3 Easy Steps for Calling in Sick in English

A survey from 2021 revealed that a majority of Americans feel stressed about calling in sick to work. So if you’ve ever felt nervous about asking for a sick day, you’re not alone!

Today, let’s go over three easy steps for calling in sick.

Ways to say “sick day” in English

But first, let’s review the terms “sick day” and “sick leave.”

Sick day

There are a few terms that native English speakers use to refer to a day that they take off from work because they are sick. 

“Sick day” is the most common one. Here is how you use it.

I’ll need to take a sick day.

Sick leave

“Sick leave” is also very common. Unlike “sick day,” it is not used with the article “a.” This is because sick leave actually refers to the policy that allows people to take time off for illness — not the sick day itself.

I’ll need to take sick leave today.
I’ll need to take a day of sick leave.

Sick leave can also refer to more than one day off.

Max was on sick leave for a month.
My doctor told me to take two weeks of sick leave.

Step #1: Say you’re sick

The first step to asking for sick leave is to say that you’re sick. 

Remember that you do not have to share details of your sickness. Some people will say, “I have a cold” or “I have a sore throat.” However, you do not need to do this. You can just say, “I’m sick.”

I woke up sick this morning.

Since people usually call in sick in the morning, it is common to use the phrase “I woke up” followed by an adverb (or adverb phrase) that describes how you felt when you woke up.

I woke up not feeling well.
I woke up with a fever.

I started feeling sick last night.

If you started feeling unwell the previous day(s), you can mention that too.

I had a bad stomach ache last night and I haven’t fully recovered yet.
I caught a cold this weekend. I was hoping it would go away, but it’s actually gotten worse.

I’m feeling under the weather.

Native English speakers often use the expression “under the weather” when they want to say that they are feeling a little unwell. It is a good way to say you are sick when you do not want to draw too much attention to the fact that you are sick.

I feel a little under the weather today. I hope I don’t have a cold.

To learn phrases related to cold and flu symptoms, check out “Caught a Cold or Flu? How to Talk About This in English.” 

Step #2: Say that you need a day off

After you have told your manager that you are sick, you can now say that you need to take some time off. Here are some phrases besides “sick day” and “sick leave” that you can use.

I can’t come to work today.

You can tell your manager that you cannot “come to work.” 

I have a terrible headache, so I can’t come to the office today.
I think I’ve come down with something, so I can’t come to work today.

Native English speakers usually say “I can’t come to work” instead of “I can’t go to work.” This is because they are thinking from the perspective of the listener.

I can’t make it to work today.

“Make it” Is another way to say “come” or “go.” So if you cannot go to work, you can say that “you cannot make it.”

Sorry but I don’t think I can make it to work today. I feel super under the weather.

I won’t be in today.

You can also just say that you will not be “in.” This is short for “in the office.”

I’m afraid I won’t be in today.

I’ll need to take the day off.

Instead of saying that you can’t go, you can say that you need “(to take) some time off.”

I’ve caught a nasty cold and I’ll need to take the day off to recover.
I’ll need the day off to see a doctor.

Step #3: Say when you will be back

Lastly, tell your manager when you will be back.

I should be back tomorrow.

The easiest way to do this is to use the phrase “be back.”

I should hopefully be back tomorrow.
I’m recovering from a knee injury, but I should be back by Monday.

I’ll let you know by the end of the day if I can come in tomorrow.

If you are not sure when you will be back, try to let your manager and/or coworkers know when you will be able to give them an update.

I’ll let you know first thing tomorrow morning if I'm coming in.
I’m seeing a doctor today, so I’ll let you know my plans for tomorrow by the end of today.

Let’s practice

If you want to see how these phrases are used in a dialogue, check out our lesson on this topic: “Calling in Sick.” 

Better yet, practice the dialogue — or take any of our other thousands of lessons — with a professional English tutor. Engoo tutors are available to tutor you 24/7. Learn more about us here.