arbitrary guidelines

The Rules for Calling in Sick When You’re Actually Hung-over

Photo: Patricia Curi/Corbis

A British police chief recently went public with his frustration over employees “throwing sickies to recover from hangovers,” or in American English, calling in sick because they got blasted last night. Being hung-over is, of course, a type of sickness — physical sickness, involving puke and pain — but it is also self-inflicted. Thus etiquette forbids us to equate hang-overs with contagious diseases and other HR-approved ailments.

Of course, if you are truly hung-over, there is simply no way you’re going to work. You’re puking too frequently to commute; you can barely focus your eyes. You are physically incapable of performing your job — and yes, it’s your own fault, and yes, you should really stop doing this — so right now, right this second, what are you going to do? Walk a police beat while dry-heaving? Sometimes you need a bogus sick day. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. These are the three cardinal rules for calling in sick when you’re actually hung-over:

1. Do Not Speak of the Hang-over.

This is the most important rule, and it is necessary for two reasons: first, plausible deniability. Second, politeness to those more responsible than you are. They all refrained from partying their faces off last night so they could be here today, doing their work. Now your selfishness means they’ll be forced to work overtime to pick up your slack, effectively punishing them for their responsible behavior. And chances are they know you’re not sick. They saw you yesterday; they know you weren’t “coming down with something.” Maybe they saw you switching into your party shoes before you left the office; maybe they saw a stray photo on Instagram. (Delete those before you call in.) But as long as nobody says “hang-over,” you can ignore the drunk elephant of immaturity lurking in the room.

2. Do Not Lie About the Hang-over.

When “throwing sickies” for illicit reasons — hang-overs, playing hooky, emotional distress, just needing a day to chill — you may feel tempted to invent an excuse. Do not give in to this temptation. Using your annual allotment of sick days, one at a time, over the course of a year, is allowed. Lying to your boss is not allowed. So when you are too hung-over to work, just say, “I’m using a sick day.” Do not elaborate. Do not invent a “24-hour bug,” “crippling migraine,” or “food poisoning from leftover tacos.” Your excuses will sound fake, because they are fake. If your boss questions your sick day (she won’t) refer perhaps to being “physically sick” (you are) and leave it at that (but she won’t ask, so don’t even worry about it). Out of respect to the actually sick people of the world, you must not engage in sickness appropriation. Take a sick day, then shut up.

If you work in a place that requires doctor’s notes when ill, quit your job because that’s fascism. If you can’t quit your job, you’ll have to flop on over to the nearest CVS Minute Clinic to waste a co-pay on “dehydration.”

3. Never Use a Sick Day After Drinking With Co-workers.

No matter how visibly and shamefully drunk you were at last night’s good-bye party for Gladys from accounting, you must not take the next day off. Not even if you’re coughing up beer cans. Not even if you’re vomiting blood. When you booze with co-workers, you lose all plausible deniability, which means taking a sick day off now is the rudest of all “sickie” offenses. If you take this day off, you will be spitting directly into the faces of those noble martyrs who came to work today in spite of their headaches. Or who deprived themselves of alcohol in the name of responsibility. If you call in sick the day after drinking with co-workers, you will be the skunk at the party, the shame of the water cooler, the guy nobody invites to happy hour ever again. Even if nobody says “hang-over” out loud, some drunk elephants are too large to ignore.

And worst of all, if you throw a sickie after co-worker boozing, your boss will find out. Such is the fate, it seems, of the sickie-throwing cops of the Essex police department: “There is a group — a small group, but a group nonetheless — abusing the process. If they can’t get time off, they take it sick. If they have a heavy night, on occasions they are taking days off,” the police chief said, likely setting off a series of knowing nods from cops who are sick-to-death of covering for drunks. “Every time someone throws a sickie they are letting their mates down, they are letting the community down. And the only people who suffer are their friends who then have to pick up their workload.” Even the police union “agreed that sickness had got out of hand” (but they argued that stress relief, not punitive action, was needed). Once acknowledged, hang-over sick days will never again be allowed to slide. Taking hang-over sickies is like pretending to believe in Santa well into your teens for gift-abuse purposes: If you speak of the truth, acknowledge the truth, or enter a situation in which the truth cannot be ignored, then the jig is up.

You definitely shouldn’t write a blog post about using sick days for hang-overs. But if you do, be prepared to avoid eye contact with your boss for the rest of the day.

The Rules for Calling in Sick When Hung-over