One morning you awaken with a stuffy nose, your head aches, and your throat is scratchy. You feel your forehead and it’s warm—too warm. The light hurts your eyes. As you try to stand up, your legs seem to be made of rubber. Suddenly it dawns on you—you’re sick!
“Oh no!” you exclaim. “I can’t be sick. I have that important project due today, and a meeting during lunch. I could just take an aspirin and go ahead into work. I’ll probably feel better later. But I feel so lousy now. What shall I do? Shall I call in sick?”
Do you ever feel concerned about calling in sick? Do thoughts of work obligations, project deadlines, and commitments haunt you?
Are you afraid an absence will reflect poorly on you? Do you fear the workforce will collapse if you should miss a day?
Or maybe you’re a part-time worker and you don’t get paid sick days. And with jobs disappearing in today’s economy, you don’t want the boss to think that you’re not totally committed.
Even so, a sick employee generally isn’t a very productive one. What she is, though, is an infectious one who will spread germs to her co-workers, who will in turn be faced with the dilemma of whether to call in sick in the days to come.
Often by coming in sick and infecting others, you could be costing your employer much more than the cost of you alone being absent one or two days. One study suggested that presenteeism (the act of being at work but not engaged for whatever reasons including sickness) can generate a significant financial loss as ill workers perform below their usual levels while often passing on their ailments to their co-workers, which then further negatively impacts productivity.
So be kind to your employer, your co-workers, and to yourself. By staying home and resting, you can heal more efficiently, and recovery will often be quicker.
Here is a list and description of illnesses and symptoms which represent very good reasons for calling in sick to work. Use common sense and good judgment when other problems arise.
1. Stomach Woes: You have diarrhea or you are vomiting. It could be food poisoning or it could be a gastrointestinal infection. The latter is very contagious, so why put your co-workers at risk? It would be advisable to see your physician in order to obtain a diagnosis and to avoid becoming severely dehydrated.
2. Flu: A sudden fever, chills, and achiness usually mean you have the flu. This can run through a workplace like wildfire, taking down everyone in its path by droplet (sneezing and coughing) and touch contamination. You won’t feel up to standing, never mind working, so stay home. With viral infections like flu and colds, you are the most infectious at the beginning of the illness, although in some cases you may be able to transmit germs and viruses to others for a week or longer. Often a few days of rest, fluids, and appropriate medications will set you right more quickly than if you try to accomplish a multitude of tasks at the same time. Don’t hesitate to see your physician if symptoms become serious, such as high fever, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and/or significant pain.
3. Sore throat: This depends on whether your throat hurts a little bit or if you feel as if you’ve been swallowing razor blades. A severe sore throat, especially if you also have a high fever and swollen glands, could mean strep throat, which is quite contagious as well as very painful. Untreated strep throat can lead to ear or sinus infection, tonsil abscess, or inflammation of the kidneys. Rheumatic fever and scarlet fever can also follow a severe strep throat infection. Go to the doctor for a throat culture and wait for the results before returning to work. If you have a positive result, he or she will prescribe an antibiotic and tell you when you can return to work
4. Fever: A fever indicates that your body is trying to fight off an infection. The infection may or may not be contagious or communicable, so don’t take a chance of sharing it with your co-workers. Besides, a fever usually makes you feel pretty miserable, and you won’t be productive anyway. Fever is the body’s method of burning off heat-sensitive germs and viruses. It triggers the immune system into action. It’s best to let the fever run its course, and a fever of 101° to 102° F. is not dangerous. Support your body’s battle by drinking plenty of fluids, conserving the energy your body needs to fight the disease by getting plenty of rest, and eating a light diet. Take fever-lowering medications judiciously.
5. Rash: Until you know the cause of a rash, avoid contact with other people. If you know the reason for the problem, the rash isn’t communicable, and you’re not too uncomfortable, you can probably go to work. Follow your doctor’s advice.
6. Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye): Conjunctivitis is an eye infection or inflammation. Its symptoms can include eye redness or swelling, and you may feel like you have sand in your eye. It can be extremely contagious, so you should not have contact with other people until you’ve visited a doctor. If he or she determines that it is contagious, you will have to use antibiotic eye drops for 24 hours before returning to work.
7. Significant Pain: Even if you have seen your physician and you know the cause of your pain isn’t anything that will endanger your or someone else’s health and well-being, you should consider staying at home. Depending on the severity and type of pain you have, you may have trouble focusing on anything else but your discomfort, which will impact your co-workers as well as your productivity.
8. Common Cold: Whether or not you should call in sick because you have a cold depends on its severity. If you are rapidly emptying boxes of tissues, coughing, and sneezing very frequently, you’ve got a pretty bad cold. You will have trouble concentrating and will likely spread germs to others. If your cold is not that severe and you must go to work, wash your hands frequently, keep your phone and computer germ free by wiping them down with alcohol wipes if others use them, and remember to flush your tissues as opposed to trashing them. If your co-workers keep their distance, don’t be offended.
What symptoms are normally OK to go to work with?
- You are sniffling but don’t have a fever. You could have allergies.
- Your throat tickles or you have a postnasal drip.
- Your ear aches.
- You have a sinus infection.
- You have a dry cough with little or no mucus.
- If you are recovering and are no longer infectious and feel up to it—you should be able to go to work. Tell your colleagues that you are getting better and no longer pose a threat to their good health.
What should I do if my co-worker is exhibiting symptoms but insists on coming to work?
- Avoid direct contact with your ill co-worker.
- Do not use their telephone or workstation.
- Wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer.
- If the symptoms are obviously intense, speak with the co-worker or your supervisor about encouraging medical evaluation.
What can I do to avoid getting sick at work?
- If someone has a cold, don’t shake hands with them or kiss or hug them.
- Wash your hands frequently, employing proper hand washing techniques (plenty of soap and warm water, rubbing your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds—long enough to sing the song “Happy Birthday”).
- Avoid surfaces that may be contaminated—a telephone, desk, stair railing, etc.
- Use hand sanitizer.
- If you haven’t washed your hands or sanitized them after touching a surface you’re not certain about, avoid touching any part of your face.
Best of all, follow the advice of this little nursery rhyme quoted in What the River Knows, 1990.
The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they’ll ease
Your will they’ll mend
And charge you not a shilling.