At the moment I'm off work sick. I imagine I might be well enough to go into work tomorrow, though not fully recovered.

Should you be at work whenever you're physically well enough to do so, or should I take days off until I'm fully recovered to prevent spreading my illness on to any other employees?

I work in an office environment alongside 8-9 other people.

Is this at my employer's discretion (should I just ask?) or is there a general rule?


  • I live in the UK.
  • I'm not 100% sure what it is I have. Basically the symptoms of a common cold except a bit more extreme, mixed in with hot/cold shivers and so on. My brother was off work last week with the same thing, so presumably I've caught it from him and it is infectious. My brother seems okay again now, so roughly 5 days from coming down with it to being back at work.
  • 9
    Great question. I have arguments about this all the time. Where are you located? I suspect the answer will be at least partly cultural.
    – pdr
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 12:04
  • 8
    As well as culturally dependant, as @pdr commented, I would say the answer also depends on the specifics of the illness - how long it takes to fully recover, when it is infectious (if at all) and related issues.
    – Oded
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 12:10
  • I'm glad it's not as stupid a question as I thought it might be when asking it. I've updated the question clarifying the details surrounding my personal circumstances, though I don't want this to end up being closed due to being too localized or anything so lets just assume. The illness lasts 5 days, though after 3 you could return to work with minor symptoms. It is infectious and the place of work is an office populated with other co-workers.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 12:23
  • 14
    If I was your co-worker, I would say "As long as possible." If you missed work because of it, I sure don't want it. If you being gone an extra 2 days keeps someone else from being out for a week, then everyone is better off. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 22:29
  • Its in the employers best interest that you visit a Doctor ASAP to diagnose what illness you have, document the illness, prevent others from becoming ill if the illness is contagious and be treated so that you can recover as quickly possible and return to work.
    – Joe R.
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 16:48

10 Answers 10


The question is far from stupid, and a lot of people take it for granted as well.

I would call in, and ask, but if your symptoms are not 100% gone, I would probably stay out till they are pretty much gone.

Your employer, if a good one will probably tell you to stay out till you are healthy to come back in, perhaps with a doctor’s note, but not always. Also be realistic, if you don’t feel great, don’t go in, especially if you know you have something that may be contagious. Save yourself and your co-workers the chance of sharing the one thing that no one wants.

  • 6
    Trust me I know the guilt side of not going in, but trust me going in when sick is not always good. You aren't as productive sick as you are healthy, and I'm sure if you spread it around to your co-workers they probably would of wished you stayed out as well.
    – Matt Ridge
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 13:00
  • 3
    Not only are you less productive if you're sick, you'll probably prolong the illness.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:14
  • 33
    And spread it to everyone else; I've been in workaholic offices where alternating halves of the office would be sick and miserable because people were "too busy" to take sick days, so the various pathogens just did a square dance around the office. Also a cold is a virus, and neither of them are super treatable (there's anti-virals but they're expensive and ineffective).
    – Tacroy
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:39
  • 7
    If you feel well, you could work from home, if that option is available. That way you don't use up as many sick days since you're well enough to work, just not in the office. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 17:38
  • 12
    A cold and a virus are the same thing. You can take medication to relieve the symptoms of a cold, but the only cure is to wait, just as with other viruses. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 19:26

The short answer is that you're going to find every company has a different attitude towards this. So yes, you should just ask your manager.

I have worked in places where the work-from-home policy is such that I can work a whole week from home, if I'm feeling rough. I've never had a day off sick because I'm rarely too ill to work but I might be too ill to come into the office.

I have worked in other places where I could work from home to take delivery of a parcel, but I couldn't use that right to substitute a sick-day. Their attitude was that working through an illness prolongs the recovery time and they'd rather have you 100% in a shorter time than 80% for longer. Unfortunately, one of those places refused to guarantee you would be paid for it, which encouraged people to come back before they were ready.

I have worked in one place where you couldn't work from home but that allowed you to take 6 months off, on full pay, when ill. And I have worked in a place where it was expected that you had to be on death's door before you took a day out of the office.

I continually argue that companies shouldn't encourage people to be in the office when sick. It does no one any good to have 10 people off for two days, rather than 1 person off for five. But I lose that argument often.

  • Thanks pdr, I'll probably give it another day then ask whether they'd like me back when my symptoms have lessened but not cleared. :-)
    – Anonymous
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 13:02
  • If 10 people out of 100 are out sick, there is an issue, I'd see if there was a game going on at the time, Facebook, etc... especially if there is no flu warning going on. I agree though small colds, come in. But if this is a cold that causes you to be bed ridden, call and ask, because in most cases the boss won't want you to come in cause you may cause most people to leave sick with the same thing, and that isn't productive no matter what country you are from.
    – Matt Ridge
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 13:05
  • 4
    @MattRidge: Not sure I'd draw the line at bed-ridden. If you are coughing or sneezing uncontrollably, keep it away from me. I don't want to be doing the same thing next week, even if it leaves me healthy enough to work. And that's not taking into account that some people -- asthmatics, for example -- might be affected much worse.
    – pdr
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 13:15
  • 2
    @pdr I sneeze uncontrollably and feel crappy for months on end. It's called "Spring" >.> Different people have different tolerances for what counts as being "sick" vs "normal operation", so I'd hesitate to draw a hard line anywhere. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:30
  • 1
    @Yamikuronue: Yeah, ok, I take your point. It's not really the act of sneezing that I take issue with; it's spreading germs. And that doesn't happen with hayfever, unless you have something else as well.
    – pdr
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:42

As a former teacher, the rule was, don't come to school with a fever. Infecting others hurts the company in the long run.

You may feel good, but can you do your job? Coughing, sneezing, nose blowing and frequent trips to the bathroom are just another form of interruption that will hinder your productivity. This could lengthen your recovery and make other aspects of your life more miserable.

If a company is that worried about getting work from people who are ill, they could open up their work from home policies and technology.

  • 3
    24 hours after a fever breaks I think is the best metric. It seems unreasonable to wait until all symptoms disappear as this can take a while and you may be very far from contagious.
    – Doug T.
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 20:46
  • If you have symptoms you are still contagious. It DOES NOT seem unreasonable to wait. What's unreasonable is that people don't stay at home when they are sick and they spread it to everyone on the public transport. Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 16:24

It will vary from company to company and culture to culture, but generally:

  • If you are contagious, stay home.
  • If you are not contagious, but your symptoms may be disruptive to others, you may want to stay home out of courtesy.
  • If you are taking medications that may impair your judgement or cloud your thinking (some high-powered antibiotics, heavy cold & flu medications, etc.), you may want to stay home, or have someone accompany you to/from work.

An extra day or two of rest may be the difference between getting back to 100% by Thursday and being miserable for another week.


Sick leave is created in a company for the sole reason of allowing a worker to stay at home to fully recover from an illness. This allows the worker to come back to work 100% and to not pass the sickness around to your fellow co-workers causing additional delays in work around the office.

However, there are management teams that don't see it this way.

I've run into my fair share of managers who believe that you should come to work no matter what and that missing a day for any reason should be punishable by incarceration.

Ask yourself:

  • What have I seen happen to other workers who take extended sick leave?
  • How does management react when others call in sick?
  • 2
    There are also companies which make this complicated by not offering any sort of sick days/leave
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 19:06
  • ^ In that company, you better have friends in high places when you become ill =D Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 15:02
  • Most companies I worked for in the past five years don't offer any paid sick leave, and the sickness has to be certified. In my home Country, instead, one has up to 4 months a year of sick leave, but the culture is that you must go to work, no matter what, unless you're in hospital. My (bad) record was working 18 hours, then discovering that I had a temperature of 39.6 C (103.28 F). I went home, took two aspirins and a couple of hours later I was back in the office. Unsurprisingly, not only I was not praised, but I was reprimanded for being slow.
    – Diego
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 17:05
  • @Diego sounds familiar. And at your next appraisal you're terminated for underperforming if you've taken a few days off because you had to go into hospital for apendicitis.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 12:53
  • @jwenting I've seen it happen many times. Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 12:56

I've just dealt with this issue this week, and there are exactly two factors that affected it.

  • Am I well enough to perform my job?
  • Am I likely to get my coworkers sick?

If you can do your job and won't get anyone else sick, it's time to go back to work. If you can't do your job, or will get others sick, it's not time to go back to work yet. This may require (depending on your employer) documentation from your doctor.

There is an important middle case here. If you are well enough to do your job, but it is still likely/possible that you could get your coworkers sick, and you have the ability to work from home, you can begin working immediately! If you're fortunate enough to have this kind of arrangement, I'm sure your coworkers will be thankful that you are making an effort to avoid infecting them.

  • there is another factor: can I get to the office/workplace? I've had several years ago a severe allergic reaction that made it impossible to wear clothes (anything touching the skin would hurt like hell). I'd have been able to work, if only I'd been able to dress, get to work, and sit down at my desk.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 12:56
  • I'd change the first bit to "Am I well enough to get to/from work safely and do useful work"? Your job might usually be challenging, but you might have non-challenging work that is always left because other work is more important, and use the opportunity to do other things that need doing.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 16:00

Bravo.! That's really a brave question. Its a problem that i think many of us should have faced.

The answer to this is simple. As you have mentioned, there are only 8 or 9 employees in your office, that means your absence in the office will definitely affect the work. Also, you have mentioned that you are feeling quite better and the disease is not much severe and you will be fine in 2 or 3 days, so you might talk to your boss about the disease and ask him to decrease the workload from you.

Even working in weekends for completing the work might do the trick. But all depends on how you presents your illness to your boss. but i must say Never Compromise anything for the Sake of you HEALTH


Are you fit enough for purpose? If your were a chef you wouldn't come to work with a cold, whereas if a developer broke a toe and this didn't cause a headache or any other related distractions, then you'd be fit for work. There is a certain amount of discretion taken here, to what you feel is appropriate, and also what the business would understandably find appropriate for any given condition - as long as your not taking the Michael or a hypochondriac. Taking that into account, no job is worth your health - health is more important than money, stature, and even your career.


I have just this moment returned from a meeting with the company health professional and discussed this very issue, since I have recently had some time off suffering from a pretty horrible cold.

His philosophy was: if you are well enough to work, you are well enough to work. If you are not well enough to work, you are not well enough to work. For communicable-but-ultimately-harmless diseases such as the common cold, he suggests that it's nice that one considers their fellow colleagues, but there's little damage control you can do. These things come in waves, and people are as likely to pick up the very same illness using public transport or going shopping.

FWIW, I disagree reasonably strongly with this philosophy: I would rather stay home until such time that I feel well enough to have a net positive work contribution (i.e. I'm not blowing my nose and sneezing and sniffing every three minutes and destroying every other office worker's "flow", and that the symptoms are under control enough that I shouldn't be transmitting it to everyone involuntarily). But then, I'm not in management.

Which, I suppose, goes to show that the real correct answer is, "ask your manager. It differs from company to company."

  • 1
    Edit: Years later and I am in fact in management, and tend to err on the side of "go away and get well". But that's just me. The real answer is still "ask your (own) manager".
    – Kaz Dragon
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 12:22

As someone from the management side of things. As much as it hurts to have a body out of the office, especially if it's someone critical to a process. It's MY job to make sure business goes on with or without you there, I might need to call a sick employee for information, details, updates, etc. But try to avoid doing so when someone is out. (sick or vacation)

As I see it, the moment you feel under the weather, even if you're not sure if it's just something you ate or you're getting sick... STAY HOME!!! I can plan for one or two people to be out sick a few days... when the flu hits 2/3 the office that's beyond the bus factor my office can handle.

That said if you're not feeling well generally speaking I care about two things as a manager. First and foremost will coming in slow your recovery? Many illnesses sitting at a desk working isn't going to really affect your recovery, others you need to be at home in bed. Second are you contagious? This is huge to me! Sniffling from a cold? Go home. Stomach upset from a stomach bug? Go home. In significant discomfort from a kidney stone... well come in if you think you're up to it.

When contagious begins and ends varies tremendously depending on the illness. Colds you're typically contagious about 1 - 2 days before any symptoms show up, at the point the symptoms start easing up you're typically no longer contagious. Many stomach viruses you're contagious pretty much from just before symptoms start until they clear up.

I'm no doctor so please don't take those contagious times as fact more so "educated guessing". I recommend asking your employer first, if given the choice one day more than needed is always preferable to one day less than needed. (I make it a point to ask the doctor how I can tell when I'm no longer contagious, regardless of how I feel, if I can work and I'm not contagious I'm in the office)

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