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Worksite Health

Working Sick: Do or Don't?

You're familiar with the scenario: A coworker in the next cubicle is hacking and sneezing, and you are afraid to breathe for fear of being infected with a nasty bug.

A recent National Public Radio (NPR) survey of people in Florida and Ohio found that about half reported going to work sick because of financial issues but believed they should have stayed at home to recover.

Although working sick may have been deemed a no-no in the past, it's a reality, and people often don't have a choice. Many employers don't offer paid sick days, and therefore, employees are forced to bring their illness to the office or pay the price.

If You Have to Work

If you have to work sick, the best thing you can do to avoid spreading germs is wash your hands. There are germs everywhere. We live in a germy world, and there is no way to ever get rid of all of them, but the most important prevention tactic is washing your hands or using an alcohol-based cleanser regularly.

In addition, sick employees should consider rescheduling meetings, avoid close contact with other individuals or even work from home, if permitted.

Everyone feels that their work is important, but you still have to pay attention to your own health and the health of others around you.

People are most infectious around 24 hours before symptoms of the cold or flu even begin. Washing your hands regularly will prevent those germs from being spread.

Even though you may feel the effects of the illness three to five days later, you are less likely to be infectious. You may feel crummy, but it is less likely you will spread the infection. However, a day or two at home in bed is the best option.

If you are ill and feel so bad that you can't concentrate and do your job to the best of your ability, then you should stay home. Just be reasonable, and if you are lucky enough to have sick days, definitely take advantage of them so that you can get back on your feet in the fastest manner possible.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (8/28/08), a service of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations Communications Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

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Last Reviewed: Sep 14, 2008

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati