While staying home from work when you’re sick may seem like common sense, there’s a fine line between not feeling well and being so sick that you can’t get any work done. No matter how hard you try to stay healthy at work and avoid catching that bug that’s going around, sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially when your coworkers are also pushing through the sniffles with the help of boxes of Kleenex on their desks. Yep, 90 percent of employees say they go to work when they’re really sick, mostly because of those girlboss job demands.

Although paid period leave isn’t really a thing (yet!), most people (well, about 61 percent) are entitled to sick days from their employer when they need them. So when do you really need to draw the line and tap out for the day? We polled HR experts and doctors to find out when they’d recommend resting up instead of heading to the office.

woman sick at work

1. Even working from home sounds too tough. “Most employees will feel guilty about taking a sick day and might even offer to work from home,” notes Max Robinson of HR Services Scotland. “But this raises the question: If you can work from home, then why can’t you work in the office?” Hmm. Fair point. “I think one of the best ways to know whether or not you should take a sick day is when working from home would be a struggle,” he explains. It’s true that if you can’t imagine working from your couch feeling the way you’re feeling, then you definitely shouldn’t be heading into the office and, in turn, should just stay in bed and rest up.

2. You’re struggling with a mental-health issue. Mental health days are somewhat controversial, but according to Hannah Spruce, an HR specialist for High Speed Training, they’re completely acceptable. “My view is that you can and SHOULD take a sick day when your mental health is low,” she says. “You’re going to be useless if you can’t get your head in the game, and a day off can do wonders to visit your therapist, rest and get yourself back on track.” After all, if you can’t focus, the quality of your work will definitely suffer. It’s better to make it a priority to get the care or break from work stress that you need.

Young woman in bed with headache

3. You’re contagious. This is a bit of a no-brainer, but it definitely needs to be mentioned, since illnesses get passed around offices ALL the time. Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart: HR, tells us a client’s horror story: “I had one client whose entire accounting department got really ill because someone came in with a stomach bug. The employees called out sick with painful symptoms and the company lost time and productivity.” In many ways, coming in sick is a lose-lose situation, he says. It won’t win you a badge of honor, and it’s actually unproductive for the company as a whole. Plus, paid sick days are a benefit for a reason, so just take the day off if you need to.

4. You have any serious physical symptoms. You’ll probably be okay if you’re sniffly and over-the-counter cold meds are helping you feel better, but if you’re dealing with anything more than that, it’s a good idea to stay home. “Signs and symptoms indicating that you should just stay in bed include fever, chills, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea,” says Nora Lansen, MD at One Medical, a tech-enabled primary care startup.

“Your body’s immune system will be far more effective at combating an infection if you focus on optimizing the basics, like adequate sleep, good nutrition and increased hydration,” explains Lansen. Although it can be tempting to try to crank out work at our usual pace even though you’re not feeling great, if you’ve got these symptoms you should give it a rest.

stressed work job

5. You’re feeling burned out. Surprisingly, it can be okay to take a sick day if you just can’t concentrate. Psychologist Jessica Koblenz explains that “Signs of burnout may include having a harder time getting your work done and feeling overwhelmed or irritated with people or situations you’re usually able to brush off.” Sound familiar? “Taking an occasional day to recalibrate, rest and get some distance from work may be essential,” she says. If you haven’t taken a sick day in awhile and you’re experiencing any of these warning signs, go ahead and sit a particularly bad day out. “Typically it’s the people who never take a sick or vacation day who may need it the most,” Koblenz adds.

How do you decide you’re going to stay home sick? Tell us your personal sick day policy @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)