There will come a time in your career when you have to call in sick. That’s fine. Companies offer employees sick days for a reason. But you should always use your sick days properly and professionally.

Every boss can tell stories of fakers—employees who cough loudly and talk into the toilet when they call. Or other workers always seem to fall ill right before weekends and holidays. And then there are those dummies who post photos online of themselves playing hooky for all to see—forgetting that "all" includes their boss. So, you may think it’s better for your career to just never call in sick. But that’s not right either. Sick employees don’t get much work done, distract their co-workers, and often end up making everyone else sick too. Bosses don’t like this either.

Know When to Call In Sick

No one expects you to be a doctor, but you do need to know when it's right to call in sick. Your boss and co-workers aren’t going to appreciate your coming to work contagious, crabby and useless, but they also won’t like it if you miss days because that paper cut was really throbbing. A good rule of thumb is to stay home if you have something easily contagious (like the flu, a severe cold, a fever, a sore throat with swollen glands, or pinkeye), something distracting to others (like copious sneezing and mucus, or stomach issues) or something that makes it impossible for you to focus on work (significant pain, a fever, a bad cold, etc.). You don’t have to be a hero, but don’t become the office hypochondriac either.

Be Aware of the Unwritten Sick Rules

Your company already has a written policy on sick days and how to use them, but it’s also good to be aware of the unwritten sick rules in your department. Pay attention to how others react when co-workers call in sick. This will help you figure out how to handle your situation better when the time comes. Also, find out how your boss prefers to receive your “I’m staying home” notice. You aren’t doing yourself any favors if he gets frustrated with you because you only emailed a quick “I can’t make it in” when he would prefer a call and an explanation. Don’t make the mistakes of others before you.

Make It Easy

You can’t predict when you get sick, but you can be ready for it. It’s usually seasonal, and if you have a family you’ll know when you’re going to be next, so it is possible to prepare for the inevitable. The true professional makes it easy for her co-workers when she calls in sick. You can do this by, first, calling someone to say you won’t be in rather than just emailing in the dark of night. When you do this, don’t go into the icky details of your illness, but do make sure meetings, client communications and project milestones are covered. Next, keep yourself organized. Make it possible for someone to go into your work area and find things that need to be handled when you’re away. Store necessary files on a shared drive so they can be accessed by team members. And as a general rule, always make sure your team is up-to-date on your progress with projects and other team activities.

Get Well Quick

One good reason for calling in sick is the sooner you start taking care of yourself, the sooner you will get better. One day of being out of the office is far more manageable than two weeks of poor production because you can’t shake your illness. Professional usage of sick days means actually using those days to get well. So, if you need to call in sick, then actually stay home and rest, or visit a doctor and get the medical attention you need. Tune out the office as much as you can so you can return quickly.

Don’t Be a Faker

Just don't. It's unprofessional. Most managers have heard it all before anyway, so they'll see it coming. If you’re always calling in sick when you really just need a day off or some extra time on a project, you aren’t going to get much support, sympathy or help when you actually do get sick. If you need a personal day to get away from the office or run some errands, be honest about that and take a vacation day. If you need some time to yourself to hit a deadline, be up front with your team lead or manager and see if he’ll help you work it out. You’ll ruin your reputation at work if you get in the habit of making your voice sound scratchy after you stayed out too late on a three-day weekend and it’s most likely everyone will just make you work harder when you get back.

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