can I ask my manager to tell sick people to stay at home?

This is timely, because I’m currently laid up with a fever and terrible sore throat…

A reader writes:

I work for a company with an accrued PTO policy that is used for all vacation time and sick leave. However, we have the option to work from home if we need to, and the manager of my group is pretty flexible and understanding.

However, over the past few weeks, several of my coworkers have come into the office while obviously sick. They spray Lysol and take medicine at their desks instead of taking a day off or working from home. Most recently, a coworker who sits close to me has come in while coughing, sniffling, and even groaning throughout the day.

Our manager is being very kind to her, but I really wish she’d tell this coworker to just take her laptop and work from home. I understand why my coworker doesn’t want to take a sick day since that would eat away at her bank of PTO, but coming in when she has the option to stay home and work is driving me crazy. Even if I don’t get sick myself (which I still might, as we get further into cold and flu season), it’s very distracting.

Is there a way I can address this with my manager that doesn’t come across as whiny? I also don’t want to negatively impact my coworkers, such as my complaint leading to them being forced to take PTO. Is it way out of line to ask if *I* can work from home if she’s going to allow people to stay in the office while sick?

I think you’re more likely to get a better response if you say, “Would you be wiling to encourage people to work from home rather than  coming to work while they’re sick? I tend to catch colds and flus easily, and I imagine others may be the same and that it would be better to have one person working from home than the whole office waylaid by sickness.”

If she says something like “well, it’s really up to each person what they do,” then at that point you could say, “Would you mind if I work from home while Jane has this bad cold then? I really want to avoid getting sick right now” … but if you do it every time someone comes to work with a cold, you may end up looking like you’re being a little reactionary (in part because you’re probably coming into contact with cold and flu germs plenty of other times without realizing it, just by being out in public).

Your better bet might be to talk to your coworkers. You could say something like, “I’ve noticed that in past years, colds and flus have ended up spreading around the office because we’re a group that tends to come to work even when sick. Would y’all be up for us agreeing this year to try to work from home when we’re sick and see if it helps?”

Also, for what it’s worth, this tends to be one of the side effects of combining vacation and sick leave into one bucket — it often results in people avoiding taking sick days because it will mean fewer vacation days. In your case, though, it sounds like people can work from home and thus avoid taking any PTO at all, and so it’s reasonable to expect them to do that (especially when you throw in the fact that some of their coworkers may be immunocompromised or going home to people who are).

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. Bethany*

    Another factor that might be contributing to this culture is a kind of misguided work ethic, like, if I’m not too sick to be sitting upright I should be at work because RESPONSIBILITY. I know I sometimes go to work when I probably shouldn’t for this reason.

    1. CMT*

      Same. I had a pretty crappy cold recently and it took me a day to realize, “Hey, I have PTO for a reason. I don’t need to be at work right now; I can go home and rest.” Which my coworkers definitely appreciate.

    2. Trig*

      I am this way. It’s dumb.

      And also the slow cold that you ignore and ignore pretending it doesn’t exist, then suddenly “Oh, I seem to be sneezing a lot today. If I am still/more sick tomorrow, I will stay home” and then you’re better the next day and realise that YESTERDAY was the day you should have stayed home…

      1. TrainerGirl*

        I admit that I’ve done that this week. I have the scratchy throat, but it hasn’t really turned into a cold/flu yet with the sniffling/sneezing/coughing/congestion symptoms yet. Even though I’ve felt really tired and thought about going home, I haven’t. I keep saying that if it turns into coughing/congestion (the things that I hate when other people bring into the office), I will stay home, but it hasn’t yet and now it’s almost Friday. I have a lot of teammates who are remote, so sometimes I need to remember that I work in an office and can stay home if necessary….

        1. Jessica*

          You are often most contagious at the stages that you’re coming in. For people like me with chronic illnesses and those with cancer or family members with cancer, a simple annoying cold to most can be very painful, expensive and even deadly to some.

    3. Geneva*

      Very true. I once worked through a week-long stomach bug to keep up with my daily barrage of emails and assignments. And the crazy thing is, I felt GUILTY for being sick because my team NEEDED ME. Self-care was for suckers!

      1. NorthernSoutherner*

        Things that make you go argh! If I’d gotten your stomach bug, I would have been soooooo PO’d. Years ago, in the days before hand sanitizer, someone in my office came in sick before Thanksgiving, I caught her cold and was so sick on Thanksgiving Day, I had to stay home and not go to my mom’s.
        If you’re sick, STAY HOME. Nobody is indispensable.

    4. Fire*

      Yeah – I don’t have PTO, but I could call out sick with less consequences than normal because of other issues, but I also…. haven’t been doing that. Mostly because while I was away recovering from surgery half the other bike couriers quit, so we’re sooooooo understaffed and our delivery times are significantly longer than usual. I’ve had customers coldly and/or angrily demand an explanation for the delay before paying for their food multiple times this week. Not to the manager – to me, the clearly very tired courier. So I’ve been sucking it up even though I have a cold right now because we just really, really, REALLY need all the hands we can get.

      I have another courier job, too, but we’re not understaffed there and it’s relatively easy to get a cover.

    5. Anonymity*

      Our boss’s boss is like this. If you’re too sick to be in the office, you’re too sick to be working at all, even from home.

      1. Mary M.*

        Totally agree. If you have a fever that’s severe enough to stay in bed, then of course stay home. If it’s the first day of a cold and you have a slight fever of no more than one or two degrees F, then take some medicine and get yourself to work or school. Only shirkers, lazy people, or those with OCD would even consider staying home for a cold. What nonsense.

    6. paul*

      I’m here at work being mostly unproductive with a moderate case of flu because PTO limits are hard and I can’t do *any* work at home (not even as much as I’m getting done now) because my wife and kids are *also* home sick.

      This sucks.

    7. ThatAspieGirl*

      LOL when I was little, I wouldn’t fake sick like other kids, I would fake well. I would say, “I’m fine, I’m fine!” even when I had a fever, a terrible headache, a foul odor rising from my body (BTW, why do some illnesses cause that?), Technicolor snot…you get the idea. I would go into school with all kinds of stuff, a little bit because of wanting to be responsible, but mostly just because school was just so much fun for me and I wanted to see my friends and I wanted to have the homework and I wanted to play some games and take tests and participate in whatever they had planned for us! I didn’t wanna let something “little” like being white as a sheet or having snot that looks like someone’s science experiment gone wrong get in my way of all that fun!

      Eventually, I realized that I was being a little silly, and decided to quit trying to fake well.

  2. Loopy*

    I know one frustrating thing is that if very few people in an office take off for being sick, it starts to be an unspoken “thing” where everyone assumes it’ll make them look bad if they take sick days.

    Also I know many are critical of the productivity of working remotely – could that be playing into this?

    So many times I’ve found even if we are technically allowed to do something there’s a culture that counters actually taking advantage of it. And once 85% of the office acts one way, it’s daunting to be the odd person out.

    1. Smithy*

      This is a huge thing – whether it’s combined banked PTO days or sick days – if there’s a culture of never taking sick days/work from home, then it can be really hard to counteract.

      Where I am now, we have very accommodating sick days and PTO. However, on the very rare day our Executive Director takes a day off we’ll get a message like “ED is taking only his third vacation stay since starting 2 years ago, please respect ED’s time away and only email if truly an emergency”. No matter what we’re told about sick days, disconnecting, taking time off – the message remains very clear about the overall culture.

      1. Loopy*

        Even just working under a single supervisor who didn’t take a one sick day during the entire 18 months made me feel wary of taking one myself, even though all the policies were generous.

        We were a two person team and it just felt very obvious and out of sync to be out.

        Likewise my current job has very subtle disapproval of work from home EVEN when it’s allowed AND approved!

    2. BananaPants*

      We seem to follow the lead of whoever is our manager. The years where we had a health fanatic manager who ran to/from work every day and thought sick time was for chumps? Yeah, a lot of us came in even if we were coughing up a lung, so as not to look bad for using sick time. We had a couple of bosses who were good about using sick time themselves and now we’re back to a boss who comes into work when he’s ill and ensconces himself in his office with a closed door – the rest of us are in cubicles where germs are more easily shared.

      I can work from home when sick but still have to go in to retrieve my laptop. If I really feel that crappy I’ll just use sick time (we have separate vacation and sick time) – except that Boss will raise an eyebrow if you only take one sick day. In his mind, if you’re so ill that you can’t work at all, you’re sick enough to need to be out for more than one day. (Insert massive eyerolling here.)

    3. KarenD*

      We had a great poster at my last job aimed at exactly this kind of thing. It was basically “When you are contagious” and listed out the points in various ailments where you were likely to infect others.

      It didn’t straight-up say “SO STAY YOUR BUTT HOME” but people got the message.

    4. TrainerGirl*

      I work in an open office floor plan, so it’s more important that people stay home if they’re sick. We used to have an immuno-compromised person in our office, so we had to stay home while they worked there, but it seems more lax now. I don’t have anyone sitting around me at the moment, so it’s not as bad if I come in while I’m sick but you’re right…I have some martyr coworkers who insist on coming in, and that seems to drive office culture.

  3. sometimeswhy*

    Several times over the last mubletyyears I have asked my boss if I could use sick time to go home well if everyone else was going to be at work sick. Which usually got a laugh but also usually got me a nice day at home.

    Sadly, working from home is not really an option sick, well, or otherwise since I have the sort of job you can’t really do from home. At least, not without attracting the attention of lots of people with badges.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        Nothing too exciting (and I’ll beg anonymity maintenance and keep my specific job to myself) but now I’m entertaining myself by coming up with a list of occupations that statement might apply to. So far I have an assortment of physical science, biological science, law enforcement, medical, pharmaceutical, demolition, and funerary fields.

      2. Red*

        I work in a pharmacy and working from home is definitely going to result in some raised eyebrows!

        Which sucks, actually, because I am recovering from an appendectomy and would love to go to work, except work means pants with actual waistbands :( That’s just not going to work for me at this point in my life!

  4. Amy the Rev*

    Ugh I feel this and I don’t even have sick days…the temp agency I work through doesn’t let us start using any sick days for the first 3 months (which is pretty typical I think) and so when I came down with an apocalyptic level cold during my second month there, I had to come into work (staying home and missing a couple days of pay was not an option unless I wanted to choose between rent and groceries that month). Since I’m a temp I don’t have the option of working from home, so I tried to isolate myself as much as I could while I was in the office. I don’t think anyone there understood that I don’t have sick days or that I really couldn’t afford to take a day or two off unpaid.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I literally almost cried when I got converted from temp to regular because suddenly I had sick days! I could go or stay home when I was sick, without having to calculate the wages lost from doing so. It was a huge shock to my system after 7 years of retail and/or temp jobs.

        I mean, about six months into the temp duration of my job, I had horrible back spasms and pain. I forced myself to go to work despite the pain until the morning when I hurt so bad I threw up trying to walk to the bathroom when I got up. After going to urgent care for it, being given pain meds and muscle relaxants, and being encouraged to stay home for a couple days, I went to work anyway because I needed the money (and even more than usual, given the $150 for the clinic and prescriptions). My boss asked why I didn’t just go home, and I said “Well, I can go sit in front of my computer at home and do stuff there [the doc had told me *not* to spend too much time lying down in bed] and be in pain for free, or I can sit in front of this computer and do stuff and be in pain while I get paid, so I’m going to do the thing that doesn’t cost me a day’s pay.”

        Her face was a picture. She’s worked at white-collar jobs with generous PTO for 20+ years and the idea that someone would have to decide whether to take care of themselves physically based on whether they could afford to lose the day’s wages was a shock.

        She shooed me out the door and doctored my timesheet to show 8 hours of regular time for the day.

        1. Anxa*

          One of the most awkward parts of the interview for me is when they start going over pay, hours, and benefits. Two of the employers I interviewed with the most (main employers in town) have two phases of the interview and the first one is going over all of the HR stuff and learning the wage, the hours, the class. I don’t go in thinking about the wage or benefits, but then I start to feel like maybe it’s within reach. Could I really join the full-time with benefits class of worker? Then I have to work really hard at not thinkig about that and just focusing on the interview.

        2. ceiswyn*

          I remember that from temping.

          I once went into a short-term contract with a godawful cold (my immune system tends to overreact, so I get the kind of symptoms other people associate with ‘flu, complete with spiking temperatures and occasional hallucinations) because I needed to make my rent.

          (And as I left, I heard my erstwhile colleagues wondering how come half of the people in the building were all suddenly off sick with colds. I bet it would have cost the company less to give me sick pay for the time I was most contagious)

          1. Jadelyn*

            Eek, that’s intense.

            Honestly, I feel like sick days should be a basic labor right along with things like the 40-hour workweek.

        3. Chinook*

          Jadelyn, I may soon have to talk to my boss this frankly because I too am a temp (but been there 4 years) with no sick days but currently battling to get a chronic condition back under control. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home but she has told me I don’t have to. I love that she wants me to put my health first and I appreciate being able to take a day off when medication side effects send me for a loop, but this is starting to cost me big bucks (to the point that I had cancelled planned days off and she didn’t understand why).

          The only advantage is that they really can’t complain about the number of sick days I am taking (as long as nothing flu through the cracks) because I am actually saving her annual budget money every time I don’t show up. That and the quality of my work are the only way I can hope to convince them to not replace me with someone more reliable/less sick, especially sine the temp agency I was traded to is very hard to get a hold of.

    1. Anon Millennial*

      My temp agency didn’t even offer sick days. I had to come into a temp assignment with a stomach virus. It was awful. Hope you find a permanent position soon!

      1. Kore*

        Mine didn’t either – for long term assignments I was able to ask my manager to take a sick day / vacation day if needed, but that was unpaid.

      2. Chinook*

        As someone who had to call in sick for a temp job from an ER with kidney stones, I thought for sure I was labelled as “unreliable” in their records because I went from getting daily calls for work to 2 months of silence and then only offered part-time work to prove myself with.

      1. LawCat*

        It happened to me too. Dead of winter, horrible hacking cold, and no sick days. I found out later that you could get a few sick days advanced. Wish someone had bothered to mention that to me when I needed it!

    2. TheOperaGhost*

      I am in that place right now. I’m at the end of my first month and won’t get any sick days for 5 more months.

      Last night I was up sick all night. My regular, understanding manager is out today, and the replacement is a snake.

    3. Qmatilda*

      I started a job in October of Last year (the end) and in the first week got a horrible cold. Problem is that we didn’t get any leave until the beginning of the next year so I had to come into work with what sounds like the plaque.

      I felt horrible about coming into the office in that state. but I didn’t have a financial choice and I no longer judge people that come in ill unless I know the full story.

    1. Janet Aldrich*

      Or you could call some of them temporary workers who don’t get paid if they don’t work.

  5. Elle*

    I was just having this conversation with our owner the other day. We get a TOTAL of 5 days sick/personal time (40 hours that can be used in half hour increments as needed, vacation is separate). So, these 5 days are to be used for everything – sick child, burst pipe or other household emergency, funeral of non-family members, doctor appointments, your own illness, etc. By the time all of the other things surface, there just isn’t enough time left to actually stay home sick. So, as a result, many of us come to work because we don’t have the option to stay home. Working from home is not an option for us given the nature of our work. I think I almost have him convinced that it’s time to add at least a few days to this total so are not infecting each other. The problem is that the others that would make the decision rarely get sick, and have spouses at home to take care of some of the other stuff, so they are having trouble seeing that the rest of us mortals need more time!

    1. Person of Interest*

      I also get just 5 days of sick time, but my boss is so flexible about working from home and very nice about us taking care of our personal needs that I never use it unless I’m truly feeling awful (i.e., migraine) and planning to just lie on the couch all day. If I get some work done and can make up some time later in the week so I don’t feel guilty, I just don’t bother. It also helps that my boss has no idea how our timesheet system works, and thus relies on us to self-report what we have available :)

    2. Ife*

      But 5 sick days actually seems pretty standard to me. For the record I really dislike that companies limit the number of sick days you are “allowed,” but that’s a different matter.

        1. Ellen N.*

          Every place I’ve worked gives five sick days per year and they don’t roll in to the next year. Also at two of the places I worked we were required to call and talk to one of the partners or high level managers so that they could “make sure” that we were really sick. This policy included when I was in the hospital for a week. I asked my husband to call my hospital room each morning so that I could call the office.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Letter of the law vs spirit of the law people. I’m a spirit of the law person myself. Someone’s SO calls and says employee is in the hospital, I have everything I need to know in most cases. I have never had a big need to enforce every single letter a policy with every person, as you show here there are times where that is just so inappropriate. But sometimes the people around me have many big needs. I remember falling off a bike at 60 mph. I limped into work because some folks were big need folks who actually had to see me wrapped in ten miles of gauze before they could agree I might have a problem. Their solution was if I ever got on a bike again, I could consider myself automatically fired. This goes under the heading of What Not To Do 101.

            Some companies put policies in place and never check to see if they actually need that policy or if the policy is having the desired result WITHOUT unforeseen side effects. No one checks to see how that policy is playing out in real life.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            For the record, forcing you to call in unnecessarily every day from the hospital would count as FMLA interference if FMLA applies.

        2. INTP*

          In my experience it’s standard, but also low. I used to get sick a lot and 5 days didn’t allow me to stay home when sick ever. I needed those days for doctor’s appointments and occasional migraines. Then I had to use all my vacation to get surgery.

        3. SL #2*

          It seems standard to me, but yes, awfully low. I get 12 sick days a year here– I’m starting to realize that I can’t leave this job (not that I want to!!!) without giving up a lot of great benefits.

          1. Trialia*

            Or, you know, someone with a chronic illness who might be trying to hang onto a job they love and have been doing for 20 years.

            5 days out of 365 wouldn’t be anything like enough for somebody who had horrendous periods, or menstrual migraine, or even just an accident in the same year as a stomach bug or some such. Not even people who aren’t considered as chronically ill, people of average health.

            The more I hear about work practices in North America, the more grateful I am that I chose to tell my ex “no,” when she asked me to move to the US. That this kind of stuff is so normalised for people like you is disturbing, because it’s not humane *or* adequate for the average person.

      1. Jadelyn*

        My company does 1 day per month – 12 days per year – on top of 2-4 weeks of vacation, depending on tenure. I can’t even imagine being capped at 5 days of sick.

    3. Jesmlet*

      This is confusing to me, why couldn’t you use vacation time for all those things? Doesn’t vacation apply to everything? Or is it that there are just not enough days total?

      1. OhNo*

        Many companies require you to book vacation days in advance. I’ve had a couple of jobs where vacations had to be booked 3+ weeks out, or you had to use sick/personal time instead.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Ah okay, I’ve never really worked anywhere that wasn’t flexible on that. Next time I’m job hunting, I’ll be tempted to ask about their policy on that.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yeah, I think the meaningful difference is “scheduled” vs. “unscheduled” time off.

      2. Elle*

        It does kind of get into a grey area as to what constitutes “personal/sick” vs. vacation. Ideally, vacation is used to recharge and do something enjoyable, and we generally require that notice be given. The “personal/sick” bank is only to be used for medical and/or emergency type situations that you may not be able to give notice for. It’s there so we don’t have to use vacation for something like a dr. appointment, funeral, etc. – not so fun stuff.

        1. Anonymity*

          My old job had 3 buckets. Sick (totally unscheduled, day-of absences), personal (within 24 hr notice, no argument absences – very high stress/burnout field), and vacation (advance notice, negotiable absences).

  6. Brogrammer*

    Are there any unwritten/unofficial rules at your workplace about working from home? At my workplace, the official policy is that we can work from home if we’re sick but don’t want to take a sick day, but unofficially it does look bad to work from home for more than one day.

    Just the other week I worked from home for two days because I had a bad cold (one of those “go through an entire box of tissues in a day” colds) and by halfway through the second day both my direct boss and my boss’s boss had contacted me to ask when I was going to be back in the office.

    It does sound like your manager is pretty reasonable – if those unwritten rules don’t exist in your workplace, that might need to be made clear too. Nobody wants to be put in the awkward position of finding out that something they were told was okay ended up reflecting poorly on them.

    1. Arielle*

      At my last job we had a lot of flexibility about working from home, but the downside was that basically if you were conscious and not in the hospital you were expected to be working. I once worked from home for three days with a bad cold and probably got less done than if I had been able to take two real sick days and then come back on the third day having rested up.

      1. ThatGirl*

        When I was a contractor I only got paid for hours worked, no PTO, so it was both good and bad that I could work from home – I felt like I had to at least do SOME work, but at least I could do it in my jammies with some soup on the couch.

        Now, thank goodness, I have PTO and often will take a half day if I’m feeling up to some work but still need some extra rest.

      2. Kore*

        That’s pretty much my workplace. Working from home is flexible, but I can honestly think of only a couple times anyone on my roughly 10 person team actually took a sick day over the past two years. No one really takes sick days because working from home is pretty normal. I’ve only used my sick pay for doctor appointments.

  7. MadGrad*

    I’ll show my youth here by admitting this, but as a student (even with some work experience), the idea that you can take time off for a COLD or even might be expected to in an office setting blows my mind. Sincerely. The effect school has had on my concept of illness and work is very apparent when I see things like this. If I can stand, don’t have a high fever and am only occasionally running to the bathroom I feel like I have no right to stay home from anything work/school related. It’s terrible, but I’ll have to work on it.

    1. Amy the Rev*

      That really really resonates with me; my cut-off for ‘ too sick to work’ is if my fever is over 101 and/or I’m actively vomiting and/or literally unable to get out of bed. When I read the post about someone having to call 911 in case their co-worker passed out, I was thinking how if that ever happened to me I’d have to beg them not to take me to the hospital, because then not only would I miss out on that day’s pay, but I’d be stuck with a hospital bill to boot! Give me some juice and a place to sit and let me keep working, please!

    2. Hlyssande*

      I have this problem too. Even when I was coughing so hard I puked, my mother encouraged me to ‘just try’ the day. That was almost 20 years ago, but I still feel like I need extensive justifications to take a sick day.

      1. Amy the Rev*

        Right? And then if I *do* take the day off, and am able to walk around my house/be awake enough to watch TV, I feel guilty because I am clearly well enough to work…right?

        1. Nanani*

          As freelancer, I can tell you that the time wasted fixing the stupid mistakes made while sleep deprived/dizzy/feverish/on meds costs you more than it does to take time off to actually get better.

          1. Amy the Rev*

            I one-hundred-percent agree; that’s why I’m really looking forward to a day when I either have a job that provides some sort of PTO/sick days, or have a job that pays enough that I can afford to stay home sick unpaid. I have hope, though! Just a tough market atm.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Oh, no–my mother never made us go to school sick, and she hated it when other parents sent their kids to school sick. She hated perfect attendance awards: She just said that meant that kid had been spreading germs all over the place.

        I never call in sick when I’m not actually sick, so I have no qualms about calling in when I am. I can’t work from home because the stuff I do can’t leave my workplace, and I hate the idea of sitting here sick, touching all the stuff that my coworkers will have to touch later.

        1. Jayn*

          While I never went to school while sick, in my mind a cold doesn’t really count. It didn’t impact functioning for me really, just meant using a lot of tissues. Anything else sure stay home, but staying home with a cold is something that would never occur to me.

          1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

            For people with chronic illness, even ‘just a cold’ can be really bad. I have asthma & allergies, and when I was a kid, every cold I got ended up with a middle of the night trip to the ER. That was in the 70s, when the only treatment for a serious asthma attack was adrenaline administered by IV. This happened two or three times a year, and it was terrifying. There were so many times I thought I was going to die, and to this day (almost 51 now) I *HAAAAATE* IVs and needles.
            Colds aren’t a big deal to you, but to someone else, they can be serious or life threatening. If you don’t stay home for your own sake, do it for the sake of someone else.
            In the last ten years, I have only caught a cold in one of two ways: my husband brought a bug home from one of the guys he works with (he is union & they have great benefits including insurance, & plenty of sick time. These guys just don’t WANT to use it) or because my elderly, disabled sister brought it home from her day program…almost always caught from a driver/program worker who couldn’t or wouldn’t take the day off. Which I find just jaw dropping. I don’t understand why an industry that deals EXCLUSIVELY in a hands on way with an elderly, disabled population would realize that colds & flu can have an even greater impact on them, and would make sure workers had enough sick time & coverage that they could strictly enforce a “do not come in sick” policy.

            1. Trialia*

              Sounds painfully familiar.

              The caregivers employed by the agency my local authority uses to provide home care to disabled people (like me) are on zero-hours contracts, so they can’t really afford to call in sick, but even when caregivers who are sick have chosen to call in, like a sensible person in their job ought to do, I have *heard* line managers call them and bother them to take on extra calls because a co-worker is on holiday, or some such inadequate reason for asking someone in that field of work to be on duty & going round people with disabilities & chronic ill health while they’re infectious or injured and shouldn’t have to. I’m positive that’s led to my getting the flu & a couple of month-long colds before now.

        2. Can’t remember what name I used before*

          Dust Bunny, my mom said the same thing about perfect attendance records. At our school, we had a mom who sent her kids in NO MATTER WHAT so they’d get that award every year, but the school put their foot down on two occasions- when she sent her son to school with ringworm, and another when she sent all three of them to school with CHICKEN POX.

      3. Kelly L.*

        Yes! We always had to go to school sick when I was a kid. Which is how I got multiple perfect attendance awards…along with a reputation for being That Kid Who Pukes in School. I think just missing a day or two a year would have made everyone’s lives much more pleasant.

      4. Anon Accountant*

        Mine too. Go to school, throw up, have the school nurse ask why your parents sent you to school and mom would have to come pick me up, with me throwing up, fever and all.

        Why send me to school at all? I have no idea

        1. Rosemary*

          Child care? :/ I know that’s why my mom would send me and my siblings to school when sick. Even if we ended up having to go home, she usually got at least a half day of work out of it.

          1. Anna*

            Pretty much this. If you stay home from work with a sick kid, you’re an imposition to your boss and coworkers; if you have to go pick up a sick kid, the kid is the imposition (as far as perception, I mean). It’s just perceived differently.

        2. aeldest*

          While I don’t think it should be this way, I think there is a different perception for “I need to go pick up my kid, she just puked in school” vs. “I’m staying home with my sick kid today.” Again, not how it should be, but that could be why your mom would send you.

    3. MarketingGirl*

      This. I feel like we overlook how much a cold can incapacitate a person, and so we trudge through it. Growing up I was never allowed to stay home from school unless I had a fever or throwing up. So, off to school I went, stuffed up nose and all. This habit has carried over to my adult life. I have trouble recognizing when I’m just too sick to go to work.

      Also, it’s the idea that life doesn’t just stop when you’re sick!! It’s either show up, look “good,” and do the minimum or come back to work with a huge to-do list and emails to catch up on. I know you said you can work from home but it’s not always that easy of a decision (although it should be a no-brainer).

    4. Collie*

      As a summer intern (working full time under a quasi-regular-employee thing), I once was getting back on a medication I knew made me sick to my stomach for the first few days. I threw up at work (in the bathroom), headed back to my desk, asked my fellow intern to grab me some gum from the store (he did, bless him), and got back to it. I’m sure it was a combo of wanting to be an impressive intern/embarrassment at having thrown up at work and not wanting many people to know/knowing I wasn’t contagious-sick/the culture surrounding illness in the American workplace, but I think now I’ve learned my lesson.

      Except that I’d probably still stay if I threw up today, knowing the alternative is taking vomit-inducing public transit home.

    5. Jesmlet*

      It’s unfortunate that the school system that’s supposed to prepare kids for the ‘real world’ actually does no such thing. From sick days to schedules to homework, it’s just so far from the typical work experience that there’s probably almost always a bit of a culture shock in the transition, at least there was for me.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except it’s the parents in all of these comments who are reinforcing the idea that you should go to school/work sick. Parents are the ones who send kids to school sick so *they* don’t have to stay home with them. And I’m pretty sure it’s the parents’ job to raise kids, not the schools’.

        1. Jesmlet*

          I think there’s a general cultural idea that kids shouldn’t skip school for just a cold, it’s not just the parents. And for younger kids, maybe we as a society should find a way to better accommodate parents who need to stay home with their sick kids so we don’t keep forcing kids to sit at their desks and pretend to pay attention when they’re feeling unwell.

          1. Rana*

            Yeah, my daughter’s preschool takes the position that if the child isn’t in the active, highly contagious stage of a disease (sneezing, feverish, barfing, exhausted) they should come to school. Which makes sense when you realize that at this age little kids have colds more days than they don’t, so if you kept them home for colds, they’d miss three-quarters of their classes. So we all suck it up and tell ourselves that it’s strengthening their immune systems.

            (Of course the great fun comes when you catch Cold #1 just as Kiddo is winding down, then they catch #2 as you’re getting better, and so on. And I swear the colds are nastier for having passed through those immature immune systems first on their way to you.)

            1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

              Actually, many schools just want kids to come in because they get money based on how many butts are in seats every day.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I posted this downthread, but I send my kid to school when she’s sick because the *school* demands it.

          1. DaBlonde*

            Right. Some schools have very limited/restrictive sick day policies.
            My daughter’s school was 5 days for the entire school year and a doctor’s note was required if she missed three or more days in a row.
            That led to a lot of her going long enough to get counted for attendance and then having me come pick her up.

          2. Alienor*

            Same here, and also because after a certain point in school, missed work is very hard to catch up on. In elementary school it didn’t matter that much if Kid missed a couple days of spelling and times-tables worksheets, but in high school the stakes are a lot higher (plus Kid is still working on being able to approach teachers to ask about making things up).

          3. KellyK*

            I had something similar when I was a kid. My brother and I both had strep, and my mom took us to the doctor’s office. Afterwards, we got lunch at McDonald’s, where we ran into the mom of one of my classmates. Lo and behold, the principal was calling that week to inform my mom that we needed a doctor’s note for any further absences. That may have been the year when we had strep infections that we Just. Could. Not. shake, and ended up needing antibiotic injections.

            So, yeah, schools can have really unrealistic attendance policies. Or not even policies, but just decide that someone’s playing hooky when they’re not.

        3. BananaPants*

          Believe me, if I could keep my school-aged kid home when she has a cold, I would. Students in our district get 10 absences per year before the truant officer gets involved – truancy is a significant problem among certain groups in the district and they take a hard line because of it. An “excused” absence requires a parent’s note on a special form, plus a doctor’s note (or attorney or CPS worker, etc. in cases where the absence is for legal reasons). The thing is, that excused absence is treated no differently than if my kid just plays hooky and has no documentation; there’s still a maximum of 10 absences (excused or unexcused) allowed in a school year.

          As for the kid in daycare, even daycare says that if they made kids with colds stay home they’d be half empty from October through April. Little kids with immature immune systems who are in a group care setting are basically a river of snot for half of the year. If there’s no fever or vomiting or other good medical reason to keep her home, she’s going to “school” and we’re going to work.

      2. LaurenB*

        I think another issue is just that kids are sick so much more than adults. Once they’re done building up their immune systems and wiping their noses on each other, then it becomes more trouble than it’s worth to miss a day and have to catch up. It was years after I finished university that I finally realized that colds are discrete things – I had just thought a cold was the normal state of affairs for half the winter.

        1. Rana*

          This. I’ve having to learn the reverse, as my preschool daughter has turned our household into all colds all the time, when before her I’d get maybe one cold a year, if that. I’m too old for this nonsense, but there it is.

    6. Government Worker*

      Yes! I had a cold that turned into pneumonia during my last semester of grad school, and it didn’t really occur to me to stay home and miss class (despite the fact that I step out of class to get a coughing fit under control and ended up throwing up in the bathroom from coughing so much). The class was only once a week and was taught by my thesis advisor, and with his lecture style it was hard to really capture the content of class by borrowing someone else’s lecture notes, so I considered the class unmissable. I doubt my classmates appreciated it, but that was the culture. I rationalized that I was on antibiotics and not contagious.

      And then I graduated and my spouse and I both started new jobs (no accrued sick leave!) while our young kids started at a new daycare (new germs!), so last spring I came in with colds a couple of times to conserve my sick leave. It occurred to me recently, 8 months into the job, that I could just stay home if I didn’t feel well, and it was kind of a revelation.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yes! Even after I grew up, I had a number of jobs with no leave. First I worked in food service and retail, where they pretty much never wanted you to call out. Then I got an office job, but with no paid leave, so I could call in sick if I wanted, but I’d be sacrificing money I probably needed. This is my first job with paid sick leave. And it took me forever to figure out I was “allowed” to use it. My old co-worker (now retired) had to chivvy me out the door a few times when I was miserable.

    7. Manders*

      Same here–I always got perfect attendance awards when those were given, and in college, it was pretty much the rule that if you didn’t have a high fever and you weren’t bleeding you needed to be in class.

      Now, I have a very small bank of combined vacation and sick days, and all my paid time off is going towards visiting a sick relative. Working from home isn’t an option. So if I get sick, I have to choose between not getting paid and possibly infecting others. It’s a sucky system, but I don’t know many people my age who work in places with a more generous leave policy. And a lot of people my age in my area live paycheck to paycheck, so working while sick is becoming the norm.

    8. Allison*

      I remember this! The student handbook said you needed to observe a 24 hour waiting period for a fever or vomiting, and a 12 hour period for diarrhea, but that a cold wasn’t a good reason to miss school.

      Sometimes I wonder if they just wanted to assure parents that a kid didn’t have to miss school just because they had the sniffles, but that they could if they felt awful. On the other hand, missing school did sometimes mean missing out on learning that couldn’t be repeated. You can get notes, catch up on homework, makeup tests and quizzes, and sometimes do classwork like science labs and worksheets if you need to, but once a class is over it’s not going to be re-taught that year, and in-class discussions can’t be repeated, so I can see why the school only wants kids to miss school if they absolutely can’t get through the day.

      But my mom didn’t want me missing school because of a cold. In high school I was able to insist, but even then, it was a tough fight.

      1. Emma*

        One of my college classes – a required class – had as its attendance policy that if you missed a day for any reason, you failed the class. I made it in when sick, and got marked down for not being able to do oral presentations with a hacking cough.

        When the prof stuck to his policy and failed me for not showing up the day I had to give a statement to police (someone had attacked my brother, I’d been a witness), when even a note helpfully scribbled down by the officer wouldn’t move him, I decided, fuck this, and transferred schools. Really not worth that shit. No class is, no matter how essential the prof thinks his classroom presentations are.

    9. Rusty Shackelford*

      The culture has changed a lot since I was in school. Back in the day, if you were sick, you stayed home. Now, if my kid misses five days per semester (even if she has a note from the doctor for each of those days), she’ll get called in for A Meeting. We start getting snippy letters from the school after the first absence. I understand why they’re so motivated, but it’s really become extreme.

      1. Amy the Rev*

        I had completely forgotten this until now, but I did a semester abroad in high school (on my own, though, not through a program, so it was basically the same as if my family had moved away briefly)…when I got back, my family laughingly presented me with the numerous form-letters they had received from my home high school over the semester, warning them about my rapidly accruing absences (they finally stopped sending them after 64). Funnily enough, both the Principal and the guidance office were well aware I was studying abroad, as were all my teachers, yet they were marking me absent anyway.

          1. Amy the Rev*

            64 absences…there were maybe 5 letters total hahaha. I could tell when each of my teachers finally realized I was truly gone for the semester by how many absences they gave me on my report card. Some were 0, some were 5, one (stubborn) math teacher marked me absent for each day that semester, despite all my classmates reminding her “she’s at a different school now”

      2. KP84*

        My sister came down with pneumonia and was out for knee surgery her junior year of high school. At the end of the year, despite her 3.9 grade point average she had to face an absence committee because she missed 16 days of school that year (15 was the cut off). My mother had to argue with the school that my sister was legitimately sick and one teacher still wanted to fail her for the year. It was ridiculous.

        1. Stardust*

          Wow, that’s super ridiculous!! It’s one thing if a student is in danger of failing because they have missed too much school; but it’s CRAZY to chastise a student with almost a 4.0 for flu and knee surgery. Where has Common sense gone?

      3. dawbs*

        I took my child out of kindergarten for a few days last fall to go see her new baby cousin out of state (where she promptly got sick, and we had to quarantine her away from the baby–because of COURSE she did)–she missed probably 2 more days of school there than she would have if no cousin had made an appearance.
        She also managed to get strep 5 times over the course of the year (she HAD been in preschool and exposed to kid-germs before, I don’t get it either) on top of ‘normal’ sniffles (and normal stuff like dentists and eye doctor appts that can’t be done after school).

        I had gotten threatening truant letters from the school board 3 or 4 times before we hit the last semester of kindy. First grade has gotten off to a sickly sort of start (although her teacher gives her props, she is well trained to grab the nearest trash can when she looses it and is sick), so I”m sure I’m due for more.
        I understand why they care; I understand that I want my kid to be educated and have a good work ethic and all that jazz, but, for the love of little green apples, we send them into a kid-infested petri-dish filled with germ carriers-what do they expect?

        And, stubborn sort of person that I am, I toss all the letters and say that they have my contact information, if they truly want to talk to me and have a DIALOG about what my kid needs, then they will contact me to have a dialog about this instead of trying to bully me with lawyerly letters.

      4. blackcat*

        Now funding is very often tied to # of students attending each day. I don’t think that was always the case, but these days, most schools have a financial incentive to keep as many kids present as possible.

    10. Lissa*

      Yes, same! The idea of staying home from anything for a cold is still pretty foreign to me — I know basically nobody who does this. It wasn’t until I started reading Internet forums I heard that many people think if you have a cold you should stay home.

      My job right now is very very difficult to cover on short notice — there aren’t that many people who do what I do, we all have the same busy times, it can’t be done from home without setup, and if I don’t come in, the person I support is left without access that day (think sign language interpreter but that’s not exactly it). I am lucky in that I rarely get sick, but I can’t imagine not coming in without it being dire…

      And my job before that was food service, enough said. The culture there was very much “oh, you say you’re sick? YOU WERE FINE YESTERDAY.” Uh yeah, that’s how being sick works. You are healthy, then you become sick. I still remember hysterically crying because my manager tried to get me to come in “just to open the store” while I had food poisoning and was violently ill. My boyfriend at the time finally insisted I call back and say no, which I did. But uuugh.

      1. Stardust*

        Obviously the manager trying to convince you to come in when you had violent food poisoning illness had really thought that through. You open the store and then immediately have to close the store to clean up!

    11. Moonsaults*

      It’s not your age at all. My mom has only missed a day of work when she was too violently ill with an explosive bug that kept her in the bathroom. They knew something was certainly wrong when I had to make the phone call to her supervisor, “She has never called in in 17 years, is she okay, are you sure she’s okay, should she go to the hospital?!”

      It depends on the culture of the place you work at, I get to hear about it every time someone calls in sick from the supervisor when I relay the messages. I had to tell one guy to seriously take time off because of a horrible respiratory infection he had, he was nearly crying about how he didn’t want to get into trouble, so I took the bullet on that one. “I told him to stay home…that would be a liability to have someone that has a doctor note saying NOT TO WORK!!” >_<

      1. Lefty*

        That was kind of you! Your supervisor sounds like a jerk and reminds me of my own. I’m currently listening to coworker cough and sniffle because she’s afraid of supervisor’s wrath if she asks to use a sick day.

      2. Trialia*

        Talking of liabilities…

        My younger sister found a job working produce in a supermarket in her early 20s, but within her first 6 months she (a) wound up with winter bronchitis and (b) incurred hairline fractures to both wrists -@(the latter specifically from lifting all the crates she was required to lift at work. She had a hospital note for the fractures, but her supervisor tried to insist she come in during the bout of bronchitis, despite the fact that this would have meant she was coughing infectious germs and green phlegm all over the fruit & veg that was supposed to be sold to customers immediately she was done putting them out, and that her doctor had said she shouldn’t, but in the UK you don’t legally have to have a doctor’s note for sickness time off from work unless you’ve been off for 7 days or more.

        Sister being sensible, stubborn and pretty kind, she decided she did not choose to potentially inflict her horrible infection on thousands of other people, & though the supervisor’s manager agreed she did the right thing, she still lost the job for being off sick too much in the first six months.

        I can’t help wondering, nowadays, just how much the way she was treated at work ultimately contributed to her developing agoraphobia. Poor kid, she’s not the most mentally stable person out there, but she does work on that, all she can.

    12. shorty*

      I rarely took sick days as a student but I’m the exact opposite now that I’m working. I can easily work from home and my boss doesn’t seem to care so if I have even the mildest cold I’ll stay home. If I don’t feel 100% it’s a lot comfier to be at home on the couch in my PJs even if I’m still working!

      ***I will say though that I experience colds much differently now than I did when I was younger (i.e., in school). As a student I got colds much more frequently but they weren’t much more than a nuisance. Now I rarely get them but when I do they practically incapacitate me. Sometimes I take PTO rather than working from home because I am so exhausted from a cold.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Your last paragraph has been my experience, too — as a kid, it wasn’t unusual for me to be mildly sick (sniffles, cough, annoying congestion, but not really “sick enough” to miss school) for basically the entire winter; these days, I only get maybe one short cold per winter, but for the couple of days that I’m sick with that cold, I am KNOCKED OUT.

      2. Stardust*

        Agreed! I think a cold feels and effects my body a whole lot worse now that I’m over 30. When I think back about having a cold as a child, it seemed more mild(?)

        1. Rana*

          It certainly seems that way in our house. The cold that just gave my daughter a mildly runny nose and occasional cough has had me laid up and uncomfortable for the past three days.

    13. Temperance*

      I’m over 30 and struggle with this. My mother used to send me to school with fevers and sinus infections on the reg, so my brain is like, you aren’t REALLY sick if you have a little fever or a bad sinus infection or bronchitis.

      1. VioletEMT*

        Same. I have so much trouble calibrating. Between that and wanting to save my few paid sick days for an actual emergency, I usually soldier through. But I have an office to myself.

    14. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think it has to do with age. OP’s question blows my mind, too. Sick time? WFH? what’s that?

      I remember in high school a friend got sick. She kept coming to school and her symptoms got down right scary. This went on for a while and no one seemed to be paying attention to my sick friend. I was crying because I was so worried. Another friend — this is a peer group person!— thought I was an idiot for being so worried. But I KNEW I had never seen another student look so bad. My sick friend ended up in the hospital. We found out months later that she almost died. Well, I knew that some was extremely wrong, but my other friend was totally clueless.
      That pressure to keep showing up and keep going can come from peers as well as come from those in authority. Added wrinkle: That pressure can be a result of cluelessness. My other friend was studying to become a nurse. sigh.

    15. Kate*

      I couldn’t agree more! When I was in college, my intro to photography teacher told us that in our next class he would spend one whole class period on photoshop, which we would use for an upcoming project, so we had better not miss it.

      Of course, I got sick after that and was sick enough on the day of that I didn’t feel I could go to class. I was a pretty dedicated student, so I was really upset about missing class, period, and missing this lesson in particular. I wasn’t too freaked out though because I thought the teacher would help me.

      Boy was I wrong!! When I started college, our orientation to the college included telling us that professors were their to help us, what office hours were, etc. When I got to the next class, apologized for missing the last one, and asked about making up the lesson, he told me he couldn’t help me, I would have to learn everything from one of my fellow students, and ask them for help.

      I was extremely shocked, confused, and disappointed. What were office hours for then? I thought professors were there to help us?? I had attended a really great public high school where the teachers were happy to help anyone who wanted to learn. They would stay late to tutor you if you asked, suggest extra learning materials, etc. If you were out sick, they would go over the class you missed with you.

      I couldn’t understand why the professor wouldn’t help me at all, no notes, nothing. I didn’t understand why he would offload his responsibilities onto a random student. It didn’t make sense to me that he would expect me to go through asking every single one of my 12 plus classmates to teach me, without me knowing, after finding someone willing to do it, if they even knew what they were talking about at all and had payed attention in class!

      When he told me he wasn’t going to help me, I must have looked pretty shocked, because he ended up telling me he would help me in class. Of course in the public criticisms of the next project, the teacher knocked me for my really bad photoshop.

      It was the first of many real disappointments and shocks I had at my college. Most of my teachers were okay, but not great, and I had 3 or 4 who were really bad. Teachers who were incompetent, had their own agendas, etc. This was a small, private university which was really highly regarded, and I was used to trusting my teachers completely, so I had a really hard time of it. It took me years afterwards to realize that I wasn’t bad or stupid or incompetent, I had had some really bad teachers in college.

      This ended up kind of off-topic, but I meant it as an example of the horrible attitude in education towards sick days. Work places and even educational centers seem to view students and workers as less than human sometimes, as robots who don’t get sick, or have kids or houses whose pipes burst and freeze or anything.

      Luckily I work for a really amazing company now. I am so grateful!

      1. Nina*

        Late to this, but yes, college is so different. I got a serious viral infection last year (one doctor thought it was meningitis) and was out for 2 weeks straight, no work or school. I kept my teachers in the loop, but I couldn’t go to class.

        When I did go back, I met one of my teachers during her office hours. Even with a doctor’s note, she would only accept the homework that I had done prior to getting sick, but I couldn’t make up the exams I missed, or turn in any late assignments. I inquired about any lab work and she assured me I hadn’t missed anything major and could catch up. Fast forward to the last day of class and she realizes that oops, I hadn’t completed everything necessary, so I ended up staying late to complete the labs. My grade still went from an A to a B.

  8. Ask a Manager* Post author

    And tangentially related to this, I think there will be no Friday short-answer post so that I can rest up rather than doing any work today (so the next post will be the open thread).

  9. Roscoe*

    One thing to consider is whether these people are actually contagious. Its easy to THINK that they are super contagious when they are hacking up a lung, but realistically, they were more contagious before they exhibited symptoms. So your not wanting to catch things isn’t really always valid there because you probably were infected already.

    Add to that, there is the nature of the work of the person. I’m in sales, and working from home for me really isn’t a great setup. In the office I have a headset, 2 screens, a mouse and a big desk. While I could definitely work from home, I’d be in a smaller area, one screen, and making calls from my cell phone.

    I understand what you are saying, but its also not good to tell others how they SHOULD be acting when they feel sick just based on your preference

    1. Joan Callamezzo*

      realistically, they were more contagious before they exhibited symptoms

      That’s not correct. With colds and flu, people are generally contagious for about 24 hours before developing symptoms and up to 5 – 7 days after developing symptoms.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Which also speaks to why people come in while they’re still sick or contagious. Who can possibly take off 5-7 days for every cold or flu?

          1. OhNo*

            For a week or more? I don’t think that’s going to go over very well.

            It makes sense to work from home for a day or two, and it sounds like the boos is being pretty accommodating on that, but if every employee was expected to work from home for a week straight every time they catch a cold, it would probably become an issue. (Especially if there are any employees like me who get four or five colds every winter.)

          2. AcademiaNut*

            Yeah – if I’ve got a cold, I might work from home for a day or two, depending on what I’ve got going on at work. But I’m not going to quarantine myself for a week or more, because while I can physically work at home for short periods, I’m not really set up for telecommuting.

            The other issue that might come into play is being non contagious but showing symptoms. The cough from a bad cold can last for weeks, not to mention things like allergies or asthma that aren’t contagious, but can last for months or more.

            1. Kate*

              Yesss! I hate it when you do something as simple as sneeze or cough a few times and then people refuse to shake your hand, or spray every surface with lysol that you have touched, and stand ten feet away from you. I used to experience this, luckily where I am right now is much calmer and nicer.

          3. BananaPants*

            My boss is pretty cool about working from home for a day or two if you’re really feeling like crap, but would absolutely NOT be OK with an employee WFH for a week because of something as minor as a cold.

      2. KSM*

        Yes, as proved by the time that a coworker came in when he got to pretty much symptom-free and infected the entire (small!) office with a lay-in-bed, feverish, hard-to-move, illness.

        During a crunch time.

        …It was chaos.

    2. Alton*

      Yeah, colds are tricky because sometimes the symptoms linger. I usually continue to feel congested a week or more after getting sick. I’m still coughing a little from an illness I had a few weeks ago.

      Sometimes you can just tell when someone is at the peak of an illness, but a lot of times people start being contagious when they have few visible symptoms and continue to have noticeable symptoms even after peak contagiousness has passed. It’s reasonable to want people to stay home if they’re really sick, especially in a flexible environment like this one. But I don’t think it’s practical to have clear-cut rules about what counts as too sick to come in. It’s a difficult juggling act. There have been times when I went in to work when I had a mild sore throat and felt really guilty about exposing people when it turned into a full-blown cold. But I’m also not going to take two weeks of sick leave while I wait for my cough and congestion to fully clear up.

    3. Amy G. Golly*

      This is the other side of the coin that needs to be addressed – yes, people who are ill need to be able to take time off to recover and avoid passing on their illness when they’re most contagious. BUT, there is a limit to how much time a person can be reasonably expected to take off. A cold is infectious for 5-7 days before the onset of symptoms (and about a day beforehand). If working from home is not an option (or not practical for more than a day or two), who can afford to take that much time off for every little illness?

      It sucks to work in an environment where everyone feels they have to work sick, and they come in hacking and sneezing all over anyone. But believe me, it’s also pretty sucky to work someplace where your coworkers give you dagger-eyes for coughing (even though a cough can linger on long after you’re no longer contagious), pressure you to stay home long past the time you’re able to, and start looking for who’s to “blame” every time they are stricken down with a cold!

      OP, it’s definitely worth finding out why your coworkers aren’t taking advantage of the work-from-home option when they’re ill. It sounds like something they should be taking advantage of! But also keep in mind that they might have reasons for coming to work during an illness.

      1. Lissa*

        Yeah, it’s rough — I know some people, where if they were to stay home every time they felt crappy or were still coughing from an illness, would miss weeks of work every year which just is not practical for most people. I understand being annoyed if a job is easily work-from-home and they’re just choosing not to, but many many jobs are not.

        Also I rarely get colds but do get seasonal allergies which means lots of sneezing sorry everybody! Please don’t glare at me!

    4. Artemesia*

      It is a myth that people are contagious before they show symptoms but not after; yes many illnesses are very contagious before they show symptoms like for example measles and chicken pox, but they are also very contagious after symptoms emerge. Stomach flus are hand/mouth primarily and are contagious for a couple of weeks AFTER the person is well hence the need for perfect bathroom hand washing hygiene (and those alcohol gels don’t work on norovirus) Colds are at their most contagious in the first few days of sneezing, coughing, snotting, dripping but remain contagious for a goodly while. But they are most contagious during the active sneezing period.

      1. irritable vowel*

        For what it’s worth, it’s much more likely that you’ll catch someone’s cold by touching a doorknob or something that they’ve touched and then touching your eye, nose or mouth, than it is that you’ll catch it from droplets in the air from their sneezing/coughing. So being obsessive about handwashing and wiping down surfaces that other people touch, when possible, is going to go a long way when people are sick around you. I work in a college and take the subway every day so this is my M.O.

    5. ceiswyn*

      As others have pointed out, colds are most contagious during the waterfalls-of-snot stage (a combination of viral load and all that germy snot being sneezed into the air or ending up on hands).

      I have an overreactive immune system that means that colds can give me a high enough fever to hallucinate. I’m asthmatic. And I also have an inner ear problem that means that colds tend to give me ear infections. I am not asking others to stay home when sick because I prefer not to get the sniffles, I am asking others to stay home when sick because I like breathing and hearing.

      1. Kate*

        But as others have pointed out, that might not be possible. Depending on if you get pto, how much, what the culture of the office is like, how often you get sick, etc. I hate working when I am sick, I think others do too, and I assume if people are in the office when they are sick, it is because they have no other choice, not because they think it is fun and want to get others sick.

  10. Rebecca in Dallas*

    I am currently recovering from a cold that my coworker brought in. She spent the week coughing all over the office and of course I got sick just in time for the weekend. I am (probably irrationally) angry with her for ruining my weekend just so she didn’t have to use a sick day.

    1. Hlyssande*

      My least favorite coworker is ridiculously proud of the fact that he hasn’t taken a sick day in ten years (we have 5 days of sick time every year, separate from vacation). He always comes in sick and coughing and ugh, I feel terrible for the colleague who has to sit next to him.

    2. Cat*

      We’ve all been in your place, and it sucks, but I think it’s worth noting that she would have had to take a week of sicks days (since she was hacking all week), and that wouldn’t have covered the most contagious period (which included time before she knew she was sick). Ultimately, I guess I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to self-quarantine the entire time they have a cold. (Flu, yes.)

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        I know, which is why I qualified it that I know I am being irrational. She gets sick a lot, so if she stayed home every time she was sick, she’d go through all of her sick days quickly. (Ours are separate from vacation.) And I’m still coughing, but using medicine and cough drops to try to minimize it, since coughing just sprays germs everywhere, not to mention distracting in our open-office plan.

          1. DMC*

            Probably figuring everyone has already been exposed due to the first coworker. There is a bell curve of infectiousness, though — a period where one is more contagious and a period when one is less contagious (but there’s still the possibility of giving it to others). It’s not like — one hour you’re contagious, and the next you’re not, like a switch got thrown. So, I can appreciate folks taking off when they are highly symptomatic and then coming in when their symptoms wane and just being diligent about personal hygiene, hand washing, hand sanitizer, etc.

    3. ceiswyn*

      My old boss used to come in when he was sick.

      And there was a spreading pattern of sickness-absences that radiated out from his desk.

      There’s evidence that workplaces that give generous sick leave end up with fewer sickness absences among their employees; because if Patient Zero stays home, they’re a lot less likely to cause an epidemic among their colleagues!

      1. DoDah*

        Ugh–this was my old CEO. She would cough and sneeze all over you (visible droplets of germy wet) and then get mad if you called out.

        Because the CEO of a multinational tech company has nothing better to do than to call employees at home when they are sick–to make sure that they are actually “sick enough”.

    1. INFJ*

      Love this. I’d also like to add that the ones who get most pissy about sick coworkers think nothing of coming in when they’re sick…

    2. Kiki*

      Yes, it’s the folks with kids who get sick the most, and spread it the most. (My virology professor referred to her kids as “my vectors”). I don’t get sick, nearly ever, but I think it’s my continual low level exposure at the gym that has granted me super-immune powers.

  11. Rachael*

    I know that asking people to stay home when they are sick seems like a no brainer but colds sometimes last up to a week and it is just not practical to ask someone to work from home or go on PTO for a week everytime they are sick. I understand staying home for one or two days, but sometimes you just have to go to work. (example: I stayed home for two days with strep until I wasn’t contagious, but I would go in on the second or third day of a cold).

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      That’s where I’m at right now. I took three days off work for this particular illness (a Friday, a Monday, and a Wednesday — I foolishly went back in on Tuesday). At some point I just can’t take any more.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      That’s where I’m at now. I took three sick days for this particular illness (a Friday, a Monday, and a Wednesday — I foolishly tried to come back on the Tuesday in between). It’s now a full week since I came back to the office (and nearly two weeks since the first sick day I took) and I shouldn’t be here. But what can you do?

    3. AndersonDarling*

      This is a tough one. On the one hand, if you keep coming to work with a cold, then the cold will last longer and you’ll be dealing with it for weeks. On the other hand, if you take a day to rest (for real rest, not work from home “rest”), then you will recover faster.
      I’ve known folks who refuse to take a day off and their colds last months. Months! Eeek!

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Right? I recover so much faster if I just let myself rest for a day or two. Lots of sleep, lots of fluids, lots of kitty snuggles.

      2. Kathlynn*

        My colds generally last for about a month, due to lingering cough and nose issues.
        Sadly, my new job is conflicting about taking days off, or going home early. I got a cold in september, and took a day off, because I felt feverish (all I have to do atm is text my manager) and horrible. It was also the only day off in the remainder of the week I could get off easily. I don’t know what my coworkers felt that day, but next time, when I went home early they were pissed at me. And we work with food.
        Management doesn’t mind, and we get sick days. But the peons, they do care. Luckily I care more about my health then their opinion.

      3. Can’t remember what name I used before*

        I’m an asthmatic. I can do nothing but lay in bed sleeping, and STILL have colds last for weeks/months.
        Almost every cold I’ve gotten in the last 10 years has come from my husband catching it from someone at work who ignores the fact they have generous benefits and refuse to take any sick days.
        Alternatively, my elderly disabled sister brings one home from her day program, almost always from one of the workers. I doubt they have generous sick time, but they are working with a population that is extremely vulnerable to respiratory illness, and it astounds me that sick time is not both provided and mandatory for them.

    4. INFJ*

      Good point. Also, the longer someone is out sick, the more severely sick that people think they are, and therefore are even more afraid of them coming back. I recently was out for 3 days with a cold that was bad for 2 days, started getting better the 3rd, and felt normal the 4th so I came back to work. Because I was out “so long” everyone thought I had been on my deathbed and 1 coworker got really upset that I was there because she thought I would get her sick. She then went to our manager and told her that I shouldn’t be there.

      Don’t be that person, OP. Follow Alison’s advice about asking your manager to encourage everyone to WFH or take PTO when sick.

    1. Amy the Rev*

      ooh my snarky side now wants to wear a facemask to the office every time I have to come to work sick because I don’t get sick days (or any form of PTO- including Xmas/Tgiving/Memday/etc- for that matter) just to point out how ridiculous the policy is. Sadly the office I work for is lovely and I have no problem with *their* policy, for their actual employees have a great PTO/WFH policy…it’s the temp agency I take issue with.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*


      Well, that and unsustainable workloads. I’m at work as we speak because there’s too much to get done by next Friday to take m0re time off. I could work from home, though — that’s a good idea. (Apologies to my colleagues!)

    2. AndersonDarling*

      This works at my workplace because we have a generous policy. With 3 weeks of PTO, everyone can use their vacation and have some sick/emergency time left.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Same here, I like having them combined because then I don’t need to “pretend” I’m sick to use all my PTO – we get 18 days right off the bat which seems pretty generous.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Three weeks combined? That still feel like bare minimum to me — I get three weeks vacation PLUS two weeks sick.

        1. Chriama*

          Yup, same here. And I get a lot of migranes so I end up saving 2 or 3 vacation days for when I inevitably run out of sick time.

        2. KellyK*

          I think three weeks combined is usually plenty for healthy people with minimal doctor’s appointments. You can get a couple bad colds a year and still have two weeks’ vacation. But if you’re catching something every couple months, or using days for chronic illness (both when that illness makes you too sick to work and the umpteen doctor’s appointments to manage said illness), you burn through it in a hurry.

    3. Joseph*

      That’s a huge part of it. It puts employees in the position of choosing “Well, if I get sick for a couple days tomorrow, I might not be able to see my family at Christmas”. So if it comes between infecting others and seeing my family…well, sorry bro…

    4. Roscoe*

      I actually liked when I had all of it in one. But I can see that thought being dependent on how often you actually get sick

    5. Pari*

      Well the flip side has issues also. People don’t like having leftover sick time. Most feel entitled to it and would have an issue if it’s only for being sick. That likely leads to people lying about being sick or managers questioning sickness. And managers and co workers tend to want people to be honest about these things out of fairness. Besides, when are you officially sick enough to use sick time. Sick of your manager, hungover, sniffles, creaky joints when it rains, allergies?

      All those issues go away when you have one bucket of leave to use however you want.

      1. Elfie*

        This is so alien to me! I work in the UK, so we get generous enough holiday policies, but everywhere I’ve worked has also had really generous sick policies – I currently get 20 days at full pay, and 20 days at half-pay (although you are disciplined after 10 days or a certain number of absences). I don’t know of anyone who feels entitled to their sick days.

        I’ve used up all of mine this year (and more), because I’ve had a horrific year, but there’s been many many years where I’ve hardly dented my sick leave at all. I mentioned I was out for 5 weeks earlier in the year in one of the threads, and someone asked me if I had taken STD – which I presume is Short Term Disability? In the UK, we don’t get that (we do get something that I think is still called Incapacity Benefit, which is a payment by the government when you’ve used up all of your company-funded sick days – is that equivalent?). But company-funded sick days vary from employer to employer, and although technically I qualify this year (I think), you have to apply for it, and I can’t be bothered for the 2 days I’ll not be paid (I recognize this is a luxury not everyone has!).

        So I guess my question is, when can you claim STD, how does it work, and maybe our company-funded sick days do have some rough equivalent, which is why no-one feels entitled to use them. Obviously, I doubt everyone feels entitled to use all their allowed STD time!

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        I would be in favor of the unlimited sick leave policies for positions with flexibility. But that requires good managers and a good corporate culture.

  12. SeptemberGrrl*

    Same. The combined sick/vacation day pool leads to ridiculous things where I work. Someone was having surgery at like 8AM but said they would be “working from home” from noon on, so they only had to take 1/2 sick day…I mean, c’mon. But it’s the mindset we get into, you can’t help it. Taking a sick day just winds up feels like “losing” a vacation day. I’m old enough to remeber when companies gave 10 sick days/year ON TOP of vacation days #goodtimes.

  13. Purple Jello*

    I have actually told coworkers to go home when they are obviously sick, or hacking away either sharing their germs or just feeling miserable. Not that I have any authority over them. BUT, if they are home, they can work or go lie down for a few minutes if they need to. Plus: comfortable clothes.

    Why don’t the people who have the option to work at home use that option when they’re sick? Is it not encouraged? Do they feel they need to come in sick because everyone else or everyone more senior does? Or maybe they don’t have reliable (or any!) internet at home.

    1. Anon for this*

      You’re right that it depends on the workplace culture whether people feel they are expected to come in sick or not. At OldJob, we were *encouraged* to work from home when sick and contagious. We had it happen once that a coworker came in with pinkeye and went straight to our boss’s office to brag about his work ethics. The horrified boss told him to go home immediately. Ethical Coworker came in super early, so, by the time I came in, he had already gone home. But we all made fun of him for a while after that. It was pretty much implied that, if you feel you might be contagious, you WFH. No one got stares or accusatory emails for working from home several days straight while down with a cold or flu; because there was not a single person in the office (including the sick employee’s manager) who wanted to catch that.

      In comparison, I had a college-prof SO for a couple of years. They don’t get sick days and obviously cannot WFH. Neither can their students. If one person at his college got a cold, the expectation was that everyone else at the college would get it sooner or later. They just look at passing their germs to their coworkers and students as an inevitable fact of life. He gave me his cold once, when it could’ve been easily avoided, and thought nothing of it. I guess in his mind, he came down with a cold five to ten times a year, worked through it each time, as did all his colleagues, so what’s the big deal if I got it too?

      1. caryatis*

        >He gave me his cold once, when it could’ve been easily avoided, and thought nothing of it.

        How could you avoid passing illnesses between significant others? Did you not live together? Now, if it were a flu, I would try to take precautions, but I agree with your ex that sharing colds is inevitable.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        College was actually what taught me to take the sick day. I went to sociology as a freshman when I had a cold. I sat in front of the lectern; by the end of class, my professor was on the opposite end of the classroom, shouting. I went to leave, and he said “Marillenbaum, this is why you have three excused absences a semester”. I emailed the rest of my professors that day and went to bed.

  14. Interviewer*

    My allergies act up as soon as the leaves start falling off the trees. Keep in mind that not all sniffling and sneezing is actually contagious.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      Seriously…I’m a crazy multiple sneezer. People quickly realize that my sneezing is allergies and not illness, but IMO it would be inappropriate either way if a coworker went to my manager to discuss whether I should be sent home.

    2. Nina*

      Same here. And I have major post-nasal drip, and one of the side effects is constant coughing. Especially in the morning. So those symptoms can masquerade as an illness when they’re just a major annoyance. When my allergies or sinuses are really acting up, I try to make a point to mention them specifically, so coworkers won’t think I’m actually sick.

    3. Tau*

      I have asthma and have ended up coughing for four months straight before when it flared up. Annoying to officemates, yes, contagious, no.

    4. Marzipan*

      I will cough forever when I get a cold. The actual cold takes a few days; the coughing will go on for a few weeks. I’m certainly not contagious all that time; I just have crappy lungs.

    5. A Different Kate*

      The last time I thought I was coming down with a bad cold, six hours in the office “cured” me- turns out I was super allergic to something in my apartment! (Thus continues the saga of me never knowing if I have a cold or allergies.)

    6. Elfie*

      I’m on anti-depressents which have a lovely side effect of giving me a really dry throat (so I’ve been coughing away for near-on 18 months now!). It’s not contagious, and on balance, I’d much rather have a cough than be contemplating suicide, so everyone better damn well get used to it!

  15. Stellaaaaa*

    OP, speaking realistically/honestly, do you catch colds notably more frequently than other people do? If you’re the one with the weak immune system or susceptibility to “catching stuff,” I’m not sure how much leeway you have to request that the office norms shift around you. I guess just pick your battles with this?

    1. Newby*

      If they can reasonably work from home it doesn’t seem like much to ask. They do not need to use PTO and will probably be more comfortable.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Generally speaking, ideally yes. But an entire office cannot adjust its policies (esp. those linked to income ie PTO) to suit the comfort of one employee who admits that her immune system isn’t normal. She didn’t even reveal whether or not she has gotten sick very often in this office, just that she worries about it.

  16. Milton Waddams*

    I wish it was easier to get over the American resistance to wearing surgical masks when sick — it seems like a nice compromise for folks who can’t stop working, either for personal or political reasons.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      When I commuted via train to work I was thisclose to buying a surgical mask! Too many people pick their noses/cough without covering their mouths. It grossed me out beyond belief.

    2. Aurion*

      I’m dubious as to how effective surgical masks are at preventing the spread of illnesses. You’d have to constantly take it off to blow your nose/cough out phlegm/etc., and it often fogs up glasses for people who wear them (I speak from experience). My parents try to convince me to wear them when I’m sick, and I refuse because 1) it looks very strange in our culture (for better or worse) and 2) I really don’t feel it helps me at all.

      I know staying home when sick is a luxury not everyone has, but I doubt surgical masks can alleviate the situation much.

      1. Artemesia*

        Surgical masks on the sick person do help retard the spread of germs to others; but in the first couple days of a cold, staying home is the best approach if possible.

    3. Rat in the Sugar*

      There’s a lot of doubt about how effective those are, and a brief googling seems to suggest they can only be effective at all when worn in a certain way, in a certain environment, and only against certain diseases.

      1. Artemesia*

        they are pretty useless for well people hoping to avoid germs; they can be pretty useful to keep sick people from spreading them. not perfect, but helpful.

  17. Venus Supreme*

    This one made me giggle.

    Backstory: My mom is of the mindset that the only thing that would make her go home from work would be imminent death.

    While I was working at my internship I had some sort of illness, including sensitivity to light, all-over body aches, and a terrible sounding cough. My one coworker found out and literally hollered at me to go home and take care of myself. It was a stark contrast to my mother who told me to pop a DayQuil and get on with my life.

    Now, in a formal job, I agree more with my coworker that if you’re sick, don’t infect others! It isn’t a sign of weakness and doesn’t indicate that you’re unreliable.

  18. Newby*

    This is a hot button issue for me. It drives me nuts when coworkers come in when actively sick (glazed eyes, fever, ect). They are proud of the fact that they are pushing through. I have a compromised immune system and tend to catch EVERYTHING. I am in my 20s but have been hospitalized twice with the flu. If it is just a cough I understand and it isn’t too bad, but if you are running a fever you are contagious and need to stay home.

    1. MV*

      I too have a compromised immune system and have a few coworkers that come in sick (though we all telework at least half of the time with docks and dual monitors provided by work!). I have found (and some people here insist they do not work) that I can prevent a lot of illness by wearing a well fitting face mask. The one I have is cloth and washable. If I hear someone sneezing or coughing I put it on and it has really cut down on the illness for me.

  19. Karina Jameson*

    My personal experience is that there are mainly 2 reasons people come in sick:
    1) Because the culture of a company “forces” you to (see the many examples on this page).
    2) Because the person has too high of a view of themselves and thinks things will fall apart in their absence.

    Sometimes it’s a combination of both.

    1. Amy the Rev*

      ^^ I’d amend that to say “reasons people come in sick despite having available sick days to use,” because for folks in the food service/temping/seasonal employee/etc industry, we come in sick because we literally cannot afford to take the day off.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      4) Because, as in the OP’s situation, their sick/personal/vacation time are combined and they don’t want to use it being sick.

    3. Bean Counter*

      5) Because if you’re not there to run the payroll, your coworkers will not get paid on time.

    4. Jules the First*

      6) Because your team is (always) short-staffed and missing a day sick means missing an immoveable external deadline, which means missing out on a shot at new cashflow for the business.

      If I take time off sick, I inevitably end up working the weekend (unpaid!) to make up for it, so you bet your boots I think carefully before I use one of my measly 7 paid sick days…because the only thing that sucks more than working for free on the weekend while sick is also losing a day’s pay over it.

  20. Artemesia*

    I do think this is the manager’s job. It is hard for co-workers to act. And it is even harder for subordinates when a supervisor does this. I remember a supervisor who brought in her child with chicken pox because ‘I have so much to get done and can’t take time off’ — she brought her into an office with a pregnant woman and an elderly woman neither of whom had had chicken pox. I was not the supervisor’s boss, but I was definitely higher in the authority structure and the boss was not in that day. I insisted the supervisor take her child home and not expose others to this highly contagious disease. The staff was desperately grateful because they felt they could not confront their boss.

    I realize this is even more egregious than a worker coming in sick but the point stands, that managers need to take the lead here and should. No excuse when the work from home option is possible. Flu needs to stay home and if people could work from home the first couple of days of a cold it would make a big difference. Meanwhile — hand washing and keyboard cleaning really does work.

  21. MashaKasha*

    I end up actually losing sick days every year because I never get sick; one of the big reasons for it, IMO, being that, in my workplace, people who feel they are contagious, work from home until they feel well, and everyone else is perfectly accepting of it. Big props to my coworkers and management!

  22. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Or sometimes people come in sick because there’s no PTO at all, or they really need the money from those hours.

    Right now, I’m close to puking at my desk. Fortunately, it’s not contagious; it’s that construction across the street from my office is now drilling down so far and hard that it vibrates my basement office. And my monitor. Basically causing a horrible combo of motion sickness and eyestrain. I can’t WFH because it’s information about arbitration that I’m working with, so I’m not even allowed to TALK of work, much less take it home, and security means no one can move offices either.

    I’m no longer living hand to mouth either; it’s just that I can’t afford to go home today, if I want to pay off an unexpected vet bill that happened recently, and pay for my needed continuing Ed in my field.

    1. Anna*

      Ugh. That sounds miserable. Can you take something for motion sickness? (Although I realize a lot of that stuff can make you sleepy.)

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Yes, but I can’t get any Dramamine until work is over; it’s not sold in the only store close by. I’ve already tried ginger. :(

    2. Photoshop Til I Drop*

      When I get migraines with nausea and have to work, I find that zooming to a gigantic font helps. YMMV.

    3. Candi*

      Do you have anything soft, like a folded cloth, you can set the monitor on? The idea is the material will hopefully absorb some of the vibrations.

      You can also see if closing your eyes every few minutes helps.

      I’d be taking acetaminophen for the inevitable headache by now.

      Hope things get better.

  23. Whats In A Name*

    Someone may have brought these up already – I haven’t had time to read through….

    While this is frustrating, I would weigh the actually severity of her illness and what phase she is in. Sometimes coffee and running noses can linger for awhile even after no longer contagious. This might not be a battle you want to pick unless it’s really warranted, like the flu symptoms (fever, vomiting, stomach bug).

    Also, what is the culture like in your office? I ask because at old job every time someone called in sick the rest of the office (including their supervisors) would drone on and on about their work ethic. One time a guy was actually admitted to the hospital after a visit to the ER and his boss said it was because he was so dramatic. Another proudly stated she had reported in even when her stomach flu sent her running to the bathroom every 30 minutes.

    1. caryatis*

      >While this is frustrating, I would weigh the actually severity of her illness and what phase she is in. Sometimes coffee and running noses can linger for awhile even after no longer contagious.

      I agree with this. Cold symptoms can linger for five days or more–sure, work from home during the worst of it, but are you really going to do that for a whole work week or more? I certainly wouldn’t.

    2. Artemesia*

      It makes me furious when people knowingly expose others to stomach flu. I understand not being able to take time off and colds but stomach flu is just so awful to inflict on others. I remember a Thanksgiving when I was about 8 when we had 26 relatives in a tiny tiny house and someone brought their puking toddler who inflected everyone. We had a houseful of desperately sick people, with one bathroom and when they had all left the 4 or us were sick as dogs for days. This sort of thing is soooo contagious.

      I had a dinner party the other day where the first guest arrived sneezing and whining about how sick they were with a cold. I wanted to spray them with bleach and shove them out the door. At least if you are coming to someone’s home with a cold, fake it and don’t talk about it.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Sorry to get pedantic, but there is no such thing as the stomach flu. Your family had a stomach virus. And this matters because one reason people don’t get flu shots is because they think “I got the shot and I got the flu anyway” when they come down with a gastrointestinal virus that they assume is “the flu.”

        1. Whats In A Name*

          To be fair I also refer to any sickness that is stomach related the “stomach flu” because to say gastrointestinal virus seems over the top and diarrhea doens’t always seem appropriate to me in a professional setting. And I feel like, right or wrong, everyone generally knows that means “explosive stomach issues”.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            “Stomach virus” or “stomach bug” is accurate, descriptive enough, and doesn’t perpetuate flu myths. :-)

  24. Xarcady*

    I’m currently temp-to-perm at my job. Don’t work; don’t get paid. Simple as that.

    Now, the permanent employees here have a bank of PTO. And working from home is not a problem; many people WFH regularly, anywhere from one day a week to full-time. And flexible schedules are also not a problem.

    What is a problem is that this is a secure facility, with secure computer networks. If you want to WFH, you need to have your company laptop, otherwise you will not be able to log on.

    So if you leave work feeling fine, but wake up feeling sick, there’s no real option to WFH. You either go in to work or take a sick day. And since our department is the last stop for most job before the client sees them, all the other departments can let deadlines slide, but we can’t. So there’s a lot of work that comes in days late and pretty much has to get done right away.

    Which is why everyone seems to have huge bottles of hand sanitizer on their desks.

    (On the night before a possible snow day, everyone takes their laptop home and WFH. Not the temps though, we don’t have laptops. So we either come in if the office is open, or we lose a day’s pay if the office is closed.)

    1. Amy the Rev*

      One day, fellow temper, we will be exempt and/or have PTO, and will not lose money because of a snowstorm. I believe in us!

    2. Nina*

      Yep, that’s one of the few things I hate about temping. No paid holidays and no paid sick/vacation leave.

  25. ArchErin*

    When I worked retail, my appendix burst and I didn’t realize it for several days because I didn’t have typical symptoms. I still went into work (until I realized I had to go the emergency room) because I couldn’t afford to take a sick day (It was November and the holidays were coming up). I had a fever, stomach pains, vomiting – I just thought that I had a stomach bug and it would go away. I’m lucky in that it was taken care of but after I recovered the company refused to give me any of my saved PTO because I had been out for so long.
    My example is kind of extreme in that I had to have surgery and take several weeks off but just because someone shows up looking sick doesn’t mean that they are contagious.
    That being said, this is the job where I called in with conjunctivitis and they had me come in anyway to work a half shift until someone could come in. So much dysfunction . . .

  26. Anon attorney*

    I understand why people don’t feel they can take a sick day within such a system, but I get very angry and anxious about sick coworkers because my partner has cancer and his immune system is screwed. If I passed him a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection, it could, literally, kill him. I don’t want to police my coworkers but I find this very difficult. It’s something I wish people would take into account when deciding whether or not to stay home, and I wish companies made it easier to do the right thing.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      Oh my goodness, this is something people hardly ever think about. I am so sorry you’re going through this! Sending you and your partner positive, HEALTHY vibes

    2. KellyK*

      Do your coworkers know about your partner’s cancer? I don’t know how much you’re comfortable sharing or how flexible your work is, but I would definitely be more careful about coming to work sick if I knew there was a specific risk to a coworker or their family. (The argument can be made that you should be that careful anyway because you never know, but again, most people can’t take 5-7 days off for every cold, or take off every time they aren’t sure if it’s a cold or allergies.)

      1. Rachael*

        This is a good point. If my coworker specifically said that their spouse has cancer and that it would help to work from home I would definitely do it.

    3. DesertGal*

      I relate to this — I have asthma that is pretty well controlled day to day, but respiratory infections tend to set it off, so I am a little more paranoid about cold and flu germs than the average person probably is. Bottom line: if I get a cold, there is a very good chance I could wind up either in the ER or a walk-in clinic for breathing treatments, steroids, and antibiotics… and the bill that goes along with all of that. (I have decent health insurance but there’s always the portion of the bill that’s my responsibility.)

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to forward the bills for those things to the sick co-worker who came into work with “just a cold” and infected me. It may be “just a cold” to you, but it sure as hell isn’t to me!

    4. Megstermegs*

      I understand. :( My partner has COPD/emphysema (from his military service). One person’s cold becomes his week in the hospital. Every time he gets a URI, it damages his lungs further. It’s stressful. At our jobs, we have VERY generous sick leave and a telework policy – but the martyrs and anti-vaxers (no joke, whooping cough is going around, amongst adults, hello) still show up.

  27. phedre*

    I have only 2 weeks PTO including vacation and sick days, which is not nearly enough. So unfortunately, we all come to work sick because we don’t get enough PTO to be sick. I wish the nonprofit I work at offered better sick leave because I would LOVE to stay home when sick. But until they change the policy, unless I’m super ill I’m coming to work.

  28. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    I get pretty aggressive about this, because I live with someone who has an automimmune disorder. A cold can easily turn into hospitalization for her, all because you want to save your PTO to go to the beach? GTFO.

      1. Kate*

        Yes! Also, unless you live in a bubble, you are interacting with sick people all the time, not just at the office. Grocery store, library, public transportation, drycleaners, etc, etc.

        1. Guest*

          That’s assuming you’re within close proximity of those people for several hours a day like say, a work place for instance.

      2. Guest*

        I get what you’re saying, but let’s not act like everyone has justifiable reasons for coming into work sick. Some people just aren’t that conscientious

  29. BRR*

    Many good comments. I feel like there’s a feeling in a lot of offices that it’s “wrong to take all your sick time.” Not even to save some for an emergency. I believe we’ve had letters about it from managers. We get 12 sick days, 5 weeks vacation, and are incredibly flexible in that you can have a dr appointment any time and just go to it so you don’t have to take sick time. People still don’t call out sick. It’s much more common for them to take half days. I have been here a year and have 3.5 days and I feel like I’ve taken too many.

  30. Gene*

    This brings a thought/question to mind.

    Assuming I’m immunocompromised, what would be a suitable reasonable accommodation here? When a coworker is ill and contagious, they be required to work from home or take PTO? Or when a coworker is ill and contagious, I be allowed to work from home? Something else?

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I think both options have merits. In an ideal world, management would say “One of our valued team members is immunocompromised and must avoid illness at all cost. In order to keep the team member safe, we ask that you please work from home or take PTO when you are ill, instead of coming to work while sick and exposing us all to contagious illness.”

      Follow up with an email reminding everyone. And you would be allowed to work from home if a bunch of people come down with something.

      In a perfect world…

    2. KellyK*

      I think it would depend a lot on the specific work environment. Letting you work from home might be less disruptive, because a variety of people whose jobs can’t be done from home could all be in contact with you and pass germs around. It might also be helpful to give you a more private work space if one is available, like an office rather than a cube.

  31. RM*

    I have a compromised immune system. I hate it when people come to work sick. We have a generous sick policy, as well as a generous vacation policy, and telecommuting is not an issue. My cubicle-mate still comes into work sick which can really cause an issue for me. Her view is that she doesn’t want to take sick time unless she’s practically dying, but I don’t know why she doesn’t work from home. We report to different people and I really don’t feel I can even ask the question. When we’ve had discussions about it in the past she seems to feel that this is my problem, not hers. While I do agree that my compromised immune system is my problem, the fact that our company offers a generous sick policy as well as a telecommuting option means that people shouldn’t really be coming into the office sick unless they don’t care about getting the rest of us sick.

    1. KellyK*

      First off, your coworker is really inconsiderate to come in sick when she sits right next to someone she knows has a compromised immune system.

      Would it be worth asking your boss if you can sit somewhere else when she’s sick? It doesn’t sound like you can convince her to change her behavior, and going to her boss might be problematic, but maybe you can at least get some distance?

  32. Not So NewReader*

    I have worked in places where they talk one way and walk another.

    I consider it lying if a boss says taking sick time is okay then later the boss goes into meltdown when someone takes a sick day. After having a few of these lying bosses, I found it hard to take sick time because I learned not to trust the boss UNTIL the boss been proven trust-worthy.

    There’s a couple of hurdles here, OP.
    Is the boss trustworthy? And are the employees willing to trust the boss?

    1. Caroline*

      This is me. My boss always tells us not to worry about sick time and to take it if we need it. But a few months after I started he got a bad cold and was obviously very ill, coughing and sneezing everywhere. I asked him if he was going to go home and he said no, because he thinks “taking sick time is like stealing from the company”. And he wonders why none of us want to stay off when we’re ill!

  33. Overeducated*

    I would love to stay home when I have a bad cold, but that’s not how accrued sick days work if you’re relatively new or know you have to save what you have for times when you really can’t go in (i.e. that there will be enough of those days that you can’t afford to waste sick days on milder illnesses). Don’t judge your coworkers, you don’T know what other medical or personal pressures they’re under.

    I use the day care test: fever, vomiting, or exhaustion to the point of not functioning = stay home for 24 hours; runny nose, headache, cough = push through. This was pretty close to my mom’s criteria for staying home from school, too.

    1. ceiswyn*

      The difficulty with your idea that one shouldn’t ‘waste’ time on a bad cold is that people have very different experiences of how ill a cold actually makes you. That’s because most of the symptoms of a cold are caused by your immune system’s response, and that varies widely from person to person.

      Part of the problem I find is that those who experience a cold as a bit of a runny nose get very impatient with those for whom a cold is much worse, which obviously discourages those people from taking the sick time that they need.

      My boss recently gave me the side-eye for taking two days off work with a cold; but if he was having hot and cold flushes, exhausted after sitting up for half an hour, and feeling disconnected from reality, I would hope he would stay off the roads too!

      1. Overeducated*

        I didn’t say that “one” shouldn’t, as some kind of universal rule, I said that people who expect to use up limited sick days for other reasons (which could include chronic illness or treatment, dependent care, etc.) may consider a cold milder and want to push through to save the PTO. I am one of those people, even though sometimes i really hate going to work sick. I also said outright that people shouldn’t judge other people’s medical situations, and that goes the other way too – if someone stays home with a miserable cold, it’s their PTO to use as they see fit, I won’t criticize.

  34. Julie Noted*

    I’m fortunate to live in a country with decent minimum standards on workplace rights, including a mandated minimum of 10 days paid sick and carers’ leave for full time staff, with pro rata equivalent for part-time employees.

    As a manager, I’ve sent sick staff home and also approached other managers about their staff coming to work at the highly contagious stage of an illness. Generally people are pretty good about it, especially because I don’t frame it as an annoyance but a safety issue. It’s not that the sound of sniffling bugs me, it’s that I and/or members of my team have family members who are immunocompromised (and could be ourselves as far as our colleagues know), and for whom a bad cold or a flu could put them in hospital. Also, when someone is home sick, they are not to be working from home. Industrial rights are too valuable to allow them to be undermined through propagation of unhealthy workplace cultures.

  35. eplawyer*

    As I am self-employed, I set my own sick policy. Basically, if I have trouble remembering what day it is, I shouldn’t law. Unless I have court. Then I drag myself in no matter what. I have no back up coverage for trials (scheduling conference are another matter). I’ve had judges take one look at my face and order a continuance.

    Recently I was in a car accident (totalled the car but just bruised my sternum). I spent the day in the ER. With my discharge papers they gave me a doctor’s note for work for that day. My friend who came to pick me up and I died laughing at that. But I made sure the boss put it in the time sheet file so there is a reason why there was no time recorded for that day.

  36. Joanna*

    I am having guilt because I took sick leave (gov job) for FREAKIN PNEUMONIA. I’ve been out all week, was supposed to go on travel this week so with a 103.5 degree fever on Sunday, I was trying to get in touch with my boss before canceling (eventually I said this is dumb and sat on hold for 45 minutes with the travel agent to cancel the lot of it). I’ve gotten a continuous flow of emails from people who just can’t understand “sick = sick,” until my home org team lead finally yelled at me to get off the work phone. At least I never booted my laptop? But the lady I work with most often, who never uses any of her likely large pot of sick & vacation time, couldn’t understand how I could be sick enough not to go when I texted her on Saturday. Initially I got, “well, take meds,” followed by “what’s wrong with your immune system anyway”? Oi. Some people are workaholics. Then again, I’m still working with this group….

      1. Joanna*

        In fairness, once I got the pneumonia diagnosis, she backed off. I got sick FAST, so I think she was surprised. It’s just, ugh.

  37. LiptonTeaForMe*

    I totally agree with this request! I work in a call center, which to me translates into a larger Petri dish. What people don’t understand is that a a cold or a scratchy throat or even a stomach flu can turn into something much more dire for those of us with compromised immune systems. I have several auto immune diseases and a little cold last year, turned into pneumonia and I was off work for 27 days wishing I was dead. Then just recently, a brush with an intestinal parasite (stomach flu) activated my ulcerative colitis right on out of remission and all the time I saved up for vacation went right down the drain. If you are sick or think you are getting sick, Please stay home!

  38. Chocolate Teapot*

    I once had a hectic week starting with travel to a meeting in another country. I woke up with a sore throat and cold and had to work on my meeting whilst feeling rotten and desperate to go home and rest, but I couldn’t because there were various urgent follow-up actions I needed to do once back in the office, which were not easily achievable by working from home.

    Once I was back at work, my colleague handed over then promptly went off sick! It probably took longer to recover because I couldn’t stay at home, and there was nobody to cover.

  39. teetoo*

    I’m one of those people who go to work when I’m sick. Because “I’m not THAT sick”. But I have a colleague who is not afraid to pretty much order me to go home because she doesn’t want to get sick.
    And we are entitled to a certain number of sick days per year, so I might as well use them.

  40. Candi*

    The really annoying thing with colds is that by the time you show symptoms, you’ve been shedding the virus for days.

    Something I’ve found helps with the symptoms: loratadine. I originally started taking it for undefined allergies (something in the air in late summer), but found it helped with cold symptoms as well. (Benadryl flattens me for 12 hours.)

    My old doctor explained it as the medication telling your immune system to chill out already, there’s no reason to go into SWAT mode; just do your job normally. Since cold symptoms are also often caused by the immune system’s over-enthusiasm, it makes sense it would help with that too.

    And no runny nose or cough is always a plus.

    IANAD, talk to your doctor, check for drug interactions, etc., etc.

  41. VioletEMT*

    I’m reminded of the XKCD chart tracing the bell curves of how bad you feel with a cold vs how bad you appear with a cold, noting that you tend to feel the worst before you start to outwardly look/sound miserable.

    The irony of all this is that people preach about staying home so as not to infect your coworkers, when in reality, with colds and the flu, you’re most contagious before you have any indication that you’re even sick. It’s impossible to tell the difference between the early fatigue and a bad night’s sleep so you have an extra cup of coffee and power through.

    That’s why basic precautions year round (hand washing) and flu shots are so, so important.

    Also, obligatory rage hulk smash at employers who are so parsimonious with the sick leave.

  42. Eh? Non Y. Mouse*

    I think it’s also important to note that even if you are allowed and can reasonably take your work home with you, not everyone’s home environment is necessarily conducive to actually getting any work done at home.

  43. cncx*

    just to rant tangentially, i work in europe, in an office with generous leave (five weeks), no penalty on sick time (and no doctor’s note necessary until day three) and laptops for all employees. i caught one of the worst colds in my life last year from a part time employee who came in sick to look like a hero even though when she is healthy she works from home all the darn time and does not have a job that needs office presence (data entry, mainly). Our entire floor came down with it and we were wiped out about six weeks.

    i am a little more sympathetic to americans, who really have to decide whether or not to used their banked time or not, but this lady had absolutely no excuse to come in, and while i am not saying that i am a contagious disease expert and she definitey gave it to us, but the likelihood of getting it from someone coughing on me in the office versus some rando surface i touched on the bus… i’m still mad.

  44. Justin*

    I have pretty bad seasonal allergies, and with an early spring, a hot, humid summer, and a nice mild fall in my part of the Upper Midwest, that has meant having bad allergies for about 6-7 months now. Of course my one overly vigilant coworker had to ask me a couple times if I was sick (on a day that wasn’t even that bad, my voice just sounded a little different) because I’m sure she’s being ultra vigilant about this like she is with everything else. Trust me, I’d stay home if I had to.

  45. C Average*

    I have such complicated feelings about this discussion, because I see it through so many different lenses.

    I was raised by people who came from the “if you’re not puking or bleeding out the eyes, you’re basically fine” school of thought. I think the only time I stayed home from school sick was when I caught the chickenpox in high school.

    I worked for many years in retail and food services, where missing work meant not getting paid. It also generally meant calling around to find someone willing to cover your shift, not always successfully. (I recall working multiple shifts at Starbucks on a very badly sprained ankle. My manager did let me bend the dress code and wear clogs because I literally couldn’t get my work shoe on on the injured side.)

    I’m now married to someone who has asthma. When he catches a cold, it invariably moves to his lungs and lingers for weeks or months. I suppose it would be a stretch to call him immunocompromised, but I really make an effort to avoid sick people and avoid catching colds and other minor bugs myself because I don’t want him to get them.

    And I also see my spouse troop off to work while hacking and coughing because he can’t reasonably take weeks off for a cold and its aftermath . . . even knowing that he might not have caught that cold in the first place if his sick colleagues had just stayed home for a day or two!

    And finally, allergies. He and the kids both have brutal allergies. Seasonal, predictable, not contagious. They don’t stay home during allergy season, and I can easily envision their colleagues wondering why they’re at work sick.

  46. Retail HR Guy*

    Since everyone else seems to be down on it, I’d like to defend PTO banks (though that’s not what I’m on right now). I’ve worked places with a healthy supply of sick days plus limited vacation days. Most of the time people didn’t come close to using all their sick days naturally and unused sick days would vanish. This lead to honest employees being penalized for their honesty and dishonest employees getting more time off, and to a culture of coworkers and managers suspecting others of faking being sick or being resentful of having to cover regularly sick employees continually getting “free” time off. It’s hard when you only get your one big vacation every year and the guy in the next cubicle over is off a few days each month on top of his one big vacation.

    With a PTO bank, however, everyone manages their own time off, everyone gets the same time off, and there is no need for anyone to worry about anyone abusing anything. I can feel free to take a personal day at the last minute just because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and not feel guilty about it.

    1. Retail HR Guy*

      I should add that PTO banks work best when there is an ample supply of PTO and short-term disability available for those with serious health conditions above and beyond routine sicknesses. Otherwise chronically sick folk would never get any actual vacation.

  47. Victoria*

    I would try to initiate a more formal work from home policy, specifically in regards to illness. It seems like management is flexible and open to permitting staff to work from home, so put a “work from home when you’re sick” policy in place… then gently and tactfully remind management to enforce it when staff members don’t follow the policy. That being said, I’m also guilty of seeing in hindsight which day I SHOULD have stayed home in order to protect my coworkers from catching it (whoops).

  48. Mary M.*

    Totally agree. If you have a fever that’s severe enough to stay in bed, then of course stay home. If it’s the first day of a cold and you have a slight fever of no more than one or two degrees F, then take some medicine and get yourself to work or school. Only shirkers, lazy people, or those with OCD would even consider staying home for a cold. What nonsense.

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