Home HealthConditions and Diseases Getting Sick: When to Stay Home from Work and When to Tough it Out

Getting Sick: When to Stay Home from Work and When to Tough it Out

by Jennifer Mattern
When should you stay home sick?
When should you stay home sick?

Credit: BigStockPhoto.com

You wake up one morning and you don’t quite feel like yourself. You think you might be coming down with something. Is it just a cold? The flu? Strep? A stomach virus? Or are you perhaps just sleep-deprived and not feeling your best? You have to make a decision, either to go to work or call in sick. If you’re contagious you could put your co-workers at risk and hurt productivity in the workplace. If you’re not, you could still work and not get behind on things you’ll have to catch up on later.

What should you do? Go to work or stay home? Here are some signs that it might be a better idea to call in sick rather than potentially affecting others with your illness.

Reasons You Should Probably Stay Home From Work

  1. You can’t do your job. For example, if your illness requires you to take medication, will that medication affect your ability to work? If you’re a delivery driver and you’re on medication that makes you drowsy, it could be unsafe to drive. You might put yourself as well as others at risk.
  2. Going to work might make you sicker. If you don’t rest at all to get well, you could become sicker and be out of work even longer. That’s not good for your company. And if you don’t get paid sick leave, it’s not good for you either. Losing one day’s pay would be preferable to several. Based on a report cited on MedicineNet.com, a 2006 study by the Society for Human Resources Management showed that around a third of companies don’t offer any paid sick time. So the temptation to get back on your feet is understandable. Just know that it might make things worse.
  3. You’re contagious. In some cases you’ll know you’re contagious. For example, if you see a doctor and find out you have strep throat they’ll probably give you antibiotics. And for the first 24 – 48 hours after starting the antibiotic regimen, you can still be contagious. In that case, you know to stay home from work so you don’t infect others. Sometimes you won’t know you’re contagious though, so it’s best to take general precautions if you do go to work (some of which we’ll discuss below).
Don't spread illness in the workplace.

Don't spread illness in the workplace. - Credit: BigStockPhoto.com

Cold or Flu?

Many workers get colds during the fall and winter months. And they don’t consider it a good enough reason to stay home from work. But cold symptoms and flu symptoms can be very similar. And in the latter case, it’s very important to stay home rather than passing the flu virus around among your co-workers. Here are some symptoms of the flu according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that can separate it from the common cold. If you have these symptoms in addition to traditional cold-like symptoms, it might be a good idea to stay home and get well before going back to work.

  1. Fever
  2. Body aches
  3. Extreme tiredness
  4. A dry cough

If you do still go to work with a cold or other respiratory illness, there are some things you can do to help prevent the spread of that illness. For example, you should:

  1. Avoid close contact with others.
  2. Wash your hands frequently throughout the day.
  3. Don’t touch your mouth or nose, especially with a respiratory illness.
  4. Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.

No matter how tempting it might be to go to work to clear up projects or get paid, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to do that and you’re better off staying home. Remember, it isn’t just about you. If you’re contagious or your illness or medications make you unable to do your job safely, you could also be a risk to others. When in doubt, take a sick day and see your doctor for an official diagnosis and treatment recommendation.

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