As cold and flu season approaches, you will inevitably be exposed to a coworker who shouldn’t be at work (their cough or runny nose will tell you so). But how sick is too sick?

If you have the symptoms on this list, you are not going to perform your best AND you may transmit disease. Stay home from work . . . and maybe see your doctor. Keep in mind, though, this list doesn’t include chronic or episodic ailments such as seasonal allergies, asthma, headaches, depression, back pain, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders—that’s a different story.

  1. Fever. Anyone with a fever needs to stay home. Period.
  2. Diarrhea. Unless this is a chronic issue you face, anyone with an acute onset of diarrhea needs to STAY HOME. Viral gastroenteritis is exceptionally contagious.
  3. Vomiting. Again, any viral gastroenteritis that causes vomiting is highly contagious. Think of cruise ship outbreaks of norovirus that sicken 400 people. Stay home if you are vomiting.
  4. Acute onset of respiratory symptoms. One study found that almost half of healthcare workers with the flu were afebrile (no fever) before they were diagnosed. Because so many with the flu have no fever in the beginning, follow this rule: If you have acute onset of headache, runny nose, or cough, you should stay or go home.
  5. Body aches. If you have body aches like you’ve been hit by a truck, feel weak, and want to lie down and close your eyes out of nowhere…go home. This sounds like a viral syndrome and could be influenza. Again, half of workers with confirmed influenza had no fever, and you are likely contagious at this point.
  6. The “set-back.” You went back to work while sick and felt worse the following day. This means you pushed it and went back too early. Listen to your body, stay home.
  7. Pink eye. If you have goopy discharge from your eye, do not go to work or school until you’ve had your doctor check it out. Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is highly contagious, and you will give it to your co-workers for sure. You touch a keyboard, they touch a keyboard. Pink eye for everyone.
  8. Wheezing and shortness of breath. If you have acute onset of respiratory illness with a productive/junky cough and shortness of breath, stay home.
  9. Bladder infections or urinary tract infections. I see many folks who toughed it out and went to work with painful, burning, and frequent urination and even hematuria (peeing blood). If you have new, severe urinary symptoms, leave work and see your doctor. These symptoms can worsen quickly, and early antibiotic treatment is key
  1. Vertigo. Many people try to drive into work with an acute episode of vertigo (room-spinning dizziness) either from a viral illness or benign positional vertigo. Don’t drive, stay home.