CINCINNATI—You’re familiar with the scenario: A coworker in the next cubicle is hacking and sneezing.
And you're afraid to breathe for fear of being infected with a nasty bug.
A recent National Public Radio (NPR) survey of people in Florida and Ohio found that about half reported going to work sick because of financial issues but believed they should have stayed at home to recover.
Nancy Elder, MD, associate professor in the department of family medicine at UC, says that although working sick may have been deemed a no-no in the past, it’s a reality, and people often don’t have a choice.
“People need to work,” she says. “If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.”
Many employers don’t offer paid sick days, and therefore, employees are forced to bring their illness to the office or pay the price.
In Ohio, a proposed law would require employers with at least 25 workers to provide seven paid sick leave days a year for those working at least 30 hours a week. The initiative is expected to be on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Elder says if you have to work sick, the best thing you can do to avoid spreading germs is wash your hands.
“There are germs everywhere,” she says. “We live in a germy world, and there is no way to ever get rid of all of them, but the most important prevention tactic is washing your hands or using an alcohol-based cleanser regularly.”
In addition, she says sick employees should consider rescheduling meetings, avoid close contact with other individuals or even work from home, if permitted.
“Everyone feels that their work is important, but you still have to pay attention to your own health and the health of others around you,” she says.
Elder says people are most infectious around 24 hours before symptoms of the cold or flu even begin. Washing your hands regularly will prevent those germs from being spread.
She says that even though you may feel the effects of the illness three to five days later, you are less likely to be infectious.
“You may feel crummy, but it is less likely you will spread the infection,” she says.
However, she adds that a day or two at home in bed is the best option.
“If you are ill and feel so bad that you can’t concentrate and do your job to the best of your ability, then you should stay home,” she says. “Just be reasonable, and if you are lucky enough to have sick days, definitely take advantage of them so that you can get back on your feet in the fastest manner possible.”