Many people face this question when they are sick. From time to time, we all must balance the possibility of lost wages or letting down your co-workers or boss versus calling in sick to work. Here are a few rules to help you make a good decision:

1. Are you contagious? If you have a viral or bacterial illness that you may spread to others, you should stay at home. This is particularly important if you work in the food service industry, the healthcare field, childcare/teaching, or if you work in close proximity to other coworkers or the public. If you are running a fever,  have flu-like symptoms (cough, sore throat, fever, body aches), or have gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting or diarrhea), you should stay at home and avoid transmitting your illness to others.

2. How well can you perform your job while sick? Many people think they need to go to work no matter what because they are vital to their workplace. However, if you are ill, you may not be able to perform your duties adequately and it may be better to just stay at home and let someone else do your job temporarily.

3. Will you get better faster if you stay at home? If you have an illness that requires rest to improve, you should stay at home. Many people will push through and their symptoms may linger for several more days, instead of taking off the first day and improving quicker.

4. Are you taking medications that impair your ability to do your job safely or effectively? If you are taking pain medications or cold medications that may slow your reflexes, going to work may not be a good idea. If you work with heavy equipment or machinery, certain medications can impair your ability to work safely. If you must take these types of medications, you should stay at home until you no longer need them to function effectively.

Finally, if you must go to work, heed these tips to avoid spreading your illness:  

  • Wash your hands often and disinfect work areas (desk, phone, pens, etc.) that others will come in contact with.  

  • Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing or wear a mask if possible.

Lastly, I can’t stress enough, if you are in the food service industry (in the kitchen, as a waiter, etc.) and you have a gastrointestinal illness, you should stay home. Recently, a food handler with infectious Hepatitis A potentially exposed many people at a restaurant in Larimer County. 

Obey the Golden Rule! Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Don’t go to work sick!


Diana Koelliker, MD