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Too sick to work?

How to know when to use a sick day.

You climb out of bed to get ready for work. You know you have a busy day ahead of you, yet you feel terrible. You dread the thought of calling in sick. But in your condition, you're not sure you will be much use if you do show up to work.

It isn't always easy to know when to stay home sick from work. As a dedicated employee, you want to be on the job at all times. But if you're sick, you may do more harm than good in your workplace. For example, you could spread your illness to others and cause them to miss work later.

To work or not to work

Sometimes it's best to take one for the team and call in sick.

"If you are too sick to be productive or you are contagious, you should stay home," says James King, MD, past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

If you have symptoms such as sudden onset of fever with a cough or sore throat, it's usually a sign that you should stay home from work.

"A fever lets you know you are probably contagious, and coughing makes it extremely easy to spread your illness," Dr. King says.

Two common contagious diseases that can keep you home from work are colds and the flu. Both colds and the flu are easily passed from person to person by coughing and sneezing.

With the flu, you may be able to infect co-workers before you even know you are sick. The flu can be passed on to others one day before you experience symptoms and up to seven days after you get sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you don't have symptoms such as fever and coughing, it may be all right to go to work.

"It's OK to work if you have no fever and your symptoms are mild and not disruptive in the workplace," Dr. King says.

If you're unsure if you should work when you aren't feeling well, it's usually best to err on the side of caution.

"When in doubt, stay home for 24 hours," Dr. King says. "Symptoms will usually develop to the point where you are more sure of what you should do."

Avoiding illness in the workplace

By staying home when you are sick, you can do your part to prevent the spread of illness in your workplace. But you also have to be careful not to get infected by others at work.

Along with staying home when you're sick, Dr. King and CDC say you can help prevent the spread of illness in your workplace if you:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs are often spread when you touch a contaminated object and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Use a disinfectant to clean your desk, computer, telephone and other hard surfaces in your workplace.
  • Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and follow a healthy diet.

For more information, visit the Colds and Flu health topic centers.

reviewed 6/3/2019

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