How do I know if I’m too sick to work?
Are you having troublesome symptoms like runny nose, fever, headache, coughing, or sore throat? Maybe you have back pain or a sinus infection and are wondering if you’re too sick to go to work or school. How can you decide whether you or your child is better off trying to work (or go to school) or taking a sick day?
First and foremost, consider whether you are putting yourself or others at risk if you go to work. You’re putting others at risk if you or your children have a contagious illness (more on that later). You’re putting yourself at risk if the symptoms of your condition, or the side effects of medication, could cause you to have an accident on the job, injure others, or produce devastating mistakes in your work product. Putting anyone in harm’s way is a clear reason to stay home.
Obviously going to work when you or your children can make others ill is not a good idea. Regarding contagious illnesses, many school systems have a “fever rule.” Any child who is out sick must be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school. This rule is designed to keep those with contagious illnesses away from others, and it is likely a good way to ensure that kids with the flu, strep throat, or other serious infections don’t spread the germs to others. Applying the fever rule will only work in certain situations, however. What about infections that may easily spread to others but don’t necessarily cause a fever? Contagious conditions that don’t cause fever include:
Instead of just considering fever, it’s prudent to consider your symptoms and if you’re unsure, err on the side of sparing your coworkers and call in sick or work from home. Remember that some people (who could be your coworkers), such as those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, those who have chronic conditions, and pregnant women may be particularly vulnerable to complications if they catch your illness.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2016
Are You Too Sick to Work?
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler’s educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles “Pat” Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.