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How to Respond to Employees Calling in Sick

An image of a cup of tea, glasses and tissues put on the disc to explain that someone is having a flu.

In any organization, employees calling in sick is an inevitable occurrence. How management responds to these absences not only impacts the immediate workflow but also affects the overall workplace culture, employee morale, and even retention rates. Effective management of sick leave requires a balance between ensuring operational efficiency and showing genuine care for employees’ well-being. Here are practical steps and examples on how to respond to employees calling in sick, promoting a supportive and productive work environment.

Establish a Clear Sick Leave Policy

Before delving into response strategies, it’s crucial to have a clear and accessible sick leave policy. This policy should outline how employees should report their absence, any documentation required (e.g., a doctor’s note), and the procedure for requesting a day off leave or more. A straightforward policy ensures consistency in handling cases and sets clear expectations for employees.

Example: Your policy could specify that employees must notify their supervisor by phone at least one hour before their shift starts if they are unable to come to work due to illness.

Respond Promptly and Empathetically

When an employee calls in sick, the immediate response should be one of understanding and empathy. Acknowledge their situation and express hope for their swift recovery. This initial interaction can significantly impact how valued and supported employees feel.

Example: “Thank you for letting us know, and I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Take the time you need to rest and recover. We’ll manage things here until you’re ready to return.”

Ensure Smooth Operations

Once an employee has reported their sickness, the next step is to ensure their absence doesn’t disrupt the day’s operations. This may involve redistributing their tasks among other team members or finding a temporary replacement if necessary. Communication is key—inform relevant colleagues of the absence and any temporary changes in responsibilities.

Example: “Team, Alex will be out sick today. We’ll need to cover their tasks for the day. I’ve divided the workload among us to ensure everything is managed. Let’s all support each other to make sure we meet our deadlines.”

Maintain Confidentiality

Respect the privacy of employees by keeping the details of their illness confidential. Share information only with those who need to know to manage the workload and maintain operations. This approach builds trust and ensures that employees feel safe reporting their health issues.

Example: If someone inquires why an employee is absent, a suitable response would be, “Alex is out for personal reasons today. Let’s focus on what we need to accomplish.”

Follow Up

After the employee returns to work, take the opportunity to check in with them. Ask how they are feeling and if they need any support readjusting to work. This follow-up demonstrates continued support and concern for their well-being.

Example: “Welcome back, Alex. How are you feeling? Let us know if there’s anything you need to ease back into work comfortably.”

Promote a Healthy Workplace

Prevention is always better than cure. Encourage a healthy work environment by promoting regular handwashing, providing hand sanitizers, and supporting flu vaccination drives. Additionally, fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable taking sick leave when necessary can prevent the spread of illness and ensure a healthier workforce.

Example: Implement wellness programs and remind employees through internal communications about the importance of staying home when they are sick to protect their colleagues.

Encourage Open Communication

Maintain open lines of communication where employees feel comfortable discussing their health and well-being. This can be facilitated through regular one-on-one check-ins or creating an environment where employees know their health is a priority.

Example: “We understand that everyone gets sick sometimes, and it’s important to us that you take the time you need to recover. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or need adjustments to your workload, let’s talk about it.”

Crafting a thoughtful and supportive email response to an employee calling in sick is essential for fostering a positive workplace culture. Below are three examples of such emails, tailored for different scenarios:

Example 1: Short-term Illness

Subject: Take the Time You Need to Recover

Dear [Employee Name],

I received your message about being unwell and needing to take sick leave. First and foremost, I hope it’s nothing serious and that you’re able to get the rest and care you need to make a quick recovery.

Your health and well-being are our top priority, so please focus on getting better. We’ve got everything covered here, so don’t worry about work right now. [If necessary, add: I’ve assigned your urgent tasks to other team members for the time being.]

If you feel up to it and think you might need more than a day or two to recover, please let us know so we can plan accordingly. And, of course, if there’s anything specific you need from us or any way we can support you during this time, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Wishing you a speedy recovery,

[Your Name]
[Your Position]

Example 2: Extended Illness

Subject: Your Health is Our Priority

Dear [Employee Name],

Thank you for letting us know about your current health situation. I’m truly sorry to hear that you’re going through this and want to extend my sincerest wishes for your recovery.

Please take all the time you need to heal and feel better. There’s absolutely no rush to get back to work until you’re fully ready. Your health should be your top concern right now. [If applicable, add: We can discuss any adjustments or accommodations you need to facilitate your return to work when you’re ready.]

We appreciate you keeping us informed and will ensure that your responsibilities are taken care of in your absence. If you’re open to it, we would like to send you a small care package as a token of our support. Please let me know if that would be okay with you.

Stay strong and get well soon. We’re all rooting for you.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]
[Your Position]

Example 3: Recurrent Short-term Sick Leave

Subject: Supporting Your Well-being

Dear [Employee Name],

I hope this message finds you feeling somewhat better, despite the circumstances. I understand that you’ve needed to take a few sick days recently, and I want to express my concern and support for whatever you’re going through health-wise.

Your health is incredibly important to us, and we want to make sure you have the support you need. Whether it’s adjusting your workload, flexible working hours, or any other accommodations, we’re here to help you manage better and maintain your health.

Please feel free to share how we can best support you during this time, either via email or a meeting at your convenience. And, of course, take all the time you need to recover fully before returning to work.

Looking forward to seeing you back at your best soon.

Best wishes,

[Your Name]
[Your Position]

These email examples are designed to convey empathy, support, and flexibility, helping employees feel valued and supported during calling in sick.


Responding to employees calling in sick with empathy, respect, and efficiency not only supports their recovery but also strengthens the organization’s culture. By establishing clear policies, maintaining operations without stress, and promoting a healthy workplace, businesses can navigate the challenges of sick leave while fostering a supportive and resilient workforce.