Call in sick or not?

Suggestions for employees, employers

By Barbara Pierce


Feeling totally lousy but you must get that project done today? Should you call in sick or not?

Here are questions to ask yourself about whether to call in sick or not and how to do it, as well as suggestions for employers.
— Could you be contagious?

Contagious infections are either caused by a bacteria or virus, explained Brenda Carney, nurse practitioner and CEO of Central New York Family Nurse Practitioner, New Hartford.

Bacteria cause bacterial infections, while viruses lead to viral infections.

If you have something that could be passed on to others, though you may want to be in the office, the office will not want you there.

Instead, see your health care professional and get treated.

Bacterial infections usually respond well to antibiotic medication. You’ll be good to go back to work 24 hours after you’ve started the antibiotic, explained Carney. Common bacterial infections include ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat and urinary tract infections.

— How to know when you’re contagious?

Warning signs include elevated temperature, nausea or diarrhea; excessive mucus production, red and crusty eyes, achy joints, lethargy and fever.

“Viral infections are a big pain in the neck,” Carney added. The flu and colds are caused by viruses and don’t respond to antibiotics.

Build up your immune system so you’ll have more resistance to infections, she stressed. “Boost your immune system by using zinc and vitamin C; drink a glass of orange juice every day. And stay hydrated, eat well, and get adequate sleep.”

As an employer who wants to keep her staff healthy, Carney makes sure that hand sanitizers are available at each workstation and encourages her staff to wash their hands frequently. “We’re interacting with the public, with a large number of people each day, and each of the people we see is interacting with a whole network of other people, so there is a whole lot of potential germs coming in the door.”

sickCan you do your job?

Even if you are not contagious, sometimes you feel bad enough that you probably aren’t going to be able to perform your job well. When you’re that sick, quality and attention to detail suffers, especially if you work in an industry that requires concentration, operating machinery, or interacting with the public.

— What about a “mental health” day?

Some days you feel totally fine physically, but just need a day off from the stress of work or a demanding boss. What about taking a “mental health” day?

“Mental health days are important for reducing stress,” said Carney. However, it would be best if you saved your sick time and took a planned vacation day off instead. “People definitely need adequate down time,” she said.

Schedule mental health time off in advance and enjoy it.

On the other hand, if your need for a mental health day is severe — say you’ve just gotten devastating news and can’t concentrate or stop crying — take that mental health day. And of course, if you need to take care of a sick relative or have legitimate mental health conditions, these are protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

To employers, Carney said: “Make sure the work place is enjoyable for employees.

“When we first opened our office, it was havoc, stressful for employees. We’ve made a lot of changes to make it a happier place to work.

“We looked at the process — What we are doing, what would make it easier for employees and help the flow. We got input from every player regarding what could make things work better — what better person to give you that input than the person doing the job?

“Empower your employees, engage them and learn what they’re doing. Make it a happier place for them to work.”

— How to call in sick

There’s conflicting advice about whether to call or if email is sufficient. If you’re unsure, look in your employee handbook, or ask your boss upfront what works best for him or her.

If your employee handbook is silent and you never asked your boss, what should you do? Experts say in most situations, email is fine. But if you’re in doubt, follow up with a phone call once the workday starts. If your employer refuses to give you time off, you should speak to an experienced fmla lawyer to find out how to assert your rights.

— Should you offer to work from home?

This can be a good option — particularly if you’re home caring for a sick child, and you feel fine. If this isn’t an option, or you are out of paid sick days, another option might be to offer to make up for the sick day.