keep your flu out of the office

We’re now in the season of coughing and sneezing coworkers, and in offices around the country, people are irately wondering why their contagious coworkers chose to come in to work and risk infecting other people. If you have a cold or flu this winter, give some thought to your colleagues, and make sure that you’re not cavalierly spreading germs around your workplace. Here are seven steps that will help keep you from becoming your office’s Patient Zero.

1. Stay home if you’re contagious. You might be tempted to drag yourself into work to show that you’re not felled by minor sicknesses, but this is no time to play the hero. No one else will want you there, and most people will be actively annoyed that you’ve come in. Sure, you might not want to use up a sick day, especially if your employer puts them in the same pot as vacation days, but that’s outweighed by other people’s interest in not being exposed to your germs and getting sick themselves.

2. Don’t come in hoping to be sent home. Some people make an appearance at work, hoping that their manager will spot their red nose and watery eyes and take pity on them, ordering to go home to bed. If you’re sick enough that you’re hoping for this, you’re sick enough to stay home in the first place and not risk infecting the people you work with.

3. If your employer doesn’t give sick time or discourages you from using sick time for legitimate illnesses, consider advocating for a policy change. Point out that this practice results in employees coming to work sick and making other employees sick – as well as customers, if you work directly with them. And there’s safety in numbers, so consider speaking up as a group.

4. If you must come in, take steps to quarantine yourself. If you’re forced to come in to work because of a project that can’t wait or by your employer’s policies, be thoughtful about what you can do to avoid spreading germs to your coworker. For instance, is there an empty office or other private area you can work from? If you already have your own office, can you stay inside with the shut door? In addition, make sure to limit your interactions with others, warn people not to come too close, wash your hands frequently and wipe down your keyboard, phone, and workspace with disinfecting wipes. (Better yet, can you work from home? If you can work from somewhere without other people around, do.)

5. Be understanding of sick colleagues if they are forced by your employer’s policies to come to work sick. It’s tempting to shun or shame colleagues who are spreading germs around your workplace, but if they’re there because your employer doesn’t give them any choice, then remember that they aren’t the culprit – your employer’s policies are to blame. This is all the more reason to consider speaking up about the ramifications for your workplace’s policies, like we talked about above. And be generous with your tissues!

6. If you’re a manager, make it clear that you don’t want sick people at work. Send people home if they come in obviously ill, don’t penalize people for using sick days, and set a good example by staying home yourself when you’re ill. If people see you dragging yourself in when you’re sick, they’ll assume that you expect them to do the same.

7. Consider getting a flu shot, if you can do so safely. Even if you don’t mind risking the flu, you might have coworkers who are immunocompromised or who are around people who are. They’ll be grateful if you take steps to avoid exposing them to germs that might be much more serious for them than they are for you.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    I got Influenza this year – the first case my doctor had seen this season. It sucks. It really sucks.

    If you don’t have it, get the shot if you’re medically able to. If you think you might, see a doctor. While Tamiflu only takes off a few days of recovery, it takes off the *worst* days of the recovery.

    If you’re an employer, don’t be a jackass about this. It’s real, it sucks and you don’t want it around your office. If you’re an employee and you can take the days off do so. If you can’t, you have my complete sympathies.

    1. GL*

      It’s especially important to get the flu shot this year because this strain of H1N1 that’s going around is killing healthy people in their twenties and thirties. The flu shot does NOT give you the flu.

      (P.S. Influenza = the flu.)

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, get the shot! I missed it at work because I was too busy and I paid the price. Don’t be me, it sucks!

        1. DeMinimis*

          My workplace [a health clinic] is also recommending that people get Tamiflu if they are exposed to someone with the flu, even if those people already got a flu shot.

          My mom works part-time and has had co-workers come in with flu symptoms and wearing masks. That’s just irresponsible, and I’m not sure if it’s their fault, the employer’s, or both.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I had H1N1 two years ago and I literally thought I was going to die. I left work at 9am, went to urgent care by noon, got tamiflu and gatorade, and went to bed. I woke up that night in a state of delirium and thought about going to the emergency room but we had a big snowstorm and the streets weren’t passable. I had to butt-scoot down my stairs to get the gatorade from downstairs, and literally crawled back up to bed in an agonizing crawl that took about 20 minutes.

        I was so delirious with the fever and really thought I was going to die – I actually called my parents just to say I loved them because I thought I might not survive the night.

        It was terrible.

        And then every day I was out my boss was like “really? you’re out again.”

        Yeah, because even if I could muster the energy to stand up, I really want to spread this around the office.

        1. Stephanie*


          I got H1N1 during the outbreak in 2009(?) and I’m generally pretty healthy. I just remember my eyeballs being sore. My eyeballs. I “lucked out” and caught it over a long weekend and only ended up missing two days of work. But I remember the weekend being hell. I was in bed for about four days.

        2. ChristineSW*

          OMG Katie, that sounds really scary! I’ve read that H1N1 is a real beast. Probably makes the flu that I had 1997 seem like nothing.

        3. Eric*

          This story has made me SO glad to work where I work. I was out for six days with the worst case of strep throat I’ve ever had, and my boss barely batted an eye.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            It was just this one guy, who took bizarre pride in never getting sick or taking sick leave. I didn’t really care. Firing a federal employee is so much paperwork and I had the medical documentation to back it up. :)

            1. louise*

              It might have been worth getting *him* sick. Someone who prides themselves in never getting sick needs a good round of the flu now and again to remind them of their privilege…

              1. Ruffingit*

                Agreed. I remember back in 2000 (one of the worst years of my life) I got a new job in January. I was supposed to start on a Monday. Sunday afternoon I was hit with the worst flu I ever had. It was horrible. Being the young and stupid person I was, I didn’t want to call in sick on Day 1 of new job. So, I went in. I sat in the chair literally shaking with the chills while also feeling hot and exhausted. Usual fun flu stuff. I survived the day though I don’t know how. I took Tuesday/Wednesday off. One of my co-workers was snarky about my taking time off when I’d just started…until the next week when she was out with the flu and then she knew exactly how bad it was.

                Karma, party of one.

        4. Ruffingit*

          Oh man, that sounds awful. My mother told me that when she was around 7/8 months pregnant with me, she got a flu that was so horrid, she could barely move off the couch. Her fever was so high that when my father came home and touched her forehead, he pulled his hand away quickly, it was that hot.

          I told her that when they say you’re cooking a baby, that is not what they mean ;) Pretty sure that fever explains a lot of my problems. LOL!

      3. Jamie*

        I used to be afraid of the shots – not the needle but I bought the idea that it would get me sick, or that there are so many strains it wouldn’t help. But since I started about 5 years ago I have only gotten the flu once, the year I forgot to get my shot.

        I also get the pneumonia shot, because I’m really susceptible – and that one leaves my arm sore for 2 weeks, but it works.

        I am now a believer – big fan of flu shots.

              1. Jamie*

                I still appreicate the idea and will ask my doctor next year.

                The flu shot never bothered me, but the pneumonia shot leaves my arm swollen and sore for a couple of weeks. First few days I can’t even raise it over my head – it feels like there should be a horrible contusion, but there’s no discoloration – just pain.

                Still preferable to pneumonia though – just curious as to what they put in that thing.

                1. Windchime*

                  One of my kids had to have the pneumonia shot after he was hospitalized with a nasty case of it when he was 5. That’s another terrible illness….he was so sick.

                2. Elizabeth*

                  For both the flu & pneumonia shots, if you take a Tylenol tablet about 30 to 60 minutes before getting the shot, it can help suppress the immune response that causes the icky feeling (and thus the “the flu shot gave me the flu!” BS).

                  Also, make sure your healthcare provider knows that you have problems post-immunization. They can change how they give the shot to reduce the inflammation, along with having you ice the injection site.

                3. Phyllis*

                  You have to take pneumonia shot annually? I thought it was a one-time vaccine. I wanted to get it because I’ve had pneumonia about 4 times, but my Dr. told me not before I’m 65. So that’s 2 more years.

    2. Joey*

      Shot wasn’t so good this year according to my doc. My toddler was one of many who got in despite a flu shot.

      And with my decision to try a high deductible plan this year tamiflu isn’t cheap.

      1. Elaine*

        The flu mist seems to be the most effective–gets a better immune response. Supplies are still somewhat limited though, unfortunately. My son got the spray.

    3. Windchime*

      Many people really don’t understand how terrible the flu (influenza) is. They think “stomach flu”. But true influenza is terrible, really contagious, and kills lots of people every year. 11 people have died this year just in the state of Washington from flu.

      I am very lucky that my employer provides free flu shots. We are a health care organization, so of course we don’t want to get the flu from our patients, nor do we want to give it to them. Most people get the shot; for those who don’t, they are required to mask up if they have any sniffles at all, and anyone who is sick is requested to stay home.

      I have been in employment situations where I didn’t have sick leave, and it’s terrible. People are put into such an impossible situation.

      1. Jamie*

        We need a socially palatable word to replace “stomach flu.” My mom hated that expression, because she was a nurse and it’s not the flu…and apparently I come by my pedantic nature genetically.

        I’ve always used “digestive distress” as a kid, but as an adult I’m uncomfortable with the phrase because I prefer to use the word stomach euphemistically.

        We need some polite word which says that we are home because we desperately need to be near our own bathroom – without being specific of why the proximity is so important.

        1. LCL*

          Where I work we say “food poisoning.” Which, while not always technically accurate, is understood by all.

        2. Chinook*

          Add me to wanting a way to differentiate stomach flu and influenza. I had the latter last year and, because I said it was the flu, I was expected back at work in 1 or 2 days. Yet, I was too exhausted to think straight and it semed to trigger my genetic time bomb to give me high blood pressure permanently (as in I didn’t have it 2 months earlier and the only change was my illness). Influenza can kill, stomach flu justs makes you wish it did.

        3. louise*

          Ugh. NOT pedantic. And it ruins the phrase “the flu” for those who legitimately have it and, like Katie the Fed above, seriously feel like they could die. I found myself in the difficult position of trying to explain to a boss once (while I’m delirious, mind you) that, “No, I have the REAL flu. I won’t see you for awhile. No, you can’t call me with questions, I’m FOR REAL sick, bad sick.”

          I have IBS that often causes work issues (and that I am VERY careful to never refer to as stomach flu), but I can still, you know, check email while dealing with that. Influenza? It’s nobody’s bitch. You’re gonna get NOTHING done until you’ve had time to recover.

          1. Ruffingit*

            That’s the truth. I had the flu a few years back and all I could do was sleep, eat popsicles, and pray for death.

          1. fposte*

            I love “bug” for some reason–it’s colloquial so I don’t feel like I’m being overly technical, but it captures the “microorganism is involved” thing.

            (And I love A Bug! too.)

        4. monologue*

          some of my friends that work in health care call it gastro. It’s a good blanket term that also covers diarrhea if you’re trying to keep it on the polite side at work.

        5. jesicka309*

          In Australia we call it ‘gastro’. Eg. I caught gastro when I was a little kid and it’s one of my earliest memories. Boo.
          It’s short for Gastroenteritis, the medical name. I think it works – I remember reading novels as a teen where they mentioned ‘stomach flu’ and I was so confused. Is it an American disease? A made up disease for books? Or did they really mean gastro?

  2. Anonie*

    This is my number one pet peeve! When you are sick you need to stay home! Also cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze! I swear it drives me nuts to see adults cough and sneeze without covering their mouths. It makes me especially crazy when people turn their head and sneeze or cough. GERMS FLOAT!!

    1. Jamie*

      THIS! And if I can add, if you cover your mouth with your hands then ffs wash them before touching anything. It doesn’t help that you kept the particles out of the air if you’re going to manually smear them on the copier buttons.

      1. RG*

        Yes – this is when the crook of your elbow is the best bet.

        Or the scarf that I am constantly wearing around my neck.

        1. AnonAthon*

          Yes! Elbow-sneeze! That was drilled into my head in pre-school and I’ve never gotten out of the habit.

          PS: Safeway gives flu shots, and then you get a discount on your groceries. Hooray!

        2. Jamie*

          Yep – I am always wearing a sweater so I like to think of my elbow as a cardigan covered petri dish.

        1. Puffle*

          and oh my god, the people who leave their used tissues everywhere! Ewww. How much effort is it to put them in the bin?

  3. Bryan*

    I had a coworker who wasn’t feeling well and took the morning off but came in during lunch. My employer encourages employees to stay home if not feeling well but the coworker just didn’t want to use up more sick time, any advice for this?

      1. Bryan*

        Oh we have ten days a year, 3 weeks vacation, and it’s a culture where there is never issue of calling off. She just would rather risk all of us getting than take a full day.

          1. A Bug!*

            It’s a more generous policy than any I’ve experienced. The most generous sick policy I’ve ever worked under was three days a year, and my partner once worked for an employer that offered six.

            You’re right though, in that it’s not really a lot for an entire year, if you’re wanting to encourage a workplace where workers stay home when they’re contagious even if they’re able to work.

              1. DeMinimis*

                My former workplace had a very generous policy in theory [they did not restrict or track sick days at all] but the reality was everyone felt pressured to come in, even when sick, so the place was like a Petri dish.

              2. ExceptionToTheRule*

                Yeah, 10 sounds like nirvana. Ours is 5. A good round of the flu in January and you’re burning your vacation days the rest of the year.

            1. Windchime*

              Yeah, I think we get three mixed in with our PTO. It all goes into one bucket, which I like because if I’m not sick then I just get to take them as vacation.

              And we have extended illness accounts. So if I am sick for more than 3 days, then paid leave starts to come out of EI instead of PTO. Love that, and it came in handy when I recently was off for three weeks following surgery.

          2. Piper*

            10 is a lot compared to most companies! I get 5, which is also a lot more than I’ve ever gotten at any other company. Every other company I’ve worked for that had “sick” time, just rolled it into PTO. I hated that.

            1. Recent College Grad*

              My employer had a 6-month probation for using vacation and sick days as a new employee. I’ve dreaded being “that person” who exposes other people to their germs ever since I had to fly with a stomach virus, but my employer didn’t give me a choice.

            2. Adrienne*

              I’m pretty lucky, where I work during our first year we get 15 sick days (plus 20 vacation days, 3 days off at Christmas, and time off for appointments). After your one year probation you can take off up to 6 months for EACH illness/medical problem. I think you just need a doctor’s note if it’s over a week or two (I’m not sure as I’ve never taken more than a couple of days). I think people should stay home and keep their germs to themself, but even with our generous policy some people still come in sick!

          3. Emily K*

            Really? That’s like getting mildly ill almost every month, or having a *major* illness three times in a year. If I got sick that often I would be seeking medical advice to understand why my immune system is so compromised and boost it.

        1. monologue*

          Does your coworker get migraines or some other chronic thing like back pain or menstrual issues? If they have something chronic it might be more important to them to save those days for when they really can’t come in. I can work ok with a cold but with a migraine, forget it. Definitely not ideal though, you’re not wrong to be irritated.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      sometimes I do that if I have something of the more gastrointestinal variety that I need to let, um, pass before I’m comfortable coming in for the afternoon.

      If it’s something contagious though – they should stay home.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Since it sounds like your employer is doing their part, how about shaming? “Hey, we’ve got a pool going for how many people are going to get sick because you’re here shedding germs. $5 gets you in, with half of the proceeds going to the person who guesses closest, and half to the person who ends up getting the sickest.”

      If you’d rather not be passive agressive, then just talk to them, ask them to please think of their co-workers’ health too. Sometimes a gentle discussion will get them to think about those around them.

    3. JustMe*

      That one’s kind of a head scratcher to me. My company gives no sick days; even vacation days are are allotted after each month of work (2 weeks a year, but it’s not given in a single chunk). So being sick definitely sucks; it’s either use vacation days or lose a day’s pay. When I had strep, despite my doc’s orders to stay home for X days, my boss was actually trying to convince me to come back in a day early.

      If your coworker had sick days available, why not use them? I don’t get it…

  4. Elizabeth West*

    I got my flu shot (every year) and haven’t gotten the flu. Yay! Although I did get a stupid cold; I spent two days last week working from home because I had a fever. As Newjob likes to say, “No hotheads in here!”

    Seriously, they act like you have the plague if you have a fever. I like this because at Exjob, we had Martyr Boy, who always came in if he was sick. In their open office, I would catch his cold every. Single. Time.

  5. Anonymous*

    I was sick for a couple weeks and had to go to work. :( we get no paid sick days and unpaid sick days technically exist but are how you get fired. My coworkers all got sick and were really mad at me but what was I supposed to do?

    1. Matthew Soffen*

      Make sure you DAILY go and visit with your boss and make sure you cough into their air space ?

      If that doesn’t change the “policies” nothing will


        1. Katie the Fed*

          I had a boss who prided himself on never taking sick leave.

          Congratulations, sir. The rest of us mortals still need sick leave.

          1. Jamie*

            I post this everytime the topic comes up, but I can’t help myself (I need to write a macro) – but this is my problem with the perfect attendance policies in school.

            I kept my kids home when they were sick because 1. they need rest and will recover faster, and 2. because every other kid in their class didn’t need to be exposed to their drippings and airborne misery.

            But at all of their high school graduations there were kids being honored for perfect attendance K-12. Why? you’re either rewarding them for having super immune systems and being really healthy – which is it’s own reward…or your rewarding them for powering through illness and exposing other people.

            They aren’t navy seals, there is no life and death reason kids can’t take their math test when their fever goes down.

            It’s the principle that bothers me. One of my sons, almost never gets sick. I think he had 2 colds K-12 – so his attendance was awesome. The other two, who we affectionately call drippy and sneezy, weren’t so lucky. I just hate that they are either rewarding a stroke of luck or bad habits.

            1. Del*

              Agreed. I was one of those super immune system kids who could go a whole school year without any sick days, but getting awards for it always felt really odd to me.

              “Congratulations! You didn’t get sick! That makes you better than everyone else!” Even 10 year old me was pretty sure that wasn’t how it should work.

            2. Jessa*

              And I hated it because I’ve chronic illnesses. It’s not my fault that I get sick (and every single lung/sinus thing in the in the universe jumps up and down in glee when I show up.) It really didn’t make the kids who couldn’t go without being ill feel very good to hear “sorry the fact that you’re legit sick you’re going to be penalised and not given awards, and all.” Because it wasn’t just the certificates, in my school system they got a trip or something.

            3. AnonAthon*

              Perfect attendance K-12?! How on earth is that possible? Who goes 12 years without getting a contagious illness on a weekday? I don’t get sick that often, but I definitely got the chicken pox in my youth and I’m pretty sure you weren’t allowed to go to school with the spots. (My school also didn’t have this award, and I’d never heard of it until my partner explained it to me.)

              1. AnonymousCanadian*

                And who goes 12 years without getting a dentist/doctor appointment scheduled during the day? I missed tons of days to go to the orthodontist.

            4. Confused*

              When I was in high school, the person who won perfect attendance was absent from the award ceremony. “Bueller?…Bueller?…”

              1. Kelly O*

                Are you from Kingwood?

                I say that because just yesterday I was talking with someone in my small group, and he said his son won a perfect attendance award one year in school, and missed the ceremony with the one illness he’d had all year. So he was not there to receive his perfect attendance award.

                I laughed so hard. (He was laughing too. His son said he was glad he wasn’t “that dork” who was the only one getting that award in the whole school.)

                1. Confused*

                  Not from Kingwood and this was years ago.
                  That’s funny. Maybe the kid from my high school missed the ceremony for the same reason!

            5. hilde*

              “They aren’t navy seals, there is no life and death reason kids can’t take their math test when their fever goes down.”

              bwahaha. I love it. That point has not gotten the kudos it deserves. I think that whole concept about our kids being driven to the brink of…exhaustion? is pretty serious. I just don’t believe a child’s experiences in grade school alone will make or break their future. From taking sick days to not enrolling in every bloody activity imaginable. I’m kind of hoping for my kids to have a truly childlike childhood – not forcing them to achieve and push and drive until the breaking point it seems that the most recent generation experienced.

              But mostly the Navy seals image just made me laugh.

            6. Elizabeth West*

              Oh God, yes. And it’s the same as at work–you don’t have any idea what the other kids have going on at home. There could be family members with immunity issues, babies, pregnant people, etc.

              Not to mention the dreaded throwing-up-at-school embarrassment. That was the WORST.

              1. Kelly L.*

                This was so me. My parents so wanted me to have perfect attendance, which led to several humiliating horking-at-school incidents as well as numerous inability-to-concentrate-through-ocean-of-snot incidents.

            7. Joey*

              I don’t get perfect attendance awards anywhere because all that’s required is showing up. You don’t actually have to do anything once you’re there. You could barely skirt by and as long as your warm ass is there that deserves an award?- what the hell is that?! I would purposely keep my kids out. That’s probably why some people think as long as you show up you deserve recognition. Hell no!

              1. hilde*

                “That’s probably why some people think as long as you show up you deserve recognition. ”

                That’s a good point, Joey, about where some of that mentality might stem from.

                1. DeMinimis*

                  I remember one year we had some people who had perfect attendance for that particular school year, but they only recognized one kid beyond that, a graduating senior who had only missed two days since kindergarten.

                  It was funny too, because he was just kind of an average guy, wasn’t a college bound student or anything like that…guess he just enjoyed school and rarely got sick.

            8. Judy*

              I can’t find the link now, but I saw last fall a study that showed a correlation (I know not causation) between missing more than 10 days of school in 5th and 6th grades and graduation rates. I think the study was mentioned in a context of reasoning behind a program that used mentors to encourage kids to go to school in middle school, and it was having an effect in the graduation rates.

              So there is something behind encouraging kids to attend school.

              1. Jamie*

                I’m not advocating encouragement for kids to blow off school – excessive absenteeism is really hard to overcome, and if a kid has a long running illness the school and parents need to work together to come up with a plan.

                I would bet there is a link to kids who miss a lot of school (not due to illness) and issues at home and/or parents for whom education isn’t a priority.

                But no kid is better off sitting in a classroom with a high fever or bouts of vomiting than being home in bed resting.

            9. ThursdaysGeek*

              Our high school had something like this: perfect attendance and you didn’t have to take the final. I had been very sickly when in grade school (missing 30+ days a year) until my tonsils were removed. Suddenly I realized I could think myself healthy (most of the time), and pretend I was healthy the rest of the time. So I happily shed germs at school, not mature enough to realize the implications. I think the adults finally figured it out, because they changed it so you got a day off, but not finals (so a lesser reward, and staying home when you’re sick is also a day off).

      1. Anom #2*

        I had a boss like that too. I was sick & when I called in, my boss told me I should see a Dr & get something for it – then get into work. She strongly hinted that if I didn’t come in that day, I’d loose my job.

        I couldn’t afford to loose my job – so I went in.

  6. Brett*

    Disturbing though…
    in my several years working fast food for a living, we had zero sick leave. If you stayed home sick, you not only lost pay, but you would likely get written up for not calling in 24 hours before your shift. If you called in sick or were sent home sick, odds are you would get your hours cut when you did come back healthy.

    All of these policies combined meant that people would never call in sick and would try to hide their illness once they got to work. When our job was handling food! Think about that next time you eat out for lunch during cold and flu seasons….

    1. Anonymous*

      Yeah, this. A lot of people in various professions don’t have paid sick time. If you’re majorly sick you’d eat the unpaid time off anyway because you’d be absolutely useless even if you crawled in, but a headache and some sniffles? Sucks, but ya gotta go in if telecommuting isn’t an option.

      And policies are not always open to change either, whether due to industry, company size, or whateverbefore someone says “change the policy”, everyone else is either the owner, on salary, or telecommutable. *shrug*

      1. Kelly O*

        I also see one situation where you have to be out for three days, and you need a doctor’s note in order to be paid for the time. So you have to use 3/5 of your sick time at once in order to be paid, and you have to have a doctor’s note.

        This is the same company that uses “unexcused absences” related to adults. (No joke, heard that in relation to inclement weather this morning.)

        Treat people like responsible adults and just see how much morale improves. Especially when you’re not washing your hands umpteen times a day and spraying Lysol on everything trying to not catch what is going around.

    2. Jamie*

      This food service business horrifies me. My daughter had a bad cold once and she has a fast food job – she spent tons of energy calling everyone until she found someone who would cover her shift because when she called in sick her manager said if there was no one to cover she was getting written up.

      She had 101.9 fever and could barely speak – I’m livid on behalf of the workers and the general public that it’s corporate policy to spread contagions to customers.

      1. KellyK*

        Same here—if I were queen of the world, paid sick leave would be obligatory in food service. (And healthcare, while we’re at it—yes, please bring your flu germs to people who are already ill, that’s a *great* idea.)

        1. Windchime*

          Exactly. I work in health care and we are absolutely encouraged to stay home when we are sick. The last thing we want to do is give any disease–even just a cold–to a patient with a compromised immune system.

          For those of us who are not in patient care, we can come to work with a cold, but usually people who are sick/sneezing/sniffling will mask up if they are in a common area.

    3. VintageLydia*

      My best friend worked as a waitress and had the flu New Years Eve. It was all hands on deck, no exceptions, as that’s the busiest night of the year. She tried to call in but they just reminded her–no exceptions!

      I really really hope she didn’t get any of her customers sick.

    4. Jessica*

      Gross. Shouldn’t this be something restaurants could get written up by the Health Department for?

      1. Piper*

        I worked in the restaurant industry all through college and yep, had to go in sick. One time I was so sick I didn’t have a voice (and had a horribly sore throat). I had a few customers ask for a different server because they didn’t want me and my illness serving them. Others just acted mad at me. I can’t say I blame them, but if I had called off, I could have lost my job.

        The restaurant industry sucks for so many reasons – and this is one of them. It really is an issue of public health that food workers are required to come in sick.

    5. monologue*

      it’s not just fast food, all food service places are like this. I’ve cooked a lot of places and the policy is basically if you can stand up go to work. I’ve called in sick a few times over the years. They’re always like, are you suuuuure? You really can’t? You’re better off going in and getting sent home. Things are slowly changing though.

    6. jesicka309*

      When I was in fast food service, the rule was if you had something coming out of any of your orifices, stay home.
      That covered:
      -Excessive snot/phlegm hacking

      Anything else (contagious or not) was expected to turn up. It kind of made sense to me – if you were producing something that could contaminate food, then go away. If you have the tail end of a cold and a headache, take some sudafed and get into work.

  7. Ed*

    I was sick earlier this year and officially became known as “Patient Zero” at work. About half the department got sick over the next month or so. I ended up having bronchitis which lasted about a month. We have decent sick time but to be fair, it’s not like I could possibly take a month off work. When I described my lifestyle to the doctor (single, no kids, no girlfriend, etc), she said I was probably not patient zero. She said in her experience it’s usually a parent not showing symptoms that brings it into the office.

    1. hilde*

      Without knowing squat about anything medical, I’d agree with your doctor. I didn’t know the diseases possible until I had kids. I’m a pretty healthy person and I have been more sick in the last 4 years that I’ve been a parent than at anytime in my life. They are walking petri dishes.

    2. Dan*

      Which is really funny… when you’re symptomatic, you likely aren’t contagious, and when you’re contagious, you aren’t symptomatic.

      I get a cold twice a year. I’m not burning PTO because of the sniffles. If I had separated sick time, I’m not sure the sniffles would cause me to use that either.

      It’s extremely rare for me to be “can’t do work” sick. TBH, if I do feel like not coming in, I can just telecommute.

      1. fposte*

        “when you’re symptomatic, you likely aren’t contagious, and when you’re contagious, you aren’t symptomatic.”

        That’s not quite true, though. You are indeed contagious *before* you’re symptomatic, but being symptomatic doesn’t mean you’re not contagious–you’re still shedding virus for some time with most viruses.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s what I was going to add – also even though people absolutely do spread things before they know they are carriers, once you have symptoms the chance of infecting others goes up because when you’re actively coughing, sneezing, etc. you’re putting a lot more ….product…into the environment.

          1. fposte*

            And that’s true even if you’re not actively sick. We all contain a lot of…things… in our…product.

  8. Anonymous*

    I work from home full-time now, but when I did work in the office, I never hesitated to tell co-workers to get out of my cubicle when they were coughing and sneezing and I stayed home myself when I was sick. We have a very generous PTO allowance, and I had no patience whatsoever with those who dragged themselves in spreading their illnesses to the rest of us. If they were one of my direct reports, I sent them home although they all knew my views about it and seldom ever were clueless enough to show up in the first place. Aside from not wanting to be sick myself, it did our productivity no good for a virus to be racing through the team. Much better to have one person down and redistribute the workload than to have them fall one-by-one!

    1. Jamie*

      Absolutely – train people to avoid you when they are hacky, drippy, and sniffy. Everyone can be trained.

      I don’t think there is anyone with whom I work who would come in my office or even touch my doorknob if they were sick. You know those people who are always comforting and welcoming and invite you in anyway and tell you not to worry about it? I’m not one of those people.

      If you look super miserable I’ll bring you tea, but that’s not a kindness – it’s just to keep you contained to your office so you keep your germs out of the kitchen.

    2. fposte*

      Mostly I agree, but I don’t think you can usually stop a virus before it spreads, because you’re contagious before you’re symptomatic. So I think we also have to temper our wishful quarantine attempts with realism and understand that getting a virus doesn’t necessarily mean somebody was heedless or inconsiderate.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Wouldn’t it be nice if we had color indicators on our bodies somewhere that would turn yellow when we were festering and contagious, red when we were actively sick, and green when the illness had passed?

        1. Jamie*

          You totally need to invent that.

          Can you add one more, which is pink – not sick at all, but super tired and need a nap. And a cookie. Because …I need a nap and a cookie.

        2. fposte*

          That would be amazing.

          And the low-cookie indicator would federally require people to remediate it.

        3. Kelly L.*

          I need this. When I get a cold, I’m usually mildly symptomatic but inwardly miserable during the time I’m contagious, and then when I’m getting well, I sound horrible with a scratchy voice and a dry cough. If I had color coding, I could get people to take my illness seriously when it’s actually a problem, and ward off a few hundred “OMG are you OK”s when I actually feel fine (but sound hideous).

  9. RQSCanuck*

    I worked for a company where they required a doctor’s note for all sick calls. This seemed like such a ridiculous policy to me. For starters, sometimes I could be sick enough to not be able to go into work, most likely because I just needed a day of sleep, chicken noodle soup and tea, but not sick enough to go to a doctor. Secondly, I had to pay for a doctor’s note and I wasn’t willing to do that. So, I would go in sick and then it would be in the hands of my supervisor to deem me “sick enough” to go home. Oh did I mention that my job was interacting with guests, showing them the facilities and helping them use the activities. So basically I spread my sick germs all throughout the building, there was no way to “quaritine” myself.

    1. Anonymous*

      When I had pink eye my boss wanted a doctors note but I didn’t have money for one. I took a photo of my bright red puss filled eye and sent it to her. It was satisfying.

    2. Viv*

      Family doctors are starting to protest the “sick note” policy. First of all, if you are truly sick but not sick enough to visit a doctor, you shouldn’t be dragging yourself into a doctor’s office to spread your germs. Second, it is a cop-out for employers who don’t want to establish a fair sick leave policy and an atmosphere of trust. Third, if you live in a town with a university, everyone knows the doctors who write out sick notes for $25 and don’t ask questions.

    3. KellyK*

      And this is why requiring a doctor’s note for a sick day is stupid. (Well, it’s one of the reasons. Treating employees like truant children isn’t exactly good for morale or retention either.)

    4. Confused*

      Certain ins policies only give you x co-pay visits. Why waste them, your time, and the doctor’s time if you don’t really need medicall attention, just a note? Especially if you have a cold, for which you don’t need and will not be given prescription meds.
      Depending on the job you could be paying for your own health insurance, losing pay for the day(s) you miss, getting written up, losing a doctor’s visit, and paying the co-pay.
      The note policy is ridiculous. If a person is mature enough to hire and and have access to company “secrets” you should treat them like mature adults when they say they’re sick.

    5. Jamie*

      RQSCanuck – if you ever run for president of the world you’ve got my vote.

      The doctor’s note policies are infuriating – it’s as if they are written by people who don’t understand the concept of rest and fluids – and for me going to the doctor is the opposite of rest. Not to mention sending people who already have a compromised immune system to be with new and varied germs.

      And as someone else mentioned, there are a finite number of appointments. No one should have to wait longer for a legitimate appointment because they are booked up writing notes for work. This isn’t 7th grande gym class.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        And if you go to Urgent Care, which usually doesn’t require an appointment, you’ll be sitting there for HOURS. The copay is typically more expensive than a doctor visit, too. :P

      2. RQSCanuck*

        Thanks Jamie, if I ever decided to run I will look you up :)

        I am glad that the doctor’s note policy is being re-examined. There was a period of time when I could only access a walk-in clinic and anytime I went in because I was sick with like a cough, sore throat, symptoms like that, my doctor would only suggest that I take Advil and if it wasn’t better in 7 days to come back. Knowing this is what my doctor would suggest did not it made me even more reluctant to see a doctor, let alone take the time to ask for a doctor’s note.

        I have to admit it was strange when I got my first job where I got paid sick leave. It was so weird to me that I could just make a phone call, explain I am sick and that was that. The first time I phoned in sick I was super anxious that my boss would call me and demand a larger explanation of why I needed to call in sick. It took some time for me to realize that my boss would just prefer that I stay home when I am sick rather than come into work.

  10. Greg*

    I was glad to see AAM recognize that some (but not all) of the problems are caused by ridiculous sick-leave policies, especially PTO, which may be the dumbest HR innovation ever (and I say that as someone who rarely gets sick, and therefore benefits greatly from PTO). Employers really need to offer unlimited sick days and then make it clear to employees that they trust them not to abuse the policy. (Really, they should just offer unlimited vacation, but that’s another discussion).

  11. Cath@VWXYNot?*

    Thank you for writing this!

    Last year, a colleague of my husband’s came into work sick and coughed right in my husband’s face. My husband got a bad cold, which he then inevitably passed on to me. I wasn’t that sick with the cold itself, but then I got the worst cough of my life that just wouldn’t go away. I was going to bed around 9pm, waking up at 11, coughing literally non-stop until 3, then sleeping until 6. Cough medicine did nothing, and it hurt to even breathe.

    I eventually dragged myself to my doctor, who diagnosed me with virus-triggered asthma (I didn’t know that could happen, but apparently it can – and last year’s strain was causing asthma at a much higher rate than usual. It even made our local news). I’d never had asthma before in my life, but I now have it as a chronic condition and have to use a steroid inhaler every single day for the foreseeable future, or else the cough starts coming back.

    Stay home if you’re sick!

    1. fposte*

      I’m a little amused by this, though, as it’s a good example of how our feelings about contagion aren’t logical. The guy at work didn’t make you sick; your husband did, so if making somebody sick is blameworthy, your husband’s on the hook for that as much as his officemate.

      But you’re a nice wife for trying to get him off the hook :-).

      1. Jamie*

        I do agree we shouldn’t blame anyone – it just happens. Unless someone is actively coming to work with the flu and kissing people hello we shouldn’t assign mal intent. It could just as easily have been the grocery cart, the customer who was pre-symptomatic, or anyone so blaming Sniffles in accounting isn’t fair.

        I do think adults should do what they can to mitigate the risk, so if someone is not using basic practices to try to limit what they’re putting out there, so I’ll absolutely give the side eye to the guy who sneezes without covering his mouth or the woman who coughs into her hands and touches my phone – but that’s less about blaming them for being sick and instead judging them for bad manners and being gross in public.

      2. Cath@VWXYNot?*


        I think once it’s in your house, it’s pretty much inevitable that everyone who lives there is going to get it. When I got the swine flu in 2009, even my cats started sneezing!

  12. Wren*

    The president of the Ontario Medical Association called on employers to stop requiring sick notes because,
    (a) it discourages people from calling in sick when they should to avoid exposing their coworkers, and
    (b) by going to the doctor when you don’t otherwise need to, you’re exposing people with vulnerable immune systems.

    Don’t know how many employers will listen!

    1. AnonymousCanadian*

      And it fills up appointment slots that could be used by people who actually need a doctor. I can never get into my family doctor’s office with less than 2 weeks notice.

  13. Ann O'Nemity*

    One of the negative consequences of my employer’s combined PTO plan seems to be a rise in the number of sick employees coming in to work. These folks seem to use all their PTO for planned vacations, and then have no days left for unplanned illnesses. I’m not sure what the company can do to prevent this, besides separating sick time from vacation time.

    1. Jamie*

      I think separating it is a great idea – my husband has his separated so he doesn’t lose a vacation day if he has to stay home sick.

      When you tie to PTO you encourage people to work sick and save their time for when they are feeling better.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. Combined PTO encourages sick people to come in. Particularly when they don’t actually give you for instance two weeks for holiday pay and so many days for sick combined, it’s like you just get two weeks and oh well about holidays.

        Oh and my pet peeve – occurrence based attendance garbage.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          We have PTO that can be used for anything, and it accrues with each pay period. But we can only roll over so much at the end of the fiscal year. They encourage you to use it.

          What is occurrence-based attendance garbage?

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I think it’s when you’re out for multiple days in a row it’s 1 occurence, but if it’s the same number of days non-consecutively, it’s multiple occurences.

      2. Windchime*

        But really, when sick leave was separate from vacation back in the day, at OldJob, people would just call in sick when they wanted a day off if they didn’t have enough PTO. So if people are going to abuse the system, they’ll do it whether or not they have Sick Leave separate from PTO. Mature adults will make sure they have a couple of days in reserve at all times so they can afford to be sick. (That’s if their employer gives them PTO or Sick Leave to begin with).

        I don’t see people where I work really coming in sick much, unless they are just under the gun and have something that HAS to get done. But maybe that’s because my employer has good PTO benefits. Not great, but good.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I agree. Once we combined our sick and vacation into PTO, I now make up time for my dr. appts rather than take a half day off, which I used to do when I had two weeks of separate sick time.

      The thing is, I don’t get sick much. I had one minor cold last year, and it was in June. I had a surgery in December and took some time then, but usually lost >50% of my sick time. PTO is better for me, but it does promote presentee-ism.

      1. H. Vane*

        A coworker of mine puts off using her PTO as long as she possibly can. She’s got a very sick mother, and she needs to have time available to use if something horrible happened. As a result, she’s usually gone for the entire month of December, which sucks because her function is critical. It makes it hard for the rest of us to do our jobs, but I will say that I’m glad that she uses the time she’s entitled to.

    3. T*

      I wonder if a company could require employees with known contagious illnesses to go/stay home regardless of whether they receive pay. That way wise employees would save some of heir PTO for such an event. If they use it all for vacation and have none left, that would be by their choice, but they still could not work while sick.

      1. Windchime*

        And if you didn’t have combined PTO, those same people would probably call in sick when they weren’t, in order to get a day paid under Sick Leave. People who are going to abuse the system will abuse it either way.

  14. Temporarily Anon*

    Out of curiosity, how does one handle situations like visits to other companies or interviews where people in that office are likely to be sick or contagious? (As in, Bob’s coworker has the flu, but he’s perfectly healthy, promise!) Besides liberal use of hand sanitizer.

    1. Jamie*

      The same way you’d try to protect yourself in the world at large…wash your hands often and in between hand-washing make a herculean effort not to touch your face.

      I’m a hand sanitizer fan, although I’m aware there are studies that say that protection may be negligible. I know hand washing trumps sanitizer, but even the CDC recommends sanitizer when you can’t immediately wash your hands…and hospitals require it so it makes me think there has to be some benefit.

      Oh, and lysol makes tiny trial sized cans to tuck in your purse – not that you can go around lysoling other people (I wish – but then they call you Monk and it doesn’t end well) but for the bathroom including door knob and faucett, etc.

      I totally wish lysoling was a real verb.

      1. Jamie*

        And there is nothing wrong with not shaking hands during flu season – in church after the sign of peace everyone breaks out the bottles of purell…I so wish they’d just abolish that altogether – no one wants to shake hands this time of year.

        1. EAA*

          Agree – In this week’s church bulletin the pastor’s letter started with announcing the suspension of hand shaking. A nod or a hand wave will be fine. Love this. Had a past pastor who insisted on hand shaking to the point that the parochial vicar criticized me during mass for not shaking his hand.

        2. Temporarily Anon*

          So…would this be seen as okay, to not shake hands because – flu season? Because yeah, hand sanitizer, don’t touch face, etc. I have that part down cold. :) I don’t want to come off as “eww – germs!” and not shake hands, but…this is the flu, not a cold.

        3. Stephanie*

          Yeah, my hula class usually does hugs after class. This has turned into elbow taps since the flu outbreak.

        4. the gold digger*

          How about banishing – forever – that odious practice of holding hands with complete strangers during the Our Father? I always make my way to the bathroom during the prayer because the people in my church seems to be aggressive about it.

          1. KJR*

            I don’t know if it was just my diocese, but for a while they were advocating for hugs instead of hand shakes at the sign of peace. There must have been some kind of backlash, because it never made it to our church.

            1. Laufey*

              Yes, see, I would be nailing theses to my church’s door if they made us do hugs during the sign of peace. It’s bad enough receiving handshakes from people already looking at the next person and have been coughing throughout the entire Mass, but hugs? No. Just No.

          2. louise*

            Whawhat?! I’m glad there’s no one hand holding during the Lord’s Prayer where I go! We in the choir loft did spontaneously all hold hands one Sunday after an older gentleman collapsed and was taken out by EMS. We really thought for sure he was going to pass on and we still had to sing the offertory anthem, so the hand-holding was our attempt at rallying the troops so we didn’t melt into a puddle of tears.

            1. the gold digger*

              Protestants seem not to have been infected by the hand-holding craze. That’s why I prefer to go to Lutheran services with my husband sometimes instead of Catholic services. Plus the Lutherans – heck, all the Protestants – have better music.

              (Can I get an “amen!” the horror that is the Gather hymnal?)

              1. louise*

                I’m Episcopalian, which is neither, yet borrows from both, Protestant and Catholic. Having grown up in a happy/clappy Evangelical world, I’m perplexed, yet intrigued by the Episcopalian hymnal. I’m still sight-reading every week, and I’ve been there a few years! I’d love to see your hymnal and compare. :)

                1. the gold digger*

                  Louise, I went to a Baptist funeral with a Baptist co-worker. For each hymn, I held the hymnal so we could share it. Each time, she shook her head slightly.

                  “You know this one?” I would ask. She nodded yes every time.

                  I finally asked, “Do you know every song in this book?”

                  “Of course!” she said.

                  She also kicked my butt on Bible trivia.

                  Nobody would notice if you would borrow the hymnal from your neighborhood Catholic church. But I can tell you that despite how prolific John Wesley and Martin Luther were, only a handful of their songs made it to Gather. I think Rome is still holding a bit of a grudge.

                2. louise*

                  gold digger, you’re cracking me up. I don’t need the hymnal for where I came from…and yes, Bible trivia was IMPORTANT! As were sword drills (leader calls out a scripture reference, first kid to find it starts reading it aloud).

                  Sadly, sword drills were the closest to anything athletic I ever excelled at…

                  Wow, that got off topic!

      2. Jessa*

        Lysoling should be a verb, and yes I love to death the little travel aisle in the pharmacy/supermarket. You can get mini packs of Chlorox wipes, personal sized gel alcohol stuff (you don’t want the antibacterial kind that’s not good for things, but the plain gelled alcohol (with or without aloe to keep your hands from drying)) is really, really good. I get the little gel bottle and a giant one from Target that I use to refill it. It’s really inexpensive to do it that way.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s what I do, too – just refill out of a giant bottle. I’ve got the little ones stashed in my desk, my car, all over my house, every purse, and laptop back.

          My hands still really dry out even with the aloe kind, so I’ve been using Nivea cream (not lotion) and that’s helped a lot.

          Funny – in my office people aren’t shy about using others hand cream if it’s out and they stop by someone else’s office so I always keep a big pump bottle of the St.Ives out for company. :) Much cheaper than what I use and I still look like I’m sharing.

          1. Chinook*

            I love that perk in my current office – every washroom has the econ sizw pump bottle of name brand hand lotion (as well as Scope and disposable cups).

      3. hilde*

        The thing about the lysol – I travel a few time per month for my job and in the last year I started carrying a can of lysol with me to the hotel. Immediately upon entering the room, I spray all the “common” surfaces I can think that most people touch: remote (several times!), the light switches (wall and on the lamp), the toilet handle, the faucet handle, the shower knobs; door handle, the heater buttons, etc. This probably sounds like overkill, but I swear it has made a huge difference. My husband told me one time that most of the time when I travel I come back with a scratchy throat or cough or something. Hasn’t happened since I started doing that. Whether it’s actually a result of Lysoling a coincidence, I don’t care.

          1. hilde*

            Do it. Nerds might be germier than most.

            :) I kid, I kid. But seriously, I’d recommend it. Peace of mind anyway that you did everything you could think of to avoid it.

        1. Julie*

          I’ll be traveling for work on Wednesday, and I’m going to try to find a travel sized can of Lysol so I can do this. I am singing in a choral concert this coming weekend, and I cannot be froggy (auto correct originally spelled out “groggy” – can’t be groggy either!). And my poor partner is right now coughing and coughing every few minutes while trying to sleep (and is keeping me awake). I don’t know how the dogs are sleeping through this. Poor baby – she’s been feeling like complete crap for a couple of days already. I have never had a flu shot, but I guess this is the year to start. My doctor was surprised that I hadn’t gotten one and strongly recommended it twice the last time I saw her.

      4. monologue*

        most hand sanitizer is alcohol based, which takes like 10 min to actually kill anything. It evaporates long before that. But mechanical scrubbing is worthwhile to remove stuff so maybe hand sanitizer is better than nothing.

        Personally I walk right on by those hospital things and just wash my hands regularly and keep gloves on in public areas in winter.

  15. Mena*

    I am shocked that more employers do not make flu vaccine mandatory, especially those in healthcare. One brother-in-law performs mobile radiology (going into nursing homes and taking Xrays) and the other is in emergancy services; neither got a flu shot. And yes, they both got the flu. I can only wonder how many sick, injured, or elderly people the two of them exposed to the flu.

    1. Jessa*

      My friend’s hospital, lines up the staff and gives it every year. As a matter of course. They don’t want their nursing staff to get ill like that.

    2. Anonymous*

      I work in healthcare administration and all of our staff, regardless of where you work, are required to get the vaccine if you are medically able, or wear a mask for the entirety of flu season, anywhere you go. Yes, even office workers have to wear a mask in any of our facilities, any area, any time. Non-compliance is grounds for termination. We offer it free to employees, their spouses, and children at any of our hospital or clinic locations, or at one of our community vaccination open clinics.

      Most states require healthcare orgs to report their compliance for any and all personnel, even those who just have privileges at your facility or who are student interns. So we have to have a form on anyone even if you are declining to take the vaccine.

      Our medical plan requires a flu vaccine every year to keep “gold” status for the next plan year, which means lower premiums.

      1. Windchime*

        Yep, same here. And not only do they offer it, but my building has a couple hundred people working in it so they have a nurse set up shop in the lunch room and you just go in, sign a sheet, roll up your sleeve and get your shot. Super convenient.

    3. Yup*

      Healthcare jobs are unique because of the vulnerable population impact. But in general, there’s no way I want my employer mandating my health treatments. Flu shots aren’t recommended for people with certain medical conditions, and I for one wouldn’t want to be in a defensive position having to prove why under doctor’s advice I shouldn’t get one, especially if it means discussing sensitive health concerns that are none of my employer’s business. By all means, offer flu shots at the office or encourage people to take time off to get one, but please don’t mandate them.

      1. KellyK*

        Definitely. I think mandating vaccines for healthcare workers is reasonable, but for any other industry, it’s seriously overstepping.

      2. Lucy*

        Agreed. I don’t work in healthcare, I don’t have small children, I don’t take care of elderly parents and I don’t have health issues. I don’t get a flu shot and I don’t intend to unless the above listed changes. I certainly don’t want to have to defend my stance to my boss.

        We do have free flu shots at work, and we have an incentive to get them. We have different health checkboxes that we get HRA dollars for if we get enough of them, and getting a flu shot is one of them. It’s easy for people that do get flu shots to check it off, and it’s easy for me to find something else to take it’s place since I don’t.

        1. DeMinimis*

          I work for a federal agency related to healthcare, in a medical clinic. Even we don’t require all employees to get the flu shot, although the guy in our community health department who administers the shots would like to do so. I assume we can’t, although I think that maybe the patient-facing staff are required to, or at least I hope they are.

          I know patient-facing staff are required to get other vaccinations, don’t know if the flu vaccine is included in those. The shot is free for all employees here, so there is no reason not to get it.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Eh, some folks have legitimate reasons for not taking the vaccine. Personally, I’m allergic to one of the common preservatives used in flu vaccines. Although thimerosol-free versions of flu shots are made, they can be difficult to obtain.

      1. Anonymous*

        Thiomersal is only used in multi-dose vials which are not typically used to vaccinate the general public who get the vaccine at their doctor’s office, CVS, Walgreens, etc.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Hmm, that has not been my experience.

          I agree that Thimerosol is in the multi-dose vials, but I have found that the preservative-free version is much harder to find. And some of the places that do carry it (Walgreens, for example) will only give it to pregnant women.

          1. Elizabeth*

            We don’t use the multi-dose vials at all any more. They aren’t cost-effective, because most people don’t want to deal with the issues surround thimerosol. It’s cheaper to just order the single-dose vial and use them.

            We require our employees to get flu shots if they want to work in the event of a flu outbreak. Wearing gloves & a mask don’t substitute. If they don’t get the shot, they are off the schedule during an outbreak. They can’t use PTO to cover those days; they are unpaid for the duration.

      2. Hey*

        It would take you less than 10 minutes to call 5 grocery stores/drug stores in your area to find thimerosol free vaccines. That’s what I did. They’re very easy to find. :) Then you won’t get your lovely coworkers sick. Please be proactive.

    5. Chinook*

      They have put thise rule in place in BC and are trying to institute it in Alberta but the nursing unions are fighting it tooth and nail. There are exceptions available for health reasons, but they don’t like the principle of being forced to be medicated. Personally, I don’t like the idea of a sick person working around the meically vulnerable and they need to suck it up (which is why I wwould never make it in politics)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        There has been some pushback here in the US about that, too. Which I think is ridiculous. If you can, you should. Since these days patients are more likely to die when they go to the hospital (because statistically, they are sicker when they do go, as opposed to Ye Olde Times when people went in for a freaking hemorrhoid), it absolutely is more dangerous to them.

      2. Anonymous*

        I’m not okay with mandating that people have to get the vaccine or be fired or something. What I am very in favor of is if you don’t, then you have to walk around with gloves and a mask on (or hell maybe all healthcare workers should during flu season) so if you have it and have no symptoms or if you have it and choose to come to work, you are not infecting those least able to protect themselves.

      3. KarenT*

        In Ontario they can’t force healthcare workers to get the flu shot, but they do mandate them to either get the flu shot or wear a face mask for the duration of flu season.

        1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

          Same in BC. I work in an office / research lab building that’s part of a healthcare agency, and if I go to any public part of our other research building, or into any part of our clinical building where patients (many of them immunocompromised) are actually treated, I have to either have had a flu shot or wear a mask. I choose the shot – the only time in the last 12 years that I didn’t get one, I got the swine flu and couldn’t get off my sofa for five days – and got it at one of many free clinics they organised in our various buildings.

    6. themmases*

      Health care workers can be required to get it in my state (IL). My understanding is that we have to report employee compliance with the flu vaccine, but individual employers have some latitude in deciding how to enforce it. The first couple of years at my hospital, people could decline for any reason as long as they did some counseling and signed a declination form. They’ve gotten stricter over the years and now we need to document a medical or philosophical exemption, and can be fired if we don’t.

      Honestly, I’m pretty OK with that (and I work in research, so I spend a lot of my time thinking about and documenting informed consent). For the vast majority of people, the risks are incredibly small and far outweighed by the benefits to both the employee and our patients. Indeed, the risk/benefit ratio is so favorable, and so ethically compelling in the setting of people who mostly care for medically complex young people, that I would question someone’s competence to work here if they didn’t understand that (with medical and philosophical exceptions, of course). It would seriously make me question what other health and safety measures that person just didn’t feel like doing.

  16. Irish Reader*

    We are definitely expected to work from home if calling in sick and of course this is not official. In terms of our office culture, you are definitely expected to keep an eye on email even if you cannot come in. Mind you, I work for a US multinational here in Ireland. I didn’t have this with previous employers, so maybe this is a cultural thing.

    What I’ve done in the past was come in and stay for an hour or so while I answer the most urgent mail, then tell my manager that I’m too sick to keep going. At least then I’m not expected to login from home and I can usually get the next day off without too much hassle.

    I don’t mind talking with my manger to let her know what specific tasks ought to be while I’m out, but please don’t expect me to keep my Outlook on that day.

    1. Stephanie*

      I’ve never fully understood the “Oh, you’re sick! Work remotely!” mentality. Sure, there are times where you might just have a moderate cold and don’t want to infect the entire office. But most of the time, I legitimately need the rest (mental and physical) and don’t need to be tied to Outlook all day. Plus, those work-at-home sick days are usually my least productive days.

    2. Jamie*

      This makes sense if it’s a cold – I’ve done that when I was too icky to come in, but I felt okay.

      But in the worst of the flu all I can do is lie in bed and pray for the cough syrup to kick in and knock me out.

      I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone who is running a significant fever, or in the throes of the flu to do anything except try to get themselves to the bathroom under their own steam and whine for someone to bring then cinnamon toast.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I sometimes think managers who require this should be infected with the flu. My oldest son had it last year, and was off school for over a week. It is kind of hard to believe it until you see it (or live it), but the Infected One really cannot do anything but lay there and try to keep breathing.

      2. Del*


        I’ve also occasionally taken sick days after a bad night of insomnia (think ~2hrs of scattered sleep) and with that, it doesn’t matter where I am — what matters is I don’t have the mental coherence to do my job.

        1. DeMinimis*

          I’ve at least come in late due to lack of sleep the night before….I drive a pretty long way to work and I just feel safer if I can at least get an extra hour or two when I’ve had a rough night [insomnia can be a big problem for me.]

  17. foam chick*

    My husband got norovirus on Tuesday, my daughter got sick on Thursday. I steered clear of everyone and actually refused to shake hands and stood across the room from a surprise visitor. I disinfected doorknobs and light switches. All I could think of was passing this horrible sickness around work before showing symptoms. I ended up sick on Sunday and called in today. Actually grateful for the snow emergency and closing tomorrow. Gives me one more day to recover and be less contagious before returning to the office.

    1. Windchime*

      So sorry to hear this! We had someone come down with norovirus at work a few years ago. She was working for a couple of days and having symptoms, but didn’t recognize what it was. She went to the doc and was immediately sent home. The rest of us rushed around with clorox wipes, washing down any surface or doorknob that she might have touched. Nobody else got it, but she was sure miserable for a few days.

      1. Artemesia*

        People are contagious with this for a couple of weeks after they are ill, so the key is washing hands after using the toilet as that is how it is spread — hand to mouth. I didn’t fully understand this back in the day and once managed to infect my brother’s family; we had picked it up when our baby got it on the plane (babies touch surfaces and have their hands in their face constantly); the baby was sick that night and then everyone else got it during the following week. We were all well when we drove to another nearby city to visit my brother. But we still managed to give it to them; I’m sure my older kid probably didn’t wash well and left it on doorn0bs — or perhaps we weren’t as careful as we thought.

    2. Jean*

      Bless you for being so careful and considerate of your colleagues. More people should follow your example. (And yes, all workplaces should make it possible for sick employees to keep themselves & their germs at home!)

  18. NotPatient0*

    And there are some types of work where you have to come in sick. I work in research at a university and it’s not uncommon for people to come in sick and be patient 0. While my employer has generous sick leave, and students, grad students, and post-docs don’t have that luxury. I’ve gone to work sick, mostly because if I don’t I end up being behind BUT I usually work alone, try to avoid touching things like commonly used like door handles and keyboards and I tell everyone that I am sick.

  19. Allison*

    I’ll add a couple things for various levels of management:

    DO hold a flu shot clinic – convenience is key, if people can get a shot at work during the day, they’re more likely to get one than if they have to arrange to get the shot outside the office.

    DON’T praise people who come in sick, or who have perfect attendance and never take sick days. you might think it’s a sign of a great work ethic that everyone should have, but you’re also sending the message that people who take sick days are lazy or weak.

    DO let people take a legit sick day. working from home is do-able with a mild cold, but sometimes people are sick enough to need a few days in bed to get better.

    DON’T require a doctor’s note. your employees aren’t schoolchildren, and going to a doctor can suck $20-30 (at least) out of their bank account these days. people should go to the doctor when they’re really sick, not when they have to prove they were sick.

    DON’T be a jerk. some people have cruddy immune systems, it’s not their fault if they get sick a lot.

  20. Ursula*

    Just last week I felt like a cold or something was coming on and I worked at home in bed, logging in through a remote desktop connection. It’s the second time I’ve done that and I’m sure that the rest has kept me from getting a full blown illness. I feel very fortunate to be able to do that – as long as I’m accessible by email and/IM, my boss is fine with it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That is exactly what I did, and I’m convinced that blankey/chicken soup/orange juice/not sitting in my office chair time is directly responsible for me getting better so fast.

  21. klein*

    “If your employer doesn’t give sick time or discourages you from using sick time for legitimate illnesses, consider advocating for a policy change.”

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahah!!! While you’re at it, advocate for more vacation, 3 day weekends, tripling your salary and no pants Fridays. IF you start ‘advocating’ you’ll be out on your butt soon enough.

      1. Diane*

        What if nobody is cross-trained in your highly specialized, deadline-driven field, and your employer is not particularly reasonable? I mean until I find a more reasonable employer . . .

  22. KJR*

    This barely has anything to do with the gist of this discussion, however can I just say that I am currently reading Stephen King’s The Stand? Why I chose to do this during FLU SEASON is beyond me. I am now paranoid every time I hear a cough or sneeze!

    1. Rebecca*

      I’ve been playing Plague Inc. on my tablet.

      Oh, and read the unabridged version if you can find it – I’ve read it twice. My favorite book ever!

    2. DeMinimis*

      When I first read that book as a teenager I was recovering from a bout of bronchitis. I felt like I was living that book!

  23. Rebecca*

    My employer now lumps PTO (sick time) with vacation time, so you get X days off per year. I used to get 7 sick days per year, on top of my vacation time. They paid us for 1/2 of whatever sick time was left at the end of the year, so if you had 4 days left, you got a check for 2 days’ pay.

    Now, it’s been reduced to 5 days, and no pay for any unused time. I use it like vacation. There’s no incentive not to take it all.

    At my first job, you were issued an attendance point if you called in sick. There was no paid sick time, and if you had the flu, you’d better have your butt back in the office after 2 days. 3 days off meant a doctor’s excuse, so not only did you miss 3 days pay, you had to pay for an office visit on top of that just to go back to work.

    Oh, and 12 attendance points in any rolling 12 month period? Termination time. EVERYONE

    1. Gilby*

      Rebecca: Must have been the same place I worked at ! Same basic policy as well.
      I always wondered why this company exsited. Was it to hire people and give them points and fire them or was it to actually do work?
      Management spent more time monitoring points, writing peole up, firing people then they did working with us to get the work done. After a while people didn’t care. Fire me… who cares.

      I finally got out of that dept and moved to another area with a manager whom didn’t like that policy and understood bronchitis was as crappy as it is and didn’t ding me with a point.

  24. Contessa*

    I’m sitting here at work sick right now. I have to be extra-careful about e-mails, because my loopiness is causing silly typos. But, I’ve already gotten yelled at and talked about behind my back this month for missing work (a combination of one snow day when I worked from home, and 2 PTO days), so here I am. It’s a good thing, too, because my boss has called me twice, and I would have been in hot water for not answering. Also, I’m too busy, so I haven’t eaten lunch yet. It’s 3:30. Yeah. I made darn sure to sound extra pathetic on the phone when my boss called, and to note that I was sick when he saw me in the hallway.

    1. Jean*

      I hope your boss, after getting good and sick, either repents & changes the sick leave policy or petitions whomever has the power to make this change! Grrrr.

  25. Jackie*

    If your brother, sister, or parents have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome you need to discuss getting the flu shot with your doctor as you could be at risk of also getting Guillain-Barré. Guillain-Barré can be a result of a flu shot. Your doctor will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you.

  26. Anonymous*

    I think the point that management needs to model the behavior is really key. The CEO of my company came in with a terrible flu or cold last week and was telling everyone how sick he was, blah blah blah. I really think that makes other people feel like they can’t take a sick day without being judged.

  27. quix*

    Hah. For a while my company had those “stay home if you’re sick” posters up. At the same time they were introducing a “five points and you’re fired” attendance policy, where any absence not explicitly required by law to go unpunished cost half a point.

    It was kind of a sick joke for a while, but they eventually took the posters down.

  28. Anonymous*

    It’s almost impossible to take time off for sickness where I work. If you try to call in, the manager will grill you on what exactly is wrong with you, and try to convince you to come in anyway.

    We have strict rules like you MUST be calling from a landline (cause you should be at home) even though many people don’t have landlines. You also CANNOT be seen doing other things on your sick day off and MUST bring in a doctor’s note on your return.

    We have no paid sick days anyway so if you do call in sick, it’s a day of missed pay. I have a manager who states she doesn’t believe anyone is ill unless they are actually throwing up.

    One girl was sick (as in vomiting) at work and they insisted she sit and drink water for 10 minutes to see if she felt better and able to continue working. Another girl passed out and they decided she was ‘faking’ to get sent home and so she stayed at work.

    Since we all have 0-hour contracts, they don’t need to find a reason to actually fire someone they don’t like. If you try to push back against something, they will simply stop giving you shifts ever again. You’re still technically employed until you quit, but you have no hours so basically no job.

    And this is a fast service restaurant, so we get to infect all the customers too.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Oh holy mother of God, that is horrific! I am so sorry you’re working in that kind of environment. That is abusive.

  29. lifes a beach*

    Also, if you have the flu and take OTC meds to alleviate the symptoms. be aware you can still be contagious. Just because you are “feeling”better, does not mean you are not shedding the virus!

  30. Windchime*

    This is a depressing thread. I’m saddened hearing so many employers who expect their employees to work like machines and never have time off for being sick or…..y’know…..human.

  31. Jen*

    I work for the government and we get 13 days of sick leave per year. Reality in my organization is that people use very little – one or two days a year at most. I haven’t used one in a couple of years. If someone calls in sick we all worry because it’s unusual and we know that the person must really feel awful.

    We get free flu shots though, so there’s that.

  32. Erin*

    I’ve been Patient Zero many times, because my previous boss took sick leave as a matter of high treason. They always acted like I was making it up, even with a doctor’s note and all the documentation the state requires.
    They also often came up with assignments I was supposed to do while on sick leave.
    When I left that job and was cleaning out my private computer, I found a huge file with things I did on sick leave, I had never before realized how much work it actually was. I hadn’t thought of it before, but of course, since I was home on sick leave, they also reduced my pay for those periods, so I was basically working from home for free.

  33. another anon*

    I don’t understand the companies who tout paid sick leave as a benefit, but dock people for using it. My previous job offered seven sick days a year (paid at a portion of your regular wages, I think it was 80%) but their attendance policy was such that if you actually used more than five it would be grounds for termination. Granted, even five sick days in a year seems like a lot in theory, but in practice when you have thousands of people working on site who are all subject to the same policy, you get a lot of martyrs coming in while sick and subsequently infecting everyone else, instead of using some of those days to stay home. I got sick several times (I’m talking significantly more illnesses in a shorter period of time as compared to other cold/flu seasons) with various colds and even the actual flu during my short time there, and was quickly reprimanded for racking up sick day “occurrences.” To top it all off, I was non-exempt and couldn’t work from home even if I had wanted to.

    Why even offer sick leave if you don’t trust employees to use it like reasonable adults?

  34. Andrea*

    Influenza is no joke. During the swine flu epidemic, a high school classmate of mine passed away. He was 30. It really does kill people.

  35. Amanda*

    I am reading this while sick at work, actually. I have generous sick time + leave…but no one to cover for me while I’m out. I’m in a different facility than most of the other staff members, and we have to keep this facility open with 2 employees no matter what. So on days like today (when our part time staff isn’t scheduled until the afternoon), it’s either tough it out and come in sick…or call someone from the other facility, which is guaranteed to make them pissy and grumpy, if it happens at all.

    Hopefully heading home at lunch…

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