Being Sick

by Sharlyn Lauby on December 21, 2009

Several of my blogging colleagues have written about the flu and going to work sick.  You can read a couple of them here and here.  But, that’s not the focus of today’s post.  I’d like to think any reasonably intelligent human being understands if they’re sick and/or contagious, they should not go to work.  No matter what time of year.  It just seems logical.

So when I hear reports of people going to work and coughing / hacking / sneezing / wheezing all over their co-workers and office surroundings…I think, something is terribly wrong.  The question is…what is it?  Why would people subject themselves to being at work when they’re miserable (and make everyone around them miserable)?  So far, I’ve only come up with two reasons:

No sick pay benefits. I realize many companies have restructured their benefit packages in light of economic times.  Hopefully that doesn’t mean they eliminated an employee sick benefit. That would be pretty stupid. Or maybe they’ve never offered a sick pay benefit in the first place.  But this is something organizations should evaluate…is it cheaper to pay sick benefits or subject a whole office to germs and the resulting downtime?  Hate to say it, but there’s a reason the Obama administration is looking to legislate sick pay benefits .

Fear of losing their job. This sounds completely senseless, but I hear a lot of people say they’re afraid to take a sick day because they might lose their job.  Personally, I can’t imagine any manager saying “Get your germ infested, runny nose self into work or else, you’re fired.”  But I guess anything is possible (see: “That would be pretty stupid” above).

And seriously, I do realize there are workaholic types out there who attempt to drag themselves into work even when they don’t feel well…on some levels, I’m one of them.  But when I’m truly sick.  I’m sick.  And I’m smart enough to understand I will get better faster if I stay home and rest.  And, I won’t tick off my fellow co-workers by getting them sick.

Make sure your employees understand their health is important and encourage them to take proper care of themselves.  In the end, it benefits them and the company.

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Shennee December 21, 2009 at 8:35 am

You hit the nail on the head with this one! Both of my answers were the same as yours. I have been on both sides of this situation. If you are sick, please do not spread your germs to me and the rest of your co-workers. Part-timers almost never have a sick-pay benefit.
It really comes down to common sense.. I really think the overall cost is far greater if the entire staff falls ill from sickness. Productivity, attendance, and morale are all affected.
Now where is the lysol, and that hand sanitizer?

hr bartender December 21, 2009 at 8:42 am

Thanks for the comment, Shennee.

Jeff Harbert December 21, 2009 at 10:07 am

I recently worked at a company where attendance was factored into your annual review. Four sick days took a full point off your performance scale, which went from 0-5. This scale essentially reflected what kind of raise you’d get. So, take sick days, get a smaller raise.

Tammy Colson December 21, 2009 at 11:31 am

I have worked for more than one organization that was loath to provide sick pay benefits, or even acknowledge that employees were actually sick. On more than one occasion I heard the statement “well, if you are puking all over the place, I SUPPOSE I can let you go home, but are you sure you can’t stay?”

With attitudes that create situations like tying employee performance reviews to sick days, and making it a financial or career hardship if an employee or child come down with an illness, its no wonder unions exist (not a fan, btw), nor that the Administration is looking at mandatory sick pay.

This is particularly prevalent in smaller and/or industrial companies.

Common sense does not prevail.
Pass that hand sanitizer, please.
I feel a rant coming on.

Rich DeMatteo December 21, 2009 at 6:19 pm

A great option for employers is to allow employees to work from home when sick. Many times someone doesn’t feel sick enough to stay home, but they do bring harmful germs into the work place. Also, maybe the company just uses a PTO bank, and they’d rather not take a sick day since they are planning on going to Jamaica for a week in November.

Allowing employees to work from home is one strong solution. Making sure employees are safe falls under the responsibility of the employer – that includes protecting them from other sick employees.

Obviously not all organizations can make this a viable option, but when it makes sense it does work.

hr bartender December 22, 2009 at 8:46 am

@Jeff I can see where if employees are abusing sick benefits and not getting their work completed, it gets addressed via coaching and possibly included in a performance review. But it’s possible the star sales person gets strep throat, is out for 4 days, and gets hit on their increase. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right. Your thoughts?

@Tammy I totally agree. Employers cannot expect to treat employees badly and reap the benefits of a high performing workforce.

@Rick Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve actually done that in cases when I’ve had ankle surgery. I could think clearly…but it was a challenge to get around the office.

Jane December 30, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Unfortunately, I have worked for far too many companies that insisted that employees come to work unless they were in the hospital and, even as a member of management, I was expected to be at work unless in the hospital.

At one service organization I worked at, I had the flu for 7 days and saw the dr. 3 times because of the nature of the illness, I was questioned upon return as to why I was out so long, I told them I was glad to produce a physcians certification at which point they backed off.

The problem is that I have experienced many employees who claimed illness when they weren’t ill and took off work every chance they could. It is those employees who create doubt for those who have legitimate illnesses.

hr bartender December 31, 2009 at 11:55 am

Jane – thanks for commenting. I think your point about employees feigning illness is valid.

In my experience, I’ve seen two situations. The first is when employees have sick children and they need to stay at home with them (because they can’t go to school.) If possible, we’ve tried to give those employees home assignments so they could be productive. Or we built into our sick benefit that your child’s illness was acceptable to receive the benefit.

The other is when employees simply want to go to the beach instead of working. I found paid-time-off to be very helpful in these situations. Employees have to plan, giving the company the opportunity to find another way of getting work done.

Granted, it’s still possible there will be employees that fake the system…but hopefully the number will not be significant.

Jane December 31, 2009 at 12:13 pm

PTO is exactly what I influenced management at one company to implement and it worked wonderfully. However, another company was unionized and we could not negotiate PTO.

latf44 January 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm

is it legal for me to lose my only day off for the week because i was out sick one day?

Jane January 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

That all depends, are you hourly or salaried? Do you have a floating day off? Did the illness occur on your day off? Do you have either an employment contract or a union contract? It might be legal, it all depends…

latf44 January 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I am hourley paid our work sched is for a week,most of the time a get the same day off. I was sick yesterday but worked the lunch rush then I came home I called this morning to say Id be out today manager said we thought that so we covered your shift and you will work your day off this week. now this just happend with someone else her shift was not covered nor did she lose her day off. we do the same job and get paid the same,shes the managers grandchild, out of about 18 employees 10 are all kin and it not there company just store manager hired all the family she could will everyone else get the shalft please let me no my rights thanks so much

latf44 January 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm

need a response thank you

hr bartender January 26, 2010 at 1:57 pm

@latf44 – thanks for the question and sorry for not replying. I actually thought Jane’s point, there are so many factors that go into answering this type of situation, was the best response. I recently wrote about it in the post Asking (and Answering) Questions.

Please do check out the post. I hope it gives you some guidance regarding your specific issue.

joe March 18, 2010 at 7:59 am

I’ve got one for you. We DO get sick days. it’s a Union job. We have guys that come to work sick, because they’re saving the sick days for another date, to increase thier vacaction time. What rights do I have as being a healthy, and wanting to stay that way, employee?

hr bartender March 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Hi Joe. Thanks for the comment. I’d suggest you take a look at your collective bargaining agreement for more information. Hopefully it will offer some guidance.

Jessi June 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I’m actually suffering from this at the moment. I felt sick on Friday so I went home early, then sucked it up and came back to work Monday and today. However, I’m still feeling horrible due to a mild cold mixed with food poisoning. Obviously I want to go home, but I have only been working at this current job for a little over 4 months, so I haven’t accrued Paid Time Off yet (not til a year). So it’s either take off for a second time and lose even more money, or suck it up and just spend most of my time running to the bathroom. :/

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