When to stay home if you’re sick (SPOILER ALERT: Always)

With flu season in full swing, when your alarm goes off in the morning and you’re feeling groggy, a common question comes to mind: to work from home, or ignore the symptoms and haul yourself to the office instead?

Sometimes, taking it a step further and calling in sick entirely can leave you feeling riddled with guilt — especially if you’ve already been sick for a few days or don’t have a very lenient sick policy at work.

Here’s why you should pay attention to how you’re feeling and stay home when you don’t feel well.

More than half of people work when they don’t feel well

NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health teamed up on a joint 2016 study among 1,601 adults employed in the U.S., which shed light on how many people work through their sickness instead of calling it a day.

“Adults in low-paying jobs are more likely to say they go to work when sick. Almost two-thirds of working adults (65%) say they still go to work always or most of the time when they have the flu, compared to 55% of those in average-paying jobs and 48% of those in high-paying jobs,” the research says.

The same survey also zeroed in on why some employees fail to use up all their paid sick days, with 73% reporting that they weren’t ill enough to exhaust all their days, 37% wanted to use them at a future date and 20% said they had too much work to do.

Flu season is predicted to be longer this year

But people might want to take extra precautions in 2018. According to pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, “we typically see flu activity start in October and taper off in February,” but “this year, it is predicted that flu season will last through March, into April.”

And Americans have already been hit hard by the flu — “doctors, urgent care and emergency rooms are seeing record numbers of sick patients and many have the flu virus,” she told Ladders.

Many people, including at least 20 children, have reportedly died from this season’s flu as well.

“If you feel like you are coming down with the flu, it’s best to stay home to avoid sharing germs with others. I know this may be difficult as most Americans are programed to work hard no matter what, but this time of year it’s important to take care of yourself and others,” Altmann told Ladders. “When I feel like I’m getting sick, I make sure to get extra sleep, good nutrition with plenty of vitamin C and antioxidant rich fruit and veggies. Ask your doctor about vitamin D and probiotics too as I find most people need extra. Wash your hands before touching surfaces and clean anything you have already touched with an EPA-approved disinfectant to kill cold and flu viruses.”

The great sick debate: to work from home or not work at all?

SPOILER ALERT #2: You guessed it — Stay home.

There are many reasons not to fall victim to presenteeism, which research has defined as working while you feel sick.

One of them is super-obvious: You could get your coworkers sick.

“Even though you may not want to miss work or school, it’s important to stay home to prevent the spread of illnesses to those around you,”Altmann told Ladders. “Even at home, make sure to cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue to prevent the spread of germs to your loved ones. Lastly, try your best to make good use of your time off from work or school to rest, relax, eat well and recover from illnesses.”

When asked if working from home could actually make you feel worse, Altmann said, “Definitely stay home if you have a fever or feel sick. It’s up to you on how much you can handle in terms of working a little from home. Taking care of yourself and getting rest is really number one, but if you can handle helping colleagues a little bit during bursts when you feel better or wake from your naps, that’s fine.”

Here’s how to protect yourself from the flu at work

“Throughout flu season, vaccination is the first step in flu prevention and the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the flu,” said Altmann. She added you should also “wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice)” and to “use a disinfectant approved to kill cold and flu viruses” to clean off places people tend to touch the most, such as “doorknobs, light switches, faucets.”

Altmann also recommended using your elbow for coughs and sneezes (not your hands), and eating healthy foods, sleeping and exercising enough to strengthen your capacity to keep yourself safe from the flu and colds.

Help! Here’s what to do if you’ve already called in sick a lot, but don’t feel well

Altmann suggests getting medical help as soon as possible.

“Go see a doctor immediately, if you haven’t already,” Altmann says. “Your health is number one priority and your colleagues and employer need to understand that.

“You will function much better at work when you are 100%. That said, if you are a colleague left doing double duty in the office, just remember that you could be the one home sick and you’d want your colleagues to do the same for you!”