Now that cold and flu season is here, the office is bound to be punctuated by the sounds of coughing and sniffling. And when you hear your coworker in the next cubicle over blow his nose for the 26th time that day, you probably start wishing he had just stayed home.
Doctors and public health experts often state that staying home when you are sick is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the germs that cause illness, but many workers are reluctant to do that on a regular basis. Whether it stems from a fear of falling behind or concern about the impression that it makes with the boss, many people opt to tough it out instead of calling in sick. There are times, though, that you absolutely need to call in sick and stay home instead of going to work.
1. You Have Gastrointestinal Illness
If you are dealing with gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, going to work is simply a bad idea. Not only are you likely to be unproductive if you are running to the bathroom every few minutes, your co-workers don’t want to be exposed to any aspect of your illness. Viruses that cause gastrointestinal illness can live for days and are easily spread through physical contact with infected surfaces. Between not feeling well, and the possibility of getting everyone else in the office sick, it’s best to just stay home until you feel better.
2. Flu-Like Symptoms
Influenza is another illness that spreads easily via direct contact with the airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing; these droplets can also land on shared surfaces such as door handles, phones, keyboards and other office equipment. For most people, the flu means a few days of feeling absolutely miserable, but it can be deadly for those with compromised immune systems, certain chronic diseases and the elderly or small children. Therefore, if you have the symptoms of the flu, including fever, fatigue, cough, sore throat, headache and muscle aches, stay home. Better yet, see a doctor as soon as possible for an official diagnosis and possible treatment that can shorten the duration of the illness.
3. You Have a Contagious Illness
The flu isn’t the only contagious illness that should keep you home for a day or two to recover. Other minor but very contagious illnesses are reason to call in sick. For example, if you have symptoms of strep throat, which include fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and redness of the throat and tonsils (sometimes with white patches), you should stay home and call your doctor right away. Strep is highly contagious, but it can be quickly cured with a course of antibiotics. In fact, most people feel better and are no longer contagious within 24 to 36 hours of beginning antibiotic treatment.
Conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, is another minor-but-contagious illness that calls for a sick day or two. The viruses that cause pinkeye are easily spread between people, not to mention, the discharge and discomfort from the illness can make it hard to work. Again, it’s best to see a doctor and get treatment and then return to work.
4. Certain Coughs
You know it’s annoying to listen to your co-workers cough all day, so why would you do it to others? If you simply cannot stop coughing, or your cough is productive and/or painful, it’s going to disrupt your work and everyone else’s day. Not to mention, if you do have a more serious illness, the droplets you’re coughing up can spread germs. See a doctor if your cough is ongoing or if you are short of breath or wheezing. You may have a more serious illness that needs treatment.
5. Contagious Rashes
Not all rashes are a reason to stay home from work, unless you are so uncomfortable that you can’t concentrate due to the discomfort. However, if you have an unexplained rash, especially one that is accompanied by pain, swelling, blistering, peeling skin, fever or other symptoms, it’s best to stay home and see a doctor. Staying home is also a good idea if you have a rash after being exposed to someone with a contagious rash, like your child.
So what happens if you don’t have any of these symptoms, but you still don’t feel well? In that case, consider the type of work you do, who you work with and the resources available to you. If you work in a small office, and don’t encounter the public and have access to a bathroom and handwashing facilities close by, you can probably head to work if you just feel under the weather. If you work with the public, though, or have contact with people who may be immunocompromised, and there’s a good chance you can infect others, then just stay home. Losing a day or two of work is not going to be a problem in the long run, especially if you have to pick up the slack when half of your co-workers are out with the cold that you brought in.