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5 Tips for Managing Sick Days as a Freelancer

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Unlike traditional employees, you aren’t allocated a specific number of sick days each year as a freelancer. There are no project managers to communicate with your clients or co-workers to pick up the slack either.

So what should you do when you get sick as a freelancer and don’t have a team of people to back you up?

This isn’t the type of situation you discuss in everyday conversation, so it’s important to plan for sick days before they arrive. I wasn’t sick for over 10 years, but when my immune system finally gave in for a week during the holidays, I was glad I had a plan to keep my business running smoothly.

1. Don’t Feel Guilty

When a client hires you as a freelancer, they automatically absorb the risk of you getting sick during the project. You don’t need to give them a partial refund or feel obligated to compensate them for the inconvenience.

It’s normal for people to get sick on occasion and most clients will understand as long as you keep them well-informed. If you’re going to miss a deadline, you’ll have to adjust the client’s expectations.

In more extreme cases, you could temporarily give the work to a trusted freelancer in your network or pass the work over to the client’s internal team while you’re away. It doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan.

2. Inform Your Clients

If the time comes when you need to take a sick day (or week), be sure to inform all your current clients right away. Tell them you’re unable to work due to illness and that you need to focus on regaining your health. Most importantly, make sure to clearly state that you’ll be making up the work and doing you’re best to leave the overall timeline of the project unaffected.

You can also set up an auto-responder email so that any new prospects are informed that you’re out sick and will respond as soon as possible.

Don’t feel obligated to inform your clients of your recovery progress unless you’re sick for a long period of time. When you start to feel better again, give them an update along with an estimate of when you might resume work.

3. Plan for Recovery

When possible, try to estimate how long you’ll need to recover and how you’ll make up for lost time once you’re healthy again. That can include adjusting payments, deadlines, and other expectations.

If you’re getting paid hourly or weekly, payments shouldn’t be an issue. You can simply move the project timeline back and resume work when you’re healthy again.

If you get paid monthly or on a retainer basis, the client should still pay you for the full month. Again, that’s a risk they took in hiring you as a freelancer. However, some clients may reduce your pay for that month, especially if you signed a contract with them.

That said, you should be able to make up the time without a problem in most cases, so don’t entertain requests to lower payment right away. Wait until the final payment is due and make any necessary adjustments then.

4. Take Time to Rest

It’s important that you make every effort to recover your health quickly. To do that, focus on resting and restoring your health. Don’t waste your physical and mental energy trying to manage the “simple” tasks such as emails or social media. In an effort to be productive, you might actually prolong your recovery cycle.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be eager to get back to work and feel bad about letting your clients down. But it’s important to prioritize your health and any good freelance client will understand your situation. The key is communicating clearly with your clients so they can plan accordingly.

5. Don’t Abuse Sick Days

Perhaps most importantly, don’t abuse your “unlimited” sick day privileges. You should be able to work through a minor cold or seasonal allergy. If you start getting sick late in the week, try to push through and recover during the weekend if possible.

Make every effort to deliver work on time for your clients and only take sick days when you really need to. As a freelancer, you need to decide when to take time off and when to work through a cold. You won’t have a very successful business if you take advantage of “unlimited” sick days.

Make sure you have a contract in place that sets proper expectations for what should happen if the project gets delayed or if someone needs time off unexpectedly.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2023

About Matt Olpinski
I've been freelancing since 2009 and have worked with over 100+ clients including some of the biggest brands in the world. I later started my own company Matthew’s Design Co. and now teaches 50,000+ freelancers each year how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers.