22 January 2008

Working when you're ill

Being ill is never pleasant (if we're going to state the bleedin' obvious), but there are pros and cons to being on the sick when you work from home.

I went down with a lurgy on Friday. I'd had a bad headache the day before, which I'd put down to stress and hunching over my keyboard. In fact, it was a warning of a cold that was settling in my sinuses. To be blunt, I felt like shit on Friday, but because I was at home I was able to work in fits and starts. The cleaner was in, which forced me to dress, otherwise I'd have sat in my dressing gown all day.

Had I been at an office, I'd have called in sick, gone back to bed and slept it off as much as possible. For one thing, not going in would have meant not passing on any germs to colleagues (workmates are not generally keen on sick people staggering in). And the main advantage of being employed is that you still get paid. You can stay indoors, wrap up warm and not worry that being ill might make it difficult to pay the bills at the end of the month.

Over the weekend, the cold developed and I spent all Saturday and Sunday in my dressing gown, trying to catch up on sleep and rest as much as possible in order to be fit again on Monday. And indeed, yesterday morning I felt quite a bit better despite a disrupted night. It was not to last. I deteriorated during the day and by mid-evening was sick enough to require an out-of-hours trip to the GP clinic as my lungs had become infected and I was having trouble breathing. The duty GP prescribed antibiotics.

I'm still feeling like shit but at least I can work. I've put back all the non-urgent tasks and tackled only the most important stuff today. Luckily I had nothing booked in that had a deadline, which meant I could sleep in until 10am. Since then I've been at my PC dealing with mails but not really "working".

The advantage of home-working is that these minor illnesses don't usually prevent you from working full stop. It's usually possible to juggle things and take breaks for a nap when you need one. I've avoided the phone the last two days as the lung infection makes speech difficult, especially combined with a rattling cough. But I can still handle email, paperwork and minor jobs. And I can nip to the kitchen at will to brew tea or take medicine.

What I dread is longer-term sickness (she says, touching wood). Freelances can buy insurance to protect against loss of earnings, but I gather it's expensive and can be very difficult to claim (as you might imagine, I don't have any). Like employees, we can self-certify for illness the first 7 days - after that you need a doctor's certificate and then it becomes hideously complicated. I recall a colleague describing how she'd called the DWP about sickness benefit, to be instructed to get herself to a Job Centre to collect a claim form (which is apparently not available online to download). Said form is 56 pages. Now, if you're ill, do you really want to have stagger to the nearest job centre? Bearing in mind that if you are not in an urban area, you could have quite a way to travel. Then there's the matter of filling in a massive form, when what you should be doing is resting.

My advice? Never get anything worse than a cold! And make sure you have at least 3 to 6 months' worth of "pay" stashed in a savings account so that if you really do become incapacitated, you have enough income to live for a while at least without worry.


Juliet said...

Oh I do sympathise bigtime! I had a bad case of lurgy over Christmas and early Jan, and am still trying to catch up with the work that has slipped as a result. Freelancers just aren't allowed to be sick. We can't afford it, finally, it goes without saying, but worse than that is that, unlike our corporate friends who are simply 'sick and not in the office', when you work from home and are unwell you are stil expected, somehow, to struggle on regardless (after all, you can still read and write even if you're in bed, can't you?) and there's not the slighted allowance made or sympathy extended by clients (hollow laughter at the very thought . . .). In fact it's physically impossible, unless actually hospitalised, to be 'off sick' at all. 'Working more slowly than usual' is about as good as it gets . . .

Speaking of which, better stop reading blogs and get on with it!

Juliet said...

PS - get well soon!

Unknown said...

Yes, you've really hit the nail on the head regarding clients. If I really am so sick that I absolutely cannot work, I send an email to any clients I'd be working for that day to explain my unavailability, otherwise they do not take your health seriously. This has only happened twice in 3 years, touch wood. Otherwise, I do what I'm doing now, which is somehow stagger on, even though the duty GP said I needed bed rest. Ha! I should be so lucky. All very well saying that when you're on a nice little earner doing the NHS out-of-hours clinic. Quite another when you are self-employed.

Juliet said...

"Ah but surely, if you're well enough to send an email to say that you're 'ill' . . . then you're well enough to WORK! And you can take a laptop to bed with you, after all (just mind you don't spill Lemsip on it, or chuck up all over it). So I don't really see there's a problem at all and kindly ensure that piece of work is on my desk on Friday (ie before I go for my three-week [paid] holiday in Bermuda) as agreed.

[signed] A. Client."

Unknown said...

lol! It's not happened to me yet. Perhaps I have human clients!

Reminds me of the time I had an epileptic seizure the morning before the afternoon I was due to interview someone I was ghost-writing an article for. Luckily, my other half was home that day and was able to phone my client, explain and get the interview rearranged for following day, while I slept off the after-effects. But not everyone is so understanding.

dougalfish said...

I'm not as sick as you but also came down with the lurgi on Friday - currently sound like darth vader (which is quite handy for scaring off telesales people who seem to call all day at the moment). I waved a horrendous project off on Monday and was tempted to write 'brought to you by the power of Lemsip Max' on the envelope. Then worked through the night on Monday so that the project that had been held up by the horrendous one still managed to meet it's deadline today. Strangely enough I'm slightly cheerful - but that's because I'm finally taking my 'mother's day present', from last year, tomorrow and going to a health spa in the hope that the steam room will blast out the rest of the lurgi. When I was - shock horror - in hospital last Spring I got my other half to ring my clients (with 3 year old crying plaintively in the background for his mummy) and got heaps of sympathy (but not flowers) and understanding about the late deadlines. But then had no work for 2 months :-(

Unknown said...

Dougalfish - my sympathies. I currently sound like a Yorkshire miner who's been down t'pit for pit for 40 years. Even my veg box man backed off down the path tonight when he heard my cough! I kid you not. I think I'll just get a bell and shout "Unclean! Unclean!" next time anyone calls.

But seriously, I hope you feel better soon although I'm not sure going to a spa is a good idea unless you are 100% sure you are no longer infectious.

It's no fun being sick and self-employed, is it?