When You Should Call In Sick from Work

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Woman sitting at a desk with a tissue in her hand while on the phone

It’s a problem we’ve all faced: being sick at work but having way too much to do to go home. While you’re up against an ugly meeting schedule and looming deadlines, Kim Moreland, ARNP, UnityPoint Health, wants to help you know when to call in sick and how to easily manage your symptoms, if you decide you’re going to stick out the workday.

When to Call In Sick

It’s not uncommon for employees to suffer through work when they aren’t feeling well. Moreland believes deadlines and finances often cause people to head to the office even when they feel poorly.

“Project deadlines or too much to do are common reasons why employees go to work when they probably shouldn’t,” Moreland says. “Another motivating concern could be they don’t feel like they can afford to not be on the clock.”

But, she says if you have any of the following highly-contagious illnesses, you really should stay home from work or cancel the rest of your workday and head home:

“If possible, it’s best to stay home when you feel like you’re coming down with something, rather than waiting until you know the full severity of an illness. It’s when you first experience symptoms that you’re the most contagious,” Moreland says.

She also says before you end up going to work sick, you should also consider these questions:

  • Am I exposing vulnerable people (young children, elderly, etc.) to illness at work?
  • Can I work in an area where I won’t expose others?
  • Do I feel well enough to actually be productive at work?

Going to Work Sick Tips

If you just can’t justify leaving the office, Moreland gives these easy ways to relieve, or help minimize, your symptoms while at work.

  1. Drink plenty of fluids. Regardless of whether your symptoms are digestive or upper respiratory, making sure you drink plenty of water will help you stay hydrated to feel better faster.
  2. Over-the-counter medications. From headaches to managing fevers, over-the-counter medications, like Tylenol or Motrin, can do wonders to at least help you get through the workday.
  3. Avoid contact with others and common areas. Picking up germs in the office is so easy, between public bathrooms, breakrooms, shared workspaces or keyboards and phones. Try to keep to yourself and your own area, if you’re feeling even a bit under the weather.
  4. Sneeze or cough into your arm. Sneezes and coughs carry germs, and covering your mouth with your hands will only increase the spread. Instead, lean into your arm or shoulder to shield others.
  5. Wash your hands. This almost goes without saying. To protect yourself and your coworkers, wash your hands often – especially before eating or drinking. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.
  6. Adjust your schedule to just essentials. If you have more flexibility and control over your schedule, try and move non-essential meetings to another day. The more you can avoid contact with others, the better for everyone.
  7. Attend meetings remotely. If you have to attend a meeting, try to do so by just calling in. Better yet, if your job allows you to work remotely or from home, do it. There’s no better way to contain your germs than not to go into work at all.

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“Follow employee policy for submitting sick time, but generally speaking, the earlier you say something to your manager, the better, even if you aren’t sure yet if you’ll be out. Don’t wait until the last minute,” Moreland says.

Moreland also offers this final piece of advice. Your employer and coworkers will probably thank you for not showing up when you’re too sick to work.

“You will be back on your feet sooner, if you take the time off of work and other responsibilities to care for yourself when you get sick. Not only will it benefit you, but your coworkers and employer will appreciate it, too.”


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