Fears of the H1N1 virus have prompted renewed interest in companies' sick leave policies, with many saying they don't have the sick days they need should the virus, commonly known as the swine flu, strike. But a number of Americans have shared a different concern with ABCNews.com: their sick co-workers are choosing not to stay home. Instead of taking the sick days they're entitled to, they're coming in to work anyway, readers told us, and putting their fellow officemates at risk.
"The people I work with could care less if they make someone sick," said Rena McVey, of Wathena, Kan., in a message to ABCNews.com. "They come to work running fevers and vomiting. Several of them think H1N1 is a joke."
McVey may have good reason to be concerned. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and and the chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says that whether you have the flu or the common cold, you are most likely to spread the illness to others on the first two days you feel ill -- that's why, Schaffner said, you should stay home. (Those who are careful once they know they're sick can still unwittingly infect their co-workers and others: Schaffner said that cold and flu sufferers are also highly likely to spread germs on the day before their symptoms surface.)
Schaffner said that, despite the risk of infection, it's common for people to come to work ill, even among hospital workers.
"There's this certain macho quality -- 'I'm essential. I'm doing important things. We're tough and strong so we go to work despite all hazards,'" he said.
ABCNews.com readers apparently have encountered no shortage of these "macho" types and some are going to extremes to protect themselves. Below, you'll find their stories along with insights from Schaffer on staying healthy even when your co-workers aren't.
My husband works in a large office environment. The first case of confirmed H1N1 occurred about two weeks ago and it has been spreading at the rate of about one new case every three days.
These people are coming to work while ill. (They're) not returning to work too soon -- actually coming to work while actively ill. No one in management has been stopping them; in fact, they've been condoning it.
My husband was sent to work on a project with someone over the weekend. This person showed up obviously ill. My husband immediately left to get N95 masks and hand sanitizer, which the ill person refused to use (but my husband did).
Later, another person showed up and also refused to use any protection. A few days later he came to work sick and exposed others. My husband has explained to these people that our whole family is at risk. I have asthma and a heart problem. My son has asthma which becomes severe when he has a respiratory infection. I have a disabled daughter in fragile health with a weak immune system. These people just don't care.
(My husband) has been wearing a mask to work because the people sitting around him are sick and they make fun of him. Someone took a mask and wrote "sissy" on it. What kind of a man thinks it is "manly" to put others at risk? If I ever encounter these people, it will be a memorable experience for them, I assure you.
-- Sue, town not provided.