September 9, 2011
Going to work sick: Sometimes you have no choice
[Flickr photo by ghindo]
As the Seattle Times reported yesterday:
Advocates say the law will enhance public health by allowing workers to stay home when they or their children are sick. The city estimates that as many as 190,000 workers in Seattle, many in professions such as food service with regular contact with the public, receive no paid sick leave.
Treating workers as human beings (as opposed to indentured servants) is indeed a beautiful thing. If passed, I imagine this law will help some of the city's most vulnerable and lowest paid workers.
Still, sometimes going to work sick has nothing to do with earning a day's wage. Sometimes it has more to do with workplace politics and showing your face when you most need to. Sometimes you can't get out of work without your reputation taking a hit.
Last fall, for example, I accepted a contract job with a startup-ish division of a large employer in the area. I'd just moved in with my significant other and was in the process of selling the shoebox I'd lived in the previous five years. It was a fortunate time in my life, but a hectic and fairly stressful one.
Not surprisingly, I caught a fall flu, one of those bugs that lingers for three or four weeks, egged on by too much anxiety and too little sleep. When my soon-to-be-boss called to offer me the job, I was running a fever, and in my foggy disorientation, stupidly used "feeling under the weather" as my reason for needing 24 hours to consider her offer.
Two weeks later, when my start date rolled around, I was -- little surprise -- still congested and feverish. Calling in sick my first day of work seemed especially weak. I'd spent a month lining up this gig and didn't want to do anything to sour my new boss's impression of me. So I loaded up on Theraflu and Ibuprofen, rationalized that I couldn't possibly still be contagious, and dragged my rear into work. Once there, I slathered myself in hand sanitizer and blamed my stuffy nose and scratchy throat on allergies.
Maybe it was a jerk move. But I think I made the right call. The job, which I left in April, was with a telecommuting-friendly team. Many of us worked from home one to two days a week. Still, face time at team meetings, collaborations with project leaders, and the occasional evening crunch to make a critical deadline was not only appreciated, it was expected. If you weren't in your seat during any of those crucial milestones, my boss's boss would invariably ask where you were and why. Had I missed my first few days of work for anything less than a trip to the ER or a cemetery, I'm convinced he would have marked me as either a weak link or someone who didn't want the job badly enough.
How about you? Has a big deadline, presentation, or milestone in your career prompted you to head into the office when you should have been in bed? Do you think it was the right call to make?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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