You wake up for work, only to realize that the stuffy nose and sore throat you had last night have gotten worse. Or alternatively, you wake up feeling fine, but your child comes in to tell you that they aren't feeling well.
You head to the phone to call in sick. But before calling your supervisor, you realize you've exhausted your supply of sick days. What should you do?
Given the variety of workplace situations, what you can do may vary. But your best option, whether you're sick or you're child is, is to fill out a form for the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
"A lot of my families who have regular employment will have an FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] form in place on the chart," said Dr. Diane E. Pappas, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia.
"This may be one way for the parents to have their job protected, and we do this a lot," she said. "It's a fairly broad act."
The act covers people who work for the government, educators and people in companies with more than 50 employees. Enacted in 1993, it allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks off during a 12-month period to care for themselves or an ill child if they are taking care of them. However, that time off is unpaid.
"There is job protection that's afforded to the employee," said Ken Cope, an absence management practice leader at Hewitt LCG, a disability and absence management firm.
In the last 24 months, Cope noted, some states have enacted legislation to help employees when they need to miss work for illness or other personal reasons, which can include domestic violence or taking care of an injured family member who served in the military. The act recently expanded to include that situation.
"A lot of legislation is taking place at the state level to address this same issue," he said.
Cope notes that employees who are out for a certain period (typically more than seven days) can start using short-term disability leave, but that would not apply for an absence of a few days.
But while needing to take a day off may not cost you your job, doctors are quick to emphasize that prevention is the most important step, and those can be taken now.
While you may be able to tough out a cold in the office, that isn't likely to happen with the flu.
"If you had influenza, you wouldn't feel good enough to go to work," said Dr. Eric Larson, executive director of group health at the Center for Health Studies in Seattle.
For that reason, although it is not 100 percent effective, doctors say the most important step to take is getting a flu shot as soon as possible -- before flu season gets under way.
"This year, there should be a record amount of flu vaccine available," said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, a general internist in Atlanta and past president of the American College of Physicians who currently serves on its Adult Immunization Advisory Board.
Fryhofer received her first flu vaccine shipment in August.
But even once you have the flu, there are steps you can take.
"People who have true flu, if they call their doctor within the onset of the symptoms, they can actually get an antiviral medication," Larson said.
That medication can lessen the severity of the symptoms and the length of the illness.