Are You Too Sick to Work?

With all the current news regarding a bad flu season, it's more important now than ever that employees know when to stay home from work. While that scratchy throat and runny nose could just be a case of allergies, it could also be a sign of something worse. Here is a good guideline that will help you determine whether you should call in sick.


1. Fever. This one is just common sense. A fever is the body's way of dealing with a more serious problem and is often the sign of an infectious disease. Any temperature above 100.3 degrees is considered a fever. You should take special care when a fever is accompanied by body aches, sore throat, runny nose, cough, and fatigue, as these could be signs of the flu. Once the fever has broken, most people can return to work within 24 to 48 hours.

2. Severe colds. Colds are most contagious within the first two days that symptoms begin to show themselves. So when you drag yourself into work with that stuffy head and runny nose, you risk infecting all your co-workers. If you absolutely must go to work, take extra caution. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough as not infect others. Be sure to wash your hands often or use hand sanitizers.

3. Conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is more commonly known as pinkeye. It's a bacterial infection that causes eye redness and itching, burning, and swelling of the eyelids. This is usually accompanied by a discharge of the eye that may be yellow or green. Pinkeye is highly contagious and is passed along through the discharge from the eye when an infected person rubs their eyes and then touches something. Though it is a bacterial infection, conjunctivitis can be treated with anti-bacterial eye drops and most are able to return to work within 24 to 48 hours of treatment.


4. Stomach ailments. A mild case of indigestion or sour stomach usually isn't cause for alarm. However, vomiting and diarrhea, especially when accompanied by a fever, could be a contagious stomach virus. If you choose to go into work, you could be putting your co-workers at risk.

5. Other considerations. Even if you aren't suffering from any of the maladies on this list you may still have reason to take a sick day. Use good judgment. If you are feeling so bad that your work productivity may suffer, causing you to make costly mistakes, it may be a good decision to take a day off and rest. You should also consider calling in if you are taking any medication that may impair your ability to operate a vehicle, or other strenuous activity. In some cases like these, coming into work may end up costing your company more in losses than if you would have just stayed home.


If you're dealing with some minor sinus issues -- nasal congestion, facial pressure or headaches -- then chances are you can go to work without any concern as long as you feel like it won't interfere and don't have a fever. An over-the-counter decongestant may provide some relief and help you get through your day. The same goes for mild stomach irritations such as acid reflux, indigestion, or sour stomach. However if you are experiencing severe diarrhea or vomiting, accompanied by a fever, skip the milk of magnesia and go see a doctor.



Most people hesitate to call in sick to work because they don't want to risk looking like a liability or fear disappointing their superiors. However, you may be doing your employer more of a favor than you realize by calling in.

"The biggest problem is when a person comes to work sick and others in that same department catch it -- if there are only three of you in a small, though important, department and you're all away, it's a concern," stated Tania Hall, an employee of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, in an interview with Careerbuilder.com.

In situations like this, it costs the company less if one employee stays home to recover, than risk the entire department becoming ill and having to call out. This is especially true in cases where it is possible for the employee to do some work from home such as answering or returning phone calls, responding to emails, and updating data spreadsheets.

A recent report by CBS news stated that 48 percent of employers have claimed that "presenteeism", or the act of coming into work sick, has been a problem for them. Out of these employers, 68 percent choose to send their employees home and 36 percent are working to dissuade employees from coming in sick at all. Many consider "presenteeism" to be a bigger problem than absenteeism.


Use good judgment when making the decision about calling in sick to work. Ask yourself some important questions. Is what I have potentially contagious? Will I benefit from a day of rest? Can I properly complete my duties while I feel this way? Is there anything I can offer to do from home that can still benefit my company and co-workers?

If you do decide to call in, try to allow adequate time for your employer to find a replacement for the day or offer to call around and find someone to take your shift for you. Ask if it is possible for you to telecommute for the day, if your job duties involve duties that can be done from your home. Be sure to follow all of your doctor's instructions carefully, in order to insure a speedy recovery and safe return to the office.

If you must go into work, try and limit your contact with as many people as possible. Be sure to practice good hygiene, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer often. Be considerate of those around you and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and properly dispose of all hankies or tissues. Your employer and co-workers will thank you.