Call in or Work from home?

A person laying under a blanket on a couch. Only feet and a hand are visible.

You’re feeling sniffly, sneezy and downright miserable. You know you’re not going to go into the office, but do you take the sick day, or do you “power through” and work from home? We asked Dr. Stequita Jackson, a Baylor Medicine family physician, about how to make that call when you have various common illnesses.

Question: Should I continue to work from home if I have COVID or should I take a sick day? 

Answer: According to the new CDC guidance, people can return to normal activities when symptoms are improving overall and a fever has been gone without the use of a fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours. Once you return to normal activities, the CDC recommends using additional prevention strategies for the next five days to help curb the spread of disease.

If you have tested positive for COVID and you are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, you could consider working from home if you’re feeling up to it.

Q: What about the flu? 

A: Like COVID-19, influenza symptoms determine whether it is more appropriate to work from home or simply rest. The consensus is that one should only return to work once it has been at least 24 hours since one’s last fever, without the use of medicine. Given the broad spectrum of influenza symptoms, including myalgias, chills, fatigue, etc., it is common practice to excuse patients for 3-5 days of work to allow rest/recuperation.

Q: What about a cold?

A: The common cold is caused by respiratory viruses that are easily spread by contact. Given this risk, patients are often excused from work for 3-5 days. Upon return, the importance of limiting respiratory droplets (wearing a mask), hand hygiene and physical distancing is recommended. Supportive care is recommended for treatment, such as rest, water and over-the-counter aids for fever reduction. 

Q: What about if it’s a stomach bug? 

A: Stomach viruses tend to disappear just as quickly as the onset of symptoms. For this reason, patients are typically excused from work for approximately two days. During this time, patients need to stay hydrated to keep up with gastrointestinal losses.

Q: What about if it’s a sinus infection or allergies/an allergic reaction? 

A: Without treatment, sinus infections can last for weeks! Generally, after 7- 10 days of symptoms, most physicians will treat with oral antibiotics. Like the other respiratory conditions discussed, patients can be excused from work for 3-5 days.

In most cases, patients with a simple case of seasonal allergies can keep up with their work demands with a few sneezes or coughs throughout the day. You can improve symptoms with antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids. As described above, if symptoms persist or worsen, one may consider a sinus infection and should visit their doctor.

Q: What about strep throat? 

A: Once strep throat is diagnosed and antibiotic therapy initiated, one is able to return to work after 24 hours of antibiotic therapy.

Q: Is there a good rule of thumb for deciding whether to continue working from home like normal or call in for a sick day?

A: Your symptoms should determine whether you clock into work or call in for a sick day. If you are not feeling up to the demands of work, call off, as tasks will be much more difficult. It’s important to remember the key treatment for all of the above conditions is… REST! Give your body the time it needs to recuperate so that you can recover quickly and resume your job at your full potential.

Learn more about Baylor Medicine Family and Community Medicine.

By Anna Kiappes

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