Do You Go To Work Sick? You’re Not Alone

Do you go to work when you have a cold or the flu? According to a recent survey by NSF International, 26 percent of workers always go to work when they are sick. For anyone who has worked with other human beings, this should come as no surprise — and maybe you are even one of those people who always goes to work when they are ill.

There are two really important reasons why you shouldn’t go to work sick, of course: Your own health and that of the people around you. Obviously, bringing sickness-causing germs into a workplace exposes all of the people you work with to those germs, and especially for those with already-compromised immune systems and the elderly, this can mean something more serious than just passing the common cold along. Anyone can develop chronic bronchitis or a months-long cough that starts with a cold, but those people whose immune systems aren’t as strong are especially at risk, and by coming to work with an illness, you are directly putting them in harm’s way.

But not resting when you are ill can be bad for you, too.

“The most common mistake people make is to not slow down and take care of themselves when they have a cold,” Neelam Taneja-Uppal, MD, told Everyday Health. Getting lots of sleep, especially, allows your body to marshal its resources to fight whatever is ailing you — continuing on with a regular work schedule is likely to make your illness last longer, especially if you have a fever and are struggling to work through the extreme tiredness that goes along with it. That feeling of exhaustion is your body’s way of telling you to rest, and it should be heeded.

But most of us know that already, right? And surely, many people are going to work when they are sick, even if they would rather be at home. Why?

There are a variety of reasons, but they boil down to two simple ones: Workers aren’t given paid sick days, so they lose needed income if they stay home from work, or they are not allowed to/able to take a sick day due to the nature of their work or company structure. There are plenty of people who get sick days on paper, but who know that if they don’t come into work, it just means someone else has to take over their responsibilities as well as their own, or that certain essential work won’t get done and will result in much more work later. Of course, employers should organize working structures so that this isn’t the case, but unfortunately it’s very common.

And according to the original survey, about 25 percent of workers who come to their jobs when they are sick do so because their boss expects them to. Not respecting your employees’ health and decisions about keeping well is, of course, not legal, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it anyway.

Most workers recognize that their fellow employees, for any number of reasons, need to come to work even when they are unwell. And, of course, there are precautions we can take. Survey results indicate:

Nearly all (94 percent) of American workers take some form of precaution when coming in contact with a sick coworker, including:

  • washing their hands after coming in contact with a sick coworker (87 percent)
  • using hand sanitizer (68 percent)
  • avoiding their sick coworker (65 percent)
  • disinfecting their workspace (44 percent)
  • taking a vitamin (39 percent)
  • avoiding using common areas like break rooms (32 percent)

“The best thing you can do to avoid getting sick at work is to take defensive measures,” said Rob Donofrio, Ph.D., a microbiologist at NSF International. “Proper handwashing with soap and warm water is still, by far, the best way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. Similarly, disinfecting common areas like the office kitchen or eating area, copy machine and printer can be crucial to keeping germs at bay.”

Article by Starre Vartan


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june t.
reft h3 years ago

a minimum number of sick days should be a law. I've been home sick for 2 weeks because of all the sick co-workers, and I'm now getting tested for pneumonia.
Exactly half the office has been sick because of coworkers coming in sick, even though we do have sick time with the option of using vacation days to top up your paycheque. We work on our own caseloads so it isn't that someone needs to do their work, they can easily stay home so as not to pass on the germs. However, the phrase I hear from them was "I think I can tough it out". So, thanks co-workers for making me sick so you can show everyone how tough you are. I am not pleased.

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

Barbara, you are very lucky/privileged to never have had to take a job that did not provide paid sick leave. I had 3 sick days a year when I worked at Boeing in the early '60's, but after I became a Teamster and was in the trucking industry in Jan. of 1967, none until our 3-year contract was ratified that included it in 1985 or 1986, I don't recall the exact year. It was 3 days a year. Next contract, it was expanded to 6, and if one didn't take them, they were lost. It finally was worded so that if one didn't use them, they got paid for them in April the next year. What would have been even better would have been to let them accumulate! If one works in a restaurant, they probably don't get paid sick days. It depends on the employer, and you should realize that it was never an issue addressed at the national level until the present Administration. I find that sad, as I know I "infected" many co-workers when I came to work with the flu when I had it, and worked in close proximity to others in my office. Anyone who has school-age children probably gets's almost inevitable!

Kimberly C.
Kimberly C3 years ago

Lucyvm O. is spamming ... insidious text, but spam nonetheless

Rebecca C.
Rebecca C.3 years ago

It will be good if the company will also promote healthy lifestyle to their employees like free gym memberships, health plans, etc. This will surely reduce the employees getting sick.

Carla van der Meer

i work with food, so going to work sick is a no-no. But it is a personal no-no. Too many people do go and make the rest of sick. I'm a germaphobe so I wish all sick people would stay home, and not just from work. And if junior has a bad cold, coughing, sniffling etc, get a ssitter. Junior doesn't know not to wipe his nose on everything and not to cough in people's faces ( I almost had a panic attack in a restaurant recently when this exact thing happened. I now have whatever horrific bug that was hurled into my face)

Susan T.
Susan T3 years ago

even better when you work with the public and have to deal with sick people or their kids! YUCK! I stay home when I am sick and I have lost a few jobs because of it.

Chloe R.
Chloe R3 years ago


Mary B.
Mary B3 years ago

It is the employer's responsibility to make sure they have enough cross-trained people to cover for a sick one, and it is the sick person's responsiblity to stay home when they are ill and incapable of handling their usual work load, and not infecting those around them. Paid sick days need to be made the law, like a minimum wage.

Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

I don't get sick very often, so I never missed work. In Portugal, you lose a lot of money on sick leave, so many people avoids it...

Lynn C.
Lynn C3 years ago