Please, please, please do not go to work when you are sick

wall drawings of sick people

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

This is a true story.

A local politician goes into a brewery/eatery recently. On their way out the door, they take a picture with an employee and post it on Twitter. “INSERT EMPLOYEE’S NAME HERE was sick today but came into work because they knew the restaurant was short-staffed.”

The response from Twitter was swift. People took the company to task for having an employee work while they’re sick. The owner of the restaurant had to immediately go on the defensive explaining that they don’t encourage employees to work when they’re sick.

When I first saw this story, my reaction was “We really have to explain to people not to go to work sick? During the middle of a pandemic?” But it looks like we do. Sigh!

EMPLOYERS: Please tell your employees not to come to work when they are sick. If you don’t offer paid sick time, consider doing so. It’s not 1985 anymore – paid sick leave is a common employee benefit. Not only will it keep employees from showing up to work when they’re sick, but it could be a way to attract candidates. If you have employees who habitually take advantage and call-in sick, coach and counsel them. Don’t pressure them into coming to work anyway.

EMPLOYEES: Please don’t go to work when you are sick. I understand that this could mean having less pay. And it’s easier said than done but try your best to figure out how to either save up a “sick day” fund or find another employer that treats you better with paid sick time. But I’m pretty sure you do not want to be the reason that someone’s family member, friend, or coworker gets sick. Maybe goes to the hospital. Possibly dies. Be a good role model for others and practice safety in the workplace.

One of my other takeaways from this story about the politician, restaurant owner, and sick employee is that there are still a lot of people who are in the “re-entry” phase. They might be unofficially sheltering-in-place. They could still be masking or double-masking. They might not be taking trips and eating out at restaurants. Maybe it’s because of where they live and a surge in the Delta variant. Maybe they’ve lost a loved one and are still grieving. Maybe they’re high-risk or have a family member who is and they are playing it extra safe. Regardless of the reason, going to work when you’re sick (or asking an employee to work when they’re sick) doesn’t come across like you have regard for the welfare of others.

Honestly, I don’t want to believe that anyone involved in this story was intentionally trying to do harm. I’m sure the politician thought they were showcasing the hard work of an employee. And the employee thought they were going the extra mile. And the restaurant owner was just thrilled that they weren’t short-staffed again. But we have to think about safety. This message applies whether we’re in a pandemic or not.

People want to go places where they feel safe. Let me say that again. People want to live and work and shop and dine at places where they feel safe. Regardless of what’s going on globally, we all must act safe. If we want employees to work at our companies, we must act safe. If we want people to spend money, we must act safe.

Please don’t go to work when you are sick. And don’t ask someone to go to work when they’re sick.

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while not sick and exploring ATL in Atlanta, GA


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