SURVEY SAYS: Sick Employees in the Workplace

September 29, 2014 ( - Fall is here, and the weather will only get cooler, which seems to bring with it more colds and cases of the flu.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers for their thoughts about sick employees coming to or staying in the workplace. Seventy-four percent of responding readers indicated they think there should be a workplace policy against sick employees coming to/staying at work, while 26% said there should not.

Asked which symptoms they think should be cause for them or a coworker to stay home or go home from work, 4.4% selected sniffing, 27.4% chose constantly having to blow their nose, 54.9% selected persistent coughing, 90.3% chose fever, and 77% selected stomach issues. Nearly 11% chose “other,” most of which listed sneezing, but other answers included pink eye and other contagious illnesses and “blood, bone, breaks or blows (to put it nicely).”

Nearly 69% of respondents said if they felt a sick coworker was a threat to their health, they would say something to him/her, while slightly more than 31% indicated they wouldn’t say anything.

I also asked NewsDash readers if their employers offer flu shots at the workplace: 76.5% said yes and 23.5% said no. More than 76% of responding readers indicated they plan to get a flu shot this year, whether at the workplace or elsewhere, and 23.7% do not plan to get a flu shot.

I asked respondent to share tips for maintaining a healthy workplace. The top suggestions were wash hands regularly and use hand sanitizer—even placing hand sanitizer stations around the office. Other suggestions included using Lysol or disinfectant wipes for desktops, phones, door handles; put signs up reminding people to wash hands and do not cough or sneeze into their hands (use the bend of your elbow instead); require employees to get flu shots; employers sending an email blast with healthy workplace tips; offering telecommuting; taking vitamin C and zinc; properly throw away tissues; don’t touch commonly touched surfaces; and offer onsite wellness clinics. Other readers advised getting enough sleep and exercise and eating right, one said he or she would “Keep my office door shut and use more phone and instant messaging for communication,” and one reader advises, “Have a messy desk. Flu Germs appear to fear a messy desk.”

Among verbatim comments, there was strong sentiment that sick employees should stay, or go, home. However, some readers showed understanding about those not offered sick days, not paid if they take a sick day or who need to use them for their children. Many commented that a workplace policy against sick employees in the workplace would be hard to enforce. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “Companies should all have a kindergarten teacher come in around this time of the year and re-teach folks the basics again.”


what doesn't kill you makes you stronger...if you do get the flu, you will never get that strain of flu again


Get over aren't that bloody valuable!


I can only hope that they caught it from someone else that was dumb enough to come in to work sick!!


I have to come to work sick - I do payroll and am the only one trained to do so.


Sick employees shouldn't come to work, but there are sometimes rules in place about the number of sick days in a year that an employee can claim before they are written up. That can lead to a decrease in raises, etc. That's usually why most of the employees here drag themselves into work even though they are really ill and contagious.


I hear hacking all day long in my office, from the smoker on one side to the 2 allergy sufferers on the other. It's quite irritating, but if they always stayed home when 'sick,' they wouldn't have a job.


I don't get how people think that just by turning away from you to sneeze/cough, without covering their nose/mouth, is OK. HELLO, you just sent your germs on the express train to attack my immune system! If you're sick you need to stay home; you're not a martyr you're Typhoid Mary. It's distracting to hear folks cough/sneeze and you know that collectively everyone is holding their breath when this happens. The sick employee is unproductive and they affect the productivity of everyone else. STAY HOME ALREADY!


Stay home and get well. No one is indispensable and use your PTO instead of coming to work spread your illness.


People that come into the office sick are inconsiderate and selfish and increase the chance that other people will get sick.


Companies should all have a kindergarten teacher come in around this time of the year and re-teach folks the basics again. Cough/sneeze into your sleeve or a Kleenex, don't wipe your nose on your hand....the list goes on and on.

Verbatim (cont.)

Companies should have additional sick days specifically for the flu to allow people the ability to stay home when sick. People come to work because they don't have sick leave and can't afford to stay home, which could be more costly to the organization.


Not everyone can afford to stay home for their own illness and may need to save those days to care for ill children instead.


I won't cast too big a stone at those coming in sick. My part of the office has fairly liberal leave, if you have it, you can take it. For other units, I know they are more restrictive. Some of the signs of flu are the same as allergies. Not all with stomach problems are flu, some are IBS. So hard at times to tell if one is sick or just with allergies. (Ok, both can be sickness, but, one is catching the other is not.)


I think having a "policy" may be too strong a statement because how does one judge how sick someone is? Or is the line crossed when coworkers are disturbed by behavior? Concerned for their own health? That's when things can get slippery: when a rash isn't contagious but everyone's scared anyway. I hate this part of my job!


Anyone who comes to work with something spreadable, is usually a very selfish person.


They need to stay home - especially if coughing, sneezing, have a type of infection or fever. Not only are they sick, they will make others sick - if they come to work, they don't care about the welfare of others working around them.


They just spread it to over people who have kids then it goes around again.


Unfortunately, our vacation days include sick time, so no one stays home unless that cannot move! So as much as I wish they would stay home, I get why the show up.


Don't be a martyr. Go home before you make everyone else sick too!


I probably wouldn't say anything to a sick coworker, but I would stay away from him/her if possible. I would also make liberal use of Purell and Clorox wipes for all surfaces!

Verbatim (cont.)

Thoughtless and/or lacking in respect for others.


I do feel that people should stay home if they are sick and if they do come to work sick their managers should send them home. They can work from home if they feel well enough to work but are blowing their nose, coughing etc.


While I appreciate that not everyone has paid sick time, it puts undue risk on both other employees AND the employer to have a sick employee potentially sicken others. Productivity goes down for the employer, and health care costs go up as illness spreads. I resent having to use my own sick time when I might have otherwise stayed healthy.


Having a stay-home-when-sick policy won't help the outliers on either end of the spectrum. In our office we have one hypochondriac employee who stays home sick whenever anybody in the building has been ill; on the other end, we have the hard core people who always show up ill, spreading their germy mayhem throughout the population. At least with more opportunity to work from home these days, it's not as bad as it used to be.


Many do not have sick leave, or they cannot afford to stay home from work without pay. It is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.


While I don't think companies should have a policy regarding sick workers to come to work I wish people would use common sense.


STAY HOME! There is no one that is so important they must physically be at the office while sick and with modern technology there is no need. And employers need to protect well employees by encouraging the sick to vacate the premises without fear of retribution.


For office jobs, with remote access available, stay home and work, better yet, stay home, rest, and get better sooner - and use your PTO,( it's just not for vacations).


Would like to have people stay home if sick, but would require offering more sick days I guess. People don't want to use their personal or vacation days when they can't enjoy themselves.


I chose the selection to indicate that I don't think employees who are sick should come in to work, but I've been coming in for a week with a severe cold so I guess I'm just like the government - I want to make rules for THEE but don't apply them to ME.

Verbatim (cont.)

Need to have better sick time policies. Now that everything is PTO--no one wants to waste those days by being sick.


Many people think that if they are in their own office it's ok to not cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. But germs fly! So cover it up!


While it may seem like a good idea to ban sick employees from the workplace, I don't think it's practical and may not always be necessary. You could be past the point where you are still contagious and still sound sick.


it seems co-workers don't want to waste their "pto bank" on sick days.


My current workplace is small (only 12 employees) and most are pretty good about staying home when they are sick (most can work from home). However, I used to work at a law firm where it was a badge of honor to come to work sick. That is when I started getting flu shots. Apparently, very few other people in the office took that precaution because every year there were numerous people with the flu working until they couldn't anymore!


Offer sick days without fear of consequences of you use them.


Infecting others is just RUDE!


It's an annoyance, and I'm not about to start throwing hypocritical rocks in this glass office.


When my kids were small I always kept them home so they would not spread their germs to others. I do the same at work. However, others seem to come in and then I get sick. NO FAIR. Be courteous to others please. Most of the time if you say anything, they say "I don't have any sick time left, so I have to work." Well, that shows a selfish attitude if they do not care if others get sick!


You really have to build staying home when you're sick into the culture of the workplace. If employees see managers coming to work when they are ill, regardless of any written policy, they will know that that is what is expected.

Verbatim (cont.)

Quick, someone hand me the disability decoder ring to see if we've a potential for a (fill in the alphabet soup) claim. Next, contact the (alphabet soup) attorney. Third, notify EPA. Fourth, press 1 for English. Fifth, secure the area. Sixth, verify employment. Seventh, obtain signed liability waiver form. Eighth, obtain signed authorization for treatment form....


Sick employees should not be in the workplace. Too much risk for other coworkers to get sick. Also, sick employees will not be as productive.


Our company actually has a policy regarding staying home when you are sick - hard to enforce, but at least it’s there.


As an HR person, it would be hard to create and enforce a policy against sick employees. However, we do encourage sick employees to stay home. And I certainly tell plenty of employees to go home because I don't want them to pass on what they have, especially to me.


It's a difficult question. They may have eaten bad food, or maybe stomach problems are Crohn’s or some other medical condition but the common cold is the worst to defend against. They are so common and yet so virulent.


With fewer paid sick days, more employees are coming to work sick causing a spread of the latest virus.


I believe if your company does not give you sick days then it is perfectly acceptable to go into work sick if you can still do your job and not lose out on pay.


My boss does not believe in sick days, so I don't either.


I'm ashamed to admit that I am currently at work with a very bad cold. It must be my mid-western upbringing that says you come to work unless you physically cannot get out of bed.


My company provides ample PTO and people are encouraged to stay home when they're sick.

Verbatim (cont.)

Although I don't think a policy needs to be created, I do think people should use common sense and stay home at times, but not just for sniffles, etc.


I put a lot of pressure on my co-workers not to come to work sick or to go home. Management doesn't always feel the same way.


I do not like it when a co-worker comes into the office sick and/or they appear to be contagious for anything they may have.


No one wants to "waste" days off by staying home sick. But that's how you recover! You won't recover if you come in sick--you need to stay home and rest. You get X amount of sick time--TAKE IT and keep the rest of us from calling in sick!


A sick employee exposes everyone else in the workplace and therefore before you know it there are a handful of people out at one time or there is exposure to sickness in the workplace every day.


Typically illness sweeps through our department with many of us becoming sick within a week or so of each other.


I would love to do a stay home when you're sick campaign for employees, but they won't stay home, they love this place!


While I believe that sick co-workers should remain at home or at least work from home, our workplace has only gotten more strict about taking sick time. Our sick days have gone to six per year. I work with lots of younger workers that have kids. If your kids get sick, you use a sick day. If you get sick, you go to work so that you're ready for the next wave of school or daycare borne illness.


I think it's laughable to talk about policies to make people stay home; that will last until the first critical deadline is in jeopardy...



NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.