5 Signs it’s Time to Call in Sick

As the weather cools, the sniffles are descending upon workers across the country. And many are showing up to work that way. In fact, it’s a pretty normal thing for workers to show up with a lot more than the sniffles. Some are on the clock with a temperature, and many show up to work even when they are contagious.

Of course, it’s a hassle to have to pull weight for someone who is out sick or to find a replacement, but sick leave exists for a reason. Not only do workers perform more poorly when they feel ill, they also pose a risk to the other people they work with. That’s why it’s important to call in sick when you’re, well, sick.

But how do you know when you’re sick enough to call in? Health experts say there are some important signs for any worker – or for that matter, boss or colleague – to know if they or someone around them are sick.

1. A high fever. If you have a high fever – above 101 – don’t go to work. If you’ve gone in to work thinking you have a slight cold, and your fever escalates, tell your boss you need to go home – or to the doctor, depending on your other symptoms – immediately. Fever is a common sign that whatever you have is contagious, and the last thing any employer wants is for their entire workforce to be taken down by the same bug.

2. A very sore throat. White patches on your throat plus a fever is a common sign of strep throat, which is highly contagious. A very sore throat is also associated with a number of other common contagious ailments, so see a doctor and then head home instead of to work.

3. A cough. A minor cough can be due to allergies or minor irritants, which you can work through, but if you have a cough plus aches and a fever, you may have a cold. You won’t get over a severe cold or the flu unless you get rest, so stay at home. You won’t feel well enough to get much accomplished anyway.
A severe cough along with mucus or shortness of breath can be a sign of bronchitis or pneumonia, so it’s best to see a doctor and stay away from the workplace until they’ve signed off on your health.

4. Stomach problems. According to experts, if you can’t hold down food, don’t go in to work. You could have a contagious stomach virus, which typically lasts one or two days. Food poisoning is another option, and the last thing you want to do at work is puke in the presence of your co-workers.

5. Pinkeye. Even though you might not feel miserable, the bright red, matted, gooey eye you are sporting is highly contagious if it’s the most common form of pinkeye. See a doctor, because this infection will need to be fought with antibiotics.

If you have one of these or other signs, chances are, you are too sick to be at work. Give as much advance notice as possible to your boss, but when you’re sick, do yourself, your boss and everyone you work with a favor. Call in sick.

Have you ever gone to work sick? How bad was it? Does your boss encourage you to take sick leave when you’re not feeling 100%? Let us know in the comments below!

Note: This article is not intended to replace expert medical advice. Please consult with your physician.


  1. Robert Daniel Buckmaster


  2. Karen Ahrmann

    There was one time I went to work and started with diarhea shortly after I got there and was running to the restroom about every 20 minutes and my boss never said anything, finally I just told him I needed to go home. He was really weird about people going home or calling in sick. We all got the feeling that he wanted us there no matter what and if you missed more than 3 days even if you had a simple virus you had to bring in a docters excuse or lose your job.

  3. rick b.

    every employer I’ve had will tell you not to come to work sick, but then will penalize you when you actually do, or if you’re calling in will try to convince you that you aren’t really THAT sick.

  4. leonard phister

    Most of the jobs that I have had they would say at the safety meatings that if you are really! sick then stay home. It has been my expireance that when I would call in sick and I mean 103 temp plus. That I was often told that I would not have a job when I got back to work. It seems to me that employers would show the employes the legal stuff about your rights but most of the employers would not follow them and they would get away with it.

  5. Pam T.

    I never wanted to go in sick but every time I would call in I was told if I couldn’t find a replacement I had to go. I’m a nurse. I was so sick sometimes that I would end up in the ER and treated with IV’s and meds…this is not good for patients or the public I would be in contact with.

  6. Tiffany | Express Job Blogger

    @ Leonard – It’s unfortunate when companies don’t understand why it’s important for people not to go to work when they’re really sick – it’s always best for not just for the worker, but for their co-workers, clients, and customers, too.
    @ Pam – The nursing shortage in our country right now complicates your situation so much. It must be so frustrating to know that your health has a direct impact on your customers and the public.
    One solution employers can utilize is temporary placement services that can provide workers to cover for sick employees. An employee who is seriously ill or contagious won’t be 100% anyway, so it would be better to pay for a worker who is really with it while the other employee recovers, if you ask me!

  7. Lynn K

    I was a state worker for 35 years. I finally retired last year. I loved my job but didn’t like our bosses. They didn’t care how sick you were, they wanted you there. They didn’t care how you felt, if you would expose whatever you might have to other co-workers – they just didn’t care. They hardly ever missed any days and expected their employees to do the same thing. They would tend to forget that these people had families too and that just maybe the illness was going through the entire family. Mothers especially have to stay home and take care of their sick children. Male management don’t seem to think its necessary to be home with sick children. I even worked with someone who thought it was horrible that one of our co-workers got pregnant with a third child, since being a single mom and already having two children at home she missed a lot of work because her children were young and she was the only one that could take care of them when they were sick. And management had the nerve to cut her down in front of other employees because she got pregnant a third time. It really was none of their business. It used to make me so mad the way management treated their workers. They were treated like subhumans, unless, of course, you were a “pet” or “special”.

  8. Cheri T

    It is truly sad but the only way a person can call in sick is if you are dead. I had a job that when you called in sick, you had better bring in a doctor’s note because they did not believe you. The job I have now I have sick days available but cannot use them because we are so short handed it is not funny. Odd how it works isn’t it?

  9. RF

    It is easy for people who have the benefits of paid time off to say you should not go to work when you are sick. Seems a strange article to post on a temp site.

  10. S.V.

    I have gone to work so sick as to be a danger to myself, coworkers and customers. I never would have done so had I been fortunate enough to have paid sick days.

  11. Phyllis

    Our manager expects us to be here no matter how sick we feel because she “toughs” it out! As a supervisor I do not want sick people coming into the office making the rest of us miserable, but I dont have the final say!

  12. D.T.

    In my workplace, it is frowned on to stay home when you’re sick. Management’s feeling is that you’ll feel sick whether you’re at home or at work, so you might as well get something done. Employees have the attitude that since they got whatever illness they have at work, they’ll just keep coming in sick and give it back to work. We changed from a Vacation policy without sick leave to a PTO policy. Now we can use PTO if we’re sick, but it just cuts into our vacation time, so employees are reluctant to use it.

  13. DHJ

    Anytime I call in sick or say I need to go home because I am sick, I am made to feel as if I am lying. I would rather go in sick then call my boss in the morning to say I can not come in because I am ill, because she makes me feel guilty, naming tasks that needs to be completed etc. So I come in…

  14. John C

    When I am sick enough to think I am contagious, I say home. If my people are sick I ask them to stay home. It is inconvient to cover for a missing person but it is even more inconvient to cover for the three or four more people who catch something from someone coming in contagious. Management should expect someone to take off sick once or twice a year when they are really sick. It is only when a person abuses the sick leave policy that a problem developes for everyone else.

  15. vilanna

    I have taken sick time with no problem, but one time I needed to take a personal day to attend a funeral for a family member I was asked by my supervisor to bring in a “In Memoriam” card of the deceased so she could put it in my file for her records of my taking a funeral leave day! The nerve! I told her I most certainly would not be doing that and for her to even make such a suggestion was innappropriate and that I was very offended. She then told me I would have to take the day off unpaid. I was infuriated. Anytime I would take a personal day I would never tell my supervisor again why!

  16. Scott H

    In the type of business I am in, contact centers, it would be expected to have a good PTO and Sick Leave policy. Usually we get very good benefits and pay a lot for them. Even contractors from agencies can get benefits and vacation but no sick days any longer. I too previously when working for a vendor center was asked to bring in a memoriam program from the funeral home for attending services, I felt completely insulted and did not do it. The mere idea that I would not tell the truth on my time off that I’m not getting paid for anyway? Get real! Secondly the last time I took days off because I had fever, body aches, congestion, lack of appetite (either severe cold or flu) I was told, don’t bring doctors notes, there is only absence, not excused or unexcused, just you weren’t here, be here or don’t have a job. Keep in mind this was one of the largest and oldest telecommunications companies in the world. The mere idea that they want you there sick talking to customers and infecting the call center and causing more people to get sick and possibly miss work and drive the service level down is just crazy. Honestly I think corporate America needs to rethink their ways or a pandemic flu becomes even more enabled, and that’s a sad truth of business modeling applied to medical statistics.

  17. Jennifer Mc

    Quite a number of years ago now, I was working as a Conveyancing Paralegal in charge of multi-million dollar developments. One such development was about to settle and I had to prepare 77 apartments for settlement including settlement figures, legal paperwork and arranging bookings with Mortgagees and Purchasers for settlement times. After pressuring my boss to take on the developments in the first instance and promising that I would not let him down, no matter what, I became very very ill just a few weeks before settlement time. Everyday I dragged myself to work with exhaustion, headaches and had to hold my head up with my left hand whilst working with my right just to get through the day. I literally crawled up my 3 flights to my apartment each evening and into bed. I finished the settlements and collapsed. Turned out I had encephalitis which affects the gray mattar of the brain, much the same as meningitis. I could have died or been left blind or paralysed and I risked my health and leaving my young child without a parent as I was a struggling single mum, all because I had made a stupid promise to my boss. Sometimes, we just have to learn that we are not superhumans!!

  18. Loni

    A couple of years ago I went into work feeling fine. I was a receptionist for an assisted living facility. I had to go to work on a saturday 9-7. At about 11am i started getting chills, by 12 I had a fever, an ache all over, I couldnt see straight and I had a migraine worse than ever before. I called my boss (becuase I was the only one who came in on Saturdays, just to answer the phones)I told her I wasnt feeling well and that I felt as though I was going to pass-out. I was told to work through it because she didnt want to come in on her day off, and not to call her unless I start to vomit. About 5pm the marketing director came in, took one look at me, and without a word called my boss and told her she was sending me home. That Monday my boss brought me into her office and to cover her own butt said “I didnt know you felt THAT bad or I would have come in and sent you home.” I’m sitting there thinking “so that wasnt you i called at noon and told I felt like I was going to pass out?” needless to say, I started looking for another job that day.

  19. Nicole

    I’m a hairdresser, and where Im from the law states that if you have a “communicable disease” you cannot work. which means that if you have a cold or anything that someone can catch basically by me breathing, I cant work. In the work handbook, they make you sign something that says if you are contagious in ANY way you need to call off of work…but then they yell at you, and suspend you from work if you call out, Its like HELLO you told me to call out you made me SIGN something LEGALLY saying that I WILL NOT work if Im contagious, they dont even care if you have a doctors note, what kind of system is that?

  20. Amie

    Here in Connecticut, it doesnt seem to matter if you have paid sick time or not, because the employers require a ridiculous amount of advance notice or its labeled ‘unscheduled’ and you can lose your job. My husband is facing that right in the insurance company he works at. He was sent home half a day, then was out two more days. He went to the docters and got a note explaining that he was not to go work like that. His boss pretended to be all sympathetic (they told him to go home!) and he used his sick days, but they still pulled him into a meeting and told him he was on probation and can lose his job. Is it not advance notice if they told him to go home? I’m just so disgusted by this.

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