at what point in a very long cold should I stay home?

A reader writes:

Despite getting the flu shot and frequently washing my hands, I catch two or three bad colds a year that last at least two weeks. They start out with three days of feeling terrible (headaches, nausea, aches) but looking fine. The next two days I feel better, but my eyes turn red and start to water. I trade in my contacts for my (very) thick glasses, and with my red, dripping face and distorted, blood shot eyes, I look like a melting Halloween decoration. The next five days, my eyes dry up but my nose starts to intensely run. After that the coughing starts.

My work gives one sick day every six months with no carryover past the year. I don’t mind taking a couple of days without pay, but there is precedence for workers being disciplined or fired over taking too much unpaid sick leave. No one else is trained with what I do, so any work not done on a sick day I will need to fit in the rest of the week. That makes taking a day off more burdensome on my cold then restful. Still I can tell my coworkers are irritated by my presence at work and that I should use up my sick leave if I have it, even if it is more symbolic that I am trying to keep the cold from spreading then actually useful.

My question is which day in my cold should I take? Should I take off when I feel most terrible (my preference)? Should I take off a day where I look terrible and people don’t want to be near me (their preference)? Or should I take a day where I am sneezing or coughing in order to reduce the chance of cold transference by a small percentage (probably some doctor’s preference)? I recognize that part of my problem is my work’s lame benefits, but I don’t know of any work place that would be fine with people taking two weeks off for a cold, so working while sick and contagious is just a fact of life.

First, your employer gives you two sick days a year?

Two sick days a year?

That is incredibly low, even by the meager standards of crappy employers, and they deserve to have your germs and phlegm lingering throughout the office.

But your coworkers don’t, of course, which makes this harder.

And you’re right that this question comes up even for people with a reasonable amount of sick time. If you get a cold that lasts a week or two, as many do, it’s not realistic to stay home that whole length of time.

There’s no perfect answer here. As you point out, you may have to choose between the days when you feel the worst, the days when you look/sound the worst, the days when you’re most likely contagious, and the days when you’re not so bad anymore but really need rest … It sucks.

If you’re able to work from home, that can be the best solution, but I’m betting that a company that gives you two whole sick days a year isn’t terribly work-from-home friendly either — and regardless, that’s not practical in many jobs.

I’d say to prioritize the days that you feel the worst, and stay home on those to the extent that you can afford to. That means that your coworkers will have to deal with your red, watery eyes, your runny nose, and your cough. That’s not great for them, but there’s no way around it. Staying home when you feel the worst is the best of a bunch of not-great options. (And if your coworkers are irritated by your coughing, sniffly presence, consider suggesting that you all push as a group for more sick leave.)

Do the commonsense things to limit your coworkers’ exposure, of course — wash your hands frequently, use plentiful hand sanitizer, don’t embrace anyone, etc. etc.

But this is the reality of colds and work, unfortunately.

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original K.*

    I did a double-take at “one sick day every six months.” That’s terrible!

    I second Alison’s advice. If I had to be that judicious, I would stay home when I felt the worst and/or am the most contagious.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        And having to make the work up rather than it being covered or postponed, so for the remaining 4 days that week you’re doing 4 1/4 days of work, while still feeling rotten? WTaF?

        I was once brought up on a disciplinary for “amount of time off sick”. My boss argued that it made his job hard without any advance notice, and how was he meant to organise the team’s work, eh? I should think about that!”

        My union rep pointed out that was *his job*.

        OP if you don’t have Union representation already please consider it! Some won’t help for the first 6 months of membership but it pays off after that!

        Also OP you could ask if they will send you to an occupational health doc. I’ve done this (well, been sent, when my sick leave exceeded their limits) and each time the doc was understanding. Their report said due to my history, I was likely to need more sick leave than the average person and they should accommodate this. So although they paid for me to be assessed, the report actually compelled them to give me more leeway.

        Next time you get a cold, keep a diary of the symptoms, day by day (and include fuzzy-headedness etc) – then push to go to an occupational health doc, armed with evidence. I think it can only help.

    1. Rachel Green*

      Same reaction and also agree with Alison’s advice. My work (and bosses) is fortunately quite good with sick days, working from home etc. Some ppl in other depts are not as lucky. But boy oh boy do I identify with the OP. I thought I was the only one who does the “when & how many sick days do I take analysis. Sometimes my cold or whatever horrid respiratory infection I get can last a long time, though the worst symptoms typically last 3-5 days and it can be very hard and quite a mind bend to decide and be at peace at with the sick day(s) I take and their timing. The ‘ideal’ viruses (if you can even call it that) start in the latter part of the week, so I can remain home through the weekend to recover.

    2. Catwoman2*

      Awful! I had strep throat a few years ago, and trust me I needed the two days in a row off! What if you had a really nasty bout of flu or something?

      1. KHB*

        Or even a relatively not-nasty bout of the flu. The CDC recommendation is to stay home until 24 hours after your fever subsides. Even if the fever itself lasts only 24 hours, there go your two sick days.

      2. Justme, the OG*

        My kid had strep and needed 24 hours on antibiotics before she could go back to school. So that blew through two days right there.

      3. Tiny Soprano*

        Last year I found out that yes, you can get glandular fever (mono) as an adult, it just doesn’t last as long. I had to take two weeks off. No ifs, no buts, no trying to drag myself in (I tried and all I did was shiver, vomit and get sent home.) Some things just need time off and there’s no way around it.

    3. Sara without an H*

      If I were OP, I’d be inclined to show up and cough/sneeze over my boss and as many C-level executives as I could find…

      1. Ashloo*

        Yes, this! I’m also wondering why coworkers are side-eyeing rather than commiserating (from a distance) with the OP. Do they have better benefits somehow?

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Have you really never worked at a place like this before? The only way management keeps from being dismembered and having their head displayed on pikes in the parking lot is by turning the workers against each other so they don’t even consider going after management.

          When everyone has the same amount of very limited sick time, that scarcity means everyone will scrutinize how everyone else uses their own sick days without ever thinking to demand better for everyone.

    4. kittymommy*

      I actually kept redoing the mental math because my brain could not accept that LW only got 2 days a year. I got more from Walmart as a part-time cashier in the 90’s!

      1. That One Person*

        Similar, but Target and from 2010+ time so…I have no idea what their archaic system is like and WHY. In fact that’s what I’d rather find out: why they think this model works! The fact that they’re not training people to take on some aspects also concerns me as there’s always the case of “what if they get hit by a car or their appendix explodes, and have to hang out in the hospital for a while?” type of argument. They are purposefully leaving themselves without a backup plan, which is just bad business in my eyes.

        I guess though if they want to take on that flu as a team they can do such. It sucks for the team, but I guess that’s what the execs want.

    5. mark132*

      I hesitate to mention this, but it might not be that bad if the company actually gives 20+ vacation days a year. But of course that is unlikely. A company that gives 2 sick days a year isn’t likely to offer 20+ vacation days a year.

      1. Jessen*

        Depends on the vacation days rules too. Lots of low-end companies have rules so you really can’t use your vacation days as sick days. My last job you could only take a vacation day if you scheduled it at least 2 weeks in advance and found coverage – if you were out last minute it was either a sick day or unpaid.

      1. Competent Commenter*

        If you mean, is it an issue because who could EVER have any carryover if they only got two sick days in a year…I also did a second double take on that.

    6. Allison*

      The irony is that if you only give two sick days a year, people will get sick MORE often because more people will come in sick and infect others. If you give what my state requires, 6 days a year for full-time employees, people are less likely to catch each other’s illnesses and everyone stays healthier.

        1. anon24*

          I’ve never had 6 sick days. I’ve only ever had one job that gave separate sick leave and you could acrue 4 days a year but once you hit 2 days it stopped accruing and you lost any new time. Amazing how I was always sick for a day once that sick balance hit 15.5 hours…

          My husband has never had a job with more than 2 sick days and one job he wasn’t given sick days and wasn’t allowed any time off his first year. He’s always working sick and getting sick from his co-workers working sick.

            1. Sam I Am*

              I have a cold and just finished working at a ski resort. No one below management has pto. So every year, very sick people run the day to day labor of the resort. Most people are paid minimum wage and can’t afford to take unpaid time off. If they can afford it economically, they get dinged in performance for calling out. It seems to be like retail, from what I remember of retail.
              By mid January everyone is passing the colds and flu around as we check you in and out, clean your rooms and cook your food. It isn’t my main source of income. It’s awful and I’m glad I don’t have to work there full time, I’m sure I’d be sick even more often.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Let me know when you’re running, I’ll totally vote for you. If you have a petition, I’ll sign it. Right now you just seem to be criticizing people for circumstances they probably can’t easily change, and it’s frustrating to watch you do that over and over.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  ??? I’m not criticizing people for being in bad jobs. I’m criticizing the employers that make the jobs bad!!!
                  There should be a law (since they won’t do the right thing on their own) that everyone gets plenty of sick time and decent pay and benefits. Everyone.

          1. Rachel Morgan*

            My current job originally gave 5, but I championed for my staff, so now everyone earns 1 a month (for a total of 12 sick days a year which can carry over to 360, I believe, hours ), plus fairly generous vacation, and 3 personal days.

            2 days is not nearly enough to do anything – appointments, being sick etc.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      We get three a year with no carryover, and are not allowed to use them for any planned medical procedures (I used a day for an outpatient surgery one year, then the next year the new rule came out saying “unplanned sicknesses only” and that was five years ago).

      Granted, we are allowed, encouraged even, to work from home when sick or contagious.

      But I imagine that some of the other departments (like the call center) are not. And they get the same three days that we do. Their turnover seems to be extremely high and that is probably one of the reasons.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          FMLA I would imagine? I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it…

        2. MattKnifeNinja*

          If your company is too small for FMLA, have no short term/long term disability insurance, and a jerk boss=fired/let go.

          I get AAM skews white collar/college educated/salaried/full time, but so many of my friends either have no sick days/no insurance, that getting two sick day is at least a crumb.

          Many small businesses around here work you just under 40 hrs/week so you get no benefits.

          OP, if you are fever free for 24 hours, you probably can go in. That’s the criteria my school district uses. No fever/no diarrhea for 24 hours.

          1. Gatomon*

            That is the criteria I’ve always used – fever must be clear for 24 hours or bodily functions must be “normalized” for 24 hours before I go back. But like you said, it’s a luxury for those of us with sick leave.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            “Many small businesses around here work you just under 40 hrs/week so you get no benefits.”
            The thing to do with a job like that is, keep looking for a better one. I had those kind of jobs where they blatantly take advantage for a loooong time. I kept looking, and looking, for something better because I won’t be taken advantage of.
            Businesses like that don’t deserve good long-term employees. They’re literally reaping what they sow. If they wanted good people to stay, they would treat them better.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Even that is a really privileged thing to say. You can keep looking, but if you only use public transit you might be limited in how far you can look. You might have young kids or elderly parents or medical limitations on the kinds of work you can do, which limit what’s available. The fact is we like to tell people to look for better jobs, but often people feel stuck where they are because the kind of work available, or that they qualify for due to age or education or employers wanting unicorns, is going to be exactly the same literally anywhere they go. This is especially true if you are in retail, food service, or other service oriented positions.

              Personally, I know I’ll never move out of adjunct hell, and I know this position will never give me benefits. I stay because it pays well and because I need the flexibility of being able to take time off, and because my heart and soul is in what I do. And because of that, even with no benefits, I know I have a LOT of privilege.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                I do use transit, and I made the decision to live and work near train stops instead of owning a car. It does limit me – more socially than in work – but it’s my choice.
                I started out in restaurant and retail. I enjoyed restaurant work and wanted to keep doing it, but I needed a better way to make a living and benefits. So I started working office jobs and 20 years later I still remember some of the bad experiences with job searching. I’m lucky I had learned to type in middle school – they made us, it wasn’t my choice – and that I was good at it and have an affinity for computers.
                I’m an evening person and since the 90’s I’ve been getting up at or before dawn for my office job. I love music and dancing but only go out on weekends so I can be awake and healthy for my job. I started out in Kansas and one of the reasons I moved to the big city is because it has lots of jobs, I needed many options because I wasn’t very good at holding jobs.
                It was a process of figuring out what kind of work I can do that will pay a decent living, and how to get and keep a good job. It took a long time because I had no idea where to start and what to look for. I eventually figured it out.
                It sounds like you’ve decided to trade doing work you love for not having benefits. It is a choice, as I’m sure you know.
                We hear all the time about people who can’t find jobs – but some of them are not willing to learn new skills, or work in a different environment, or move out of an area where there aren’t any good jobs.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Dude. You are not listening to anyone, and they’re being incredibly polite to you. The fact that you managed to bootstrap to where you are now is not a valid reason to condemn other people in different circumstances who haven’t been able to manage it.

                  Check your privilege and stop making this about why you’re better than all those other people who “aren’t willing to learn new skills” or whatever other baseless assumptions you want to make about anonymous strangers.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  How about if you stop projecting on me?
                  My experience is not baseless. I used to try to help street people, people who were down and out. I would make suggestions – you could work there. You could learn to read at the community center. You could get a place to live here.
                  Always, the people I was talking to had a million reasons for not trying. Maybe you’re the one making the assumptions. Have you ever actually talked to the people who are struggling? Try it and see what happens.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Honestly, also, how many small-business owners can even afford to pay for the benefits? E.g, a record store with an owner and two employees. How on earth can the owner pay for medical for everyone if the store is barely making ends meet? If we want to blame someone, can we at least blame the asinine system that ties everyone’s medical coverage to their place of employment?

              1. Wren*

                I know it isn’t a pleasant truth, but if you can’t afford to treat your employees right, you can’t afford to stay in business.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is insanely draconian. They’re inviting you to get everyone else sick, and they’re also making it impossible for you to take sick or caretaker leave (which is necessary, normal, and should be available to everyone).

    8. Magenta Sky*

      I would find two sick days a year more insulting than one. At least with none, nobody’s pretending to care about you.

    9. anon for this*

      This comment section is a balm to my soul, as I too only get two sick days a year and am currently in the process of blowing through them, as I do every January.

    10. Kat in VA*

      Two days sick a year is *appalling*.

      My husband just spent a couple of days in the CCU*. I’ve been half-ass WFH since Thursday. And by half-ass, I mean, “Checking email every now and then, responding when I can, and then long periods of radio silence.”

      I went in today, and left early to go home as my husband screwed up with his coffee creamer and shot his sugars way too high, resulting in him feeling incredibly crappy, and then having a major panic attack on top of it.

      How on earth would your company handle that? I asked if I should use PTO and the answer was a resounding NOPE. FAMILY FIRST.

      *When I say “couple of days in the CCU”, I mean a couple of days where docs were trying to keep him from LITERALLY dying from first the syndrome and then the treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis. I am forever grateful that everyone at my work has been supportive and kind throughout this process, and also would not give two farts in the wind if they were upset with me.

    11. NicoleT*

      We accrue 1 sick day a month, and there is no carry over limit. We are also able to use up to 5 of them a year for family sick leave (like a sick kid or partner). I didn’t realize how generous this was!

      For proof of how generous: I’ve been at my current job for 5 years this year… in that time, I have a young child who has gotten sick/had surgery multiple times, I have had surgery twice (off a week with both) and the flu (out a full week). I’m not averse to taking a day for a cold either. … Last time I checked, I had over 40 sick days accrued.

  2. Daniel*

    Ughhh, your employer sucks. Any way you can start looking for something else?

    In the meantime, I like the idea of pushing as a group for more sick leave, but I’m not too optimistic about that working, if they are already disciplining people who miss “too much time.” I’m curious to know how much they consider too much to be. I regularly miss half a day every two months for doctor’s appointments. That doesn’t take into account any time I’m actually ill.

      1. OP*

        Letter writer, here. Other than the sick time, my company has very average benefits (for the US at least). The short amount of sick leave comes, I think, from the President’s strong belief that people use sick days as a way to “play hookey and steal from the companies” (I overheard him discussing this with someone when our state was thinking about inacting mandatory sick leave). Is standing up together as a group effective when it is more abattle of philosophies instead of just a battle of the company’s priorities?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, it can be, especially if you point out that it’s (a) making your company less competitive and show him what other companies offer and (b) spreading sickness in the office because people come to work ill.

        2. JSPA*

          Depends; do you have a legitimate reason to schedule 1 on 1 close discussion of a single copy of printed material with your boss on days when you look and sound disgusting? (Note: not suggesting you infect him on purpose; the days you look worst may well not be the ones when you’re most infectious.)

        3. No Mas Pantalones*

          OP, next time you’re sick, go in extra early or stay extra late and cough on everyone’s phones and keyboards. If you want to get REALLY petty about it, lick your hands and just graze them along phones, keyboards, and common surfaces. Really concentrate on upper management.

          …not that I’ve ever done that. Nope. Never. Not me. *cough*

          1. Jasnah*

            I agree. Not that you should do this because you are a person of character, but the little devil on my shoulder is telling me you should work from home when you’re sick…and just…not work. Send an email at 10am and one at 3pm and take a nap. If you must go in, spend most of your time in the bathroom, in the kitchen making tea, in the hallway coughing loudly, etc. If anyone, especially your boss, asks how you are, say sadly, “I feel awful. I wish I could just go home and rest, but I can’t afford it and I’ve already taken my sick day for the next 6 months… *puppy dog eyes* Wish we got 10 days like the national average!” (or whatever your national average is)

            When bosses act like their workers don’t want to work for them, what they get is workers who don’t want to work for them!

        4. Chameleon*

          Your boss is a garbage person. I’m sorry, I know that’s not helpful, but people who treat others that way burn me like nothing else.

  3. Ella*

    Stay home when you feel the worst and also maybe unionize your office and demand better benefits?

    (You have my intense sympathy having to deal with such a regressive sick leave policy!)

  4. DecorativeCacti*

    You’re usually most contagious before you show symptoms. I would take the days when you feel the worse.

    I’m not even going to touch the fact like giving you two sick days a year seems way worse than just giving you none.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Honestly! Just outright forbidding sick leave would be better. This way, they have done all of the work of creating this policy, tracking sick leave, tracking accrual, putting it in the payroll system, updating the handbook – just to give their employees a giant “screw you.” It’s like saying, “we could deny you sick leave for free, but we went to a lot of trouble and expense to be sure you really get the point of how much we value your work here.”

      1. The Original K.*

        People would rather get nothing than be insulted, I think. At least I would. I remember a letter where the letter-writer was wondering how to clean things up after lashing out at the amount of his raise, which was a half of one percent increase. I came down on the side of “OK, you shouldn’t have lashed out but that IS a crappy raise.” I’d rather get nothing.

      2. E*

        It might be a legal thing. My job gives 3 sick days a year with no carryover and no vacation days. I’m 99.9% sure that if the state didn’t legally mandate those 3 sick days, we would get absolutely nothing.

        (The minuscule silver lining is that at least they’re fairly generous with unpaid time off, as long as you clear everything with your manager and don’t no call no show.)

      3. Delovely Delightful Debonair*

        They do value the work – above the worker. That’s why they show only care for the work being done, and none for the workers circumstances or the conditions in which the work is being done.

        1. AJ*

          Workers are appliances. Appliances, you switch them off and they work. No need for sick days, vacation days – or decent pay. Workers should know their place – as appliances.

      4. sin nombre*

        And it’s not even two sick days a year — it’s one day every six months! That’s extra administrative overhead just to flip everyone off a little harder! Amazing.

    2. Sara M*

      Agreed, you are most contagious just before symptoms show and when they start showing. Take the early day off when you feel worst. And you desperately need more sick leave. I’m so sorry. :( Like you, my husband has long lingering colds, and it sucks a lot.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        High doses of vitamin C usually help! I was getting a lot of long colds until I started doing that. Big difference!

        1. Ego Chamber*

          They do not. This is pseudoscience based on the placebo effect (don’t forget, Emergen-C was invented by a school teacher with no science background—but she was around so many little kids!).

          Also, some people are sensitive to high doses of vitamin C: it can cause stomach and intestinal issues, and increase instances and severity of acid reflux, if anyone already gets that. Everyone should talk to an actual medical professional instead of trying random Goop-y nonsense they read about on the internet. And there’s no known cure for the common cold, it’s literally all placebos.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Looks like you’ve made me a target for your superiority complex. Thanks!
            The experience of everyone in the Western world has no basis in science… right…. *eyeroll*

    3. Purple Jello*

      I worked somewhere that gave you sick days, I don’t remember how many maybe 5 — but if you used ANY, it counted against you on your annual performance review. I went in sick because then it was the only thing on my review that I could control.

  5. mf*

    If your coworkers complain about your symptoms, tell them to take it up with your boss. “Sorry, I already used my 2 sick days. If you can convince Fergus to give me more time off, I’ll happily stay home.”

    P.S. Your work’s sick leave policy is atrocious. Hope you have a plan for the long term to find a better employer!

    1. Stephanie*

      Heh, I got a little snippy once and said something like that. My director saw me making tea in the office and chopping ginger for it and he’s like “Making that tea again?” “Yup, already used my sick days for the year, so…” It was awkward.

    2. Quackeen*

      OP could also educate their coworkers a little on when colds are most contagious, and that they’ve done what they can to mitigate contagion, but I agree with slipping in there that more sick time would alleviate the situation. It’s a terrible policy and absolutely has implications for discriminating against people with disabling conditions.

  6. CR*

    I also get very bad colds a few times a year. They typically develop into infections (sinus or ear infections, bronchitis, etc). I stay home on the worst days when I truly can’t get out of bed, which is usually day 2 or 3. On the rest of the days, when I’m sick and still coughing but functioning, I go to work. There’s no much choice. Depending on how bad I feel I might go to the doctor and get an antibiotic for whatever infection I’ve picked up, and once you start taking antibiotics you aren’t infectious anymore.

    1. JSPA*

      1. Your virus can still be infectious even if you treat the secondary bacterial infection.
      2. You’re presuming you get the right antibiotic for the bacterial infection on the first try. That’s not a given!
      3. The secondary infection can also be viral, not bacterial.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        2 days is terrible. I have 5 at my new job and they don’t roll over, so ugh. Anyway, I found upping my vitamin D-3 all year long really acts as an anti-viral. Check the research on the Dr. Mercola site. And when you do feel a cold coming on, sucking zinc lozenges really helps shorten the cold. I feel for you!

        1. Chameleon*

          Vitamin D can help with immune function. But don’t check the “research” on Mercola because it is full of anti-science nonsense.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Seriously, would you all just stop? Do you understand that what the medical establishment considers proven is *decades* behind the actual experience of actual people? Do you really think it’s a coincidence that practically everyone has had the experience of vitamin C helping their cold? Have you ever worked in medical or dealt with a chronic health condition? If so, I wouldn’t have to explain this to you.
              If you google this as I did last week, you’ll see that one of the suggested reasons for tests being inconclusive is, vitamin C is so volatile it dissipates in a blood sample before it can be tested. Did you ever think of that? Do you want to do in vivo tests to determine once and for all whether it helps? Be sure to let all of us know when you do!

  7. BadWolf*

    I would definitely prioritize taking a sick day (I hate putting a single day here) when you feel worse as that’s the best bet to getting better faster.

    But I definitely feel you on the “feel better/look worse” — what should I do dilemma. In my case, it is usually “sound worse” and I lose my voice. We moved into an open workspace and can work at home (but we’re encouraged to be in the office) but everyone prefers “Well, I’m feeling better, but I’m going to work from home for a couple days” to listening to sneezing/hacking/snorfling/etc in the office.

    1. BadWolf*

      Also, if no one is your backup — what happens when you go on vacation? Maybe the system needs to break a little to encourage finding a back up. If it’s payroll or something, what would they do if you couldn’t come in?

      1. jb*

        A company that only gives 2 sick days a year is not one that thinks hard about succession planning/cross-training.

      2. Colette*

        I’ve had jobs where I was the only one doing the job – in fact, I’m in one now – and the answer is they’ll limp along if they have to, but if you’re gone a day or two the work will just wait for you to come back. It’s not that uncommon.

        1. I Work on a Hellmouth*

          That’s what happens with me! If I’m off, nooooooothing gets done–even if it is time sensitive or involves someone’s account balance. Although that’s not how it is supposed to work. But it usually causes enough trouble that when I do have a day off (sick or other) I’m super anxious the whole time.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            yeah, and then everyone yells at you because you didn’t do it immediately.

            It was great fun when I had to apologize for not being able to do my job instantly (it is not a work from home job) because of being closed for smoke and fire.

      3. Sabina*

        I once did an entire payroll (which I was not really trained to do) with a bad case of bronchitis because the payroll person had pneumonia. I don’t know what would have happened if I wasn’t able to do it. That job sucked.

    2. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Thankfully my place of business is very reasonable in the sense that most groups are firmly on the side of “please take a sick day or three, then use your laptop and work from home until you are definitely no longer contagious or making sounds of death or illness.” Especially since we have an open plan, you would not be winning friends or influencing people if you came in and proceeded to make noises / cough on tables and stuff. Which is how it should be, if it is feasible to not be at the office physically for your role! After 3 full consecutive days off we need a doctor’s note for a 4th day and beyond, but not for waiting out a cold and working remotely.

      Mr. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway’s team at a large financial institution goes one step farther and actively sends people away if they think about bringing known germs around. Like angry sheepdogs in business attire.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I had a boss who became an office legend when he did that once. (The rest of us were pretty good about working home when contagious, hence the only time this happened.) The guy that he ended up sending home, who shall hereafter be known as Pinkeye Bob, made a strategic mistake by walking into the boss’s office to brag about how he had dragged himself into the office in spite of having pinkeye in both eyes, because something something work ethic. Boss flipped out, sent Pinkeye Bob home, and warned him never to do that again. Both of them came into work very early, so Bob was gone before the rest of us showed up. Otherwise I would’ve probably caught the pinkeye, as Bob sat right next to me.

        1. Alianne*

          He must have known my old boss, Stomach-Flu Sal. She came staggering in one morning, explaining that she’d been up all night sick, but (as you said) something something work ethic, so much to do, etc. She only made it about three hours, and spent two of those hours in the bathroom. So none of her work got done, and she made half the office sick over the course of the next couple of weeks, which did not endear her to Grandboss at all.

          My office has a decent sick-day policy, and I respect my current boss enough that if I’m just feeling blah, I’ll come in and power through. The dealbreakers are coughing/sneezing/sore throat, since half my job involves talking to and interacting with clients. I was sternly told to just stay home and get better one day when I called to check in and was a bronchial baritone instead of my usual soprano.

        2. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Dammit, Pinkeye Bob!

          My boss will tell people to go home when they are obviously sick. Then she Lysols their desk.

          1. Shoes On My Cat*

            My bosses tend to get sick first. One goes down, then the second one goes, then I get it and am out. We “try” (hee hee) to stagger it so there’s one healthy person to do the MUST BE DONE work and let the rest fall as it may. What is cool is that they usually give me extra PTO for covering for them, so if I get sick, it doesn’t come out of my standard PTO package. We also send people home if they are symptomatic and my bosses are finally getting better at going to bed rather than dragging themselves to work. They get sick for shorter periods and sometimes I don’t get sick at all. Win!! (They are tough so it’s been a struggle to teach them self care doesn’t mean they are weak-minded)

  8. ZSD*

    First, I’m so sorry that your employer gives so few sick days. That’s ridiculous. Also, check the current list of jurisdictions with paid sick days laws to see if your employer might be legally mandated to provide more:

    Second, I’m not a doctor, but is it possible that these long, miserable colds are sinus infections? If so, they’re treatable with antibiotics. If you’re getting them regularly and they always have the same symptoms, I’d guess it’s something other than a cold.

    1. Rollergirl09*

      IANAD. I second the sinus infections. Especially with the description of lengthy eye watering and post nasal drip. Worth seeing a doctor. If so, daily OTC Flonase might help reduce these occurrences.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        Third! If not a sinus infection; I do believe talking to a doctor would be wise. Getting sick like this 3 times a year (unless you are a smoker or live with a smoker) is highly unusual for healthy adults. I used to get sick a lot and then moved from the area – turned out it was allergies.

        1. plant lady*

          I was gonna say the same thing! It seems like SO often to get SO sick, which sucks, and might mean something else is going on. (Unless so many sick people are coming to work at their workplace every day that there’s constant exposure to new strains…)

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            Which is a possibility, particularly if she has many coworkers who have small children, but even still- when I was in public school I didn’t get that sick, that often. It could definitely be worth it to bring it up with a doctor.

        2. Jaybeetee*

          FYI, this can be a “raised in poverty” thing as well – I’ve known a few people who as adults seemed to catch every bug going around and would be sick all.the.time. And case for case, those adults were raised in pretty impoverished eat-canned-food-and-no-milk situations. My own theory is a combination of “body worn out from stress” and poor immunity due to poor nutrition growing up.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            People’s immune systems can be different, too. Neither of my parents grew up in poverty and we all lived in the same house when I was a small child. My mom rarely got sick but my dad seemed to catch every single cold we kids brought home.

            I agree with the above suggestion that these may be sinus infections. I seem to be prone to those as I rarely get sick but when I do, it turns into a sinus infection. Antibiotics will clear it up pretty quickly, though.

        3. Asenath*

          It could be exposure. I used to get appalling colds 2 or 3 times at least every winter. One memorable time I dragged myself to the doctor moaning that I was getting better but it came back!! Maybe this time it was pneumonia or something? He said sympathetically that I’d probably just picked up a new cold virus. I think he was right. I had a very stressful job in a school where I was exposed to every virus on the go. I almost never got colds after I switched to a nice office job in front of a computer, dealing with very few actual humans.

      2. diaspora*

        This comes down to money though, usually. If you can only have two sick days a year and you’ve already used them, when the heck can you go to the doctor?

        I just keep thinking about a necessary doctor appointment I have every three months that required my lunch + an hour of sick time at my last job. That would be a quarter of my yearly sick time gone if I was in the OP’s job! One bad cold and I’d be facing not getting paid, which is not feasible for a lot of people.

      3. Hodie-Hi*

        Beware flonase. It worked really well on my drippy allergy nose. But 18 months and counting, and still I have almost no sense of smell. The black box warning about that side effect was removed when it became OTC.

        1. Ellex*

          Years of allergies have mostly deadened my sense of smell, except for occasional bouts of extreme scent sensitivity or phantom smells (which I actually suspect is a reaction to certain scents I’m allergic too!), so any effect that Flonase has on my sense of smell doesn’t bother me. However, it can also lead to nosebleeds and I’ve noticed if I use it every single day, my tendency to have a stuffed up nose actually gets worse. Maybe try using it every other day, or every third day?

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Yes, I had to stop taking Flonase because I’m prone to nosebleeds! It also started doing something weird to my tongue and sense of taste.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          There are other OTC sprays. I use Nasacort, which is the same type of medicine (corticosteroid). I have a good sense of smell.
          Afrin is a decongestant nasal spray that also might help. The only thing is *don’t use it continuously for more than 4 days* because it can cause a rebound and make symptoms worse.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            BEWARE AFRIN. According to the box last time I read the fine print, it was 48 hours, not 4 days, and it will stop working if you use it too often even if you space it out according to what the box says.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              One of the best and smartest allergists in the country – mine – told me 5 days. I do 4 as a cushion.
              I suppose you think you know better than an accomplished medical professional?
              Stop targeting me. I grew up around people way worse than you. You’re not going to get to me!

      4. Tin Cormorant*

        Flonase saved me from lifelong dust allergies and kills my colds too. I’m so happy it’s OTC now so I can just buy a bulk pack of it from Costco and always have extras in the cabinet so my husband and I don’t have to share one when we’re both sick. It can take a day or two to kick in though if you’re not taking it every day for allergies, so best to start when you feel the earliest itch in your throat.

        One other thing to try is something called Ipratropium Bromide a.k.a. Atrovent (unfortunately still prescription-only because there’s no profit in making it OTC or something). It dries up a runny nose within 10 minutes. It’s a MIRACLE. My nasal passages are *extremely* narrow, to the point where every time I got a cold, the moment my nose got runny at all the inside of my nose would swell up just a little bit and completely block my ability to breathe through my nose. I couldn’t even blow my nose without very painfully popping my ears and getting fluid stuck in the tubes for weeks. Now I start taking Ipratropium as soon as I start feeling sick, and the difference is amazing.

    2. kittymommy*

      Oohh, I didn’t event think of that, but yeah, I don’t get “sick” that much, no colds or flu, but I do get bad sinus infections due to allergies, and those are my exact symptoms (along with facial swelling).

    3. Collingswood*

      Most doctors DO NOT treat sinus infections with antibiotics unless all else fails. It’s pretty standard as the new protocol to avoid overuse of antibiotics, esp when the cause may well be viral. Doctors usually just recommend, rest, salt water nasal rise, stay hydrated etc.

      1. WS*

        Yeah, I’m actually on antibiotics for a sinus infection right now, and it’s the last resort after a couple of doctor visits (I was already using a steroid nasal spray and saline irrigation and was put on oral corticosteroids as well). It’s worth following up if it’s a recurrent problem, but since OP’s illnesses are clearing up then coming back, rather than persisting forever, this is probably not going to be the solution. Though I am very tempted to recommend they swab their nose and infect the boss out of sheer frustration.

  9. Jennifer*

    You poor thing. Do you get PTO you can use on sick days as well?

    I would my sick day on the day I felt the worse. If people didn’t like how I looked on the days I felt okay, they’d just have to deal. That’s a reality of working somewhere with so few sick days. Best wishes to you, OP.

  10. Stephanie*

    I had a job with two sick days a year. If you had a nice manager, they would sometimes ignore it if you took an extra day or two of sick leave. But yeah, new viral strains probably emerged rapidly from that office given how many people worked sick.

    When I got sick, I usually just took sick leave when I absolutely could not get out the bed. I worked sick a lot at that job. I would do that (and look for a new job!).

    1. The New Wanderer*

      That’s exactly why such little sick leave is a self-defeating policy. I wish there were statistics to show how much more often people get colds or flu at places that don’t offer reasonable sick policies, as I’m sure it would not be hard to prove.

      Then again, there are statistics showing how bad open office plans are, and yet they persist.

    2. Audiophile*

      I worked for an employer that offered no sick leave, just vacation. I worked with (what I still believe) was the flu one year and didn’t call out. One of the few times I ever called out sick was after getting food poisoning, which hit me suddenly on the way home home from work. I was going to suck it up but was still vomitting 2hrs before my shift the next day.

  11. AnotherKate*

    This is a pretty impossible position to be in, and it’s 100% your company’s fault. With that being said, I agree with Alison–take the day when you feel the worst; you’re likely to be less able to actually do the work on that day. Then, just do your best to wash your hands frequently and always, always cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough on the days when that’s happening. No one likes being around audibly/visibly sick co-workers, but your coworkers have surely been in a similar position, and your hands are pretty well tied.

  12. CheeryO*

    Ugh, I thought the three sick days per year at my last job was ridiculously draconian. How on earth do people with kids make two days per year work?

    I typically take a day or two off when I get a bad cold, and I inevitably have coworkers who act like I’m weird for needing time off for a cold – and we get a generous amount of sick time! It just seems to be ingrained in people to suck it up and show up, come hell or high water.

    1. Maggie*

      They get different jobs. Period. Because as a mother, I would get fired from excessive leave at a job like this pretty fast.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      When possible the best thing to do is stay home the first day of a cold and rest. I’ve done this and had the cold completely go away in a few days.
      But not always, sometimes it still persists.

  13. Arctic*

    Honestly, at a place like this you gotta take care of yourself first and foremost and your co-workers will understand that. Or they should.

  14. Drew*

    It’s not even two sick days a year – it’s one sick day every six months. If OP gets a bad cold in January, she has ONE sick day to use. That’s a horrific policy, OP.

    1. jay*

      Had to go too far down for this.. common misconception I think, I hear too many people complaining it doesn’t work because they get the sniffles. Flu =/= cold. Plus, the flu shot doesn’t cover all strains, only those most common to your area generally, so it’s not even guaranteed to protect against the flu.

    2. Renata Ricotta*

      I think OP’s point is that she’s doing what she can from a preventative perspective to keep from getting sick in the first place (probably to head off commenters who might give her that sort of advice, which is not relevant to her situation).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, if everyone comes in to work sick (like they have at OP’s workplace with their sick day policy), she’ll catch a cold from someone no matter what.

      2. Op*

        Thanks! Yeah, I really just mentioned the flu shot as I figured that would be the first recommendation people would give since my colds have traits that look like flu (high severity, long length, aches). I do think that flu shots get a bad rap because people blame their colds on them or expect them to be 100% foolproof. I live with both elderly and infants though so I am just grateful that it does a small part in keeping them safe.

        1. AnonyNurse*

          You sound awesome and conscientious as a human. So thanks for that. It sucks you are in this situation, but if you can find drugs that dry you up and otherwise reduce your visible symptoms, without making you either jittery or zombie-like, it may be worth it. You shouldn’t *have to* but if it makes you feel less self conscious at work, and you get less stink eye from colleagues, it could be worth while. Sorry just taking care of yourself isn’t an option.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Be careful with drugs that dry you up. I used to take Dayquil when I had a cold, and I always got a sinus infection because of the dryness. Don’t go to far with decongestants – maybe take just once in the morning, so you can drain later in the day?

            1. Ego Chamber*

              In case you ever come back to read these comments later, I want you to know that I’m bailing on this comment thread because of your conflicting advice and bad information.

              You said “try Afrin” and you said to take it longer than is recommended on the box, but then you said not to use decongestants because you need to “drain” which is both a contradiction of your previous advice and medically untrue. If it’s impossible to treat the cause of an illness (like a cold), it’s totally valid to tread the symptoms as a method to reduce duration and possibly prevent it turning into something worse.

              F’rex, when I worked in Call Center Hell everyone was coming to work sick all the time, including me. As soon as I got in a position where I could actually treat my symptoms with bed rest and liquids like doctors always say to (but is untenable advice for poor people who have to work for a living) my illnesses started getting better much faster—but again, this depends on not being exposed again, constantly, to really be effective in the longterm.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  Alison, you removed my comment standing up to him but not his uncalled-for criticism of me? That really hurts. :(
                  I know his type. It’s not about what’s being said, it’s about his need to feel superior. They look around for someone to criticize, and he happened to pick me. this time.

    3. ElspethGC*


      Things that don’t cause a cold:
      – cold weather
      – wet hair/clothes
      – flu viruses

      Things that do cause a cold:
      – being exposed to the cold virus, which is probably very often, if everyone else in your office is in the same situation

      Flu vaccines only cover one or two strains, anyway, and there’s usually a dozen or so making the rounds at any one time. (There’s a reason the NHS generally says not to bother unless you’re in an at-risk population or work with people who are, and that’s because they’re not as effective as some people seem to think they are.)

        1. WoolAnon*

          I know some people love them, but what I observe in my office (where most people get these shots) is that, after getting the shots, every one of those people gets sick.

          1. Asenath*

            I’ve never gotten a cold after having had the flu shot – I know that’s only a single anecdote, but my doctor said if I had, it would be because I was incubating a cold when I got the shot.

          2. WS*

            It’s really common to have mild flu-like symptoms after getting vaccinated. That’s your body making antibodies. If you’re really lucky like me you can have it for about 36 hours so I have to plan my flu shot when I’m going to have the next 2 days off, but most people don’t have it that badly. And I have had the real, actual, flu and never, ever, ever want that again.

          3. alienor*

            I get a flu shot every year and haven’t had the flu since 2004, so I don’t think it’s very likely that everyone who gets a shot is getting sick with the flu.

          4. Emily*

            That’s not true of my experience. I get the flu shot most years and have never gotten sick (either from an unrelated cold or from the flu) after getting the shot.

        2. ElspethGC*

          If you’re at risk or work with at-risk populations (immune problems, underlying health condition, over 65, pregnant, working in childcare), you’re eligible to get it for free and it’s heavily pushed; you can still get it if you’re not in those groups but you have to pay, and it’s mentioned that if you’re not prone to complications it’s unlikely to be a necessary vaccine. I don’t know many people who aren’t automatically eligible who choose to get it.

          (NHS and CDC advice differ on a lot of very random things. Apparently, the advice over there is to rinse pretty much immediately after brushing your teeth; here, the advice is to not rinse or to leave it a few minutes first because there’s no point using fluoride toothpaste if you’re not going to let it sit there and do its job.)

          1. CoveredInBees*

            In the US, most health insurance will cover flu shots 100% and if they don’t there are usually government or non-profit funded clinics that give free flu shots to anyone who walks in.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        They’re not effective because so many people refuse to get them. Same with any vaccine.

        1. JSPA*

          Flu shots are a special case, because they’re based on predictions of which strains (and variants of strains) will predominate over that year’s flu season. There are commonly three (sometimes 4) components. Some years, the most common flu is only very tangentially similar to expectations, and the next – most – common isn’t a great match, either. Some years, they pretty well nail the too 2 or 3. With a bad match, you may be dropping the intensity and length by only 5%. (This is STILL enough to save the lives of some of the sickest.) A good match might have what would otherwise be a debilitating “two weeks in bed” flu feeling like a cold, plus perhaps some aches and/or indigestion. (Which is yet another great reason to have a sickness policy that allows people who feel like they’re getting a cold, plus aches, to stay home for a couple of days!)

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      So, I started getting those when I started working at my previous job, which was the first I had ever had to have PTO. All days (15 iirc) came out of the same bucket. I figured I’d get a flu shot and see if that helps hold on to my PTO. That was 12-13 years ago and I’ve gotten them every year since. I now have an added motivation that my mom is in her 80s and likes to stop over at my house almost every day, and I am terrified of getting her sick, because she won’t get over a cold in a day or two like I do. Somehow, I rarely get sick now; to the point where I’ve lost sick days some years (current job has them in their own bucket). But I cannot tell if this is my amazing immune system and fantastic luck, or the flu shots, or both.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        On second thought, I think the fact that our workplace culture is to WFH when sick, plays a huge role in the fact that I do not get sick that often. Which would not apply to OP, if they are being basically forced to come in.

        1. scmill*

          I agree. Before retiring, I WFH full time for almost 10 years. It was amazing how much healthier I became once I wasn’t around everyone else’s germs and viruses.

    5. BookClubLady*

      While flu shots will not prevent the common cold, zinc lozenges WILL reduce the duration (not the homeopathic stuff, the ones that take away your taste buds). IME, I went from a typical 10-day cold to 5-7 days (depending on how diligent I was about taking the meds), AND I had no secondary infections with them. The zinc interferes with the little bugs’ ability to make more little bugs… [This of course only works if you have an actual cold rather than one of the gajilion other upper respiratory tract infections.]

  15. Bees in my Socks*

    My employer gives us 3 weeks of sick pay!!

    …After a year of service

    …And you have to go on FMLA to receive it.

    …And the first 3 days have to be PTO.

      1. Bees in my Socks*

        Agreed. Its more like STD, but no documentation or publication, online or offline, from employer refers to it as that. In fact it may be running contrary to my state’s Laws on “sick leave/sick pay” because they don’t state that you have to be on FMLA to take it in the Employee Handbook, and typically my state requires that the Handbook “describe how employees qualify to use sick leave for periods of absence and whether the company may required medical documentation in order to use available paid sick leave”.

        I am attempted to head for the door now.

  16. Girl from the North Country*

    Basically what Alison said + PLEASE don’t cough/sneeze into your hands because yuck. :)

  17. Anonandon*

    Oh man. Wondering if this LW is in a state with mandated by law sick leave? I’m assuming not. In any event, I echo the advice to stay home when you feel the worst, and just try to minimize your impact on others as much as possible when you can’t. Also, maybe it’s time to dust off the old resume and find a company with better benefits? Just a thought.

  18. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I now have a deep appreciation for the surgical masks I’d see on clerks and delivery people when I worked in the city…. If I got two sick days a year, I’d also be wearing one to try not to catch one. As well as to not share it with my co-workers.

    1. Anne Elliot*

      This is what I was going to say. It’s my understanding that in certain places in Asia, it’s considered only polite to wear a surgical mask when you have a cold to avoid making others sick. Which, when you think about it, is probably a good idea. Would that be a way to signal to your coworkers you’re doing your best not to make them sick, or would you feel ridiculous wearing one in what I’m (probably indefensibly) assuming is a Western workplace?

    2. KR*

      Yes!! I was going to suggest a mask. And if people ask about it (especially your bosses!!) you can say something to the effect of, well i only get TWO sick days a year so I have to whip this bad boy out!

    3. logicbutton*

      I wore some while sick a couple months ago and loved them! They made me feel like a better citizen. Totally recommend; they’re inexpensive and you can just pick them up at Walgreens or wherever, next to the latex gloves.

      1. JSPA*

        If i fear i have something pretty bad, I’ll break out the non-vented N95 quality disposable masks (created for particulate protection but validated as better than surgical masks for infection control). If it’s a co-worker who’s sick, you can use the vented version (more comfortable). Also, non – alcohol hand sanitizer is worse – than – useless! Go alcohol – based, or soap – and – hot- water. The respirators come a few to a pack from D.I.Y. construction stores. The fume specific ones from paint stores are not better, for this purpose.

    4. Just a thought*

      I’d love to do this as a statement if nothing else, but these kill me. Something about the close, humid air just makes it so hard to breathe. I want to do better but masks just aren’t it for me.
      Instead I try to use the next best method of creating a barrier: literally staying 6 feet away from other people at all times. (Plus washing hands and all that jazz.)

  19. Carrie Hirsch*

    I am NOT a doctor, so please consult a real one, but those symptoms sound more like severe seasonal allergies than a cold or flu. And if that’s the case, you’re not contagious and you might get a lot of relief from allergy medications and saline nasal rinses.
    But that doesn’t forgive your employer being so stingy with sick time. Contagious or not, if you’re feeling sick, you need to be able to take time to rest and recover!

    1. Works in IT*

      I get these symptoms when I get colds (except for aches, I don’t get aches) and severe seasonal allergies don’t behave like this. Severe seasonal allergies WILL NOT GO AWAY, and colds go through definite progressions of watery eyes/runny to stuffy to coughing.

      Allergies is more constant, severe congestion.

      1. EH*

        Yep. Colds behave the same for me most of the time, though I thankfully move into the “feel fine, cough like I’m dying” stage pretty quickly. That stage lasts at least a week or two, though. Fun.
        My seasonal allergies came in waves of severity when I was having trouble with them. Congestion, head pain, watery eyes, runny nose, but always all at once, never a progression.

      2. Carrie Hirsch*

        I have seasonal allergies and the symptoms are almost exactly as LW described. It took years for a doctor to give me the correct diagnosis instead of assuming it was strep throat or the flu, and when I’d test negative just shrugging their shoulders and saying I had a mystery virus.

        I’m not saying LW should just assume they aren’t contagious and start self-medicating with OTC antihistamines, I’m saying they should ask their doctor if it could be allergies. ;)

        1. KHB*

          I’ve also experienced allergies that give me the progression of symptoms like LW describes. (At least, I assume they were allergies – I was never formally diagnosed, but they’d kick in like clockwork on exposure to certain triggers, e.g., whenever I’d visit my parents’ house when they still had a cat.) So I can confirm that this is a thing that happens.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          I have a food allergy to egg yolks that behaves exactly like this, 3 – 5 days after I eat too much yolk. It’s probably an IgA or IgM reaction, where normal allergies are IgE reactions (details explaining that terminology in the link in my name). I (and Little Jules) have confirmed this allergy with a blood test, so this is not just ‘I think’. I also have seasonal / dust allergies that do not act like this (IgE reaction).

          I had a problem exactly like OPs in college. When I told my mom I’d been getting sick a lot, she asked what I’d been eating and told me I was allergic to egg yolks. The problem for OP is that if it is an allergy and if there’s a delayed reaction or a trigger level (eg, I can eat about 1/4 yolk before having a reaction), it’s really hard to assess this with an elimination diet.

          1) Ask family if they have the same issue, or if anyone knows of a hereditary allergy
          2) Assess whether your cold leads to others getting sick, especially any room mates
          3) If you can afford it, ask your GP for a reference to an allergy specialist. Ask the allergy specialist for a blood (NOT PRICK/SKIN) test, and ask if there’s any chance you have a non-IgE food allergy.

          2 sick days / year is crazy too few, but 6 weeks sick / year is a lot – it was worthwhile to me to check for non-viral reasons for my regular illnesses, I hope it is for OP too.

          (If I had to pick, it would have to be the ‘feel bad’ days, and let the ‘possibly contagious / disruptive’ chips fall)

  20. H.C.*

    On a tangent: A lot of my colleagues here are on a combined PTO plan, so yeah – there are periods where the office looks & sounds like a hospital ward because co-workers don’t want to take a sick day & sacrifice potential vacation time off or end of year PTO payout. So much UGH.

    But yeah, even on a separate sick/vacation day plan – getting only 2 days a year is horrible!

    1. LessNosy*

      We are on a combined PTO plan as well. Luckily my department has the option of working from home when sick. Most others don’t. Certain areas of the buildings are definitely like a sick ward at times!

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Weird, I liked the combined PTO plan (at my old job) for the opposite reason. I rarely get sick, so I ended up with more real vacation days to use. People who got sick often (or had kids who did) could use more of their PTO for unplanned sick days and not worry about using up sick time. At my current job, we have separate sick time vs. vacation time. So at the end of the year, I usually have several unused sick days. I usually end up using one or two as mental health days instead.

  21. pamela voorhees*

    I know it’s rough for your coworkers, but they’re also undoubtedly aware of the bad sick leave policy, so I can’t imagine they’ll be super offended? You’re not being sick to spite them after all, and they probably hope to have the same good feelings and patience extended to them the next time they have to come in looking bad. You should definitely take off when you feel worst. I’m so sorry you’re going through this each year!

    1. Lucille2*

      Came here to say the same thing. I’m willing to bet they’re less annoyed with OP and more concerned about the possible need to take only 1 sick day themselves. And if you’re a working parent, you start calculating what to do when the illness inevitably runs through the household and how to handle childcare arrangements when it does. Seriously, this is a terrible policy for sick days.

  22. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Embrace the trend in some Asian countries and wear a surgical face mask?

    Seriously this sick leave policy is nuts. I’m surprised that your co-workers aren’t more sympathetic though because they would be in the same position.

    1. LawBee*

      I actually love this idea. It’s good for holding back some of the germs (I assume!) but also it’s a heck of a visual for the boss.

      1. Ali G*

        OP should bring masks for all the co-workers. I’d love to see the explanation to the Boss about why they feel the need for masks to prevent disease at the office.

      2. WS*

        It makes you less likely to spread your germs to others; it provides little protection to the wearer. So lots of people need to wear them to be effective, and yes, that would be a great visual!

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      I work in healthcare, and if we’re for some reason coming in sick (or feeling fine but coughing badly) we mask up, even patient services and scribes, etc. I wish the US would embrace masks more; it’s just polite!

  23. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, you get two sick days a year at an employer who won’t train anyone else to fill in for you. The cold is a distraction; you should be looking for a job with fewer bees.

  24. beth*

    Wow, OP, your employer is stingy with the sick days.

    I have a couple key signs that I consider when I’m borderline on whether to take a sick day. If I’m vomiting or have a high fever, I need to be in bed; if I’m dizzy or keep nodding off uncontrollably, I shouldn’t be driving, and therefore can’t get to work. I’ll also seriously consider staying home if it’s the kind of illness where I know a day of rest will seriously speed up my recovery time, but that’s a ‘know yourself’ thing. In your paradigm, I’d say take off the day where you feel worst.

    When I do need to be in the office with a cold, I try to minimize contact with coworkers. I call people instead of poking my head in their office, I don’t shake hands (most people appreciate this once they realize I’m sick), I try to leave an empty chair between me and others at meetings where possible, etc. I don’t know what your job is, but if steps like that are possible, I feel like they can go a long way towards reducing coworker unhappiness when you do have to come in sick–which, don’t feel too bad about it, no reasonable person thinks it’s your fault that you’re sick for more than 2 days a year!

    1. Ama*

      I take public transit to work, so my calculus includes “if I don’t get a seat on the subway, will that be a problem?” but otherwise mine is pretty similar.

      I once had to go to work (former job) with a terrible cold because I was supposed to take detailed minutes in a meeting that couldn’t be rescheduled and I knew from previous experience that asking someone else to cover for me just resulted in me having to take four times the amount of time to decipher everything, and then me getting the blame for the notes being incomplete. But I was very very careful not to shake hands or touch anything someone else might need to touch if I hadn’t washed my hands recently — it helped that my desk was only a few steps from the bathroom so I could easily get to a sink. As far as I know no one else at my office got that cold, not even my boss who had to sit next to me at the meeting in question.

  25. Anita Brayke*

    I recently left a position with weirdly punitive sick day rules. If you happened to get sick over a holiday, you were out of luck, because if you called out the day before or after a holiday, they wouldn’t pay you sick time OR pay you for the holiday. I got sick over Christmas one year. One year. Not every year. I was told about their policy and that they wouldn’t pay me, so I went in and coughed and hacked all over everyone. Couldn’t help it. HAD to be there. Every time someone got sick, they’d just come in, too. Sickness was rampant in that medical office! I’m happy to say I now work at a much nicer, much more reasonable office. Also, I’m in Arizona and employers last year were forced to give us 40 hours of sick time without penalty, so hopefully the office I used to work at is getting rid of the constant sickness!

    1. The Hornet*

      “I went in and coughed and hacked all over everyone”

      Do not apologize for this. You did the right thing. You responded to the incentives your employer set up.

      Remember this every time some “HR pwafessional” here denies that HR acts in the interests of the company first.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        Not paying for the holiday if you call in the day before or after is pretty common.

  26. teclatrans*

    There are some really pretty N95 cloth facemasks out there, very common in some Asian countries. Wear these when you are coughing, and stay home when you feel like crap — this is when your body needs to rest in order to kick the infection.

  27. CatCat*

    Two paid sick days per year. That can’t be rolled over. And employees are disciplined or fired for taking “too much” unpaid sick days.


    Alison’s advice is the best possible under the circumstances, but the circumstances are ridiculous. I’m really sorry.

  28. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I have an interesting twist on this. I worked somewhere where my boss supported us staying home when ill, but I had a doctor who did not. Their hospital network was working on “overuse of antibiotics” so they required you to be ill for 6-12 WEEKS before they would consider the possibility you had a bacterial infection.

    So often, I would get sick, take the days I was sickest off from work, and go to the doctor. The doctor would yell at me for wasting their time and being a wimp, and tell me that I had a virus and it would take 6-12 weeks to clear up, and that I was not excused from work.

    Because no one can take 6-12 weeks off work for coughing and sneezing without getting fired, I would then go to work , getting scolded and sneered at by coworkers and customers alike for being contagious and disgusting and that I should “be at home because it’s not fair that you’re here giving us your germs,” until the 6-12 week mark passed or I developed the “jackpot” symptoms of a spiked fever and infected-colored mucus. Then I’d go back to the doctor, hard-sell them that I had been continuously ill all this time, get some antibiotics, and start feeling better in a day or two.

    1. caryatis*

      I would have been doctor-shopping after the first time this happened. It’s always okay to get a second opinion.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        My health insurance only included one medical/hospital network, so I couldn’t doctor shop.

        1. caryatis*

          You could go to an urgent care facility or another doctor and pay out of pocket. Surely it’s worth spending a few dollars to avoid months of illness.

          1. Atalanta0jess*

            Some people don’t have extra money…even to avoid sickness. Something being “worth it” doesn’t put dollars in your pocket.

            This isn’t a bad idea for those who can afford it though.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        Wow yeah! Viruses have a 7-10 day cycle, not a 6-10 week cycle. So if you don’t see a change after 1-2 weeks, it may not be viral, and you should probably do some tests. Geez where did this guy train??

        1. JSPA*

          The irritation and inflammation (especially lungs) can persist for some weeks after the disease agent is gone, though. And some symptom- directed meds can become counterproductive. I have my SO do a lot of cupped – hand back pounding (based on the percussions used for cystic fibrosis) to keep phlegm fluid rather than using loosening meds that work by…producing more phlegm.

    2. Garrett*

      I do not mean to be pedantic but overuse of antibiotics is a very, very serious public health problem. Competent medical professionals should NOT be prescribing antibiotics because a patient turns up and demands them.

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        I think the key is balancing patient needs with public health concerns.

        There’s often a difference between what *medically* a doctor would recommend (rest, lots of fluids) and what a patient can actually do to mitigate their symptoms (must work on their feet for 8 hours, with set bathroom break times, so….). I think the medical profession could be a little more realistic about how people actually have to function, and offer more reasonable suggestions.

        So yes, ideally you’d lay in bed and drink water until you felt better, but if you can’t do that – wear a mask, eat what sounds good when it sounds good even if that’s a milkshake and some fries, drink lots and lots of water plus a gallon of OJ each day when you are at home, take these OTC meds and if you are so inclined you can have 2 cans of Monster or RedBull a day, you pick the flavor. Call the office in two days if you still feel like you’ve taken a beating, and we’ll prescribe something.

        Because option B is way more in line with what people can probably do.

        I also think compliance would be better with different courses of antibiotics….there are way more opportunities to mess up a 10-day, 3-times-a-day prescription than a z-pack, for example.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          Addendum: of course, the medical community still should only give out antibiotics when they are warranted. I didn’t mean every visit is a “call back in two days for some pills” kinda thing.

          Also, my doctor’s office and the pediatrician’s office is great about (when you are setting an appointment) if it sounds like something that’s going around, they’ll transfer you to one of the nurses and you can decide together if you need to come in or not. Sometimes just knowing that a really terrible cold is going around, and you sound like you are on day 2, should be better soon is all you really need.

        2. JSPA*

          Antibiotics will only make you feel worse though (or at best, better via placebo effect) if you don’t actually have a bacterial infection. Green snot or phlegm isn’t actually a sign of infection. Ditto aching sinuses on both sides of your head.

      2. Lobsterman*

        This is a myth. The cause of antibiotic resistance is veterinary use of antibiotics and docs not washing their hands in hospitals after sick patients have given their infections resistance.

      3. Kit-Kat*

        Six to twelve weeks is excessive! That’s 1.5-3 months. Colds don’t last that long. Of course, you could have something else non-bacterial going on (like allergies), or you could have multiple colds in a row, but you could also develop a secondary bacterial infection well within that time frame. I’m a doctor, cannot give medical advice online etc but this just seems like a ridiculous and potentially dangerous policy to me.

      4. beth*

        Sure, but surely the solution isn’t expecting everyone reporting symptoms of a bacterial infection to wait 6+ WEEKS to get treatment?

    3. E*

      I’d be sorely tempted to file a complaint on this doctor who allowed a sick patient to go 6 weeks with ongoing illness. That doesn’t seem to be medically sound advice, and I would think they could test for bacterial infection.

    4. Arctic*

      Overuse of antibiotics is a threat to all of us, though. They shouldn’t be give out for what appears to be a cold.

    5. Rhymes with Mitochondria*

      Aw man, I have so been there. So so sick – and they called it viral bronchitis without any testing to know for sure. Didn’t even go in until I’d been sick for 2 weeks. They said I would have to wait another 4 weeks before they would consider prescribing antibiotics. My condition continued to worsen over the next few weeks, but even when I went back and had a fever and was coughing up mucous & blood, they dismissed me and said it was “too soon to tell” – I had been sick a full month at that point! I marked on my calendar the date at which they would consider antibiotics and walked into the urgent care clinic the moment it opened.
      Miracle of miracles, I was substantially recovered within 24 hours of antibiotics! Doctor even said it must have been pneumonia.
      This health care system is “integrated”. They are the insurance company (under a different name these days), they own the clinics AND employ the doctors. There’s nothing outside the system. There’s no checks and balances. And they stink to high heaven, but they’re the only choice we have thanks to my husband’s employer.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Would your husband happen to work for a large, fancy private university with a large, fancy medical school and hospital? Because that’s how we ended up in that nonsense.

      2. MommyMD*

        That’s horrible care. I’m sorry about that. And anyone coughing up blood needs a minimum of a chest X-RAY. At the very least.

    6. Snow Drift*

      My boomer-age, tell-it-like-it-is PCP got fed up with other doctors in his practice denying me antibiotics and making me come back multiple times, until my cold-turned-sinus-infection was “bad enough” to prove that I needed medication. It just made me suffer longer.

      (I get a cold that turns into a URI every single season change, like clockwork, for decades. It is not me overreacting or being hysterical. That’s just how my body is. I’ve had scans to check if I’m a good candidate for sinus surgery, but I am not.)

      So, Dr. Done With Your Shite wrote all this into my medical records–the lifelong pattern, my lack of candidacy for surgery, that I don’t respond to Z-packs and require the ten-day horse pills, etc. He has semi-retired and only keeps a part-time schedule where he sees a limited list of patients. So, when I see someone else and get pushback, I can instruct them to check my chart.

      1. Jules the 3rd*


        I wish I could have had something like that in my kid’s chart. The 1st line antibiotic for his ear infections never worked. Six times in 2 years, NEVER worked. By the 7th, the doc finally skipped to his 2nd line, but geez.

    7. MattKnifeNinja*

      Where I live, it’s easier to get heroin than a Z pack. My GP won’t prescribe them without an elevated white blood cell count on a blood draw.

      The ER doesn’t really prescribe them anymore, and the only place is a couple mini clinics the still hands them out without a “bunch of drama”-what my friend say.

      My GP says discolored nose gunk doesn’t equal bacteria infection. Seriously, I would shop around, but a new patient appointment is 6 months out.

      1. JSPA*

        Your GP is right. Now, if you have a sudden intense one sided facial pain, and same – sided flow of clear liquid, and maybe localized puffing and likely sudden change–up or down– in body temperature (after a couple of weeks of the entirely normal thickening green gunk, sometimes with a little blood from capillaries giving way if you blow too hard, also normal)…That’s going to wake them up. But (unlike the Technicolor grossness that’s worrying you), it’s… pretty rare.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Discolored nose gunk doesn’t equal bacteria infection. It just indicates some infection, but not whether it’s viral or bacterial. (Harvard doc blog in name link, sorry he’s so snotty…)

        From the blog:
        ” antibiotics might be worth considering when
        * the infection drags on for more than 10 days, or if it gets worse after a week
        * the discharge is thick and uniformly white (that is, it looks like pus)
        * there is a high fever that isn’t improving
        * there are severe symptoms that do not respond to the usual over-the-counter sinus and cold remedies.”

        To the posters above, 6 weeks is… not a best care practice, shall we say? Those drs suck.

    8. Jen*

      It doesn’t sound like your work actually did have a great sick day policy if they needed your doctor to excuse you.

  29. Bekx*

    My last company had 2 sick days a year and two weeks vacation to start. Last year a really nasty cold strain went through the first week of January and my coworker used his 2 sicks days for himself…and then his kids got sick. He had to use 5 vacation days in addition to his 2 sick days.

    He and his wife were planning a vacation in February for their 10 year anniversary, so there went the last of his vacation. His boss said “well, it says in the handbook that if he tries to use any more time off it’s a disciplinary mark!”. We were in corporate Marketing. Not retail where this thing would be expected, as retail tends to have draconian leave.

    It was also a union shop (we weren’t union in corporate though). The company touted about what great benefits they had and how they were the leader in the industry and our competitors didn’t give as much. My reply was “Yeah, but my marketing skills can go elsewhere and that will be your competitor.”

    Sure enough, I’m gone and now have 22 days pto and WFH ability.

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re in a job like this. I imagine you have to use your vacation if you need more sick time. Honestly, I just came to work sick because I couldn’t afford to use my sick time when I was at that past job. I made sure to put in my employee survey every year that our sick time was bad, but nothing was done. How my coworkers handled it was staying far away from each other as we could, not going to lunch together, etc. I’d email instead of walk over to talk to people about projects, and I had hand sanitizer and wipes for my phone.

  30. Bluephone*

    After you get a new job at a place with hopefully saner PTO, please name this company OP, so we can all put it on our “Never Apply Here” lists.

    Good luck :(

  31. Alldogsarepuppies*

    I’m hoping this was a typo and she meant 1 sick day every 6 weeks. or about 8 a year

  32. Lady Jay*

    “Which day in my cold should I stay home?” <– This struck me as a bizzaro question, as I picture you managing your cold (which can't be managed! It's a force of nature!) in order to make your unreasonable boss happy. Do the best you can now, try not to contaminate your coworkers, use lots of hand sanitizer, and then find another job–good luck!

    1. Jen*

      I’ve often had the same question as the OP. My office has unlimited sick days, but people very rarely take multiple days for one illness. So I never wanted to take more than one day off for a cold, but had to decide whether to take it at the beginning when I was most contagious, in the middle when I felt the worse, or at the end when I’d develop a cough and make people think I was sicker than I really was.

  33. Shalla*

    I know multiple nurses in this situation. 2-3 call outs/sick days a year, write ups with possible firing for more than that (scheduled ahead time away for surgery is handled differently). Makes me terrified of getting sick enough to need a hospital. It’s a fucking terrible, public heath endangering sick policy and I hope every employer who pulled this nonsense will improve their policies in the future.

    1. JSPA*

      I was so happy when one of my two hospital options unionized. Going in for abdominal surgery and the last thing you hear before going under is a sick orderly sniffing and snorting next to you (so you know you’ll be pulling your stiches sneezing and coughing)? Not good.

  34. FamousBlueRaincoat*

    You describe the illnesses as colds, but the fact that the symptoms last weeks sounds a little more serious. This matters because it’s possible you could qualify for FMLA if the illness meets certain conditions (namely, that you are being treated by a doctor on a continuous basis and/or that you are taking something other than OTC meds for it). I’m in HR, not an attorney, but this article on SHRM’s website explains the delineation pretty well:

    Definitely might be worth looking into given your employer’s stingy sick leave policies; although unless this meets the standard for Short Term Disability you’d probably be looking at unpaid leave which isn’t ideal.

  35. Quinalla*

    We just went up from 3 to 5 sick days (we have separate PTO) and I still think it is too low, but a little better, but I do have the option to work from home which is what I do most of the time when I am sick as I can usually at least get in 4-6 hours of work when sick when I’d typically get 8-9. You should definitely push back as a group, that’s how we got 2 more sick days here which is still not amazing, but better to be sure!

  36. The Hornet*

    This is very easy. Do not take any sick days for the sake of your coworkers, particularly unpaid ones. The company has made it plain that it wants employees to work sick. Your duty is to act in your interests, not those of your coworkers.

  37. Lady Phoenix*

    The sick days at our company changes so that it is cumulative. Slowly building up bit by bit.

    2 sick days/year is so bull that they might as well not bother and I hope you find a better job soon.

    In the meantime, make sure you give a good hack to the dumbf()cks who made this bull policy. I wish a literal pox on them for their crap.

    Come in at your most contagious and infect them so badly. /awful(?) advice

    Stay at home when you feel your brain just can’t. Like barely functional and conscious. It will not only impact your work, but also impact your safety as you try to get in and out of qork (especially if you have to drive).

  38. LaDeeDa*

    I can’t imagine functioning with 1 sick day every 6 months!! I never get sick, but I occasionally take a “I am sick of you people” day, and one day is usually enough. But what real illness does anyone get that only lasts 1 day? None! A cold is minimum 3 days, the flu is 5-7 days…

    1. The Hornet*

      “sick of you people days” are why some employers are so stingy with sick days. You aren’t helping.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        Seriously? Taking a mental health day is necessary, especially when you work 80+ hours a week in a really stressful job. I feel no guilt for taking a “sick” day for my own well being.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        Taking a mental health day is fine if it’s relatively rare and you know you’re not otherwise understaffed that day.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          I don’t work an hourly job, or work the kind of job that someone else would need to cover for me or be called in. We have PTO – it doesn’t matter if you are sick, or have a scheduled day out.
          I assume that when one of my colleagues or direct reports lets me know they are out for the day, they have rescheduled meetings, set their out of office, and aren’t missing anything too important or they would ask me to attend in their place. I trust my employees, if they need a day off, they need a day off and I don’t care what it is for. They are adults.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I haven’t taken any *yet*, but I know that a lot of people do.

        How is it not helping if LaDeeDa never gets sick to begin with, and so stays within the sick day limit?

      4. Parenthetically*

        This is combative and unnecessary. Reasonable employers don’t police people’s sick leave; unreasonable employers are stingy with sick leave because… they’re unreasonable.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Just so. Even if we make the exceptionally generous assumption that the employer is doing this in response to a real, actual, verifiable problem with people taking sick days for purposes for which they were not intended, there are far better ways to deal with that issue.

          The main one would be to understand what’s up with the working conditions at this particular employer that employees respond by taking “sick of you people” days. Responding to a problem that may have a cause in draconian management style by doubling down on draconian management is deeply backwards.

      5. Risha*

        Attitudes like that are the reason why Americans don’t get reasonable amounts of sick and vacation time like everyone else. Your Puritan ancestors, metaphorical or literal, have a lot of dickery to answer for.

        1. Maggie*

          Risha, this made me laugh out of loud because my ancestors ARE in fact Puritans and they DO have a lot of dickery to answer for!

          But also, yeah, I’m a public school 9th grade teacher and there’s no amount of changing the working conditions that’s going to get rid of my “I’m sick of you people” sick day needs. The people ARE the job for teachers, nurses, receptionists and more, and it’s far better/healthier/more professional to take a day off once ir twice a year for mental health than snap at a child/cancer patient/visitor who is just dealing with things which they also cannot control.

          And don’t even get me started on how taking a day off is double the work of just going to work in my profession.

  39. Atalanta0jess*

    As a side note, there are some studies that suggest elderberry syrup can reduce the length of a cold or flu. (It’s pricey to buy, can be made yourself for less.)

  40. irene adler*

    Hafta wonder about the mindset of those who do the risk-benefit analysis of giving employees extremely few sick days.

  41. Peaches*

    OP, I’m so sorry your sick day policy sucks so bad. If you had to pick (and it’s really crappy that you do), I’d choose to stay home on the day(s) you feel the worst. I’d also encourage you if you get push back from your coworkers that you’d love to work from home if you had more sick days. Maybe this would encourage someone to push back against the awful policy.

    I thought my office’s policies were bad…5 sick/personal days per year + 5 days of vacation. The 5 days of vacation are what I get after being with the company for 3.5 years (!!!) I have a year and a half to go until I get 10 days of vacation. Anyway, the sick/personal days CAN be used for things other than just sickness, so of course when I’m sick, I don’t want to use a sick/personal day because I’m trying to save those up for trips.

  42. Garrett*

    The flu is not the same as a cold. They are different kinds of viruses (and of course there are many different kinds of each) with different symptoms.

    Also, getting a flu vaccination is not a 100% guarantee that you won’t catch influenza. As noted, the vaccine does not protect against all flu strains, only those that are most likely to be prevalent that tear. And even then a vaccine does not confer 100% immunity.

  43. Tree*

    It’s not unrealistic to stay home for as long as you need to recover. Maybe you’ll need a doctor’s note but it seems perfectly reasonable to me.

  44. Your Friendly Neighborhood Germophobe*

    FYI, hand sanitizer does nothing for colds. Colds are caused by viruses, but hand sanitizer only kills bacteria – not viruses. Relying on hand sanitizer means that you’re more likely to spread a cold, because you’ll act as though you’re not infectious (shaking hands and such) when you’re actually covered in grossness.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They kill some viruses. Most notably influenza. But not noro. Not all viruses are created equal so to speak.

      1. anon4this*

        We’re talking about someone who already has a virus and is showing symptoms. it’s doubtful a secondary noro virus is alive and well, waiting to be touched in her workplace.
        I was SHOCKED using hand santizer was actually recommended by Alison.
        I mean, it’s 2019, and it’s known hand santizers are bad for people’s health.

        1. Someone Else*

          Calling them “bad for people’s health” is misleading. It’s true that there are contexts in which hand sanitizer is insufficient, and people may be overly reliant on them, but they’re not universally bad and they’re not useless. Let’s face it, it’s 2019 and it’s known that most people don’t actually wash their hands correctly. If some of those people add in periodic hand sanitizing throughout the day, they ARE making their hands less gross. Maybe not noro virus or the common cold, but plenty of other things. If people are using hand sanitizer instead of washing they’re hands, they’re probably making things worse, but if they’re washing their hands regularly, and periodically santizing them when they can’t go wash them, that’s a good thing.

        2. MommyMD*

          Hand sanitizers are not universally “bad”. That’s a sweeping generalization and the ingredients differ. Read some studies. As far as being SHOCKED it was recommended, be careful. You must shock very easily and we don’t want anything to happen to you.

      1. JSPA*

        They are ALSO spread through breathing. Not ONLY. (Never pick your nose in flu season unless you’ve just washed your hands. That’s what the vague “don’t touch eyes nose or mouth” advice could most pertinently say… though mouth and eyes presumably also matter.)

      2. MommyMD*

        Wrong. Washing your hands is absolutely proven to help. Do you think those sick coughing and mucus leaking poor sickies are not coughing on their hands, touching their mouths and nose, and touching other people and objects? Your statement is a 100 percent wrong, spreads misinformation and has been scientifically disproven over and over.

        1. MommyMD*

          Google FOMITES. Or just go back to the massive death rates before modern hygiene to get some real information on it.

    2. Not a fan of cruise ships*

      A simple googling of “does hand sanitizer kill rhinovirus” suggests that it does. Most hand sanitizers do not kill norovirus, but it is rhinovirus that causes the common cold.

  45. Ok_Go_West*

    It’s embarassing, but I have gone so far as to wear a mask at work when my coworkers were coming to work sick and refusing to go home. After four colds in four months, I had had enough.

    Wearing a mask is actually even more effective in protecting others from getting your germs, so maybe you can allay your coworkers’ fears by wearing one at work. (And maybe start a new office norm that can keep you all healthier, since I’m sure you have tons of sick people in your office with such horrible sick leave policies.)

    BUT be sure to cough / sneeze on the higher-ups who are screwing you on sick days!

    1. Nana*

      No need to be embarrassed about wearing a face mask…I did it when I had to be present and signing in participants for a workshop. Several people thanked me for wearing the mask.

    2. TV*

      Louder for the people in the back!
      Some of my coworkers do not understand that if they are a dripping, coughing mess they are still contagious, even if they are 5 days into the cold. I wash my hands/hand sanitize frequently and wipe down common areas with Lysol wipes daily but when I got a cold just after Christmas, I bought a box of masks to wear in case I was feeling well enough to go into the office but still had a lingering cough. I ended up just wearing them to the store and not work but I’ve got a reserve by my desk to hand out.
      My doctors office policy is you wear a mask if you are coughing for any reason during flu season and I’d like that to be more widespread.

      1. Ok_Go_West*

        Yes! It’s common in some cultures to wear a mask as a courtesy while sick. I’m hoping that makes its way to the US.

        1. Tree*

          Yep, I did it once, I was wearing a mask because I was sick and there was a pregnant woman working next to me. My coworkers freaked out and I was sent home. Well, if you find me trying to protect you scary, then enjoy me breathing out all the germs that can make you sick, too. It’s not like wearing a mask is comfortable.

    3. MommyMD*

      I wear a mask every day all day at work during cough cold and flu season. I’ve been mired in influenza A and B lately and all were unvaccinated but one.

  46. Unfurloughed Fed*

    One trick I used when I worked in an office where I was on a very short list of people with a particular skillset for a job that happened cyclically (every 2 years for about 4 months, it was a high priority job). And that was to put up a sign on the door leading into my space, “Hi! Sorry, I have a cold. Please feel free to use the wipes below and I will do what I can to keep my germs to myself. ” And I tried to ensure that my interactions in the office were of the email/shared electronic files variety as much as possible.

    I mean, the people you work with are aware of your painfully bad sick leave allotment, so I think just giving them options and letting them know you’re ill will be received with a friendly response.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      How is this relevant? OP gets the flu shot, but gets sick despite it.

      Also, though I support vaccines, there’s more reasons not to get the flu vaccine than are on your list (can afford / has insurance, for example). (that said, Target paid me $5 to get mine – kinda cool! )

      1. MommyMD*

        Cold viruses are not the flu. Far from it. The flu is influenza. This virus has killed multiple millions of people. This is what the flu shot is helping to prevent. It can destroy the lungs. It is horrible in infants and pregnant women. It leaves a stream of death every single year. It’s the Grim Reaper. What it is not, is a common cough and cold. There is no vaccine for the common cold.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          The flu shot doesn’t protect against every strain of flu. Let adults make their own choices.

          1. Mike C.*

            Nothing MommyMD said precluded not letting adults “make their own choices”. This idea that people should never be challenged on the choices they make that affect others is truly strange.

    2. MommyMD*

      Yes. Flu can easily kill a baby. If someone has TRUE influenza it spreads very easily, at the store, at the gas station, at the post office. You may get better and may never know if you caused disaster in it’s wake. That four month old baby in front of you in line. Who is too young to be vaccinated.

      Congestion runny nose cough is run of the mill. Uncomfortable but not influenza though some of the symptoms are similar.

    3. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep*

      No. I get full blown flu due to getting the flu shot because my immune system is stupid. That leads into a 75/25 percent chance for bronchitis and living through hell for at least 2 months. Flu shots are not the be all end all that people think they are.

      1. Maggie*

        Well you’re clearly in the “immuno- compromised group” that we’re trying to help, so no need to get cranky about it, thanks.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I had a similar initial reaction, since my egg allergy meant that until the last few years, a flu shot would put me in bed sick for 2 – 3 days (flu vaccine cultured in eggs picks up the protein that I’m allergic to), and I found the regular mindless insistence / explanation irritating.

        But I think that “Please Get A Flu Shot” covered us with their “[or don’t if you’re] in another situation where your doctor tells you that you can’t do it”, which is why my posted answer was more temperate than my initial one.

    4. cheluzal*

      Herd immunity is a term coined for natural immunity, not via vaccination. It as when kids who contracted measles lowered the outbreaks when at least 55% got it. That is has been changed to include vaccinations is a misnomer and something people tout too often (China has 99% vaccination rate and still has outbreaks so obviously it’s not working).

  47. Ann Nonymous*

    OP, you’re getting sick way too often and for too long. You didn’t mention that you have a compromised immune system, so I assume that you don’t. Now, I’m not in any way scolding you for getting ill, but I am suggesting that you need to look at how to boost your immune system beyond the flu shot and hand washing (which are great). There are many, many suggestions out there, and you should probably try any number of them to see if they are effective for you. I know that for me, at the very first tickle of a cold, I hit it with every remedy I can reasonably throw at it: AirBorne, vitamin C, ibuprofen, lemon and honey tea, salt water gargle, Vicks on my chest, throat and soles of my feet, bedtime Nyquil cold medicine, early bedtime, etc. (Be sure you’re not overdosing on ibuprofen or acetaminophen.) For me, that literally stops a developing cold overnight. Of course, YMMV. But it’s worth a shot. And p.s. your employers sucks.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I have an antiseptic throat spray that I use at the first throat tickle and it works like a freaking charm. Clove-oil-based, I think?

      1. Ok_Go_West*

        I suspect that everyone at OP’s work is coming in sick all the time, which would explain the frequent colds.

      2. Maybe a good shot of vodka?*

        Here come the home-remedy purveyors. Lovely.

        The level of scientific illiteracy in this thread is astounding. (Flu=colds, norovirus=colds, hand sanitizer is useless and everyone in 2019 save the blogger knows it, and now clove-oil.) Joy.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Some people get sick more often than others, and have different immune systems than others, and I strongly suspect the OP has tried these cold remedies before.

      The above suggestions aren’t going to solve the problem for many people, especially people working in an office with two sick days a year, which guarantees their coworkers are coming in sick and spreading germs.

    3. Risha*

      That’s a pretty broad statement. You don’t need a technically compromised immune system to have a crappy one. Some people win the generic lottery, and others don’t. My immune system is not broken, but I have always been and always will be sick far more often than average, same way other people go years between so much as a cold. I had a month long fever as an infant. I spent entire winters as a child with bronchitis. I spent a full 4 months with a bad cough earlier this year, and there was absolutely nothing that my doctor, formal over the counter meds, or chugging vitamin C and zinc supplements could do to fix that. I just have to plow through it when it happens, try to infect as few as other people as I can, and never, ever accept a job like the OP’s.

    4. Kella*

      I’m not sure any amount of immune system boosting is likely to be enough to overcome an entire workplace filled with people encouraged to come to work when they are contagious.

  48. Namast'ay in Bed*

    Two sick days for the entire year??? I used to work for a company that had no paid holidays, only two weeks pto, no wfh (even though our jobs could be done remotely), and told us we should be grateful to not work weekends, and they still offered a week and a half of sick time.

    Yikes I hope your company is amazing in some other way otherwise I’d recommend looking elsewhere. The value of not having to worry about working while sick is phenomenal.

  49. Catsaber*

    Even with generous sick leave policies it’s still sometimes not possible to stay home the whole time. I can bank several months’ worth of sick time (yay state employee!) but I can’t just take 4 weeks off for every cold I get – because if I get even the tiniest bit of drainage, I will have a cough that lasts for weeks. Additionally both my kids started day care last October so we’re in the process of getting ALL THE VIRUSES, so I’ve had some kind of respiratory problem for the past 4 months.

    I think asking to work from home will be your best bet, but if that doesn’t fly (which it probably won’t), I would take the time off right at the beginning when you feel the worst. For me, if I can rest right at the beginning, it dramatically decreases the duration of my illness.

  50. Lobsterman*

    2-3 serious colds a year is a lot. It’s basically most folks’ worst years every year. It’s worth OP’s time trying to understand this, including (of course) unreasonable job stress.

    1. I Work on a Hellmouth*

      Two to three serious colds per year sounds like it would be pretty normal in an environment where every employee is coming to work sick because they only get two sick days per year, though…

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Wild assumption being made that the OP is in prime health. Lots of people have compromised immune systems and telling the 2-3 colds is extreme is unhelpful to say the least.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Well, 2-3 colds each lasting 2-3 weeks seems like a lot to me, too! But I agree with Hellmouth above that it’s almost certainly due to the fact that OP’s workplace is a constantly swirling cesspit of germs because no one can afford to take any time off to get well.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I think it’s definitely the workplace keeping sick people from staying home. I went five years with perfect attendance at work because I was genuinely not sick, until the year I broke my leg. I had another year of no sick, then my friend sent her kid to preschool and I’ve had multiple colds for the last five years from visiting once a week! So OP needs to look around and see if there’s something (including the job!) that can change!

  51. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    2 sick days is BS but they doubled down at FIRING people who take unpaid time. These are vultures picking your bones clean.

    Do what makes you feel better. Ef everyone else. They know you risk firing if you just call in without having those sick days available. They should hold it against the cruddy structure not a co-worker in that setup.

  52. Cake Wad*

    I worked somewhere that gave 5 PTO days (so that included your sick) per year for your first five years with the company. No rollover, and no unpaid option. We had someone get fired for getting the (actual) flu. I never thought I’d see someone with an even worse policy, but here we are today!

  53. Not A Morning Person*

    TLDR, all the comments. But did anyone mention sinus infections or allergies? Before I was diagnosed with allergies, I used to get 3-4 sinus infections every year. My symptoms were very much like yours, OP. If you can get to a doctor during one of your bouts of illness or if you can get to a doctor and discuss your frequent illness and symptoms, they may have ideas that can better help you. I am so sorry you are dealing with this and I am sure you’d rather be healthy than to need the sick days. Perhaps a physician assessment can help you. My best wishes for your health.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      I know this is about the 50th me too on the allergies, but: the year I started getting allergy shots instead of trying to muddle through with daily OTC meds for 9 months of the year is the very.last.year I got a sinus infection.

      I have literally not had one for years.

      The real solution is of course to get a job at a reasonable employer that offers more than 2 sick days a year, but also check into whether or not you have “seasonal” allergies that aren’t actually being managed as well as you previously thought with OTC meds.

  54. Roscoe*

    Everytime a question like this comes up, I hate how many people say “just stay home if you are sick”. As this letter shows, that isn’t always feasible or logical. I can be sick but not contagious. Or I can look worse than I feel. Or all sorts of things.

    I say do what feels right to you.

    And yes, 2 sick days a year is absurd

  55. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Yes, at my company, if you take off 7 sick days in a row, day 8 starts short term disability.
    That said, at my job, if you take off three days with a cold, not only is everyone grateful, you actually get better from resting, because three days banks up on a weekend. People are back after the flu in three or four days because they actually rested and healed.
    We get 10 sick days a year, and your company sucks.

  56. CC*

    Would love an MD or epidemiologist to weigh in here about which days in a cold’s life cycle are actually most contagious from a scientific perspective (though I support the idea of OP taking off the days she feels worst!).

    1. MP*

      If you google “youtube npr how long are you contagious” there is a great video that goes through this. I really wanted to send this to my co-worker who was always adamant that she wasn’t contagious two days after her cold started (oh – SHE WAS).

  57. Doubleblankie*

    It’s so strange that you have been given a fixed number of sick days – how are you meant to control how many you will need? And two is so low… I would take the day off where you feel worst, but would be actively looking for a new job!
    It’s not fair on you or your colleagues.

    1. Rebecca*

      I take it you are not American? A fixed number of sick days (if any; not all states require them) is standard here.

  58. Camellia*

    I would take the opportunity to hang around the bosses as much as possible and cough and sneeze all over them. Maybe that will prompt them to start offering more paid sick days.

    1. AJ*

      In the elevator with male senior management while on the phone: “Yeah the doctor said that some men with mumps can get a secondary condition which causes their testicles to shrink and a drop in sperm count. But I don’t get sick days so here I am, heading into work with mumps.”

  59. probably not great advice for most*

    2 days a year is terrible. Your employers policy is extremely ungenerous.

    Probably not what anyone wants to hear, but my 2-3 nasty colds per year resolved when I gave up white flour and white sugar. I have not had a cold in two years. The first year, I thought it was a fluke, but now I am convinced that I have a much hardier immune system due to dietary changes. I eat a lot of fruits and greens, chicken and fish.

      1. probably not great advice for most*

        I know it was obnoxious of me to comment on diet since this is an advice column about work life and work policies. But if even one person benefits from seeing this, I will be glad. Not only did I not have those 2-3 weeks of blowing my nose and coughing from severe colds, I also was far less congested in general across the winter and did not have a lingering cough. It felt like I saved about a month of days for myself.

        I work with young people and coworkers who work with young people, so I’ve been exposed to quite a few germs. Anyway…

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      I thought it was normal for colds to last three weeks. Then I left LastJob and found out that I was run down from stress. Now my colds are over in a week or so.

  60. Ruth (UK)*

    2 sick days a year is absolutely ridiculous. You should stay home if you can when you feel worse and if there are complaints about you being in when sick/looking sick just say unfortunately you’d love to stay home but you’re not given the sick days to make that possible.

    I am a very lucky person who almost never gets sick – I typically miss only about 1 or 2 days a year due to sickness… but I would still be deeply unhappy and stressed about being in a job with such a bad sickness policy as you never know what will/can happen! And I’m glad that my co-workers can stay home etc when they’re sick too!

    Sick leave in the UK is fairly generous. I can take up to 4 months’ sick leave per year if needed (though more than 3 consecutive days requires a doctor’s note, plus some other rules/restrictions/requirements if longer amounts are taken).

  61. Hollz*

    I’m sitting here shocked that anyone is shocked over 2 sick days a year, haha. I worked at a big manufacturing company for years and it was my FIRST EVER job with ANY sick days. (Previous jobs accepted missed time to a point, with doctors note, unpaid). The job with sick leave was 2 paid days per year, BUT it was technically called “emergency vacation”, using a day of your banked vacation time. My current job (a much better employer) didn’t offer any sick leave until this year, and it’s 4 days per year.

  62. addanchorpoint*

    Scrolled down for a while and didn’t *think* I saw this, but wanted to chime in that your colds might not last two whole weeks if you take a day or two off early on. I always find that if I take a day and REST right at the beginning, I bounce back within a few days, whereas trying to “power through” makes it linger on for ages.

  63. MommyMD*

    Your employer is very greedy with the sick days. That’s terrible. In some states not even legal. Keep getting your flu shot. Influenza and cold viruses are not the same thing and a cold is not the flu.

  64. MommyMD*

    I took ten sick days last year (had pneumonia) and no one batted an eyelash. Every day I’m grateful for a generous employer.

  65. Bowserkitty*

    This reminds me when I first started at my last job permanently (temped for a few months) and was told I would get a week (7 days) of PTO. The week turned out to be a business week (5 days) -_- Thinking back, it is probably standard in business terms for a week to automatically be a business week…

    Two days is just atrocious. I read the comments above and I hope you and your coworkers can band together! This is a rough situation for everyone.

  66. Oxford Comma*

    Firstly, your company sucks.

    Secondly, if you can’t leave, I would suggest you stay home when you feel the worst. If your boss comments on your appearance, you can say something like “I felt I should stay home while I was most contagious.” And then I would cough a lot on him. Seriously. And I cannot believe I just typed that.

  67. Shop Girl*

    A few years ago learned about viral pink eye. No drops and good as new in 3 days. 2 whole weeks of pain, goo and no driving. Thankfully athe job I had had generous sick time

  68. Blinded by the Gaslight*

    Employers who do this really reveal how little they care about their employees and, depending on the business, their customers! I tended bar at a casino that offered 3 sick days annually, no PTO, AND you HAD to have a doctor’s note in order to use those days or else you could be fired (and they DID fire people over this). Result: bartenders, cocktail waitresses, servers, cooks, etc. coming to work with every disease known to man. Not to mention smoking was allowed inside, so enjoy trying to recover on the job from the flu or bronchitis or whatever in that environment. UGH. When I quit after a year, I had lost portions of my sense of taste/smell that I didn’t recover until I had been out for over six months. This is partially why I’ve never patronized a casino since.

  69. Teeth Grinder*

    Have you had the pneumonia vaccine? It changed my life. I told the doctor about five years after my first vaccination (you need boosters, like most vaccines) that I hadn’t had a bad cold since. She said that was because I didn’t consider a cold “really bad” until I had at least bronchitis, if not walking pneumonia.
    Not saying you’re getting pneumonia, but you really should discuss the frequency and severity of your illnesses with your doctor.
    Everyone seems to have a weakness, whether it be their digestion or their lungs or an ankle that gets sprained easily. Sometimes, though, there are things you can do.

    Two days a year, and fired for taking unpaid time off, is ridiculous. What if someone is seriously ill or injured? Will TPTB fire them while hospitalized?
    Go cough on every phone and keyboard in HR, or better yet the C-suite. Be sure not to miss the benefits manager.

    1. blink14*

      100% yes on this! I recently found out I had very low pneumococcal titers (immune system terminology here) – which means I’m very susceptible to things like colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, etc. Getting the pneumovax 23 vaccine (its very specific to this) has made a big difference so far. This is a different vaccine than the one usually given for actual pneumonia, and boosts the pneumococcal titer levels, therefore boosting your immune system. My energy level has also improved.

      This was discovered and prescribed through an allergist/immunologist, as most general practitioners do not think of or test for these pneumococcal titers – its such a simple blood test, it makes me so mad I wasn’t tested several years ago when my health started to get worse (and was never great to begin with).

  70. Teal*

    I’d get a pack of medical masks. Yes it’s weird, but it sounds like you’re already feeling weird because of how you look while sick. A medical mask covers runny nose, cough, and sneeze. It also helps prevent cough and sneeze if the cold/dry air is irritating your lungs/nose. Tell your coworkers you’re sick but you have to be here, so you’re wearing a mask to prevent spreading it. The weirdness will pass. You could even propose it as an idea for everyone, since you only get 2 days a year & doubtless everyone is coming in sick at some point.

  71. Common Welsh Green*

    Like everyone else, I’m gobsmacked by the two day “benefit”. But asking on behalf of everyone you have no choice but to expose to the creepy-crawlies, if you’re coughing, sneezing, and sniffling, please wear a disposable surgical mask. No one wants to suffer through a cold, and for some, it can be life and death. My husband has leukemia, and my carrying a cold virus home could have catastrophic results for him.

  72. Youngin*

    Wow! How unfortunate.

    If you do decide to go with Allison’s advice, I’d recommend a face mask when in the office. In my office it does cause attention, but everyone understands that I am doing my best to keep my germs to myself, so it cuts back on the negative looks from coworkers.

  73. Seconding zinc lozenges*

    They really work — IF you start sucking on them at the very first sign of a cold. I’m on Day 4 of a cold and have no more symptoms but I started on the Zicam lozenges (not the vitamin-pill type of zinc supplements) at Sneeze No. 3 and my symptoms were very slight. I can’t recommend these enough but the sooner you start the regimen, the better off you’ll be. I carry a bottle of them around with me — I really hate colds.

    1. Just a thought*

      OP said upthread it was an example of the steps they took to keep themselves healthy, not a direct attempt to address these specific illnesses.

  74. Elle Kay*

    If you have an office with a door or a set-up that allows it I would make a sign “Hi everyone! I have a cold and feel awful. I was out on DAY X but am back in to keep on top of work. If you want to email/call me for anything this week I totally understand! Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    I have a similar issue where I never seem to have “I look awful”and “I feel awful” match up so I spent A LOT of time reassuring people at work that my scratchy voice/red nose/runny eyes are just a weird thing happening right now so I do sympathize!

    1. Elle Kay*

      I’d also suggest staying home on day 2 or 3 when you feel the worst. A- that’s best for you and B- that way when you come in looking awful you can explain that you’re starting to feel better so you’re back but *shrug* used your sick day already. And it will serve as credit when your cold “lingers” that you did take a day off and now just working on “getting back to normal”

  75. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP1: I’m also a fat lady. However, I’m seriously side-eyeing the employee who refuses to use a chair that can safely accommodate her. Isn’t it more of a stigma to be known as “the fat lady who broke all the chairs” than “the lady who sits in the heavy-duty chair”?

    OP5: Get well soon (if you’re sick), dust off your resume, and get a new job! Your employer sucks.

  76. boop the first*

    I can’t pretend to be shocked because most, if not all, minimum wage workers get exactly zero paid sick days off. I came into work so deep into a bad cold that I had laryngitis, and then an hour later had a sobbing fit because a call came through to tell me a close family member died, and management STILL fought against me about going home! I will never forget that.
    And yet, the thought of being given one sick day every six months just sounds like cruel bragging. It’s like, intentionally pointing out how little they care. Some gifts are worse than getting nothing.

  77. Vancouver*

    I feel for you with the lack of sick time… I’m a regular-status employee now and get 12 paid sick days off per year, but up until my status changed I had no paid days (at least we were really good about unpaid sick days – no one got penalized for not spreading the plague around the office). My suggestion would be to take the sick day as close to the beginning of your illness as possible in hopes that it might help you heal faster, but I’m not a doctor so I have no idea if that will actually help. Maybe ask your doctor (or a doctor at a free clinic) if s/he has any suggestions? Who knows, they might find some underlying condition that could be addressed and reduce the frequency/severity of the illnesses or at least help you manage. Good luck!

  78. Sarah*

    I’m so thankful for my employer’s PTO policy right now. Having a baby in daycare, the entire family has gone from one illness to another all winter so far. I’m currently working from home with a head cold so bad I can’t hear out of one ear.

    That being said, I did appreciate this letter today since I’ve been trying to gauge what days are best to WFH with a cold (or just take off, to recover). I appreciate being able to stay at home when I need to, but I work much better in the office, and I feel like if I’m home every single day of a cold I won’t go in to work from Nov. 1 to March 31.

  79. TardyTardis*

    May I suggest more Vitamin D3, if I am not repeating too much? I used to hack up my lungs from January to March every year. Once I began using Vitamin D3 on a regular basis–so much better! I might get one little cold during the year, but that was pretty much it (now viciously knocking on wood, because I know I am Tempting the Gods). Last year, at the tax place, I was the only person who didn’t get sick (including the boss). Just saying it works well for me. Thus far (knocking on wood even more).

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