Proper Etiquette for Days When You Are Sick

When to Call in Sick From Work, School, and Appointments

Sick man at work

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Getting sick can be a detriment both to you and to those around you. If you have an illness that can spread to others, you need to try your best to minimize that spread. That includes protecting people in your household, your colleagues and friends, and the general public. Trying to force your way through your normal routine not only can be bad for your health, but it can seriously affect other people as well.

Here are some etiquette tips to follow for those days when you're not feeling your best.

When to Call in Sick From Work

If you have an employer that provides sick days or personal days off, it's best to use them when you're feeling sick. Think about the situation in reverse: Would you want one of your co-workers to come to work sick and give their illness to you? Germs can flow freely through the ventilation system in offices, and they can travel through the air over cubicles and through open office spaces. Even if you have a private office, you still will likely come in contact with other people or at least some communal spaces.

There are also productivity and safety concerns. When you're sick, you likely won't work as efficiently as you normally do. You also might be more likely to make mistakes. This can be dangerous in some lines of work, as well as have consequences that impact your colleagues.

If you absolutely cannot call in sick, there are some key tips to keep in mind:

  • Wash your hands often, and try not to touch things unnecessarily.
  • Sanitize your hands immediately after coughing or sneezing into them or even just touching your face.
  • Use disinfectant wipes on items you touch, especially if others will be touching them too.
  • Expand your personal space boundary by staying as far away from others as possible.
  • Let others know you might be contagious.

When to Reschedule Appointments

If you're feeling ill, check your calendar for appointments you can reschedule. That might include a haircut, dental cleaning, or lunch with friends. Let them know of your illness, and reschedule for at least a week later. Many appointments will put you in close contact with someone, so even if you're only coming down with mild symptoms, it's still the right thing to do to protect others from being exposed to your germs.

Also, try not to wait until the last minute to call, hoping you'll feel well enough to make your appointment. Service people especially will appreciate the advance notice, so they can fill your time slot with someone else; otherwise, they might not get paid if they have no client. And in general, people should be understanding of your need to move your appointment; it simply means you respect them and want them to stay healthy.

When to Keep Children Home

As soon as you see that your child is ill, make arrangements to keep them home from school or daycare. When a child attends school or daycare with a contagious illness, they can easily transmit it to the other children they have contact with. There's a lot of sharing of spaces and items in school where germs can pass from one child to the next. Then, the other children will return home to their families where the illness can further spread, potentially to someone who might not have a favorable outcome from getting sick even with a mild virus.

So go through the protocol the school or daycare has in place to report a sick child. And if necessary, set up someone to watch your child at home if you're not able to be there. Make sure whoever's watching your child knows about the illness, so they can properly protect themselves and take care of the child. Consult a doctor to determine when your child no longer will be contagious and can return to school.

How to Prevent Spreading an Illness

Some illnesses are only contagious in their early stages while others can be contagious a lot longer. It's always a good idea to consult a doctor when you're sick to find out how long you should stay away from others. If you must go out for essentials when you’re sick, such as to the grocery store or pharmacy, do your best not to linger anywhere and try to minimize your contact with others as much as possible. For instance, swipe your credit card yourself rather than handing it to the clerk. And use a disinfectant wipe on your cart or basket handle once you’re done with it.

Moreover, if a colleague, friend, or family member is sick, try your best to avoid that person through their illness. You don't have to be rude, but you can say you don't want to catch whatever they have; they should be understanding. If contact is unavoidable, keep as much distance between you as possible, avoid touching your face, wash your hands immediately afterward, and wipe anything they've touched with a disinfectant wipe.

If it's your child who's sick, it will be more difficult not to have contact with them because you'll likely be their caregiver. But you can still lower your risk of getting sick by keeping the child in one spot (such as their bedroom) for the duration of their illness, washing your hands often, and regularly disinfecting the household surfaces and items they touch.