Do you go to work when you have a cold or the flu? According to a recent survey by NSF International, 26 percent of workers always go to work when they are sick. For anyone who has worked with other human beings, this should come as no surprise — and maybe you are even one of those people who always goes to work when they are ill. 

There are two really important reasons why you shouldn't go to work sick, of course: Your own health and that of the people around you. Obviously, bringing sickness-causing germs into a workplace exposes all of the people you work with to those germs, and especially for those with already-compromised immune systems and the elderly, this can mean something more serious than just passing the common cold along. Anyone can develop chronic bronchitis or a months-long cough that starts with a cold, but those people whose immune systems aren't as strong are especially at risk, and by coming to work with an illness, you are directly putting them in harm's way. 

But not resting when you are ill can be bad for you, too. 

"The most common mistake people make is to not slow down and take care of themselves when they have a cold," Neelam Taneja-Uppal, MD, told Everyday Health. Getting lots of sleep, especially, allows your body to marshal its resources to fight whatever is ailing you — continuing on with a regular work schedule is likely to make your illness last longer, especially if you have a fever and are struggling to work through the extreme tiredness that goes along with it. That feeling of exhaustion is your body's way of telling you to rest, and it should be heeded. 

But most of us know that already, right? And surely, many people are going to work when they are sick, even if they would rather be at home. Why? 

There are a variety of reasons, but they boil down to two simple ones: Workers aren't given paid sick days, so they lose needed income if they stay home from work, or they are not allowed to/able to take a sick day due to the nature of their work or company structure. There are plenty of people who get sick days on paper, but who know that if they don't come into work, it just means someone else has to take over their responsibilities as well as their own, or that certain essential work won't get done and will result in much more work later. Of course, employers should organize working structures so that this isn't the case, but unfortunately it's very common. 

And according to the original survey, about 25 percent of workers who come to their jobs when they are sick do so because their boss expects them to. Not respecting your employees' health and decisions about keeping well is, of course, not legal, but that doesn't mean that people don't do it anyway. 

Most workers recognize that their fellow employees, for any number of reasons, need to come to work even when they are unwell. And, of course, there are precautions we can take. Survey results indicate: 

Nearly all (94 percent) of American workers take some form of precaution when coming in contact with a sick coworker, including:

  • washing their hands after coming in contact with a sick coworker (87 percent)
  • using hand sanitizer (68 percent)
  • avoiding their sick coworker (65 percent)
  • disinfecting their workspace (44 percent)
  • taking a vitamin (39 percent)
  • avoiding using common areas like break rooms (32 percent)
“The best thing you can do to avoid getting sick at work is to take defensive measures,” said Rob Donofrio, Ph.D., a microbiologist at NSF International. “Proper handwashing with soap and warm water is still, by far, the best way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. Similarly, disinfecting common areas like the office kitchen or eating area, copy machine and printer can be crucial to keeping germs at bay.”

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.