Is it OK to call in sick with a common cold?

Its that time of year when we or someone around us is likely to be coughing and sniffling and if you’re like me, you only have to be within a mile of them to catch it.

For some people the common cold can be little more than an irritation but for others they can be knocked off their feet for a day or two. So what about work, is it ok to call in sick when lurgy strikes?

When I worked in an open plan office some years ago, colleagues used to complain if someone came in with a cold and the boss nearly always urged them to go home. Even if you felt just a bit under the weather and didn’t feel poorly enough to justify spending the day under the duvet, you were sent home. But what is the right thing to do, should you call in sick or simply go into work accepting that you’ll maybe not be “firing on all cylinders”?

Colds are everywhere - on the bus, the train, where you grab your coffee on the go, everywhere, which is probably why we don’t always consider them a virus and quite a nasty one in some cases and why we often feel guilty if we stay at home when we’ve “just got a cold”.

So what should you do if you are unlucky enough to catch a heavy cold this winter? Before you declare yourself fit for work, as a nanny you should consider that babies and young children are vulnerable groups and could potentially become serious ill if they were to catch your “common cold”. Doing the work that you do, we would always advise that you call in sick even if you don’t feel too unwell.

That said, we’re fully aware that this advice won’t sit well with some. It’s become almost commonplace now to see people in work when they are ill and should be at home, and the reason more often than not is a fear of what their employer can / may do.

Please don’t feel obliged to work when you are sick but make sure you comply fully with the agreed notification process. Employers are more likely to become upset with you if you only tell them 5 minutes before you are due to start your shift than if it’s the second or third cold you’ve caught this year.

As an employee you can take time off work if you are sick and self-certify your absence. You are however required to provide a fit note from your GP as proof of sickness if you are unfit for work for more than 7 days in a row. This includes weekends / bank holidays and non-working days.

A word to the wise, we are aware that some employers suggest that their nanny takes annual leave when they are sick. Please do not agree to this. An employer cannot force you to do this and should not suggest it.

Many nannies when off sick receive statutory sick pay only. How you are paid during sickness absence must be clearly specified in your contract of employment. An informative website on how Statutory Sick Pay works is In short, you get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. You need to qualify for SSP and have been off work sick for 4 or more days in a row (including non-working days). You cannot get less than the statutory amount. You can get more if your employer has a sick pay scheme (or ‘occupational scheme’) - check your employment contract.

One question we are often asked is “Can I get sacked for calling in sick with 'just a cold'? The quick answer is no you cannot. However, if your sickness absence is high; you’ve had a considerable amount of sick leave over a period of time, your employer may carry out a sickness absence /attendance review in line with the sickness absence clause in the employment contract or separate Sickness Absence Policy if they have one. Sickness absence should be monitored while promoting accountability and should be supportive. However, a poor sickness record and insufficient evidence of genuine sickness episodes can result in disciplinary action. Some people wrongly believe that you cannot be dismissed due to sickness absence….. you can.

Sickness absence, monitoring and issuing sanctions up to and including dismissal can be a complex issue and must be handled carefully. More detailed information and advice on this subject should it arise is available to BAPN members on request.

However, this is not the topic here.

The answer to the question “Is it OK to call in sick with a common cold?” is YES and you should.


Telephone: 01332 239388



Registered Office: Suite 1, 39 Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7JN

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