Can You Get Fired for Calling in Sick?


On average, workers in private industry are entitled to 7-8 days of paid sick leave a year.

Despite these entitlements, however, many workers are afraid to take sick leave for fear their boss will disapprove.

If you’re feeling unwell and your workplace doesn’t have a tolerant attitude toward sick leave, you may even be wondering whether you can be fired for calling in sick.

Read on as we look at the rules surrounding calling in sick.

Can You Be Fired for Calling in Sick?

The laws on when employers can and cannot fire employees vary significantly from state to state.

If you live in an “at will” employment state, employers and employees are entitled to terminate a contract of employment at any time, for any reason. Therefore, an employer in one of these states may indeed fire you for calling in sick.

By default, all states have these rules. However, many states have protections in place that prevent employers from dismissing their workers too easily.

If you have concerns, find out what the applicable rules are in your own state. 

Important Laws

There are a number of pieces of legislation that offer protection to sick workers. The federal government set out some of these, while others come from state governments.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

This Act entitles workers to 12 weeks sick leave in 12 months under certain circumstances. These include:

  • The employee having to care for a new child 
  • The employee suffering a serious illness
  • The employee having to care for a relative suffering a serious illness

Parameters are set out for what constitutes a “serious illness.” It is usually required that the sufferer be incapacitated for a considerable length of time.

Only employers with more than 50 employees have to abide by the rules of the FMLA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

This law prevents employers from discriminating against those with disabilities. This will therefore only be relevant in your case if you have a recognized disability.

State Laws

As mentioned, some states take more careful measures than others to protect against unfair dismissal. Look up the relevant statutes in your state to learn more.

What to Do If You Feel Unwell

If you’re worried that you may get fired for calling in sick, but you’re simply too unwell to work, there are certain steps you can take to mitigate the risk.

The first and most important is to let your employer know you will be absent in plenty of time. You are much less likely to get in trouble if you call or email ahead than if you’re a “no call, no show.”

If you live in New York and you’ve fallen ill or sustained an injury while working, you may be entitled to workers comp.

Take the Time You Need to Recover

While you might worry about being fired for calling in sick, you need to consider your welfare and the health of those around you. If you truly feel unwell, you need to communicate this to your employer and remain at home.

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