Young woman on phone holding her throat

When should I take a sick day?

By Loren M. Blinde, PhD Jan 04, 2023 • 3 min

It’s one of winter’s perennial questions: Should I call in sick today or go to work? Although you can get sick anytime, respiratory viruses like those that cause colds, flu, COVID-19 and RSV tend to peak in the fall and winter months. That’s partly because people are indoors more when it’s cold outside, giving viruses a better opportunity to spread. In addition, cold air outside and drier air inside may weaken the immune system’s resistance.

Even though you’re feeling under the weather, it can sometimes feel like taking a sick day is impossible. Maybe you have too much work to do, or missing a day would mean having to reschedule too many meetings. Perhaps you can’t afford to lose hours without financial strain. Or maybe your workplace is short-staffed, and you know your boss won’t be able to find anyone to cover for you if you call out. So, do you really need to take a sick day? Here are some guidelines to help you decide.

Take a sick day if:

1. You have a fever

If you have a temperature of 100°F or higher, stay home. You can go back to work once you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medicines like Tylenol or Motrin.

2. You are sneezing, coughing up phlegm or have a runny nose

Sneezing, coughing and sniffling can spread germs to others, even if it’s a common cold. If you have the flu, it’s recommended you stay home for at least four to five days from the onset of symptoms.

3. You just feel bad

If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Fatigue can set in early when you’re sick, or even continue after other symptoms have resolved. So don’t drag yourself in to work. The body needs proper rest for recovery. Take a few days off to help strengthen the immune system. Protect your health, and the health of others, by staying home and getting enough rest. 

Get vaccinated

Vaccines can really help prevent severe illness caused by the flu and COVID-19, and possibly long stretches away from work. Schedule your flu or COVID-19 vaccine today at

Published January 2023.

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