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Should you go to work if you’re sick?


With only so many sick days to go around, more employees are heading to the office when they’re ill.

Bronchitis AND asthma - how did I get so lucky as to get diagnosed and land on my back for six days? Being too ill to sit upright, I had a lot of time to ponder an age-old question: When should you go to work sick? I could be politically correct and say never, but let’s be honest, there are only so many PTO hours that you get at any job. So, what do you do?

When my daughter got sick, I pumped her up with Tylenol, dropped her off at daycare and raced to work. There, I prayed that the Tylenol would hold her fever at bay, and at least I could get a half a day of work in. That was usually around the time when I would get busted by the school nurse. Parents sometimes have to use PTO for their kids’ illnesses instead of their own. Tell me what choice is there when you have kids who get sick a lot?

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One colleague of mine repeatedly got fired for absenteeism on the job, but it wasn’t her fault. Her husband was a struggling lawyer who couldn’t take time off. When her kids got sick, guess who had to take off? (I’m counting my blessings that I had healthy kids!) But what’s the answer? If you don’t have a support system to back you up, what are you supposed to do?

I know that people reading this will suggest the Family and Medical Leave Act. There are parameters around that, but let’s face it, a dental practice is a business. You have patients on your schedule and then you have to call off. Many of those patients have taken PTO to have their appointment. Now their plans get cancelled, and it messes with their schedule. And guess what? They usually aren’t very nice about it. You can’t blame them, but what are you supposed to do? It depends on what job you have in the practice. Some tasks can be done off-site or over the weekend. Other practices allow for more flexibility by adding hours in the evening or weekend to make up the time.

Let’s shift the conversation to what happens when you get sick. When I developed bronchitis and asthma, my coughing and problems breathing made it impossible to leave the couch and function like a normal person. I had to literally debate in my mind whether to cancel going to a critical training that was one-and-a-half hours away from my home. If it was around the corner, I would’ve sucked it up and tried to go and be there as long as possible. But problems breathing in 92-degree heat changed my ability to even imagine that I could drive a car; it just wasn’t an option.

What do you do when you’re so ill that you shouldn’t be at work, but you have no more sick days? You go. Paying bills and making ends meet is the priority. I used to work on a ventilator unit, the one place you should never go if you have a respiratory infection or illness. Yet the nurses on that unit told me to suck it up as they come to work ill. They were leaning over immunocompromised people who could potentially get sicker and die, but this is reality.

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I was a keynote speaker at a conference with 240 attendees. Lucky me had the swine flu. My husband had to drive me as I couldn’t drive myself. The event planner couldn’t care less. If I hadn’t shown, there would’ve been 240 ticked-off attendees who didn’t get one hour of a continuing education credit. Her priority had nothing to do with whether I could infect an entire ballroom of professionals; instead, all she cared about was that the show must go on no matter what.

As you can see, by finally being forced to slow down, I had the chance to give some thought to this important issue. Did I feel like a terrible mother plugging my child with Tylenol instead of staying at home and being a mother? Absolutely. Did I struggle with guilt over exposing my patients to my various illness? Absolutely. Am I nuts for going public with this? Yep. But, it’s something that needs to be looked at.

My question to management is this: What do you want us to do? If you’re a manager, please email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com and weigh in on this conversation.

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