The reporters on the morning news earlier this week were discussing how the flu season this year is worse than expected. It was also the first time I’ve heard a report of doctors admitting that the flu vaccination “may not protect against the virus.” My husband and I have been fighting off one thing or another since December and relief is nowhere in sight. It seems that as soon as one of us begins to show signs of improvement, one or both of us is exposed to more nastiness and we find ourselves feverish and miserable all over again. The time I had off from work over the holidays had me feeling wonderful, but after coming back to this building on January 2nd to an office half filled with sick and sweaty people, the both of us are as miserable as ever.
We are sick for the typical reasons that people get sick; contamination from the air and surfaces has invaded our bodies and taken hold. It’s hard to avoid, as we can’t exactly lock ourselves and our son away from the germy world in an attempt to stay healthy. We do what we can when out in public by washing our hands, using hand sanitizer, cleaning shopping carts, avoiding cashiers who wipe their nose or cough into their hands, among other avoidance and sanitation techniques. We take vitamins and begin cold remedies at the first sign of danger, along with getting extra sleep and ensuring we’re nicely bundled at night. Unfortunately, all the preventative measures in the world don’t do much good when you’re stuck in the office with a person whose nose won’t stop running as they hack and cough all day long.
On January 2nd, person A came into the office with a cough that wouldn’t quit and a nose that was literally running down their face. Person B sounded as though they were about to spit out pieces of their lungs onto their keyboard. Person C had cold sweats and would alternate between being ice cold to being as hot as the sun every half hour or so. Person D was sneezing uncontrollably. The list goes on, and when you have symptomatic people in a confined office space, the germs are bound to spread far and wide. The simplest and easiest solution seems to be that those who aren’t well should stay home and rest until the storm passes and they are fit to be around their coworkers.
I’m lucky enough to earn both paid sick leave and vacation leave that accrues every minute I am present for duty. That leave allows me to stay home when needed so I can rest up, get well, and not infect my fellow coworkers. I understand that not everyone is that lucky, which results in having to tough it out and head to work against your better judgment in order to avoid a reduction in pay or possible termination for missing too many days. In cases like this where missing a day to nurse a fever can result in serious financial damage, I find it hard to fault a sick person for going to work while ill and running the risk of getting fellow coworkers or customers sick as well.
When you have the resources I have and are able to stay home when sick, you need to take advantage and go get some rest. Trying to save up your sick leave for a future four day weekend is both an improper use of the system and a disservice to your coworkers. The whole point of giving employees sick leave is so they can use it for days when they are under the weather or need to see a doctor. I know jobs are important and certain tasks can’t wait, but it’s not worth spreading your illness around the entire office simply because you don’t want to burn through leave time or because you wanted some extra time on a project. When it can be used, it should be used.
By coming to work sick, you are not only jeopardizing your own well-being, you’re exposing unwilling individuals to an illness they no doubt want to avoid at all costs. It’s the reason a particular illness will be present in the workplace for so long; it is passed along from person to person, creating a never ending cycle because not enough people will bite the bullet and take a day off to recover. It’s unfair to those of us who are considerate enough to keep our distance when sick and properly utilize the sick leave program that is in place for this very purpose. When you work in a place like I do, there is no “I can’t” when it comes to taking sick leave. There is only “I don’t want to” or “I don’t think I need to.”
With certain illnesses such as pink eye or strep throat, it’s a given that the infected person must remain home and away from others as to not spread the illness around. Why should it be any different when the illness in question happens to be a nasty stomach bug or a hacking cough? It’s great that you want to tough it out and drag yourself to work, but is it worth doing if you’re going to end up getting a handful of people sick by doing so? Are you going to be pleased when those newly sick people pass the illness right back to you once you’ve recovered?
If you CAN stay away, please stay away! Most employers will be more than understanding, as well as appreciative that you chose to keep your germs to yourself rather than share them with the entire workplace. If you can’t afford to stay home for an entire day, at least go see a doctor or hit a walk-in clinic to get some medicine to get yourself in suitable form for work. But if you have the option and the means to take that personal day, please do so. Put the good of the entire workplace first for a moment and keep your distance. If you’re important enough for your absence to be crippling, you likely have the ability to telework in some fashion and should take advantage. The person who is home on Tuesday and falls slightly behind on their duties will always win over the person who got their entire team sick just so they could submit their report right on time.