My workplace allows employees to take sick leave of up to one week without a doctor's note. Essentially if you think that you shouldn't be around other people or know you won't be able to work you can call in letting your project lead and secretary know and that's it.

I was wondering how much information about my ailment should I be expected to provide in such email? I feel like just saying "I need to take a sick day off today." without further explanation sounds just like an excuse not to come to work. On the other hand, say I get food poisoning, do my colleagues really need to know I'm gonna be spending most of my day on a toilet?

EDIT: I should also probably add that I am asking this less as a legal/rules question and more as in ethics / office expectations / conventions question.

  • 15
    This is culturally dependent and will vary between countries and, likely, workplaces. For example, in Germany it is actually illegal for your employer to chase up details of why you were off sick. Jan 23, 2017 at 14:54
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    Remember the keyword "contagious". Adding that is an instant red flag to your boss that having you come in is really not a good idea.
    – user32931
    Jan 23, 2017 at 15:34
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    Think it's very much cultural, even if it's a relaxed policy. My general "taking the day off sick" message is "I'm not feeling so well" and I've not ever heard anyone make a problem of it.
    – Erik
    Jan 23, 2017 at 16:06
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    Another good keyword is ‘both ends’. Jan 23, 2017 at 16:25
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    This is one reason I prefer PTO (Personal Time Off) days to sick days. 90% of my sick days are to take care of my kid (which is a valid reason in my jurisdiction) and it is so much nice to just say PTO, rather than explain why I am fine but my kid has a neurologist appointment.
    – Ukko
    Jan 23, 2017 at 21:59

7 Answers 7


Basic explanation is expected : Flu, food poisoning, migraine, whatever.

It's also polite to offer an expectation of how long you'll remain out of action.

There's no hard and fast rules here.

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    "There's not hard and fast rules here". I disagree. There may be hard and fast rules. If you contract requires specific information, for example. Additionally, if you injure yourself on company time -- you may be obliged to tell them how.
    – Prinsig
    Jan 23, 2017 at 15:33
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    @Prinsig - Injuries on company time are usually handled as per company policy and should be reported if it results in time off. For general illness as I gave instructions for, there's no real rules (at least here in the UK) that you have to provide full background checks. This is how I read the spirit of the question.
    – user44108
    Jan 23, 2017 at 15:37
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    Yes. I usually give a couple-of-words description, like "I have a fever" or "I have stomach pains". Often you don't know the exact illness, and I've never had a company expect me to supply the official International Classification of Diseases diagnosis code. If the company allows you a certain number of "honor" sick days every year, it shouldn't be a big deal. Odds are the boss doesn't want to hear a blow-by-blow account of your vomiting and diarrhea any more than you want to tell him.
    – Jay
    Jan 23, 2017 at 17:14
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    @Kat - The employer usually doesn't need to know. For the process, they just need to know you're off sick. Details aren't really that important, although some kind of reassurance that it's not serious in nature would be welcome.
    – user44108
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:32
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    I agree that they don't need to know, but your suggestion is that you give them a general idea of what is going on. What's your suggestion if it is personal, embarrassing, or serious and you don't want to share? Won't it seem strange to suddenly not give any explanation once that happens if you always gave one before?
    – Kat
    Jan 23, 2017 at 20:22

Short answer: The less the better.

Longer answer:

It depends on a number of things.

  1. How often are you calling out?
  2. What is your relationship with your manager?
  3. What is (if there is) any company policy for less than a week?
  4. How personal is the issue?

If you are out with some frequency, it would be a good idea to have something of substance to tell your manager. If you have a good relationship with your manager, then it wouldn't hurt to offer a few details "I caught a cold from my child", "I hurt my back shoveling snow", I've got a doctor's appointment for something minor", "I've got a dentist's appointment".

If there's a company policy requiring a reason, if not a note, of course, you should comply.

Lastly, if the issue is potentially embarrassing, such as anything having to do with urinary or issues dealing with the colon, or anything else you are not comfortable with sharing, just say that you're going in for tests, or something of that nature.

Take those four factors into account, and respond accordingly.

  • "just say that you're going in for tests" You only mean to do this if you're actually doing so, right?
    – jpmc26
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:40
  • @jpmc26 yes, for the things I mentioned, you will almost certainly be getting tests. Jan 24, 2017 at 19:36

You don't need to volunteer any more information than you are comfortable with. It is courteous to let them know when you plan to be back, and you should probably provide some context if you are going to be out more than a day or two. Beyond that, it's none of their business.

As long as you are only going to be out for a day, and you aren't abusing the policy, it is absolutely sufficient to simply say "Sorry, I'm not feeling well today and won't be coming in. I plan to be in tomorrow."


This will vary between organisations but my general advice is not to provide more context (usually: not feeling well, a bit of flu, migraines etc may be said).

Specific details are at your discretion, if your manager needs to know more then you can have that conversation when you're back at work.


A good boss won't care as long as it's not the sixth day you're asking. The company has already given you five days at your discretion. Knowing real reasons why doesn't change the fact that you still get to use them at your discretion.

A good boss is also under no illusion that people don't use sick days when they are actually not sick.

Just tell them you're using a sick day, sorry of any inconvenience it may cause, and let them know if you'll be in tomorrow.

If it's busy at the office right now, though, don't use a sick day if you don't really need it. You're part of the team and they depend on you. Be there unless whatever you're doing is important.

  • The way I read the question is not that "the company has already given you five days", but rather how much description to give when informing then on the first day. Jan 24, 2017 at 11:47

If you don't say anything, your boss will probably assume you have something to hide. For example, perhaps you are unfit because of a hangover after too much drinking the night before. So if you have a simple and good reason for being away, and you don't mind sharing it, then share it: "I got food poisoning" or "I've got a really bad cold and I don't want everyone else getting it". Openness and honesty is always appreciated. If it's something you really don't want to share, then either say nothing or tell a white lie - it's up to you.

As some of the responses here indicate, there are cultures where it is more or less normal for people to "report sick" when they are not sick at all, but have other personal reasons for taking time off. (Similarly there are cultures where it is more or less normal to over-claim expenses.) If that's the situation, then it's very hard to advise: it depends entirely how firm your moral principles are.


Depends, of course, on the illness. But if it is a basic flu, a short explanation is fine.

  • 3
    Welcome to the Workplace -- appreciate your contribution, but answers here tend to be longer than a single sentence. Can you elaborate on your reasoning?
    – mcknz
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:17

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