Can Employees Be Punished for Calling Out Sick?

Calling in sick too often can cause problems at work.
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While we all need to take a sick day every once in awhile, abusing the privilege can hurt your career. In some cases, calling out sick a lot can simply hurt your chances of a promotion or raise. If your employer gets really frustrated, however, you may find yourself facing an official reprimand, or even losing your job.

Sick Days in 2012

As of 2012, the only state that requires employers to provide paid sick days is Connecticut, although a few cities, such as San Francisco, require local businesses to offer sick leave. If you don't live in a state or city that requires sick leave, the number of sick days that you get depends on your employer's policies.

Sick Days in 2020

Much has changed since 2012, many more states provide for sick leave, and the federal government enacted emergency legislation requiring certain employers -- employers with more than 500 employees are exempt -- to provide paid sick leave. Full-time employees receive 80 hours of sick leave under The Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

States with Paid Sick Leave in 2020

Arizona has earned paid sick time since 2016. California enacted Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act in 2014. Colorado enacted sick leave for employees in July, 2020. In 2018, Maryland enacted the Healthy Working Families act that requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide earned sick and safe leave that is paid at the same wage rate as the employee normally earns and employers with 14 or fewer employees to provide unpaid earned sick and safe leave. Massachusetts has earned sick time since 2014. Maine enacted a law in 2019, that mandates paid sick leave starting January 1, 2021. Michigan, Nevada and New Jersey have paid sick leave acts. As do Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C.

Employer Policies

To find out your employer's policies on sick days and calling into work when you don't feel well, check your employee handbook. Most employers understand that sickness and accidents happen, but you'll still be expected to notify your supervisor promptly if you can't make it to work. Some employers are very specific about the steps you need to take if you won't be in. You may be told to call your supervisor, instead of using email, and you may need to document your illness or injury with a doctor's note if you are out of the office for more than a few days.


If you have a health problem that may result in your taking more time off work than your sick leave allows, you may still be able to save your job. Depending on your condition and your employer's policies, you might be able to arrange to work from home on days that you aren't feeling well. Some employers offer both short and long term disability insurance that allows you to take time off work while retaining your benefits and all or most of your salary. If your employer is subject to the Family Medical Leave Act, you may also have the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work while you are unable to work or are caring for a sick family member.


Many companies have very strict absenteeism rules, so it's important that you fully understand your employer's policies. Failing to show up for work without notifying your supervisor, even just once, is grounds for immediate termination at some companies. Your company may also have rules about what you can or cannot do while on extended sick leave. For example, your company may have a policy that you need to stay local while ill or in recovery from an injury. If you need to travel, you must get permission or provide notification to your employer. If you get fired because you violated work absenteeism policies and your employer has warned you several times about your conduct, you may have difficulty claiming unemployment.

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