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Do you go to work when you're sick?

Three in four workers do. Some feel guilty calling in sick. Others can't afford to.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 21, 2011 10:52AM
Going to work while sick is a fact of life for the Florida retail worker who blogs at I am the working poor. "When there is no health insurance or sick pay, you just keep going," the woman wrote in a post called "Sick day."

Anytime she becomes ill, she asks herself, "Can I afford to be sick?" Usually the answer is "no," so off to work she goes.

She's not alone.

A new survey from CareerBuilder found that 72% of workers continue to punch the clock when they're under the weather. Some 55% of the 3,700 workers surveyed said they "feel guilty" if they call in sick.

It's no surprise that about the same number (53%) said they've gotten sick from an infected co-worker. Nice.

CareerBuilder spokeswoman Rosemary Haefner suggests approaching your manager about staying home when sick, or maybe working from home. "Most employers are flexible," she says, "and understand that employees are more productive if they are feeling their best." Post continues after video.

Will you lose your job?
I wish that were true. However, I don't think you can assume that "most" employers are as concerned with employee welfare as they are with certain bottom-line truths: Work must be done and reduced workforces = reduced production.

With so many people looking for jobs, it's likely some workers fear being replaced. That may not always be a rational fear, but it's an understandable one.

When I was 21 and a single mom with a "permanent part-time" job, I didn't dare stay home just because I didn't feel good. One week my back was aching pretty badly; I took aspirin and soldiered on.

A few days later I woke up queasy and feverish. Rather than call in sick, I got the baby off to day care and then dragged myself to work, occasionally leaning on lampposts or street signs for support. An hour after my shift started I told my supervisor that I needed to visit the company nurse.

I had a temperature of 103. The nurse told me to go to the doctor immediately. It turned out to be a kidney infection. At one point my fever hit 105 degrees and I had to get in the bathtub to cool down. I should probably have been hospitalized, but that didn't occur to me.

'$3 till payday'

What did occur to me was to fret about missing work. I had a few sick days but needed to save them in case my daughter became ill. Although the CareerBuilder survey did not mention this demographic, I'd be willing to bet that more than a few working parents feel the same way.

The survey also didn't indicate how many people come to work simply because they don't get any sick days. I expect there are a lot of those, too, especially folks who are part time or temping or (like the working-poor blogger) in the retail sector.

In the above-mentioned post, she got so sick she had to take one day off. This reduced her paycheck to $199, in a week when she needed to deposit $196 to make up the rent.

"It's just a huge nuisance to have $3 till payday," she writes.

These days I'm self-employed, with no sick leave as such. If I'm feeling subpar I can structure the workday around, say, icing my sprained ankle.


But if I got really sick, lying-in-bed-feeling-ghastly sick? Nobody is going to pay me for work I don't deliver, and as a freelance writer you can't afford to skip a deadline. In other words, I still don't dare not work if I get sick.

Readers: Do you have sick days? Are you nervous about using them? If you don't have sick days, how do you manage?

More from MSN Money:

Jan 26, 2011 10:11AM
Strangely enough I worked for a hospital and in a position where I had direct contact with patients and yet , there were no true sickdays. You were given some many hours of paid time off (PTO) but if you called in sick it was an "unscheduled abcense" and you could be subjected to disciplinary action, even with a doctor's note. Even a co-worker's admission to an ICU was included in her "write-up". I found it all grievously sad. A hospital without actual sick leave.
Jan 22, 2011 6:48PM
I have good health insurance, but I go to work sick because my employer says I can't take sick days. You practically have to be dead before you can take a sick day, and if you DO take one, when you come back to work, you get the third degree for being gone! (sometimes you even get  disciplinary action!!)  All this, just for really being ill, or having a doctor's appointment. So it is no wonder that at our office, one or two get sick, and a few days later, the supervisors wonder why there are 15 sick people working there, but don't really care, because they are THERE working! 
Oh, by the way, this is the USPS, so be careful when you get your mail, it was most likely delivered by a sick postal employee, working because their supervisor said they had to.
Jan 23, 2011 9:46PM

I go to work when I am sick because my employer does not believe in sick leave.  Fortunately, I only get ill about once a year, but it would be nice to rest for a day or two and recuperate.  Disappointed

We are all afraid of losing our jobs, so no one ever calls out, or feels comfortable using a vacation day. 

Mar 14, 2013 9:32AM
I used every bit of my sick leave. We could accumulate the leave as well and I still used all of my leave because that's what it is for. There was nothing worse than being made ill by someone who refused to call in sick and I never put up with any crap from my boss about calling in either. Thank God for the protection of a Union contract. People should not have to work sick. What good is a neogtiated benefit if you can't ever use it for anything? When my wife had a baby, I took 30 days off to get her and my daughter off to a good start. What an unfortunate country the United States has become. Wage slavery is wrong and corporations have become degenerate entities that only care about their shareholders and not the people who provide the very means for them to profit: their employees. Lately there is a perception that people should be grateful to have a job, any job and that is ridiculous. Labor, management and business owners cannot exist without each other. Any other take on the process of doing business is a step backwards into the hellish past of Labor. Most of the benefits that people take for granted were paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of Workers who courageously stood up to the big bosses of their era. They were beaten and killed in droves by their own state militias and police, along with the goons the companies hired. People don't know anything about the brave people who brought you the eight hour day, the weekend and no child labor. Business pushes back on these hard won rights constantly and for what? For some fat cat to put another gallon of diesel in his yacht, so he can motor over to the Cayman islands and visit the money for which he pays no tax. Money is worthless unless it's spread around, encouraging the young and the entreprenuer. The piles of cash the rich are sitting on can only buy so many things and then what good is it to anyone? So you're damn right I called in sick. I worked like a dog for 30 years and had parts of my body replaced. I'm so worn out now that I will be lucky to live long enough to enjoy my hard won retirement. Americans have turned into a bunch of aggressive mice and the fat cats are making you jump at every turn.
Mar 14, 2013 9:17AM
Depends on the nature of a persons' illness.  Not all conditions require in-home recovery; BUT TOO MANY PEOPLE DO continue to go to work---SPREADING THEIR ILLNESS, SUCH AS FLUS--with no regard to fellow workers health.  This is how epidemics come into play.
Mar 14, 2013 8:59AM
As a former shift Supervisor and then a Manager I look at the problem a bit differently. Dishonesty is one, this counts against the creditabilty of that employee. As a Shift Supervisor with a rotating Job assignment schedule this was always a problem. Though each employee had 2 weeks of sick leave given to them a year you had employees who regularly took 3 day weekends. Or called in sick on every third Thursday, these people developed a patten of bascially lying. The Unions supported this dishonesty by trying but failing to get it supported by these employee's co-workers that Sick leave could be used for anything. Not So. That is why it is called sick leave. The average employee also accured 14 days of vacation a year which they could use if they just wanted a day off. Sick leave could be used for Doctors and Dentists appointments as well as taking Mom or Dad or a child to the Doctor All you had to do was ask preferable a couple of days in advance, not a problem.. The problem is, the people who generally are calling in and lying about being sick have used up most or all of their available time up and have become a "issue" with co-workers who complain about having to always pick up the extra work load for these people and why doesn't the Supervisor or Manager do something about it.. Generally these are very selfish self centered people and have co-worker problems because of it. As a Manager trying to meet various Targets and Dates and keeping the overtime Budget down these people were a problem. And these people generally were the first ones to whine, point fingers, create hostile work atmospheres and or file greviances if they did not get promoted. I had a number of instances where I had dedicated employees come to work sick, who I promptly sent home. I did not want them infecting others, but they would rather come in than stay at home. Mostly this was due to a good inner worth ethic than out of fear of their Supervisor thinking something else. You have people, and you know who they are, who are always slackers, liars, scammers, schemers, gossipers, finger pointers and sick leave abusers and generally the same person exemplifies all these same characteristics. If your works site is Union, it can take a long time and about six inches of documetation to get rid of these people. Private Companies have to do the same but not to the same degree they can terminate for "cause" which usually means lying which calling in sick and then going to play golf is, dishonesty, it is lying..Even our President sets the example with his dishonesty and failure to uphold the rules, so what kind of example does he set for the workers of America? To stop this abuse, generous employers stopped granting sick leave altogether making everyone else suffer for the indescretions of others who ruined it for everyone. So if you call in sick, you don't get paid, call in to often and your fired..And because of Unions, and Lawyers sueing everyone left and right, Management CANNOT make an exception no matter how wonderful an employee you were, those who came before you ruined it for everyone...
Mar 14, 2013 2:01PM
I have never had a sick day and I've been employed full time since I was 18 to present which is 60.  I can't count the days for an operation but work injuries or sick days have never been an excuse for staying home.  I find it ironic that a husband and wife both suffered from the same depression.  Sounds like a good excuse to collect workers comp and go on a trip.  
Jan 21, 2011 7:28PM
I have never had sick day benefits from any employer, and I can't afford to stay home unless I'm very sick.  My solution to avoiding missed time at work: in the past few years, I've found that by taking better care of myself (eating healthy foods and giving up the junk, sugary and fried foods) I seldom get sick now.  It doesn't really cost more to eat lots of veggies if you buy the basic inexpensive ones... cabbage, carrots, frozen beans, etc. We grow some of our food, too.
Mar 14, 2013 3:04PM

A lot of companies did away with sick leave.  All leave is packaged in one place, personal time off and includes sick and vacation time.  If you want to take off for being sick, you get less time to take off for vacation.


And as to just calling in sick when you aren't, that is unethical.  If you can't say you need to take off the day for the reason you want, then you can and should get your lying butt fired!

Mar 14, 2013 11:19AM
It is very sad that there are people who take advantage of sick maybe they were out the night before, had too much to drink and are now hungover....while those who are truly ill force themselves to go to work and therefore infect EVERYONE.  There has to be some type of system set up within companies that will not chastise those who need the sick time versus those who take advantage. 

BTW--going to work while sick with the flu or some other type of serious illness, let alone the common cold, not only endangers the other employees, but their families as is a vicious circle and people need to use common sense when ill.

Mar 14, 2013 10:32AM
The problem with sick days is that many people use them as vacation days. I worked in a lot of union plants over the years and there is definitely a culture of using sick days for vacation. It was a regular occurrance for me to go into a plant and find out that the regular operator was out sick, I would ask if he was going to be okay and the other workers would laugh and say "Sure! He's out deer hunting!" This happened regularly year in and year out. These guys would take 3-4 weeks vacation and then up to 21 days of "sick leave" every year! MANY times they were out hunting or fishing or on vacation during sick leave. They basically treated it as additional vacation days. I would ask them how they could do that and they would always say: "Union rules...union rules...we get 21 sick days each year! That's our right under union rules"

I also had many hospital accounts where some of them successfully counteracted this problem by giving all of their employees PCT or Personal Comp Time. They would issue 2.5 days of PCT each month and it was up to the worker how they chose to use those days, ie: for vacation or sick days or to go to their kid's school events, etc. If they had used up all of their PCT and they were out, it was considered unpaid time off. If they were absent too often, they could be fired. They could also cash in their unused PCT each year if they desired. I knew some workers who would save up and then cash in several weeks of PCT each year to use for Christmas presents.

I always thought this PCT program was a very interesting and fair system.

Mar 14, 2013 9:35AM

OK, the employee goes to work sick, spreads disease, or has a real stress problem to deal  with at home  that could made it  a dangerous work situation.  I know a young man who went to work and passed out from stress, afraid he would lose his job.  What should that employee do and not lose his job.  What happen to mercy, compassion, and understanding.  He was sick, but looking at him you would never know.

  I know a man that cashed in 44 weeks of vacation pay at the end of his public service job.  He had health problems, (A Bleeder) and his doctor let him continue to work even though the doctor knew he had lost over a pint of blood in his bed during the night.  Get real. these big smart CEO love money more than their workers. 

Mar 14, 2013 1:28PM

Yes I have gone to work when I was so sick I could hardly think.  But, that is the mentality of most "Managers" they don't care how sick  you are just show up!.  There were so many people coming to work sick at one time  that the flu kept being passed around for several months


Sometimes you need a break from all the stress and demands of your job.  Getting away helps your mental health as well as you physical health and helps put you back on track with your job, that does not mean vacation time---but sick time "you are sick" of all the stress and demands!

Mar 14, 2013 9:09AM
I would like to add, when I retired a few years ago, I had 341 days of sick leave accumulation on the books and 147 days of vacation accrued. Comp time totaled of 900 hours or another 112 days . And yes I had the normal flu and colds and other health issues. So my final payroll check was a hefty sum totalling nearly two years of salary which was a fine parting gift.....
Jan 21, 2011 10:22PM
I go to work sick.  My husband is disabled and often ill; his last hospitalization in 2009 wiped out my sick leave.  Now I'm trying to build my leave balance so I can get a hip replacement.  Cold or flu?  Gotta go to work.  I just try to stay away from people as much as I can manage.
Jan 23, 2011 1:51PM

I am very very lucky to have sick leave and to be able to use it. Many years ago I was in the military and there is no sick leave in the military, that is one of the reasons I didn't make the military a career. I have also worked as a temp w/o sick leave, but I have always been fortunate that I could make my income stretch far enough to cover the time I took off.

My son was once written up on a job for taking off under a doctors orders for pneumonia.

Mar 14, 2013 11:58AM
Mar 14, 2013 12:05PM
The only jobs I ever had that had sick leave were unionized positions. I don't know if that is a good thing or not any more.
Mar 14, 2013 11:43AM

most if not all employers will not let you take time off sick. if they can get away with it. i worked in a retail store. the manager kept the number of employees down because his bonus was tied to labor cost.( this is done a lot) so he kept the pressure on for people to come to work sick , he did not keep enough employees  to cover injuries, or sickness. i have seen people sick throwing up in the rest rooms and break rooms because they were afraid to take time off.  i have watched them keep the pressure on making people come to work sick, when those flu alerts, were on and people coming to work sick passing the flu around the store two or three times. and giving it to the public, have to be honest the public gave a lot to us to.  So i guess the main thing is that the employer makes and creates these kinds of environments' and intensifies them they should be held accountable. for them.   i know that now if i go into a store and  i can see employees that are working sick  and it happen enough to make an impression on me or  I get sick i find some where else to shop. and i recommend everyone do that. after a while it would make an impression.

Mar 14, 2013 8:00AM

It really is saddening to hear of the lack of compassion and commensense on the part of so many employers. My heart goes out to those who cannot take time off work when ill. My job offers great insurance benefits and plenty of sick leave and annual leave (govt). Only thing odd is if we are off for 3+ days we have to have a doctors note - makes us feel like we are in school again. I do not understand why employers are so cold and ignorant - when one sick person goes in, others generally tend to catch whatever it is. Productivity goes down and I am pretty sure the employees would have a vv bad attitude which doesn't lead to any better productivity. That story about the grandfather who saved his grandkids from a shark sort of brings this home. If what I read is correct, he was on sick leave due to stress from his job (sounded reasonable) and he got fired for going on a vacation while out. I think his employers were wrong in their approach and they could have disciplined him but there it is. My hope for you folks with callous employers is that you can either get the system changed or find a job where the worker is respected and given appropriate leave times.


Good luck and God Bless.

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