Career Tips

The “sickie” dilemma: when to work and when to call in sick?

Posted: 27/06/2016

“Don’t worry, I promise I won’t give my germs to you!”

This is cold comfort when delivered by a co-worker that’s coughing all over you. But when should people be staying home and when is it okay to soldier on?

Let’s first think of this phrase: always treat others the way you want to be treated. This is good advice that many of us were encouraged to heed as young ones, and if you’re coming down with a dose of the flu, or some other nasty bug it may help you with the when to work and when to call in sick dilemma.

Making the decision can be hard, though: you don’t want to look like a “bludger”, but you don’t want to create misery at work either. With some illnesses, no decisions need to be made. You wake up violently vomiting, and there can be no question as to what your day entails. Bed. Bucket. Bathroom. Perhaps a few sips of flat lemonade if you’re lucky. But there’ll be no meeting in the boardroom.

The problem starts with illnesses that sit in the grey area and you may wonder when to work and when calling in sick is the best option. You’re not violently ill, but you’re not well, either. Here are some useful facts about the most common illnesses we regularly face that may help you decide whether it’s Doona Day or Destination Office.

The common cold – when to work

The common cold is caused by a viral infection in the nose. The most common variety is called rhinovirus (rhino means nose), and most of us catch this approximately 2 to 3 times per year. They can stay in your system for approximately ten days, but that doesn’t mean you should call in sick for ten days. For the first couple of days, while you’re sneezing, have a runny nose and a cough is when you are contagious with a cold. After this period, you can safely return to work.

Interesting fact: the common cold isn’t that infectious and even through kissing it is difficult to pass on the virus. However, children are the main carriers of the cold virus, and it is most likely to be passed on by exposure to droplets of saliva from coughing and contaminated hands.

Gastro – when to work, or more importantly, when not to work

Gastroenteritis is the horrible tummy bug that causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and general misery. Gastro is an infection of the gastrointestinal tract, caused by:

  • bacteria (e.g. E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella)
  • viruses (e.g. norovirus, rotavirus, enterovirus)
  • parasites (e.g. giardia)

Gastro may take up to five or seven days to clear, and it’s highly contagious for two days even after the vomiting has stopped. Therefore, it’s important to stay away from people, make sure you wash your hands and avoid preparing food for others during these periods.

When to work and when stay at home really depends on your job. For example, if you are a chef or working with food, it is strongly advisable that you should stay away for the full seven days, or at least two days after you last vomited.

Understanding the flu

How to call in sick - My Career in Aged CareAccording to Frank Bowden, Professor of Medicine at ANU, many people think they have the flu when in fact they have a cold. Symptoms of colds are generally less severe than symptoms of the flu – which presents the wider community with a more serious problem.

The “flu” is caused by the influenza virus, and there are several strains. If you catch the flu, it’s likely you will come down with it quickly and feel intensely sick with high fever, shakes, aching muscles, chills, malaise, headache and a cough. This is not the time to be going to work…

A cold on the other hand, as outlined above, is milder and more commonly characterised by sneezing, a runny and or blocked nose, a sore throat and cough.

The best thing you can do for both yourself and your co-workers, and to prevent you calling in sick, is to have the seasonal flu shot. This vaccine targets most of the common flu viruses circulating in the community and although not 100% protective, will certainly help lessen the chances of you catching the flu, or being seriously affected by it.

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