Make It Work: If You Are Sick, Please Stay Home

I was the kind of kid who went to school unless it was an an absolute emergency. If I wasn’t bleeding, vomiting profusely, or missing a limb, my butt was firmly planted in a classroom as soon as the first period bell rang. School was important, and childcare was scarce, so I dutifully attended, despite the sniffles, allergy attacks, or whatever else befalls little kids. I like to think that this is why I have a rock-solid work ethic, but really, the fear of somehow getting fired never goes away. Be a good worker by showing up, and your employer will recognize your intrinsic value. Show up when you’re sick and they will remember your dedication come bonus time.

There’s a notion that to be a good worker, you must work through all ills. When I was younger, and consumed with that perpetual, mid-twenties fear of not doing enough, I’d drag myself in, regardless of how I was feeling. “If I can still type at a computer and answer emails and do what’s expected of me, I should go in,” I would tell myself. Once ensconced in the office, illnesses always seem to worsen. The headache lingering just under the surface blossoms into a beautiful penumbra of pain. Your sneezes intensify, becoming events as opposed to minor nuisances. “Are you feeling okay?” someone will ask, cautiously, from a safe distance in the shared kitchen, where you are undoubtedly stealing a roll of paper towels to take back to your desk to staunch the flow of snot. “You look pale. You should really go home,” they reiterate as they tip-toe past being careful not to make any flesh-to-flesh contact.

I will say this once. If you are sick — sneezy, headache-y, feverish, sweaty, nauseous, full of diarrhea — stay the fuck at home. Offices are nothing more than tiny incubators for illness. They are warm, windowless, unventilated breeding grounds for that gross-ass cold you’ve been dragging around all weekend, like a giant bag of dirty laundry, ready to explode into something much worse and spread everywhere it can. Think about it this way: do you really want to sit at your desk, sneezing every five minutes, and blowing your nose in that honking, horrid way that makes people move away from your body? Do you want to go to a meeting with a roll of toilet paper at the ready, in case you sneeze and the entire contents of your sinus cavity empties in spectacular fashion? No one wants that.

Soldiering through a cold only makes you the office enemy. If you think you’re contagious, take a goddamn sick day. If you work in the service industry, it’s probably harder. I have waited my fair share of tables with what was probably a low-grade flu, only because I didn’t have a choice. I needed the money and no one is really willing to cover your shitty morning shift if you have a maybe-cold that makes you sneezy and congested. My first real job out of college, I worked through the thankless job of writing thank you cards to donors and wrapping holiday bottles of wine with a 101 degree fever. “I need to be at work, so they will see that I’m a good worker,” I thought. “This is what work is — suffering through fever sweats and searing throat pain in order to prove yourself and your worth!”

We are almost through this wretched winter. It’s been a long slog for lots of people, but from where I sit, the sun is shining, and the five inches of wet, gross snow that fell all day yesterday is melting, rapidly, under the heat of the warm sun. The winter cold season is almost past us, and if you squint and look hard towards the horizon, spring is almost here. This should be the last of it, these winter sniffles and colds and long-stretching bouts of endless aches.

Okay fine, I’ll say it one more time: If you feel sick, stay the fuck home.