The test: can you keep it a secret?
The easiest way to tell if you should stay home from work is by gauging other people’s reactions to your symptoms. Are they running for cover from your uncontrollable coughs? Does your runny nose make your voice sound like Kim Kardashian’s? Time to call it a day, because germs are that much easier to spread if you’re spraying fluids everywhere. On the other hand, a head cold that’s easily stifled and doesn’t cause your co-workers to cringe is considerably less infectious and less likely to get you booted from the workplace.
Get a second opinion
If you’re on the fence about coming in or not, call or email ahead. Tell whoever handles absences the degree of your illness, and let them make the call for you before heading to work—after all, it’s better to be late than to have your boss send you home for being irresponsible. Having human resources on your side also helps give your story more legitimacy.
Make the call yourself
If HR settled the matter for you, you’re set—but let’s face it, most of the time you’ll already know if you’re too far gone to handle eight miserable hours at your desk. Calling in and leaving a message before the office opens is still the standard and gives your bosses an idea of how (cough, cough) sick you are. Fight the temptation to play things up and be honest as to how long you think your situation will put you out of commission.
Should you work from home?
If you’re functional but infectious, go ahead, fire up the laptop and do some work from the comfort of home. But if you’re running a fever and you can’t control your cough, opt for actual rest over merely trading your cubicle for the living room couch. Not only will you not get any work done, but overexerting yourself can make the illness last even longer. Screen time, whether in the form of Excel spreadsheets or video games, also stresses the body out enough to prolong your recovery.
If you have no choice…
It could be argued that the closer your company’s big deadline is, the more important it is that you stay home and away from potential infectees. However, if you’re heading a presentation that can’t be moved (and have looped in your bosses), follow strict protocol to keep your sickness to yourself. Keep socializing and contact to a minimum, and be sure to warn others as to why you can’t shake hands. Also, do your co-workers the courtesy of disinfecting things you touch or cough on in shared areas. As for your personal workstation, disinfect that too so you don’t catch the bug all over again after kicking the flu over the weekend.