flu inspectionAn innocent cough at work is no longer so innocent.

As the swine flu death toll slowly rises, most Americans want co-workers with flu symptoms to stay home. And if you come into work anyway, most of your colleagues will rat you out to senior management, according to a recent survey.

The survey by Mansfield Communications found that 91% of Americans say they want their co-workers to remain at home if they are infected with the H1N1 flu virus.For those going into work with the flu or symptoms, 83% of those surveyed said they are likely to inform a fellow colleague or senior management about a colleague in their workplace who they thing might be showing symptoms of the flu.

Some workers may feel that taking sick time will jeopardize their jobs, but it's best not to sicken an entire workplace.

"Basically because of the recession, people think their jobs are in peril, and they'll lose their jobs if they don't go to work sick," said Rob Ireland, a partner at Mansfield Communications.

To prevent employees from feeling like they have to come to work if they're sick, employers need to spread the message far and wide that it's OK to stay home sick instead of infecting everyone else at work, Ireland said. "It's a career limiting move to come to work now with the swine flu," he said.

Employers must make their sick leave policies understood by every employee, and detail if vacation time needs to be used for sick time off, Ireland said. Front-line managers need to implement the policies, he said.

"People need to do the right thing and err on the side of caution," Ireland said.

The survey was of 2,029 people from Oct. 5-11 and has a margin of error of 2.2%
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It found that 69% of workers had received no communication about policies in the workplace about H1N1, and that 84% believe the recession creates more pressure to show up for work even if they're feeling sick.

But even if home under a company-imposed quarantine, 47% said they would still engage in public activities such as riding the bus, picking up a prescription or grocery shopping.

That's enough to make you think the next time you see someone trying to silence a cough at the store.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be found at www.AaronCrowe.net

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