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Rose Welch knows the dangers of going to work sick. Although she felt she was discouraged to take sick time, she quickly discovered how fast an illness can spread in the office environment.
“Once, a co-worker came in with pinkeye. Guess what? I got pinkeye, and so did my daughter, who was a toddler at the time,” the former Oklahoma City waitress says. “Another time, a co-worker came in with strep throat. My boyfriend got strep, and when I took him to the ER, the doctor told us that we both probably had it, because it’s highly contagious. He wrote us both prescriptions, and gave us both notes for work.
“When I took our notes into work, my boss insisted that I come in to work anyway, because I didn’t ‘look sick.’ Two of my regulars got strep throat.”
Much like day cares and preschools, the workplace can be a teeming pool of illness and viruses, spreading from employee to employee. According to a new Accountemps survey, 76% of workers admitted to coming to work when sick, and another 34% said they worried about being exposed when another co-worker is ill. Ironically, only 8% were impressed by their co-worker’s dedication to the job by coming in sick.
The good news, however, is most companies realize the advantage of keeping sick employees at home. According to the same survey, only 11% felt their bosses discouraged them from taking sick time, and half said their managers wanted them to remain home if they were ill.
JUST COMMON SENSE
Many reasons were quoted for arriving at work while ill, but Roxie McLerran, Accountemps branch manager in Oklahoma City, says the most misguided may be to impress bosses.
“Some professionals think it shows dedication and will impress their manager,” she says. “Most people have good intentions when they come to work sick — they don’t want to get behind or burden their co-workers.”
Yet, the productivity level suffers and, even worse, that illness can spread to others.
Sick-on-the-job employees also can cost a lot.
“If an employee comes to work sick, they are not working at 100%,” McLerran says. “Even if they are at the office, their work is hindered because, quite frankly, they just don’t feel well.”
The aforementioned survey developed by Accountemps interviewed 437 workers 18 years of age or older and employed in an office environment.
It shows that 42% admitted to going into work while ill “very frequently,” and 34% said “somewhat frequently.” This, despite the fact that 21% said their employer “strongly encourages” sick leave and another 29% said they are “somewhat encouraged” to stay home.
“If you feel pressure to come in when you are ill, you can try talking to your boss about working from home and not spreading the illness,” McLerran says. “In general, I think if you are sick, you need to be proactive. Communicate with your manager so they can plan for your sick days. I think most employers want you to stay home to get better.”
Many industries are tougher on sick leave than others. Welch says she spent years working in the food industry, and she admits she was strongly discouraged from taking time off when ill.
“I don’t feel that these companies are very well served by these doctor’s-note-only policies, and I’m starting to see more companies utilize point systems, which allows sick workers to stay home without a further financial penalty and still punishes malingerers,” Welch says. “I can only hope that these new systems spread to our restaurants, as well.”
Still, others realize the importance of sick time. The key, however, is setting strong guidelines for employees.
“If someone is sick, we clearly don’t want them to come to work and put the public at risk,” says Kurt Shewmaker, general manager of Republic Gastropub in Oklahoma City. “There are guidelines that have to be met, though. If you are running a fever or have a runny nose, we don’t want them around. If you have firm guidelines … everyone knows what is expected.”
For instance, he says, employees who call in sick must do so at least two hours before their shift begins. If they don’t, they aren’t punished because they called in sick, but because they were out of compliance with the guidelines.
“I would say that employers need to let their workers know its OK to call in sick. A lot of employers are afraid to say that, and some immediately don’t believe their employees who say they are sick,” Shewmaker says. “You have to have a good relationship with your staff, and you have to have guidelines in place.”