Can our employer make us call in every day we are sick?

Question:

There is a flu bug going around our office, and my coworkers and I have all gotten it. Our employee handbook says we have to call in every day we are going to be out sick, by the time we're supposed to be at work in the morning. We feel like we are being treated like children. Someone who has a high fever and can barely get out of bed one day is not going to be miraculously fine to work the next! We think they should just trust us to let them know when we are feeling better and planning to return. Can they require us to follow this picky rule?

Answer:

The answer is yes, for the most part. Employers can usually create their own rules around employees taking time off from work. They can ask you to schedule vacation weeks in advance, require you to fill out a form when you want PTO, and make you call in every day you are out sick.

In fact, many employers have adopted this type of policy, as a way to discourage employees from misusing sick time. What seems like mistrust and paternalism to you might seem like sensible management to your company. For run-of-the-mill brief illnesses, your employer's policy is probably perfectly legal.

There are some situations, however, when a policy like this might be illegal. For example, if an employee is taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the law limits how often the employer can ask for updates on the employee's status and plans to return to work. Similarly, if an employee is off work due to a disability, requiring daily check-ins might not be permitted.

A few states, including California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, have also passed paid sick leave laws that might address how often your employer can require you to check in when using sick leave. A handful of cities have passed similar laws. For more information, see our page on time off and leave.

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