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April 10, 2013 / mike54martin

If You’re Sick: Stay Home


While all the data is not in yet, the 2013 winter flu season has shown a dramatic rise in both the rate of influenza infection and the spread of the disease. In Canada, which many believe to be the home of the cold and the flu due to our long, cold winter, the increase has been particularly acute. In January 2012 there were a total of 109 laboratory detections of influenza in Canada. This year according to the Public Health Agency of Canada that number had soared to 3,864 laboratory infections up to January 11, 2013!!

What that says to public health officials is that the flu is being spread far faster than normal. What it says to employers is that people are showing up to work sick. Showing up to work sick is called presenteeism, a phrase coined by organizational management psychologist Cary Cooper to identify the practice of employees who because they are sick are not functioning at their peak level of performance. And presenteeism is a big problem for both employers and the economy.

The estimates of the impact of presenteeism on American employers is that it will cost them over $500 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and the costs of this practice are almost 60% of the total cost of all worker illnesses. On an individual basis when someone shows up sick at work they also infect other workers and with many workplaces no longer offering sick leave benefits this means that that even more people are showing up and spreading the bug. You get the picture.

It’s not surprising perhaps that many people are showing up to work sick. As noted above they just won’t get paid if they don’t. Only about half of all American workers have access to sick leave and that number has been dropping for the past six years. But some employees present themselves for work in less than prime condition because they believe that the organization just could not function without them. That may be true, at least in their minds, but they can’t really be that effective when they’re huddled in their office sniffling with their coats on.

But lots of us do go to work sick, even when we have sick leave. According to a poll by, 61% of Canadians admitted going to work sick and 35% of these said that they went to work because they had to meet deadlines or were working on important projects. In the United States the problem is even worse according to a survey by They found that over 70% of Americans went to work while sick and among those a significant number cited deadlines and the importance of their work as reasons why they had to go into the office.

Experts from public health agencies to benefit providers are all giving a clear message to employees: If you are sick, please stay home. But apparently that message is not getting through. Clearly, employees are making their own judgement calls about whether or not they are well enough to go to work. So if you are making that decision what should your criteria be? Luckily for all of us the Internet, as usual, has all the answers.

According to there are a number of factors that you should consider before deciding whether you are going to show up or lay up. They include making a judgement call about how effective you think you are going to be. If you think that you can perform all of the duties of your job you should think about going in. If however you don’t, then do yourself a favor and just stay home.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, for both yourself and your coworkers is whether or not you may be contagious. There are few self-diagnostic tools for this but if you have a high fever you may be contagious and if you have a viral or bacterial illness you will almost certainly expose your co-workers to your germs. The tricky part about the flu is that you can be contagious for up to five days once you’ve developed symptoms.

If you are taking medication for an illness or the flu that has any possibility to impair your judgement or ability to operate machinery or drive a car, do not even think about going to work. The danger to yourself and others is just too great, particularly if your job involves using things like a forklift or any sharp objects. It’s not worth saving a day’s pay if you have an accident that costs you a limb or a life.

But the most important consideration about whether or not you should stay home when you are sick is whether or not having a day in bed can help you to recover and get back to your normal, healthy and productive self. You don’t really need a medical expert to give you the answer to that question. So the next time you have the flu, do yourself and the rest of us a favor. And stay home until you get better.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People.”

He is also the author of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series. The next book, “The Body on the T”, will be out on May 1, 2013

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