How Sick Is Too Sick for Work? A Medical Professional Weighs In

A new survey shows 90 percent of employees go to work sick. Here's what a medical expert has to say.

man sick at office

It's cold and flu season, so chances are that there will be at least a few days this winter when you have to stay home from work and battle a bug. But, faced with job insecurity, a demanding workload, and pressure from employers, many people choose to come into work even if they're under the weather. In fact, a new survey by management consulting company Robert Half recently revealed that as many as 90 percent of employees come to work sick. Which begs the question: How sick is too sick for work?

According to Daniel Atkinson, clinical director of the online pharmacy, if you've just got a cough or the sniffles, it's probably safe to come to work, since it could just be allergies. But if you have any symptoms of the flu, you should call in sick. "If you have a fever, it's probably best that you stay at home," Atkinson told Best Life. "Stay away from your workplace for at least two days if you're suffering from flu-like symptoms, as it can be highly contagious and lead to further workplace absences."

With the flu, Atkinson says that you're "likely to be contagious from the first day that your symptoms begin," but you can be infectious for up to a whole week. With a cold, on the other hand, "you're most contagious before symptoms arrive," and you'll continue to be contagious for as long as two weeks, although "the symptoms are much less severe than they are with flu."

To avoid getting the flu or spreading it around, Atkinson recommends getting a flu shot, of course, as well as washing your hands thoroughly, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when you're in a shared workspace. You should also make sure you cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands immediately afterwards.

Atkinson also points out that the flu isn't the only reason to stay home from work, either. "Vomiting and/or diarrhea should usually prompt time off work too," he said. "It could be related to food you've eaten, some kind of infection you've caught from someone else, pregnancy-related, or excess alcohol. Whatever the cause, you should stay at home."

And, according to Atkinson, "those who work with food need to stay off work for 48 hours after the symptoms have cleared."

As you rest up away from work, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and get some rest, as trying to soldier through an illness might only prolong it. Remember, as important as work is, there's nothing more important than your health and the health of your coworkers.

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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