Are You Too Sick to Work (cont.)

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Other kinds of conditions can also keep you home from work. Back pain, recovery from surgery, debilitating migraines, and broken bones may sometimes simply be associated with too much pain for you to work effectively. The nature of your job also dictates what kind of medical conditions must keep you home. A desk worker may be able to work just fine while on crutches, but a lifeguard cannot.

Putting yourself or your work product at risk is another consideration. Even if your condition isn't contagious, you should think about staying home if the pain medications make you too drowsy to work effectively or if your limited mobility will pose a safety risk working with machinery. Or perhaps your lack of concentration could cause you to make a costly and/or damaging mistake for your company.

Overall, you and your child's symptoms are the biggest clue as to whether you or they should be staying home. Fever, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and confusion are all symptoms that are likely to be associated with a contagious illness and are probably a clue that you or they should stay home. If a person is in significant pain and is unable to concentrate or focus, that's another signal that he or she would better off at home. Finally, if you are taking any medications that affect your physical or mental abilities to do your job, a sick day is the best option.

If you're recovering from an illness and feel it is time to return to work, be sure to be extra vigilant with hygiene when you return to the job. Wash hands frequently, keep hand sanitizer available, and use sanitizing or disinfectant wipes to clean common work areas and shared items such as computer workstations. This is a good idea in any case during flu season, but your coworkers will appreciate it any time you've been out sick.


Longo, D.L., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/14/2015