Chalk it up to our culture of high productivity, but missing work is one our first concerns when we get sick. Are my symptoms too serious to go into the office? Do I have to take time off the job? Will my coworkers chase me out of the building if they hear me cough one more time? It can be challenging to balance caring for yourself, meeting your responsibilities and guarding the health of your coworkers. We spoke with OhioHealth Family Medicine physician and residency program director Laurie Hommema, MD, to better understand which symptoms mean we’re too sick to work and get tips to care for ourselves and prevent the spread of illness.
1. If you have a fever, stay home.
“Any temperature above 100.4 degrees is a true fever and you should be evaluated,” says Hommema. “It’s time to rest. Stay home, call your primary care physician and drink fluids.”
2. Vomiting and diarrhea are a no-go.
“If you have active vomiting or diarrhea, never go to work,” says Hommema. “Drink plenty of fluids, stick to bland foods that don’t stress your digestive system and get plenty of rest.”
3. Depending on the disease, give treatments time to work.
“Illnesses like strep throat are highly contagious. Your doctor will recommend you take 24 hours away from work to give your antibiotics time to take effect,” says Hommema. “Plus, some diseases like chicken pox, measles, whooping cough and the mumps are on the rise because of lower vaccination rates. If you have any of these, there are fairly strict guidelines for when you can return to work. It’s best to talk it through with your doctor and your boss.”
4. Wear a mask and wash your hands.
“Viral illnesses are spread through coughing and sneezing. If all you have is a cold, but you’re still experiencing those symptoms, consider wearing a mask at work. You can even wear one as a precaution if you’re not sick but working with people who are,” says Hommema. “And always remember to frequently wash your hands. Good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection.”
5. Clean your workspace.
“Some viruses and harmful bacteria can survive for long periods on hard surfaces. Be sure to disinfect handles, keyboards and shared devices like phones,” says Hommema. “You don’t want to reinfect yourself with strep throat because you didn’t wash your coffee cup well enough!”
6. Don’t do more than you should before you’re ready.
“Keep your safety in mind, and the safety of the people you work with. Your doctor might prescribe medications to manage your symptoms, and some medications can affect your ability to do your job, operate machinery or make decisions,” says Hommema. “Discuss it with your physician, and let your supervisors and coworkers know if you need a shift in responsibilities while you recover.”