In the U.S., the majority of employees go to work when they are sick and contagious. The percentage of people who claimed to go to work even when they knew they were sick increased from 60 percent to 90 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to a study conducted by Staples. If you start to feel sick on the job, you should go home, but your boss doesn't have to give his or her permission.
Sick Leave Laws
The U.S. Department of Labor doesn't require employers to offer employees sick leave, although many companies do offer some form of leave to workers. In 2009, just 61 percent of workers in all industries, wage groups and company sizes had sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although there is no national law requiring paid sick leave or giving employees the right to leave when they feel ill, a few states and cities have passed their own sick leave laws, including Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, Calif.
Go Home for Your Health
Staying at work when you're ill not only puts your co-workers at risk for catching whatever flu or cold virus you have. Trying to work when you should be resting delays your recovery. You end up being sicker, for a longer period of time. If you attempt to keep working when sick, your productivity will suffer. The flu virus affects your ability to think clearly and accomplish tasks. Taking medicine to reduce symptoms can make it even more difficult to be productive.
Your Boss' Reaction
For whatever reason, your boss can try to keep you at work when you start showing signs of illness. Unless you have a contract, your boss can technically fire you for leaving work when sick, if he told you to stay. At-will employees can leave a company or be let go by a company for any legal reason. That means your boss can decide that you leaving when sick was insubordination or that you are sick too often and decide to let you go.
Family and Medical Leave
Depending on the severity of your illness, your boss might have to let you go home, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA lets employees who meet requirements take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave over a 12-month period. To qualify, you need to work for a covered employer for at least 12 months and to have worked at least 1,250 hours during the last 12 months. Your illness needs to be a long-term condition, require medical attention and leave you incapacitated for at least three days, or require a string of treatments.
- CBS Moneywatch: 90 Percent of Workers Come to Work When Sick
- CNN: Why You Should Go Home When Sick
- San Jose Mercury News: Should You Go to Work When You're Sick
- Nolo: Losing or Leaving a Job FAQ
- US Department of Labor: Sick Leave
- BLS: On Paid Sick Leave
- Stateline: Cities, States Face Off on Mandatory Paid Sick Leave
- US Department of Labor: Fact Sheet: Family and Medical Leave Act
- Nolo: What is a Serious Health Condition Under the FMLA?
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