Am I Too Sick To Go To Work?


With winter comes the holidays, the snow, hot chocolate, and flu season.  In a typical year, five to twenty percent of people in the United States will get the seasonal flu.  When our time comes to be among that group of Americans, the questions will start: Should I call in today?  If you have paid sick days, the answer may be easier than if you don’t, but it still isn’t always fun to miss work.

So when should you miss work?  Much of the information from this article came from three separate sources –, WebMD, and  They have lots of great advice on warning signs that say you should miss work.  Summarizing their points comes down to these reasons when you should miss work:

  • Severe symptoms are an obvious red flag. A fever over 100.3, uncontrollable coughing, vomiting, or diarrhea are good signs to not come to work.
  • The beginning of your illness is when you’re most contagious, so that’s the time to keep from spreading it. If you’re feeling a little sick one evening then wake up feeling under the weather, that’s a good time to take a day off.  That helps solve a few problems:
    • While it’s the season of sharing, your co-workers should appreciate that you keep your germs at home.
    • Rest is good and may cut down on your time needed to recover
    • It prevents you from running into the problem of being sicker than you think you are, going to work, and then getting caught there unable to do your work due to the illness.
  • Some workplaces are better than others when you’re sick, so consider the availability of restrooms, tissues, and hand sanitizer when thinking about coming to work. Also consider the people in your proximity.  If you’re going to be around a lot of people, serving them food, or working with a population that doesn’t do well with illness like kids or elderly populations, don’t go to work.
  • If you aren’t going to be able to work because of the illness or the medications to treat the illness. Antihistamines and pain medication are two considerations here, if you’re going to fall asleep driving or be too foggy to give proper service, a day in bed may be best.
  • If you’ve been sick several days and aren’t getting better, staying home to rest may be your only real option and getting rid of a nagging illness.
  • If you have something highly contagious, like strep throat or pink eye, stay home!

Obviously calling in can be difficult for reasons other than losing hours.  Co-workers may complain about how you not working increases their workload, might not believe that you’re really sick, or you may irritate a supervisor who has to find a way to cover the shift.  Keep in mind some general rules of etiquette –

  1. Know the standard protocol for calling in before you get sick. Know who the person to talk to is, know when you should let them know, and know what is expected of you if you do.
  2. Call in as early as possible to give maximum time for your work to be covered if necessary.
  3. Don’t grumble about other people missing when they’re sick, leaving you with extra work. Remember that sooner or later we all get sick and have to miss work and so having a supportive work environment where people pitch in to cover for those who miss work will benefit everyone.

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