Sick days: When it’s worth calling in and when it’s best to tough it out
By Lara Krupicka For Sun-Times Media May 6, 2013 10:06PM
Post-nasal drip, particularly at this time of year, is often allergy-related, not the sign of a contagious disease. In that case, going to work is not a problem. If you do contract a cold, experts say go ahead and work, but beware of keeping your germs to yourself. | File photo | Sun-Times Media
Guidelines for Common Illnesses
- Strep Throat: stay home until at least 24 hours after you have begun treatment (antibiotics)
- Influenza: remain at home until you are fever-free at least 24 hours
- Pertussis: don’t return to work until you have received 5 days of treatments
- Fever over 100 degrees: return to work once the fever has been gone for 24 hours
- Acute gastroenteritis: stay home until your symptoms have disappeared
(according to Mary Anderson, Edward Hospital’s infection control manager)
Updated: May 7, 2013 1:20PM
You wake up with a scratchy throat, aches and chills, and what feels like a fever. But you immediately think of the tasks awaiting you at your job. Would it be worth calling in sick? Wouldn’t it be better to tough it out?
According to a 2007 survey by the Centers for Disease Control, Americans miss an average of four days of work each year due to illness. But that doesn’t account for the number of days people spend on the job while feeling under the weather.
Knowing when to call in sick can be difficult. If you stayed home every time you came down with a cold or endured a headache, your job would suffer. But taking your germs to work can also pose a risk to your co-workers.
“It can really be a conundrum for people,” said Mary Anderson, infection control manager at Edward Hospital. “We do feel like we have to push through. You need to consider your co-workers and customers. There are probably people around you in your workplace who have chronic health conditions or issues with immune suppression that you could really hurt if you spread the wrong germ to them.”
Experts agree on two reasons for staying home from work when you are sick: to give yourself the rest and treatment to recover, and to prevent the spread of infection to others.
But not all illnesses are equal. A headache without a fever poses no threat to others and can be treated easily enough to allow a person to function on the job. Any significant fever, on the other hand, is a concern.
“Anything greater than 100 — that’s an absolute to stay home,” explained Dr. Michael Fitzgerald, family practice physician with DuPage Medical Group in Naperville. “With a fever greater than 100, you have a contagion. We don’t want an infected person spreading it to their co-worker.”
Fitzgerald points out that aches and post-nasal drip, particularly at this time of year, are often allergy-related, not a contagious disease. In that case, going to work is not a problem. If you do contract a cold, go ahead and work, but beware of keeping your germs to yourself.
As Anderson advised, “It’s fine to be at work with a cold. Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. Make sure you have disinfectant wipes and keep surfaces clean.”
And don’t forget to cover a cough with the inside of your elbow — not a hand.
Linda Sondgeroth, past president of the DuPage Society of Human Resource Management, noted that with companies running leaner staffs, any absentee time can be a hardship on the business. If you worry about your employer’s response to you calling in sick, review the company sick-leave policy.
“Employers have sick-leave policies to help protect the employee. If one person stays home with the flu, then the whole office doesn’t have it the next week,” Sondgeroth said,
While you may be concerned about falling behind in your work, remember you will recover more quickly by resting and taking care of yourself. In addition, gauge how productive you would be if you tried to work while ill. If your situation allows, you could always work shorter hours from home while you recover.
If you are still concerned, check with your physician. “If there is doubt, stay home. Call your physician,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re always happy to offer absentee notes.”
Then your doctor can be the one to decide whether your sickness warrants missing any more work. And that might make you feel better already.