A nurse wearing a pink uniform holding a cell phone.

How Early Should You Call in Sick as a Nurse?

As a nurse, it is important to know when to call in sick to ensure the safety and well-being of both yourself and your patients. While the specific timing may vary depending on your workplace policies and individual circumstances, it is generally recommended to notify your employer and colleagues as soon as possible. This allows for adequate time to make necessary staffing adjustments and ensure continuity of patient care.

Understanding Your Obligations

As a nurse, you have certain obligations to your workplace and patients. It is vital to understand these obligations and how they relate to calling in sick.

Clear Policies

Before calling in sick, familiarize yourself with your workplace’s policies regarding sick leave. These policies should outline the procedure for notifying your employer and any documentation requirements. Familiarizing yourself with these policies will help you understand what is expected of you when calling in sick.


Nurses have a responsibility to provide safe and quality care to their patients. If you are too sick to perform your duties effectively or if your illness poses a risk to patient safety, it is crucial to call in sick. This demonstrates accountability and professionalism in prioritizing patient well-being.

Patient Safety and Care

When deciding whether to call in sick, consider the potential impact on patient safety and care. If your illness could compromise your ability to provide safe and effective care, it is essential to prioritize the well-being of your patients and stay home.

When To Call In Sick

Here are some guidelines for different types of illnesses:

Non-Contagious Illnesses

If you are experiencing a non-contagious illness that does not impair your ability to perform your duties safely, it may be appropriate to work while taking necessary precautions (such as wearing a mask or practicing good hand hygiene). However, if your symptoms are severe or significantly affect your ability to concentrate or provide quality care, it is best to call in sick.

Contagious Illnesses

If you have a contagious illness, it is crucial to stay home to prevent spreading the infection to patients and colleagues. Common contagious illnesses among nurses include influenza, gastroenteritis, and respiratory infections. Notify your employer as soon as possible to allow for proper staffing adjustments and minimize the risk of transmission.

Mental Health Days

Mental health is just as important as physical health. If you are experiencing significant emotional distress or mental health issues, it may be necessary to take a mental health day. Mental health days can help prevent burnout and ensure you are in the right state of mind to provide optimal care to your patients.

What Happens When You Call in Sick

Understanding what happens when you call in sick can alleviate concerns and help you navigate the process more effectively.

Staffing Adjustments

When you call in sick, your employer will make staffing adjustments to ensure adequate coverage. This may involve asking other nurses to work additional shifts or calling in per diem or agency nurses. By providing early notice, you enable your employer to make these adjustments smoothly.

Patient Reassignments

Depending on your patient load and acuity, your employer may need to reassign your patients to other nurses. Providing early notice allows for proper patient reassignments, ensuring continuity of care and minimizing any disruptions or delays in treatment.

Tips for Calling in Sick as a Nurse

Here are some tips to help you navigate the process of calling in sick:

Communicating Effectively

When calling in sick, communicate clearly and professionally with your employer. Clearly state your name, position, and the reason for your absence. Be concise and specific about your symptoms and how they affect your ability to work.

Providing Necessary Information

Provide any necessary information, such as the expected duration of your absence or any upcoming shifts you may need to reschedule. This helps your employer plan for the staffing adjustments and ensures that your absence is properly recorded.

Taking Care of Yourself

Remember to prioritize your own health and well-being. Take the time to rest, recover, and seek appropriate medical attention if needed. Self-care is essential for nurses to maintain their physical and mental health, allowing them to provide the best possible care to their patients.


Q: Is it better to call in sick or go to work and risk getting others sick?
It is always better to call in sick if you are experiencing symptoms that could potentially put your patients and colleagues at risk of getting sick. Prioritizing patient safety is essential, and staying home when you are contagious helps prevent the spread of illness.

Q: What if I have a chronic illness and frequently need to call in sick?
If you have a chronic illness that causes you to frequently call in sick, it is important to follow your workplace’s policies and procedures for managing your condition. This may involve providing medical documentation, working with your healthcare provider to manage your symptoms, and communicating effectively with your employer.

Q: How do I handle the workload when I have to call in sick?
When you have to call in sick, it is important to communicate with your colleagues and employer to ensure that your workload is properly managed. This may involve redistributing tasks or temporarily reassigning patients to other nurses. Effective communication and teamwork are key in ensuring continuity of care.

Q: Can I use sick leave for non-illness related reasons?
Sick leave is typically intended for illness-related absences. However, some workplaces may allow the use of sick leave for other reasons, such as medical appointments or mental health days. Familiarize yourself with your workplace’s policies regarding the use of sick leave for non-illness related reasons.

Q: What if I feel guilty about calling in sick and leaving my colleagues with extra work?
It is natural to feel guilty about leaving your colleagues with extra work. However, prioritizing your own health and well-being is essential for providing optimal care to your patients. Remember that calling in sick when necessary is a responsible and professional decision that helps maintain patient safety and care.

Q: Should I mention my specific symptoms when calling in sick?
It is helpful to mention your specific symptoms when calling in sick, especially if they could potentially put patients or colleagues at risk. This information allows your employer to make informed decisions about staffing adjustments and patient reassignments.

Q: What if I have used up all my sick leave and need to call in sick?
If you have used up all your sick leave and need to call in sick, communicate with your employer about your situation. They may have alternative options available, such as using vacation time or unpaid leave. It is important to follow your workplace’s policies and procedures for managing absences.

Q: What if I suspect my illness is work-related?
If you suspect that your illness is work-related, you should report it to your employer and follow your workplace’s policies for addressing occupational health concerns. This allows your employer to investigate and take appropriate measures to prevent future incidents.

Q: Can I be disciplined for calling in sick?
Disciplinary actions for calling in sick should only occur if there is a pattern of abuse or if you violate your workplace’s policies regarding sick leave. As long as you follow the appropriate procedures and provide necessary documentation, calling in sick should not result in disciplinary action.

Q: What if I am unsure whether I should call in sick or not?
If you are unsure whether you should call in sick, it is best to err on the side of caution and prioritize patient safety. Consult with your healthcare provider if needed and consider how your illness may impact your ability to provide safe and effective care. If in doubt, it is better to stay home and seek medical advice.