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When is it OK to go to work sick? - (1/7/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist heard his technician sneeze once, twice, three times. “If you’re sick,” the pharmacist told Jake, “Why didn’t you stay home?” “Who is going to do all this work?” Jake replied,"Jenny is out sick and the mail order stuff needs to be packed. Anyway, I can’t afford to lose a day’s pay. I used up all my sick days on jury duty, remember?”

During the colder months, deciding whether to drag your fevered, queasy body to work is the ultimate conundrum. Go to work and infect everyone else? Or stay at home, and get behind at work? Yes, you could use one of your sick days. But remember that fine August day when you and your buddy played hooky and went to the beach? You even told your boss that your sunburn was a side effect of the cough syrup you took. 

Tomfoolery aside, should you stay home when you are ill? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer some guidance in this regard. For example, do you have a fever? A fever is one of the cardinal signs of a contagious illness. So, if your temperature is 100.5 degrees or higher, then stay in bed. Arriving at work with an elevated temperature is a sure way to bring the entire office down to their knees. The employer should advise all employees to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever has skedaddled without the use of fever-reducing medicines, notably acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.

Harry, in the cubicle next to yours, has been hacking up phlegm all day. “Gotta get this report done for the boss,” he said as he hands you the stapler he borrowed last week. Immediately cover your hands and the stapler in a quart of Lysol®. If one’s cough brings up mucus or other secretions, then stay home. Dry coughs are probably okay, albeit it annoying. For these people, take up a collection to buy your wheezing co-worker a big bag of cough drops. 

Vomiting or diarrhea? No one wants to know about this, let alone experience the sights and sounds of it. Stay home. Lucy is on TV all day, and the Weather Channel is conducive to napping. Plus, there is nothing like your own toilet when you are at your most revolting. Stay hydrated. If these symptoms go on for more than 24 hours, get medical assistance. Earaches are okay at work only if not accompanied by a fever. Sneezing is acceptable if you practice strict germ control, that is, nose-blowing with plenty of Kleenex®, and constant hand washing. If you get the flu, then everyone is going to say, “But didn’t you get a flu shot?” If you did catch influenza and had a million lame reasons why you did not get a shot, keep your germs and humiliation at home.

Sick workers may show up because there is an important meeting. Even though they fear being reprimanded, replaced, or fired, or because they are people who need the paycheck, they do real harm by spreading their illnesses to everyone else in the office. Most employers are sympathetic to the truly infirm worker bee. If you are otherwise punctual, hard-working, and contributes to the team, few will find fault with your absence and will be glad when you return. Conversely, if you have a habit of calling in sick on the Friday before a long weekend, or when the weather is so intoxicating that you do not want to be in a stuffy, windowless office, you may raise a few eyebrows. Do the right thing. Take a vacation day instead. 
Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com


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