WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - With the flu now reported in 41 states, workers are facing a dilemma about work when they come down with the illness: go to work and infect co-workers, or stay at home and wonder if they're endangering their careers.
Doctors warn workers to stay home so as not to spread the flu, and human resources professionals agree that is the best decision. Worrying about a career should not, they say, be a factor.
"I don't really think it is a legitimate concern because at the end of the day, if you do go in sick, you're not going to be really productive. You're not going to produce a whole lot of work that day, or those two days or those three days that you're sick. If you're getting up to go to the restroom every five minutes to get sick, you're sneezing, you're coughing, your productivity is absolutely going to suffer," said Bruce Elliott at The Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Virginia. "What's worse also is that you're running the risk of getting your co-workers sick or, potentially, even worse, a client sick, which could result in a loss of revenue. I understand it being a bad economy. I understand that people are putting quite a bit of pressure on themselves with regard to 'I gotta keep my job. I gotta keep my job. I gotta keep my productivity up. I gotta show up,' but if you have good management they're not going to want you to be at work because they understand the effects that that will have on productivity."
At the Kogod School of Business at American University, Executive in Residence Meredith Persily Lamel says the workplace of 2013 is a different place than the one in which many workers first labored.
"In today's day and age, actual face time is becoming less and less important in many organizations. More progressive organizations are allowing people to work from home, work remotely, and it's really to their benefit because, in many ways, that is getting people to work in the evenings as well, regardless of whether they are sick," she told WUSA.
But should a worker worry about phoning in sick?
"I think it is a legitimate concern depending on who your boss is but certainly that is not going to make or break anyone's profession. I think employers are going to know whether or not an individual is committed to their jobs, regardless of how they respond when they are sick," said Persily Lamel. "Chances are if you're that concerned about how you will be perceived if you stay home when you are sick, you have more to be concerned about."
She says workers can prepare for the eventuality of illness.
"I think you should think about what you're going to do when you're sick before you get sick. Obviously, when you are sick you're going to be a bit compromised in making good decisions and figuring out what you need to stay connected to your work," she said.
"Whether it means setting up a system on the cloud where you can store your most important files, so if you get sick overnight you're able to stay home, and can still access your work, or making sure you have some kind of duplications of systems at home and at work so, again, before you get sick you're not worried about coming in and pulling all that information to bring home in order to stay connected," said Persily Lamel.