Employee & Community Health

How sick is too sick to go to work or school?

2/19/2018 by Dr. Jason O'Grady


Oh, it's only a cold. My fever's just a little high. People are counting on me. My child has an algebra test they shouldn't miss. I don't feel THAT bad. 

Who hasn't had these mental debates when they're sick? But how do you decide if you're too sick to go to work or if you should keep your child home from school? These four tips should help:

Tip #1: Listen to your body. The same chemicals that tell the immune system to rush in and fend off invading viruses also tell us to slow down and rest. But we often tune out the messages our stuffy nose and aching body are sending us until we're so sick we can't get out of bed. 

Tip #2: If you have the flu-like symptoms (high fever, cough, chills, body aches), stay home for at least 24 hours after your temperature returns to normal — that's without taking anything to reduce your fever. However, if you are a health care worker who has contact with stem cell transplant patients in a protective environment, you should stay home for one week once your temperature is normal. 

When you do head back to work or school, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands and avoid close contact with others who might be sick, since you're still recuperating. 

Tip #3: If you have tummy troubles — vomiting and/or diarrhea — do not go to work or school until 24 hours after the last episode. 

Tip #4: If you have a cold — and feel up to spending the day at work (see Tip #1) — it's okay to go to work, as long as you take precautions to protect your co-workers. Wash and/or sanitize your hands frequently, avoid touching others, cover your coughs and sneezes and consider wearing a mask. Keep in mind that some over-the-counter cold remedies can slow your reaction time or make you drowsy. 

Dr. Jason O'Grady is the medical director of Mayo Family Clinic Kasson. He practices full-time spectrum Family Medicine, including obstetrics and office-based procedures.