11/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

This Flu Season Mind Your Cold

I'm so mad I could sneeze (or cough), but at least it would be in the privacy of my own home, not sitting next to you at a dinner party because "I've been so looking forward to this, even though I'm sick, I just couldn't miss it."

This was pretty much the self-satisfied excuse given by the sniffling wife and her hacking husband at a sit down dinner that I attended last week. Then, I was annoyed , now sitting here writing this, having acquired their cold, I'm really steamed--and stuffed up.

When did the book, Emily Post's Etiquette, change its position on the acceptability of exposing other people to your germs, just so you could enjoy a social event? It hasn't.

Let's face it; none of us like to miss the good times. However just because you don't have a fever does not mean you've got the etiquette "A-Okay" to go to the party, and party.

It's during those first few days when you're "just coming down with something" that you're the most contagious. Oh, and saying, "Don't kiss me, I have a cold," does not magically make you a virus free zone. If you think people really do understand and don't mind; you're wrong.

According to Dr. Mary Capelli-Schellpfeffer, medical director of Loyola University Health System Occupational Health Services, people who come to work sick are more likely to hinder than help their company.

"An organization can be severely impacted by people coming to work when they're sick. We know illness can spread from person to person causing entire work groups to be impacted. But less obvious is how job performance, organization, productivity, creativity and financial stability can all be affected," said Capelli-Schellpfeffer.

People often think because they wash their hands or take over-the-counter medications, they aren't spreading the illness. Not so.

"Just being in a room and breathing when a person is sick can spread the illness not to mention coughing and sneezing. If you're sick you shouldn't be in the workplace. It interrupts business and puts others at risk of infection," said Capelli-Schellpfeffer.

Sickness can interrupt productivity by creating a distraction and causing both the infected person and coworkers to focus on the illness instead of their jobs. It also blurs the lines between personal and professional lives and relationships.

"It's good for people to feel like a team and care about each other, but it's not healthy for people to be invasive of each other's privacy, including their medical privacy," said Capelli-Schellpfeffer. "It disrupts the interactions of the team and can be corrosive, even setting the stage for future judgments, misunderstandings and biases."

So for all the talk about controlling the avian flu this season, people don't even want to stay home when they have the common cold.

I realize some people don't believe that germs are the instigator of illness--they feel that a weakened immune system, due to stress, poor eating habits or a bad attitude are the culprit. I agree to a degree; these things do factor into our ability to fend off illness. Still, my morning routine of yogurt and yoga may not be enough to keep me from getting your cold--especially if you are coughing in my organic decaf coffee. So if you're sick, please--stay home. We'll all thank you.

Please note that this article is copyrighted by Karen Leland. If you would like to reprint any or all of it on your blog or website for non-commercial purposes, you are welcome to do so, provided you give credit and a live link back to this post.

Karen Leland is author of Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change. Read more at