Sickness Etiquette for When You Have a Cold or Flu

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

Sick man at work

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No one is completely immune to illness, so there are times when you will get sick. It's inconvenient for you as well as everyone around you. Whether you have a "common cold," the flu, or some other virus, you need to do whatever it takes to prevent spreading your sickness to others. This includes family members, coworkers, and especially pregnant women, babies, or the elderly, who can get complications from a virus.

When to Call in Sick From Work

You might be someone who feels that you are essential at the office, and you're probably correct. However, when you have a contagious condition, you are putting other people's health at risk. To top it off, your own condition might even worsen if you do not take proper care of yourself. Most employers provide sick days or personal days off, so it's best to use them when you are sick.

Many offices use recycled air, so the germs flow freely around everyone in their cubicles or open office spaces. If you have a private office, going into work may not be as bad, but you will still be in contact with others. Think about whether or not to go to work from your co-workers' perspectives: Would you want one of them to come to work and get you sick?

There are also productivity and safety concerns. When you are sick, you will not be as productive as you are when you are well. You are also more likely to make mistakes and your judgment may be off, especially when you have a fever. This can be dangerous in some lines of work.

You owe it to your boss, coworkers, and company to do your best work, so it's often best to take care of yourself at home. When you come back, you can give the company what they are paying you to do.

If you absolutely cannot call in sick, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your hands clean by washing them often.
  • Use sanitizer or disinfectant wipes after coughing, sneezing, or even just touching your nose.
  • If you feel you might be coming down with something, expand your personal space boundary.
  • Let others know you might be contagious.

Reschedule Appointments

If you feel that you might be getting ill, take a survey of your calendar and obligations to see what you can reschedule. Your hairdresser, nail technician, or dentist will appreciate your consideration. If you are scheduled to have lunch with friends or business associates, let them know of your illness and reschedule it for the following week.

If possible, do not wait until the last minute to call. Service people, like those at a salon and medical offices, will appreciate the opportunity to fill your time slot with someone else since they generally only get paid when they are working. The same goes for your friends. They will appreciate advance notice so they can readjust their plans, if necessary.

When to Keep Children Home

As soon as you see that your child is ill, you should begin making arrangements to keep them home from school. If the child is in daycare, make sure you have alternate arrangements for sick days. This is important for school-aged children as well and applies to extracurricular activities like sports practices and other children's gatherings.

When your child attends school with a fever or a runny nose and cough, the other children will be susceptible to whatever bug your child is carrying. They, in turn, will return home as carriers of this illness, give it to their families, and the cycle of illness will continue. All of this can be avoided by keeping sick children at home.

Avoid Spreading an Illness

If one person brings home a virus and the rest of your family starts to get the sniffles the next day, keep the family at home to avoid spreading it to others. One or two days of rest may be all it takes to recover. Many viruses are only contagious during the initial stages or when you have a fever. 

If someone else is sick at home, work, or school, avoid that person throughout their illness. You do not have to be rude, but you can say that you don't want to catch whatever they have. They should be understanding. If contact is unavoidable, wash your hands immediately afterward and wipe down all equipment, door handles, and anything else they touched with disinfectant wipes or cleaner.

When your children get sick, it is more difficult to avoid them since a parent's touch often comforts and soothes them. Do not withhold your affection, but do whatever you can to avoid touching your face afterward and maintain a clean home environment.

There may be times when you have to go out while you are sick as well. If that is the case, avoid going to a hospital or nursing home where the individuals there have immune systems that may be weakened by your germs and viruses.

For trips to the pharmacy or grocery store, do your best to minimize spreading germs. Wipe off cart handles with disinfectant wipes when you're done, swipe a debit or credit card yourself rather than handing cash or a card to the clerk, and do your best to avoid touching unnecessary items.

Just keep in mind that it's only polite to look out for others while you're ill, so use your best judgment. The little things add up to keeping everyone else healthy and will be greatly appreciated.