Should You Stay Home When You Are Sick?

I admit it. I thought when Ann Landers died that they should have hired me to replace her, rather than that Amy woman. Granted, I not only had no relevant experience, I didn’t even apply. They should have just known to hire me.

But they didn’t. So I’m resigned to reading and critiquing their advice. (Such a difficult life I lead.) Ironically, the column I am commenting on today is an old Ann Lander’s column. Creators Syndicate still publishes one of her columns every week. Go figure. Here’s the first letter:

Dear Ann Landers: I would like to respond to that “sick worker” who simply could not afford to stay home because she needed all of her paycheck.

My cousin, “Joy,” worked in a large office. One of her co-workers came in with a terrible cold and flu. The co-worker said she felt lousy but she simply could NOT stay home because her pay would have been docked. Joy caught the cold, which resulted in flu and then pneumonia. One lung collapsed, and she never really recovered. In fact, she nearly died.

Many years ago, when my son was in nursery school, one mother sent her toddler to school even though she knew the child was ill. She said she couldn’t miss work and wasn’t able to find anyone to stay with the boy. It turned out to be polio.

Thousands of people die from the flu every year. Please urge your readers to stay home if they are ill. No paycheck is worth threatening the lives of fellow workers. I spent most of my work years in management. If employees knowingly came to work sick, I would fire them. They have no right to endanger the lives of others. — La Mesa, Calif.

Now, in one sense, I agree with the writer. (Ann agrees with her and then tells everyone to get a flu shot, which I haven’t done.) But what is sick? I’ve had a cough for week and a half. For 3 or 4 days last week I lost most of my voice. Should I have stayed home from work?

I didn’t, by the way. I also went to a choir practice (that was especially fun with no voice!), grocery shopping, made meals for my family (okay, so on Wednesday I ordered pizza–mmm, pizza) and generally went about my life. Could you imagine how much the world would slow down if every time someone got the sniffles, we all locked ourselves in our bedrooms with pots of herb tea and lightly buttered toast? (Now I’m hungry.) I can and your boss would fire you.

First of all, I think companies should offer a reasonable amount of paid sick leave, separate from vacation pay. Second, I think if you are really sick you should stay home. Third, I wouldn’t go around blaming specific people for the illnesses you catch. You could have picked it up from the hacking co-worker. You could have picked it up from the UPS guy or the lady who used the cart before you at the grocery store. Heck, in googling this topic, this cheery sentence came up:

Someone with mumps is contagious from about a week before symptoms appear until about nine days after they start.

Isn’t that nice? It’s true for the common cold and the flu as well, although neither asymptomatic contagious period is as long as the one for the mumps.

So, should you stay home from work if you are sick? Yes, if you are too sick to work then you should stay home. But no whining about co-workers who come in sick. Especially if your company has no paid sick leave. In that case, go whine to HR.

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