Wintertime is peak cold and flu season among other highly contagious viruses such as Covid and RSV. While a majority of people deal with the mild but annoying symptoms for several days, others are at risk for serious illness. This raises the question, “Is it appropriate to go to work while sick?”

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Flu Season Has an Annoying Side Effect: ‘Sick Shaming’ at Work,” by Callum Borchers, explores the no-win situation some employees face when deciding whether to call in sick or go to work sick. Borchers discusses the results of a survey of 1,000 U.S. managers from January of this year where nearly one-quarter of them reported that they believe their employees either lie about or exaggerate their illness. Further, one-fifth of the managers reported encouraging their employees to come in while sick, and of that same 20%, nearly half proceeded to ridicule their employees for appearing visibly ill. This catch-22 situation is known as ‘sick shaming.’

If employees are to feel supported, a company needs to have clear sick day policies and communicate paid or unpaid sick leave options. If the illness affects productivity, it doesn’t make sense for the employee to struggle through the day in-office while potentially infecting others. Similarly, if the illness is self-limiting but still contagious, a work-from-home (WFH) option can keep productivity high while keeping the office environment healthy. Some employees don’t have a choice to WFH and have to perform their duties at their place of employment. In those cases, workplace policies can suggest recommendations such as wearing a mask or working in a closed office/pod. Unfortunately, we can’t always rely on common sense to dictate these situations, which is why clear policies need to be communicated in order to manage expectations and show employees that management cares about their health and wellbeing.

Does your workplace have straightforward sick day policies, or have you found yourself being sick shamed in a no-win situation?

Stay healthy out there!