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You’re sick? Stay home! You'll do everyone a favor

If you’re coughing up a lung in your office and think you feel the silent scorn of your co-workers, you are not imagining things. You are being judged. Despite how essential you are to your organization (really, you are!), no one wants you showing up when you’re sick. Your company will survive.

If employees feel they can’t miss a day of work, it’s up to managers to insist they stay home. “I think the most common response focuses too much on disease transmission – ‘You’ll get us all sick if you stay here!’ – and not enough on personal recovery,” says Bruce Clarke, president and CEO of Raleigh’s Capital Associated Industries. (Clarke also writes the View from HR column for the News & Observer.)

He advises managers to deal directly – and empathetically – with a sick employee. He says managers should consider saying something along the lines of, “Lisa, I know you feel sick and you want to get better as quickly as you can. If you stay home until your symptoms subside, you’ll feel better sooner, you can get some things done from home and you will not have to be worried about exposing others. So please go home, keep me informed and get better.”

“That works well when people have paid sick days, PTO or vacation they can use,” he adds. “It is less persuasive with the employee who will lose pay when out.”

Not everyone has the luxury of taking a day off work. And many workers don’t get sick-day benefits. “If you’re financially strapped, you’re going to do whatever you can to make the rent, including going to work sick,” says Jennie Wong, a nationally syndicated columnist who also writes for the Charlotte Observer’s ShopTalk small-business section. “And I don’t blame you.”

Wong has a message for employers: “If someone is coming in sick, and you know they need the hours and the money, consider taking them aside for a private conversation. Can you offer them extra hours to make up for the missed time, once they are well? If you’re a business owner, can you use your discretion to let them work from home?”

“In my own company ... we had an employee who was in a tight spot, and we offered him an advance on his paycheck to help out his family,” she continues. “I don’t regret the gesture one bit. It was the right thing to do.”

And if a teammate does come to work sick? Wong says, “Try to avoid judgment and focus on what’s within your control.” If you can, she said, postpone your meetings with the sick person. “Give them a wide berth and use plenty of hand sanitizer.”