to leave, but there's a chance of not needing to leave.

OK, you might get fired for cause, but in at-will jurisdictions you could be fired at any time anyway, and in jurisdictions which require good reasons to fire people there's every chance that a single day's absence under these circumstances is not sufficient reason. Of course that's something you'd have to research in advance of making the decision.

I think it's true that most people would just lie (and that they're risking being fired by doing that, albeit nothing like so high a risk as telling the truth). If you want to be scrupulously honest, and you've ruled out doing the interview any other time, then an old-fashioned ultimatum is the best option available. Be aware that if you don't get another job and the old company goes under, then your status as a creditor and/or for unemployment benefits potentially might be affected by the fact you were recently in breach of contract.

It's not possible to predict the actions of a desperate person, but there's a reasonable chance the employer won't pull the trigger. If the reason for blocking interviews is that they don't actually want you to leave (or want to delay your leaving), then firing you to prevent you leaving might be considered counter-productive to their goals. Then again, they might do something seemingly-contradictory out of anger or as a warning to others, so you can't assume they won't fire you just because they don't want you to quit. You say they wanted people in seats "just in case", so to avoid it coming to an ultimatum you'd want to find out what they really need and work from there.


I would not advise to take sick leave to interview before trying the following apporaches:

  • If you have flextime, try to bend (not break) the rules as far as possible if necessary, coming in at 6:00a, leaving at 4:00p, you could manage it to get to an interview if their HR scheduled the appointment at 5:00p and comes in later that day. My boss had interviews scheduled for as late as 7:00p.
  • Try to get an appointment completely outside work hours, possibly on Saturdays. When my father had that issue while searching for a new position, he nearly always managed to find HR guys who would interview him on Saturdays, even in public service!

Why would they do that? Because the company really considers you, and they know that you are already working somewhere, which is a plus, and you tell them that you consider it unethical to take a sick leave, which is also a plus.

If they wouldn't do that, their "rules" would bias towards employees who were either unemployed or would, without reconsideration, take sick leave without being sick. Which is not in the company's best interest.

So first of all, ask your prospective employer for a short-notice interview at 6p.m. or on a saturday. If that does not work, you can still consider taking sick leave.


I would just take a day off without pay. I guess people do use sick days etc,. but I never have. Having leave rejected when I'm trying to leave a company won't stop me taking the day off, worst that can happen is I won't get paid.

  • 3
    In the UK you cannot simply take a day off unpaid, you have to seek permission from the employer to do it. This clearly differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but would be an ethically sound solution for the OP if they are in a jurisdiction where it is easy to do that.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 11:22
  • 1
    over here you can't either, but I would anyway, it's not like they'll hunt you down and spank you. By the time they see me it's a fait accompli.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 11:39
  • 2
    @dataguy In the U.S., this is typically a matter of company policy. Most companies have some sort of policy where if you just don't show up for x days, it's considered job abandonment and your position is terminated. Still, though, there's nothing stopping you from simply telling them you're not going to be there on a particular day. The worst they can do is fire you, which doesn't seem like that big of a deal if you're actively trying to leave anyway.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 16:59
  • 2
    Of course you can just not show up for work in the UK without permission. This most likely puts you in breach of your employment contract, which may have consequences worse than merely loss of a single day's pay, but you can do it. Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 14:00
  • 2
    This is one of those questions where there probably is no global answer possible. For instance, I know that in the Netherlands the question doesn't even apply. Days off for job interviews simply are not subject to employer approval, precisely to avoid this problem. (You do have to inform your current employer of the reason, though, but not where you're interviewing)
    – MSalters
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 14:49

If your company is in fact heading towards insolvency, that means your job isn't just safe, your job is going to disappear soon. A decent manager would inform you about the fact and encourage you to find a new job. It's actually a good deal for the company if they are not going insolvent but have to lay off large numbers of employees, because everyone leaving on their own is one less to lay off.

Your company seems to do the opposite. Not only are they not encouraging you to look for jobs, they are not telling you that things are insecure, they are actually actively trying to prevent you from finding a new position. That is something that isn't on even if the company is running perfectly fine and your job were safe; in your case it is bad.

In that situation whatever you do to get to the interview is not unethical. The job market is a free market; if one player (your company) tries to manipulate that market by stopping you from going to interviews it's completely ethical to do something about that. So we don't need to consider ethics any more. Not going to an interview puts you at an unacceptable disadvantage, so the question is how you get to the interview with the least amount of problems.

First, what can go wrong: Your boss may be angry at you. Solution: You don't care if he's angry, you care about getting a better job. Your boss may fire you. That's not different to and not worse than being fired when the company folds, except at that point all your current collegues will be competitors for new jobs which doesn't help you. It also seems unlikely unless the company is acting irrationally - if they don't give you a holiday because they don't want you to find a job elsewhere, why would they fire you?

To go to the interview, there are basically two possibilities: You can ask the new company for an interview outside usual working hours (always possible that an interviewer works either long or unusual hours), or you can not be at work at the time. "Sick" day is a possibility. Having an interview at the earliest possible time and calling in that your bus to work broke down is a possibility. Or a personal emergency may have happened unexpectedly so you arrive at work late and make it half a day of holiday. Since in a good company you would take time off which is deducted from your holiday, the "sick day" is less ethical.

  • 1
    Calling in that the bus (public transit, own car, whatever) broke down does come with the risk that the employer will simply respond with "we really need you here ASAP for reason X; call a cab and we'll reimburse you". Perhaps not likely in something resembling the OP's situation, but could happen, especially if the company is in less dire straits.
    – user
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 15:11

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