When Do You Feel Too Sick to Go to Work?

by AJ Pettersen · 9 comments

I have been battling a stuffy nose and a sore throat for the last week, but it takes a severe sickness to cause a missed “work” day because I play professional baseball. Even if I am unable to play, I am required to go to the field to see the trainer. This sickness wasn’t nearly bad enough to keep me from work, but what if it had been? At what point is staying home better than going to work?

Workplace Environment

Viruses can spread through the workplace very easily. This is especially true in jobs with common areas and a lot of interaction. Schools are a good example of a setting where sickness spreads extremely quickly. Teachers are typically advised to stay home if they are sick. Even if you feel as though you are plenty healthy to go to work, you need to keep your coworkers in mind. If you could spread a sickness to them, you are doing everyone a disservice.

My fiancé is a nurse, and the job requires her to walk a fine line when it comes to sickness. When she is ill she needs to decide between going to work to help patients and staying home to prevent spreading sickness to those with weak immune systems. This is always kept in mind when she isn’t feeling 100 percent.

At the baseball field we are expected to perform each day. While we may spread sickness to teammates, being there to help the team win is of utmost importance. There are obvious exceptions to this, but minor sicknesses cannot keep us from playing in a game.

What is your environment like at work? Are you expected to come to work no matter what? Or is it better you stay at home with a minor illness?

How Are You Paid?

The way your pay is structured will factor into your decision to go to work or stay home. This has been evident for my fiancé as a nurse. She is paid by the hour, so if she misses work for sickness she isn’t paid for the day. She works 36 hours a week, which means she loses one third of a week’s pay every time we decides to call in sick. The lost pay is significant, and the lost dollars factor into her decision to work or stay at home.

On the other hand, many other jobs are paid by salary. My brother works as a manager for the Target Corporation. If he is too sick to work he doesn’t lose pay, though his work tends to pile up. This means he usually has to make up the time he missed on other days. He has to be smart about which days he takes off.

How Do You Make Your Decision?

There are a number of things that factor into the decision to stay home or go to work because of an illness. How do you decide? Do your workplace environment or pay structure influence your decision? What else factors in your choice?

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  • JC says:

    Spent 10 years as a salaried employee with ample sick days and rarely took them unless I was miserable, til they gave me teh ability to work from home when I was sick, and then I took them much more often but would usually spend 1/3 to 1/2 of the day working from home. Once I started doing contract work, being sick got really expensive (though I’ll still take off if I need to). Even taking 30 minutes off to run to a fast food place for lunch would ultimately cost $35-40, so I usually skip lunch unless I desperately need a break. But contracting still comes out ahead of salary… and the flexibility is lovely.

  • Dave Bernard says:

    It is unfortunate that many jobs are so demanding that the thought of taking a sick day can be stressful. Often we are doing the job of more than one person and missing a single day will put us behind for the rest of the week. I know in the sales arena that if you are not working you are not selling and your quota does not make adjustments for away days. But if you are truly feeling lousy – especially if you have a fever – going to work puts your fellow employees at risk of becoming sick as well. It might help to remember how you last felt when a co-worker came into the office sneezing, sniffling, and feeling bad. I bet you wish they had stayed home!

  • Lee says:

    Part of my day is spent in an office, & part of my day is spent visiting clients & members (of our nonprofit). They still want/expect some face to face time & to have a personal connection. If they’re sick, most will tell me & not expect/want to see me that day.
    My bigger issue is my health. I’ve lived w/ chronic pain for 15 yrs now. Need daily meds & regular chiro & med appt’s & medical massages. Usually average 1-2 appts/wk, but during bad times can get to 3-4 appts/wk. B/c of my flexibility, it’s usually OK. But my production/efficiency suffers.

  • Emma says:

    I rarely ever get sick. Maybe once a year, so when I do get sick, I relish it and stay home from work as long as I can. I hate it when people come to work with their germs and complain about how miserable they feel when they have sick leave they can use. Sometimes, it’s good just to say no and take care of yourself. The work will be there when you return.

  • Justin @ The Family Finances says:

    I work in an office environment. I’ve been lucky enough (knock on wood) to hardly ever be sick. But I have co-workers that come into work sick all the time, and they usually end up passing it on to other people in the office. I know some people don’t feel like they can afford to miss work, but a lot of times the company or department as a whole would be better off if those sick people would just stay home for a day rather than infect everyone else.

  • Financial Advice for Young Professionals says:

    You bring up some good points. I work in a cubicle environment and I feel bad about missing work, but it seems like people are always getting sick around me. It’s easy to tell everyone to stay home if they get sick, but I think as long as you feel well enough to work, most people will still come in.

    I don’t think it will ever happen in the US, but in Japan, when people get sick, they wear protective masks in public(on the subway, at work, etc) to prevent infecting others. Wow! haha

  • KM says:

    I work in an environment where no one else can take over for me if I am gone, but I might also have a possibility to work from home if I am well enough to work, but don’t want to spread sickness. However, we have been so busy lately that I have been sick for almost two weeks now and only missed one day because I had a fever and felt utterly terrible. I would love to work from home more, even when I am not sick, but it has lately been frowned upon unless you absolutely have to. I am luckier than most though, so I keep that in mind as well when I call in sick.

  • Jean says:

    I usually stayed home when I had a severe cold or fever. When I’d have stomach issues, depending on the seriousness, I’d stay home. If it was something that could be tackled with suppresants, I would go and maybe ask for an early leave if it got too bad while over there.


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