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Is Showing Up to Work Sick Ever a Good Idea?


The short answer: No. But if you live in the U.S., where employers aren’t required to offer paid sick leave, you might have to load up on non-drowsy meds and deal with it.


We’re nearing the end of flu season, but anyone can get sick year-round. So how do you handle “presenteeism” with a full-time job? You’ve probably heard “you should stay home, and get better” from a manager. As hard as you try to convince yourself they mean it, deep down you know there is an unspoken rule that you will be at the office the next morning, for better or worse.


Even in the instances where companies require a doctor’s note for paid sick leave, they may not directly tell employees not to take the time they need to get well, but are definitely discouraging them from it. Last year a photo was posted to Reddit showing a doctor’s note for someone whose company required it to explain an absenteeism. The note looks a little sketchy and I question its validity, but the content alone makes for some very logical points. A doctor’s job is to save lives, not write sick notes for managers who don’t trust their employees when they’re sick.


Paid sick days are an emerging perk in many companies, but for the hourly workers where that isn’t an option, you’re expected to push through and hope you have a day off soon to recover. Even those servers and kitchen staff members where you eat get sick. Do you want someone handling your food who has had a fever for the last 24 hours? Probably not. It could be costing the company or establishment more than they know.


Germs can spread like wildfire in offices, attacking immune systems, and it only takes one person to offer up the first cough to put everyone at risk. Employees who are sick are less likely to participate in discussions, have creative ideas, and are definitely not at their best. Ever tried to lead a meeting after taking a dose of codeine cough syrup? If you can even remember how it went, it probably wasn’t your best work.


Taking precautions like disinfecting common areas in the office and offering to pay for flu shots for employees who want them are a great way to lower the risk of spreading sickness around. If it is absolutely necessary for an employee to work while sick, allowing them to work from home is the best way to guard against spreading illness.


Ultimately, employees will bounce back more quickly and be able to focus properly on the tasks at hand if they are given the time off they need to get well. We should support our fellow employees’ well-being and instead of giving them grief for taking a day or two off, we should praise them for taking care of themselves first. And everyone in the office will thank them for not being this season’s Typhoid Mary.


Last Updated: March 4, 2016
About the author

Cally Martin

Callan is a social media loving, blog writing, event planning freelancer who believes in the power of the oxford comma. Originally from America’s high-five (Michigan), she’s been in Austin since 2015 and doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon. When not attached to WiFi, she can be found running around the lake or drinking mimosas at brunch.