When Should You Take A Sick Day From Work?

Cold and flu season is upon us. The holiday season is awesome, but it often means we are out and about more, upping the chances of catching a cold. Taking a sick day from work can be tricky during the busy season, but it’s often the right thing to do for you and all your co-workers, too. 

The ability to take paid sick days is often a common legal right in many countries, and for good reason. Anyone can become sick even temporarily, and so taking time you need to heal, without worrying about forgoing the income you need to survive, is important.

Of course, for some people then this luxury may not be completely assured. Those who are self-employed, for instance, tend not to generate value or work towards payment when they cannot attend the job. If your employer or your previous planning has been smart about it, factoring in this inevitability (you’re probably going to become ill for at least a few days every decade, if you’re lucky), is an essential part of operational forecasting.

But when should you take sick days from work? While ‘when you’re sick!’ seems like the obvious answer, it’s true that some people try to ignore minor irritants or issues and instead focus on soldiering forward no matter what. But is that really a good idea? In this post, we’ll discuss the parameters that help you determine if now is the time you should book that essential day off:

Reason 1 – You’re Contagious

The truth is that if you’re contagious, you probably shouldn’t be going to work. It’s important to consider if you can pass on your illness for the time being. For instance, some sinus infections are contagious and keeping that in mind is worthwhile.

This is also the easiest way to explain that you’re going to stay home to your boss. They know that the benefit of you coming in vs the chance of you infecting the entire workplace is vastly underserved.

Of course, your employer should be able to accept you’re ill regardless of being contagious or not, but this can certainly help cut extended conversations in the bud. It will also help you determine that yes, you should probably rest up and quarantine yourself. It’s also important to remember that Covid is still prevalent and many people are falling ill with it for the first time. So, the same routines and standards apply.

Reason 2 – You Can’t Focus Or Apply Your Skills

If you can’t focus or apply your skills at your job, then it’s probably unwise to actually attend. This is especially true if what you do requires a great degree of intellectual investment, or if you need to keep up with safety standards that you may not meet when feeling awful.

What’s the benefit of going to work and feeling unable to concentrate? In some cases, it can be a waste of time and may stifle your recovery, to begin with. Of course, there’s a difference between having a major head cold, a migraine, or just being hungover. You can work through the latter, but you’re unlikely to care for the former.

Reason 3 – Working Could Make Your Sickness Worse

It’s also a good idea to consider how working can make your sickness worse. If you overstretch yourself, go outside, travel, and try to keep up with the social and professional duties at your firm, then you might extend how sick you are for no reason at all.

You need rest, good nutrition, and a great deal of hydration to help your body flush out a medical condition if it’s temporary. If you have an injury, then coming into work may cause undue stress on your system. 

Often, forcing yourself up and out can do more harm than good, even if it temporarily helps your boss out. What’s more important – a day of work for your boss or securing your own health? Keeping that in mind can stop you from feeling guilty as you otherwise would have, instead allowing you to ‘get on’ with the most important tasks of the day and benefit as a result.

Reason 4 – Direct Medical Advice

Of course, when we’re sick and injured it’s important to get the correct medical assessment from a doctor. If you feel that you just have flu, this might be fine to go through without medical intervention.

But sometimes, a condition may require professional help and care. Direct medical advice will help you understand exactly what to do – which in many cases will be to go home, rest up, take care of yourself, and avoid work for a few days. When you have a doctor’s note for this instruction, you can stay home and dismiss any demands to return to work from your boss, which will be outside of their legal rights to do.

In general, many nation’s employment law will stipulate that a certain amount of sick days per year are acceptable, from there you might have to gain a doctor’s note in order to verify further time off. This can be even more important as time goes on and you need to justify further medical treatment and care, which may help you negotiate an end to your employment period with a worthwhile severance package depending on your needs.

Reason 5 – You Deserve To

It’s easy to think that you owe your employer all of your time, and of course if you’ve signed a contract then it’s important to fulfill those terms to the extent that you’re able.

But too many employees feel guilty about taking up their sick days, particularly if they know the team will be understaffed or if they have projects they need to work on. But the truth is that you shouldn’t feel guilty about undergoing a temporary malady, as many people do, and this is no unnatural. You didn’t choose this, nor is taking time to heal and return to normal a subversion of your professional responsibilities.

If an employer tries to imply that you’re letting the team down, just remember that good leaders plan for temporary periods where certain staff may not be available in advance – like working with a temp agency or knowing how to spread your workload temporarily over other employees, such as you would do to pick up.

Tags: health, wellness
Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an the author of "Getting Laid" and "Getting Baked". A sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky, when she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s making tea and writing about country living and artisan culture.
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