Can You Be Fired for Calling in Sick?

If you’re going to have to take time off because you're sick, you should notify your employer ASAP. Failure to notify the employer of your reason for absence may be grounds for dismissal for an "unauthorized absence.".

Sick leave basics

In the United States, paid sick leave may or may not be part of terms of employment. State laws vary considerably. Most states do not have legislation which requires payment for sick leave.

The normal process for sick leave applications is that the application should be supported with a medical certificate. This may not be strictly necessary, but employers often impose their own guidelines, and it’s best to be on the safe side when applying.

It should also be noted that some employers can be very strict regarding their requirements for sick leave. They’re within their rights to impose some conditions on sick leave. These conditions may include:

  • Medical certificates for all sick leave applications
  • Clearly laid out provisions regarding payment or non-payment of sick leave.
  • Guidelines regarding the procedure for applying for sick leave.

Sick Leave Issues

Many people worry if they can be fired for calling in sick. The answer is "no" in most cases, particularly with a doctor’s certificate, but there are some issues that need to be considered:

Nature of sick leave: In cases of repeated sickness, the employer may have grounds for considering the nature of the illness and absence. Although being sick isn’t grounds for termination, the issue of whether or not an employee is able to perform the duties required may be considered as part of a review.

Absenteeism: Employers must consider, as a matter of standard operating procedure, any patterns of absence from the workplace, or high levels of absenteeism by staff members, whatever the reason. Usually this check is conducted by Human Resources as a standard review. This is a purely automatic process, involving a routine check of leave taken and days off work.

A high incidence of absence from the workplace is grounds for dismissal, if the employer has reason to believe that these absences are willful, or not related to acceptable reasons for absence.

Absenteeism also relates to an auditing function, regarding payroll issues, applied to all staff on a regular basis when reconciling payroll. Extra leave taken is statistically reported, which may be referred to the Human Resources department for assessment, depending on internal guidelines.

Employee Considerations

Sick leave issues can be stressful for employees. Loss of pay and the fact of being sick doesn’t help matters. There are some things you can do to clarify the situation and make your decisions easier:

  • Familiarize yourself with employer sick leave procedures. That way you won’t get any “surprises” when applying for sick leave.
  • You must consider your health as a priority. Check with your doctor whether you’re fit to work. You can aggravate illnesses by additional strains. Remember also that aggravation of injuries can lead to extended sick leave, which is a self-defeating exercise.
  • If you have any medical condition which involves recurrent treatments or attendance for medical consultations, it’s best to inform the employer, and gauge the response. Most employers will be able to provide clear advice regarding any issues.