The Trouble With Working While Sick

kleenex on a black backgroundFlu season is upon us!

Every year, according the Centers for Disease Control, the flu causes millions of cases of illness, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths.

But, despite the alarming number of sick individuals caused by just the flu alone, an overwhelming majority of people still make the trek to work with tissue boxes in hand and cough medicine in their bags.

According to a survey put out by Alchemy—a research firm dedicated to the health and safety of the food industry’s work force—out of 1200 of those surveyed, 51 percent of food workers said that they “always” or “frequently” worked when sick, 38 percent said that they “sometimes” go into work sick, and alarmingly, only 5.6 percent “never” went to work with an illness.

No doubt these numbers will make you think twice before you go out and get that burger during your lunch break, but the food industry isn’t the exception to the norm. A survey taken by NSF International in February of 2014 (the peak of flu season in the States) found that nearly a quarter of those surveyed went to work because their boss required them to, while 37 percent clocked in for the money.

A different kind of epidemic  

These days, a majority of salaried employees get the benefit of paid sick leave (nearly 61 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), so one might assume that the majority of those walking into work while sick are the ones who have to work to get hours. Surprisingly, however, nearly 42 percent of those surveyed by NSF International stated that the main reason they go into work is for fear of a heavy workload.

And what’s worse is that nearly four out of 10 private-sector workers, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, don’t “cash in” on their paid sick leave for similar reasons.

Working while sick: an acceptable practice?

So: should employers let or encourage employees to work while sick? In a nutshell, no.

On the surface of it all, less man-power means more work for those present, and free money for those in bed at home, right? Not quite. The reality of the matter is that employees who make it into work running a low-grade fever and low energy aren’t actually going to be able to do the work that you expect out of them, so it ends up being a lose-lose situation.

Instead, consider biting the bullet, sending your employee home to get better, and divvying up the workload so that when your employee comes back feeling good as new, they’ll be able to jump into things rather than sluggishly pretending to work.

As for employees? The last thing you want to do is overexert yourself and turn that case of the sniffles into a full-blown outbreak that ends up affecting your co-workers as well. If you really are feeling terrible, stay at home for one day and regroup as opposed to being forced to quarantine yourself because you didn’t take care of it before it got even worse. If you have the right to paid sick leave, why not use it?

Employers, what do you think? How do you handle sick workers? Employees, do you ever find yourself in this kind of situation? Let us know by connecting with us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!

photo credit: Day 38 via photopin (license)

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