What Can Your Boss Ask When You Call in Sick?

Calling in sick is something everyone experiences from time to time. Typically, it is a straightforward interaction. Your boss may say they hope you feel better, or simply ask when you plan to return to the office. Occasionally, however, employees find themselves working for employers or managers who want to know more. Depending on the circumstances of your illness, you may or may not feel comfortable disclosing further information.

What Are Your Employee Rights Regarding Sick Days?

In the state of California, the law states that employees are entitled to paid sick days at a rate of no less than one hour per 30 hours worked. This begins after the employee has worked at a business for more than 90 days, though managers can allow sick days in advance at their discretion. Different companies have different policies regarding unpaid sick days or sick leave.

What you are legally required to tell your employer about the circumstances of your sick days is less clear. The subject is a gray area for many employees, but the laws in California clear up some of the questions. Your employer is allowed to ask you why you are taking a sick day, including asking the nature of your ailment.

However, asking questions about illnesses covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not permissible. These illnesses include a wide array of conditions that impair walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, or breathing. For example, an epileptic individual who has had a seizure does not have to disclose the details of his or her reasons for taking a sick day, while someone with a common cold or flu does need to disclose their illness. That is because common ailments that are not chronic or personal in nature do not have protection under an act like the ADA.

What Are Your Employer’s Rights Regarding Sick Days?

In the case of employer’s rights surrounding sick days, there is a chasm between what is lawful and what is common sense behavior. Laws allow your employer to ask why you are taking a sick day, as well as the general details of your illness. He or she may ask you to produce a doctor’s note, particularly if you are taking more than one day of sick leave.

However, there are ways in which some employers abuse this leeway. For example, if an employee tells an inquiring manager his or her reason for a sick day is due to an ADA-protected illness, the employer should not ask more questions. Also, an employer can require an employee to have a note from the doctor to prove an illness that could be cured with care at home, such as a cold or mild flu. This is why an employer should use common sense and discretion when inquiring about an employee’s sick day.

What to Do When You Take a Sick Day

The next time you wake up ill, the best practice is to call in immediately and request a sick day. It is up to you whether you choose to disclose brief details upfront. If your employer asks, you should provide general details, unless your illness is protected by the ADA. If you do suffer from an ADA-protected illness, it is appropriate to respond to your employer that you have a disability protected under the ADA and do not wish to discuss details. If an employer does not respect privacy or harasses a worker for claiming sick days, it is up to the employee to take the issue to HR or, in serious cases, take legal action. Taking sick days can be stressful, but with clarity on the laws in your state, you can approach the situation the right way.