When to Stay Home from Work Due to Illness

It's not always easy to decide if you should stay home from work or school. When you feel sick on an important day, you may be tempted to just tough it out.

It can be hard to stay home if it means you'll miss out on something you planned for. You might think you can just push yourself to get through the day. It can also be hard to know if you should send your child to school if they need to turn in an assignment or play in a sports event.

Pushing through your symptoms isn't the only thing to consider. You also have to be mindful of making someone else sick. Staying home can protect others, while also giving you a chance to recover.

This article provides some guidelines for deciding if you should stay home when you're sick.

Woman laying in bed sick

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Guidelines for Staying Home When Sick

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidelines for stopping the spread of influenza, or the flu. The flu is common and spreads easily at work and school. There are other temporary medical conditions that can make you sick, too.

Protecting others while taking care of yourself are the most important things to think about when deciding whether to call in sick.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Fever: Stay home if you have a fever of 100 F or higher. Don't go back to your office or school until 24 hours after your fever goes away. A fever is one of clearest signs of an infectious illness. If you go to school or work you can easily pass on whatever you've got to others.
  • Cough: Stay home if you have a productive cough, which is a cough that brings up mucus. No matter where you are, make sure to cover your cough with your elbow. Wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading infection.
  • Sore throat: If it hurts to swallow, breathe or speak, stay home.
  • Runny nose: Stay home if you are constantly blowing your nose to keep it clear. If it's only slightly stuffy, and you aren't having trouble breathing, it's probably fine to go to work or school. Wash your hands after you blow your nose.
  • Earache: By itself, an earache won't pose a risk to others unless you work in a job that requires balance. Examples include bus driver, pilot, or school crossing guard. If you have an earache with other cold or flu symptoms, you'll need to stay home.
  • Vomiting: Stay home when vomiting and for 24 hours after the last time you vomited.
  • Diarrhea: Stay home when having diarrhea and for an additional 24 hours afterwards.
  • Pink eye: Pink eye is also called viral conjunctivitis. It is very contagious. Touching objects and fabric can spread this infection.
  • Rashes: Many rashes like dermatitis, allergies, and poison ivy are not contagious. Others, like chickenpox are highly contagious. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. It can be deadly when spread to others. See your doctor to find out if your rash requires you to stay home.

Recap

Fever, sore throat, and vomiting and diarrhea are all good reasons to avoid work or school. Stay at home until you are no longer contagious.

Work Location and Type

The type of work you do and its location can affect how easily you can spread an illness. If you're a cook or food server, you should stay home until there is no longer a risk you'll contaminate the food.

If you are a healthcare worker or you work around people who have a weak immune system, you should stay home long enough to be sure you are no longer contagious.

Office space that's separated from others can provide some protection, but few of us are completely isolated. You can spread germs to others even if you don't see them face to face. If you are contagious, you can spread your illness when you touch the coffee pot handle, bathroom fixtures, the copy machine, and other surfaces.

Recap

People who work in food service or with people who have a weak immune system should be especially cautious. Stay home until you are sure there is no risk of transmitting your illness to others.

Summary

It may be tempting to "tough it out" and go to work or school when you're sick. Your own well-being isn't the only concern, though. Remember that you can also spread your illness to others.

Stay home if you have a fever or a sore throat, if you are vomiting or have diarrhea, or if you have a contagious rash. And keep in mind that you should be extra cautious if you work in food service or with people who have a weak immune system.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stay home when sick.

  3. Evans SS, Repasky EA, Fisher DT. Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heatNat Rev Immunol. 2015;15(6):335-49. doi:10.1038/nri3843

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: protect yourself and others.

  5. American Osteopathic Association. Sore throat.

  6. UPMC HealthBeat. When should you call off work sick?

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Should your child stay home sick? Here's how to decide.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing norovirus.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How infections spread.