A reader writes:
I have a coworker whose children unfortunately get sick very frequently. Usually, he catches whatever they have, but comes into the office looking like death warmed over because he doesn’t want to use up all of his sick days. Then, like a charm, his office mate always gets sick a few days later and the illness slowly spreads through the small company.
Well, one of his kids now has the flu. He took some sick time this week to care for the child, and returned to work today seemingly well.
However, since he was in such close contact with the flu virus, the rest of us are very paranoid that he may be contagious without showing symptoms yet…or that with his track record, he will show up even if he starts feeling terrible. So we asked him to move to a private office for the rest of the week “just in case,” to reduce our exposure. As could be expected, he was not very happy, but he complied.
Now I am wondering…did we do the right thing? What is the proper etiquette for this kind of situation where the person is not “sick” yet but very likely will be? Was he wrong to come to work, or were we wrong to prematurely quarantine him?
I think you were completely reasonable, especially considering his track record of coming into work sick and infecting others. His interest in not using up all his sick days is trumped by other people’s interest in not getting sick themselves, and his refusal to recognize that is inconsiderate.
Ideally, of course, his manager would be handling this so that you don’t have to — telling him not to come in when he’s sick, allowing him to work from home when he’s contagious (if it’s feasible for his job, which it isn’t always), and pushing the company to reevaluate how it handles sick leave, if their policy is directly influencing people to infect others. And really, if you have a reasonable manager and a good relationship with him, you might want to consider asking him if there’s something that can be done so that Bob isn’t predictably infecting the rest of the office with his frequent colds and flus.
But meanwhile, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask Bob to take measures to avoid spreading his germs. And the fact that he was “not very happy” about being asked indicates that he’s either remarkably clueless about the impact he’s having on other people or doesn’t think it’s his problem. If you continue enforcing quarantines, maybe that will change.