What to do when you're too sick to work

October 20, 2009 4:22:24 PM PDT
You feel sick, but you don't want to call in because you're running out of sick days -- it's an issue a lot of workers and businesses are dealing with, especially since swine flu is coming on strong right at the end of the year. [SWINE FLU: Symptoms, questions and answers and more]

If you're sick with seasonal flu or H1N1, the Houston Health Department has a very clear message.

"Stay home," said Frank Levy with the Houston Health Department. "Just quite simply, stay home."

For single working parents like Dedryal Brantley, who is paid by the day, that mandate may seem impossible. Fortunately, Brantley works at an 80 employee Head Start Center, and her employer, Neighborhood Centers, Inc., has implemented a special policy just to deal with flu.

"My manager told me if my child is sick, family comes first. Take care of your family," Brantley said. "If you're sick as well, make sure you're OK so that you're able to take care of the children."

Attorney Carl Hacker says that many Texas employees, especially those paid by the hour, are afraid to call in sick because Texas law protects employers, not employees.

"If you need to hire someone else, well, that's the way it goes," Hacker explained. "It's sad but true in Texas. We are an at-will state."

So what do you do if your sick days and vacation days are all burned up and you or your child gets the flu? Or what if you work at a place where there are no sick days? Workplace health experts say be proactive.

UT Occupational Health expert Janet Harreld advised, "The first thing I would do is go to my employer and say I realize the situation I am in, are there options we can consider?"

First, call your supervisor and explain what's happened. Offer to make up the time later and give them the option to have you work from home.

Most employers, like Brantley's, don't want to lose other staff to the flu, so there is a good chance that if you make the effort, your employer will be flexible. Of course you will want to talk to your human resources manager about what your job's specific benefits are when it comes to sick leave. The CDC has specific guidelines for employers.
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Get answers to your questions:
We know you have a lot of questions and concerns about the swine flu. That's why we are making it easy for you to talk to medical experts. Eyewitness News is hosting a special live web chat Thursday evening. Doctors and health leaders in the community will be answering your questions between 6 and 8pm. If you have a question now, you can submit it here.

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