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How to decide when to call in sick

How sick am I?

You don’t feel well. But you’re debating on whether to take a sick day. You’re a conscientious employee, so perhaps your devotion to the job usually wins that decision.

You’re not alone: 80 percent of office workers go to work even when they know they’re sick, according to the third annual Flu Season Survey by Staples.

Going to the office when you’re ill is a mistake, says James Zaccaria, an attorney who deals with employee dispute cases and teaches a human resource management course at the University of Phoenix Philadelphia Campus. “Instead of an employer being without one person for a few days, you could start a chain of people who will be missing work,” he says.

Here are four questions to ask yourself when trying to decide if you should call in sick:


Are you contagious?

Simple sniffles aren’t enough reason to take a sick day; you might just have allergies. But if you have a runny nose and a fever, you could be contagious. Aches and pains are also signs that your body is fighting the flu. You need rest to get better, so if you have this symptom, don’t go to work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you’re contagious with the flu a day before symptoms appear and five to seven days afterward. If you go to work during this time, you create a health hazard. “Microbes floating around can become a workplace safety issue if you have a highly contagious disease,” Zaccaria says.

The Staples Flu Season Survey found that more than two-thirds of workers who call in sick return to work when they’re still infectious.


Are you taking medicine with warnings?

If you have to take medicine that may make you drowsy, you shouldn’t be on the job — or driving to the job, for that matter. You can’t function properly at work if your medication impairs your judgment. “You have an obligation to yourself and to your co-workers,” Zaccaria asserts.


Is your cough distracting?

A slight cough that you can cover with a tissue, your sleeve or your elbow is OK at work, but if you have a hacking cough that startles co-workers, then you’re too sick to be there. A cough that produces fluid is another sign that you should call in sick.


Would Mom tell you to stay home?

Use common sense: If you really don’t feel well, don’t push yourself to impress the boss or because you feel obligated to complete your work. Zaccaria advises, “Be your own mom.”

It’s also important to remember that businesses provide paid sick days to protect you and others in the workplace. It’s one of the main reasons many employers have stopped giving awards for attendance, Zaccaria explains. “They don’t want people to come to work sick so they can get a $300 bonus at the end of the year.”

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