What do you say when calling out sick as a nurse?

I have great boundaries in my personal life, I have no idea why I won't enforce them in this situation. Nurses Career Support Nursing Q/A

Specializes in hospice, ortho,clinical review.
What do you say when calling out sick as a nurse?

Ever since my previous career and my strong work ethic, it would usually take a lot for me to call out sick. I worked at times I should have been home many times, I think to justify when I did call out, it was really serious/legit.

I also have worked in places that feel they have a right to probe and maybe bc I had/have weak boundaries when it comes to that sort of thing I would answer in detail when they'd ask "how sick?...what are the symptoms?" etc...Maybe they have no right to ask that and they "test" in that way.

I've never felt comfortable calling out and saying "I won't be in I'm not feeling well" or even "sick" esp if you don't sound that sick! That's why when I do, I do usually sound horrible.

Even personal days, I feel like I needed to say why I needed a personal day but that defies the definition doesn't it?! But when the supposed caring I.e. nosy coworkers ask if everything is okay when I come back, then I feel (and have actually been told by one) that I'm snubbing them if I say "everything's fine" even if I add "thanks for asking"

You can probably tell I'm that way from my length of posts and need to be clear.

82 Answers

I think in nursing it’s hard to call out sick because it’s what we do, take care of the sick, frail, recovering and for some reason many including our nurse managers expect we are superhuman but in reality we work with more germs than most and DO get sick. We should never be made to feel badly about getting sick, we shouldn’t have to explain our illness nor require a note because we have a day or two of feeling ill. We should as anyone else does have the right to have an illness or even perhaps need a mental health day because as most of us know we are overworked, stressed out and tired....... we all get tired and then sick whether physically ill or in need of some US time. I don’t believe it should require lengthy explanations.......that being said some of us work with a vulnerable population and therefore for the patients sake we should be responsible enough to pass on if we have something that is contagious like the flu or strep (as examples) as those illnesses can pose a threat to certain populations. Our facilities should understand and be prepared to cover the shift of an ill employee my workplace as most has a policy stating you must call 3 hrs prior to the start of your shift however I rarely wake up at 2 am to see how I feel and if I will need to call work to inform them I’m not coming in so I think this policy is only realistic for evening maybe night shift nurses but one may feel fine at noon and sick at 2 pm sad we can’t plan all illnesses to suit work. What bothers me more is working side by side with the nurse who didn’t call out while they cough sneeze run a fever etc spreading their germs to me and others because they felt they HAD to come to work. To bad for management I say stay home PLEASE. I promise I will and I’ll handle the guilt thrown my way...... frankly if your working for the right employer with the right co-workers they would rather you stay home as well.

Specializes in Skilled Nursing/Rehab.

Just curious -

If you are working as an RN in either a hospital or a LTC facility, what happens if you are sick (I mean short term - like you have a fever for a few days) and need to miss work. Who do you call, and do you have to arrange for your replacement? Does management give you a hard time about it?

I am currently a teacher, and if I am sick I have to make a detailed sub plan so that someone else can cover for me that day. That takes 1-2 hours to do. If I know ahead of time that I have to be gone, this is easy to do, but if I wake up with a fever (as I did yesterday) it is a major pain. The administrative assistant I have to call into always makes me feel like a criminal for being sick. I am just wondering if this is the reality in nursing, as well.

I am not talking about long term disability, or missing work too often....

Thanks for any replies as I am curious about how this works in other professions. :confused:

Baubo516 said:
Oh yes - it takes 3 keys and key card to get out to my classroom, and the school does not have duplicates for the sub. So, I also have to work out how to get my keys out there. :(

Sounds as if your employers deliberately make it unpleasant to call in sick. There is such a thing as duplicate keys that have to be available for emergencies. Wonder where those are kept? Most employers try to find a replacement for a sick nurse, but some try to be nasty and tell people that they have to find their own replacement. We were having lots of absences and retention problems one time so the new administrator, who was a big mean bear of a woman, said that call offs were to be told they had to call her at home. Then, all she did was to put the onus back on the floor nurse on duty by saying the sick person had to come to the building and have their vital signs taken by the on duty nurse. This type of rule is typical of a poor place to work. It is the exception, not the rule. All places have a set time frame, usually two or four hours, so they can attempt to find a replacement.

Specializes in Critical care.

I work in a very small, specialized department. We only have a few full-time people and even less PRNs. Our NM expects us to be "dependable" which means come to work when you are sick and if you can't then make calls begging the other FT people to come in on their days off. "Dependable" to me means you don't get falling down drunk and call out due to hangover, or when you have a mild cold that Sudafed, etc can be taken. However, some of my other co-workers come to work febrile or even with N/V/D! If I have that I will call out, and I have to call out occasionally when Grandma can't watch my sick kid.

Also our NM expects to find people to cover our vacations. So if you can't find someone to cover all your shifts....guess what? Vacation is cancelled. I'm not even sure this is in accordance with hospital policy. It's ridiculous because some people can't/don't want to work extra to cover and then it causes tension in the work environment.

Specializes in Psych, Geriatrics.

Depends on the facility. My last job you could call out a certain number of times in one year, more times with notice than without. If you went above that, you better have medical documentation and probably a lawyer to fight it or you will be insto-terminated. But you don't find your own replacement, that's the manager's problem.

A smaller facility I worked for would threaten and bark on the phone until employees came to work deathly sick. I came in with the flu once because it was that or literally lose my job. This was before the swine flu, and I think they've backed off a little since then. But threats of termination is no way to run a business.

Specializes in Trauma Surgery, Nursing Management.

Where I work, calling in sick is equivalent to committing a crime. Although the bosses are not supposed to talk about the staff who call in sick, the reality is that they tear them up one side and down the other. It doesn't matter who it is-or how often/how rarely they call in.

It is a sad state of affairs for a nurse to feel awful physically and then feel awful mentally because management lays on the guilt trip nice and thick. It is even more obscene when the MANAGER calls in sick because they "didn't sleep well". Seriously?

Policy states that nurses must call in AT LEAST two hours before their shift starts. Most of our nurses abide by this, and the ones that don't are not held accountable for it. We have the frequent call out people...and they are still employed for some reason. We have those on FMLA, and some managers berate these employees behind their backs, but the staff do not. We just want these staff members to get better.

It would be nice if our managers were more understanding of those that must call in sick because they ARE SICK! As health care professionals, you would think that managers would be MORE empathetic, but it seems as if it is just the opposite. So the staff are relegated to come in sick anyway because they KNOW there will be backlash (mental, not disciplinary). Sad. Very sad.

Specializes in floor to ICU.

I have been at my hospital for 10+ yrs. I just handed my supervisor a doctor's note excusing me til Monday (was scheduled tomorrow and Friday). I am worried. Although, I do not have repeated call-ins. I was out last month for a funeral when my 59 yo uncle died suddenly of a massive MI. Last Thurs I was off to attend the funeral of my 45 yo friend of 38+ years died suddenly from flu-like symptoms.

At my hospital, your call-in's accrue from incident to incident- meaning that at the beginning of the year, you do not get a clean slate. Even with my doctors note (horrible sinus infection, coughing, clogged, runny nose, fever) I am worried...it sucks.

Specializes in CVICU, anesthesia.
Baubo516 said:
Thanks for the replies, guys! I guess it is not all that different from being a teacher. I called in 2 1/2 hours before school started, so it probably wasn't a picnic to find a sub.

I am a bit surprised, though. I thought that in a healthcare environment, the employers would not want you to come to work if you were possibly contagious. I am sad to hear that that is not the case. I am in CNA class right now, and we were told that if we have so much as a sniffle we will not be allowed to participate in clinicals at the local LTC facility! :D

I am shocked and appalled at the responses. I have worked at 2 different hospitals, both large, teaching facilities. The first we were required to call the charge nurse but they were not allowed to ask why we weren't coming in. I never had trouble calling off there. I think there was disciplinary action for calling off a certain number of times within a certain time period, but I don't know how much it was. I do believe it was reasonable.

The hospital I work at now requires 2 hours notice for day shift and 4-6 (can't remember) for night shift, otherwise it's a "late calloff." We have a point system and you get points for calling off, clocking in late, etc. A late call off is a lot of points. Then you get talked to if you accumulate a certain number of points. I think it is fair. We also call a staffing office and not the charge nurse. I have never had trouble at my current hospital, either.

My advice is, know the hospital's policy before you sign up! It is not fair to you, your patients, or your coworkers for you to come to work sick. A good hospital will have a policy that reflects this!

Specializes in LTC, Med-Surg, IMCU/Tele, HH/CM.

At my hospital (mid-sized teaching hospital, magnet facility) we call the staffing office to inform them of our absence no later than 2 hours prior to shift. I try to call as far in advance as possible to give them time to cover me. I've never been asked why I am ill or what with or so on.

If you work full time, you are allowed 8 occurrences a year. If you call in sick 3 days in a row, this counts as one occurrence. To call in for more than 3 days, you need a doctor's note. If you don't have any sick time or vacation time you might get a nasty-gram from you manager.

Specializes in Pediatrics.

The hospital I used to work for you had to call in at least 2 hours before or sooner, if you called in after the staffing office was closed you had to speak to the house manager, and then your unit. They never gave me a guilt trip when calling in, after the swine flu broke out they started keeping track of your symptoms when you called in sick and then you had to be cleared by employee health before being allowed back to work. Last year I was out with N/V/D I was out for 2 days and tried to come back to work, but becasue I had not been SXS free for 24 hours I was not allowed back to work. Another time I had a cough/ ( I have astma so sounds worse than it really is) and I was sent home becasue I knew better then to come to work like that.

At my job now, I don't know how I could call off, as only 4 nurses work each shift and there is only one on call nurse. I know that once a NOC shift nurse called in, and they made the evening shift nurse stay and work a double, because the on-call nurse manager was already ready in her pjs and didn't want to come into work.

So it varies from a supportive work environment to one who just wants warm boddies in the building

Specializes in Med-Surg Nursing.

At my facility, we are permitted one sick call in a 12 week period. Any more after that and you are written up. I'm sick about every 4 months or so. We ALL take mental health days now and then. There is no prize for perfect attendance, you don't get to take your sick leave accrual with you when you quit so I figure I may as well use it from time to time. Considering I haven't had a vacation since OCTOBER?? But my boss gets HER vacation time and then some. Two weeks every summer to take her kids on a cruise. Well guess what! I've been at my facility for over FIVE YEARS and have not once had ANY vacation time in the summer....this year, Im taking two weeks!!! And if I don't get it, I will quit!

We have to call 4 hrs before our scheduled shift time. So if I'm scheduled ta 7pm, I need to call out by 3pm....7pm for 11pm shift. Day shift has until 5:30 am to call out sick. So we have to call the nursing supervisor, or if it's for 7pm shift, the nurse manager, which I usually end up calling out to the Nursing Office secretary who screens all the nurse managers calls....as she is also the VP of Nursing at our facility.

Specializes in Emergency, Trauma, Critical Care.

We get two sick calls in 4 months. You have to call in 2 and 1/2 hours prior to start of your shift. I have only called off once for two nights in a row and that was because my 6 month old was in the hospital. For each of those sick calls, you are allowed two days in a row, it counts as one occurrence. However, if you are sick a day, come back to work your next shift, and then feel lousy again and call off the next day, then that's your two occurrences.

I think they are more lenient than the policy states on our unit if you are truly sick. They really don't want you there. It really does end up depending on your floor.

+ Add a Comment