When should you call in sick?

If you have a runny nose and it feels inflamed, you may have the most common illness in the United States-the common cold. This condition is included in a group of diseases called Upper Respiratory Infects which affects millions of people each year, causing millions of lost time at work.

Usually, this is a self-limiting condition, lasting three to five days. However, the misery factor can be high, causing not only a runny nose but also a sore throat, a feeling of malaise and a cough. So, the questions is, "Do you drag yourself to work or stay home?"

"If you are going to work when you're feeling ill and this will affect your job performance or the performance of those around you, stay home. You're not doing yourself, your co-workers or the public any good," says Family Practice physician Glenn McCarty, DO, Gundersen Harmony Clinic.

Showing up when you're sick not only lowers your productivity but also impacts those around you. Frequent coughing, sneezing and blowing is distracting, not to mention the potential for spreading germs and viruses. In most cases, your workplace is better off if you stay home when you're sick. In fact, one study found that employees coming to work sick cost employers about $180 billion annually in lost productivity.

"For common illnesses such as the flu, strep throat and other upper respiratory infections, the best thing you can do is stay home for a few days and get plenty of rest," explains Dr. McCarty.

Use this handy chart if you need help deciding when to call in sick:

Sniffles, light cough and/or scratchy throat but not achy or feverish.
 
Go to work
Runny nose, sneezing, tired, body aches and fever. Possible cold or flu.
Stay home
 
If you have a fever, stay home until you’ve been without a fever for 24 hours.
Stay home
 
Ear infections, while not contagious, are usually painful and require medical attention.
Stay home
 
Pinkeye is highly contagious and requires medical attention.
Stay home
 
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
Stay home
 
If you can hold down food
 
Go to work
Headache with sensitivity to noise and light is probably a migraine.
Stay home
 
Sniffles, light cough and/or scratchy throat but not achy or feverish.
  • Go to work
Runny nose, sneezing, tired, body aches and fever. Possible cold or flu.
  • Stay home
If you have a fever, stay home until you’ve been without a fever for 24 hours.
  • Stay home
Ear infections, while not contagious, are usually painful and require medical attention.
  • Stay home
Pinkeye is highly contagious and requires medical attention.
  • Stay home
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Stay home
If you can hold down food
  • Go to work
Headache with sensitivity to noise and light is probably a migraine.
  • Stay home

Dr. McCarty cautions, "If you have to be at work when you're sick, at least take protective measures. First and foremost, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Spread of viruses that cause upper respiratory infections occurs most commonly from touching someone with hands contaminated with the virus. The victim then touches themselves, especially around the nose and eyes, allowing the virus to multiply."

Remember, if you have the common cold, get plenty of rest and fluids, wash your hands and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.

Did you know?
Viruses that cause the common cold can survive for at least two hours on the human skin. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, and avoid contact with others.
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