Working While Sick With COVID-19: Stories from Healthcare Professionals

As COVID-19 persists, more and more healthcare professionals are publicly sharing stories of employers asking them to work while sick with COVID-19, due to workforce shortages and other industry challenges. 

In these scenarios, employers are often pointing to emergency guidance developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on isolation and quarantine specific to healthcare workers. Original guidance from the CDC stated, “Healthcare workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic can return to work after 7 days with a negative test, and that isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages.” This was later revised with additional clarifications.

So we asked our Figure 1 members if they’ve felt pressure to work while sick with COVID-19. Here’s what we heard from more than 200 healthcare professionals. 

Pressure to Work While Sick With COVID-19

When asked if they have felt pressure from their institution to continue working while sick or returning to work while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, 59% of respondents answered yes. 

Here are just a few of the stories shared by the community about working while sick with COVID-19.

“I was forced to do a 17-hour shift despite having symptoms and a positive test.”

– Medical Resident

“I worked while infected with COVID-19 … I had mild symptoms (like a sinus infection). We had a staffing crisis at the time.”

– Healthcare Professional

“… I was forced to attempt to work while running a 102.5 degree fever with patients that have no immune system. Once upper management found out I was sent home.”

– Registered Nurse

“Several of my coworkers got COVID-19 … Most of them spent their recovery time at home, but a few continued to work (wearing [N95 masks,] of course) because of staffing issues.” ­

– Emergency Medical Technician
Get a breakdown of the signs of burnout and how to prevent healthcare workers from experiencing it.

Ability to Take Time Off

And whether for sickness or personal time, we also asked the community if the pandemic has impacted time off requests. The responses were overwhelmingly yes — the pandemic has had a significantly negative impact on healthcare professionals’ ability to take time off. 

Here is a small sample of their responses.

“Colleagues and I told that we weren’t allowed to take vacation time.”

– Physician

“Very little time off and forced overtime.”

– Registered Nurse

And more than one person laughed at the idea of being able to take time off, with a registered nurse responding, “Time off? Ha!”

Published July 19, 2022

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