Do your co-workers a favor: Stay home when you're sick


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:37 a.m.
Nancy Legon has developed a mannerism that might seem odd to co-workers. Whenever she picks up a phone, she rubs the mouthpiece on her pants leg or shirtsleeve.
''I even do that at home,'' Legon said. ''I don't want to use the same phone as somebody who's sick.''
The 47-year-old office manager for a molding supplier in Lakeland has become acutely aware of an occupational hazard of the white-collar world. Co-workers breathe and cough and sneeze into the same air. They often touch the same phones, keyboards and doorknobs - potent depositories for germs that cause common illnesses.
With another cold-and-flu season here, workers confront the annual challenge of fending off viruses carried into the office by fellow employees.
Experts say you should not hesitate to let a co-worker know you're concerned about infection and they urge managers to send sick employees home. But it's not always as simple as that.
Americans trudge into the workplace sick for many reasons. Work ethic is a factor, especially for those whose absence has a direct effect on fellow cubicle dwellers and don't want to add to someone else's workload.
Studies suggest productivity suffers when workers come to the office sick, infecting office mates and causing more absences. While some companies encourage sick employees to stay home, that message is undercut when bosses show up at the office hacking or sneezing, said Roslyn Stone, chief operating officer for Corporate Wellness Inc., an employee health service based in New York.
Stone said some corporate practices - lumping together sick and vacation time - discourage sick employees from staying home. Only 57 percent of American workers in private industry receive paid sick leave, according to the federal Department of Labor. And some employees must accrue paid leave, meaning new hires have not yet earned sick days.
''People who get sick in January, February and March, during the flu season, are afraid to use all their time, and then they may come back to work prematurely,'' Stone said.
Some employees have the option of working from home while sick. A growing number companies offer flu vaccinations to employees at no charge.
Stone, whose outfit provides flu shots to hundreds of companies nationwide, said surveys show workers who receive vaccinations take 43 percent fewer sick days and make 44 percent fewer doctor visits than those who don't. She said participation rates rise when companies offer the shots in-house at no charge and when executives get the shots and publicly encourage others to do the same. But even the most progressive companies can't eradicate the flu and the common cold, and anyone who works among others is bound to receive unwanted gifts from co-workers, especially in winter.

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