my employee knowingly brought norovirus into the office and got a bunch of people sick

A reader writes:

One of my direct reports knowingly brought norovirus into the office and didn’t tell anyone about, even after people began falling ill.

Her child had norovirus and was banned from attending daycare until he was no longer contagious. She brought him to work with her and kept him in her office. She did not ask permission to bring him to work. He was still ill but was feeling better, and he came out of her office because there was a potluck and he saw the cake and the food on a table by the coffee maker. It was at this point that she was found out (for bringing him to work) and was asked to take him home. But he had already been in the office for several hours and had been in contact with food from the potluck. She also had him in the women’s washroom and one of the meeting rooms. No one knew he was sick at the time, but other people soon fell ill and also brought the virus home to their families.

One of my direct reports has a child who is undergoing chemotherapy and who had to be hospitalized when she got sick. Another gave it to his grandmother, who resides in a retirement home. Pretty much everyone who works in my section was off sick from the norovirus at some point (diagnosis confirmed by public health).

After public health spoke to the person who brought her sick child to work when they were investigating the outbreak in our office, she admitted to knowing his daycare had a norovirus outbreak and still bringing her sick child to the office. She did not speak up when others started getting sick, even though they had all the same symptoms as her son.

Her assistant also confided to me that she (the assistant) had taken a message from the daycare about the child needing to be picked up due to the outbreak and that he was sick, but she did not know that her boss brought him back to the office.

We have paid sick time and she would not have been penalized for using it. She told public health she didn’t think a few hours was a big deal.

Now everyone is upset with her and no one will talk to her or go near unless it absolutely necessary for work. I am wondering what the best way to handle this is. I got sick and it was terrible, so I understand why people are upset.

Ooooh. I am still nursing a grudge against whoever was the source of a terrible, long-lasting illness I got last fall (it was someone in Scotland, and that’s as far as I’ve been able to narrow it down … so far).  I can understand people being really unhappy about this.

Has your employee acknowledged anything about this since it all came out? Has she indicated that she realizes she made a mistake, that she feels badly, and that she won’t repeat the mistake in the future?

If she hasn’t done all of that, I’d do three things:

1. Have a serious talk with her and ask what she was thinking. If she says she didn’t think it would be a big deal, ask if she’s changed that assessment since seeing what happened. Make sure she’s clear on what you need her to do differently going forward if her son is sick — or if she’s sick, for that matter.

Also, suggest that it would help her relations with her colleagues to explain that she misjudged the situation and feels terrible about it, and that it won’t happen again. She doesn’t need to walk around in a hair shirt, but she does need people to know that she’s taking responsibility for the bad judgment that ended up impacting them.

2. I’m not a big fan of issuing policies or reminders to a whole group just because one person messed up, but this is a situation where your employees would probably appreciate an office-wide statement that sick kids can’t come to work with their parents, so that they have some assurance that you’re invested in preventing it from happening again.

3. As long as people are being civil to this employee when they do need to interact, and as long as they aren’t avoiding her when their work would benefit from talking to her, you can’t insist that they become chummy with her again. But if the avoidance is still continuing after a couple of weeks, at that point it’s probably worth pointing out to them that she genuinely didn’t realize the potential consequences of what she was doing and that she’s learned her lesson (assuming that’s true), and that while her bad judgment here had real consequences for people, it’s not great for any of us if we get permanently shunned after making a mistake.

{ 1,458 comments… read them below }

  1. 42

    I wonder what she was so worried about job-wise, that made her think that bringing her child in with her rather than taking a day off to be with him was the better idea.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      That presupposes that she made the decision with any thought or consideration whatsoever, and isn’t behaving in a manner so thoughtless as to be pathological.

      1. Cat

        I mean, nobody enjoys having a sick child with them at the office. It’s objectively the worst, as is hiding sick child. So I think it’s reasonable to assume she was worried about something even if she made the calculus very poorly.

        1. Covered in bees

          Maybe she thought she could eventually first the child off on her assistant, as a former colleague used to. We had a generous sick leave policy, clearance to work from home as needed, and she worked 9-3. She literally dropped a kid deemed too sick for childcare in the lap of a junior colleague and walked away.

          I wouldn’t assume much about the person involved. Some people really are that awful.

            1. 42

              Clarifying: Not ‘good lord, what a jerk your former colleague is’. Rather, ‘good lord’ that this is even being offered up as a scenario.

              1. Annonymouse

                This is giving me flashbacks to that person who made the receptionist watch her kids in a back room.

                The parallels in behaviour are startling. Just that level of inconsideration for others and their own child is astounding.

                Also the way she has lost the respect and trust of her coworkers from her actions and really can’t get it back.

                The points that get me most are:

                1) child is banned from daycare because they are too contagious. So instead of keeping them home to minimise the spread of disease they bring them to their workplace where there are dozens of people. And their families.

                2) child was hidden in the office -indicating mum knew that having her child there was not ok.

                3) child was taken/wandered into common areas such as a conference room, bathroom and kitchen where a potluck was being held. You can bet mum did not sanitise those surfaces.

                4) mum did not inform her coworkers what she had exposed them to until called out by public health (!) even after her coworkers started showing symptoms and getting sick.

                5) And public health had to get involved (!)

                6) from the tone of this letter I am getting that mum hasn’t really apologised or even thinks she’s done anything wrong – as opposed to being mortified once she realised just how serious the virus is and that her actions caused a child to be hospitalised.

                She should face disciplinary action at the very least for violating the no children at work rule but also for endangering the health of so many people.

                I also think firing would not be unreasonable. She has shown such bad judgement and broken the trust so much that I’d question all her work in the future and her coworkers will never trust or respect her again.

                If she had shown remorse and realisation of the magnitude of her actions it would be different.

                1. MuseumChick

                  Thank you for this. I remember that letter about the assistant watching kids in the back room and I would say that this letter is even worse. That’s why I’m leaning towards the “I would fire her” camp. I wrote about this down thread but I’ll put it here is well, her boss should make it clear that her job is on the line and make it clear that people have been hospitalized and could have died because of what she did, at a minimum I think this woman should be made to sincerely apologize individually to each person who was effected by this, she should be made to offer her sick days to those most effected (such as the person with a child in hospital now), she should be banned from having a child at work unless it is approved by her boss in advance with a doctors note stating the child is not sick, and she should be suspended without pay for a couple of weeks. If she were to balk at any of this I would start moving forward with firing.

                2. Allypopx

                  Yes. I feel like firing should be on the table for exactly that reason, for the purpose of making sure she understands the magnitude of her actions. There are performance issues here, some of which you highlighted, and there were real consequences to what she did. If she doesn’t get that this is a big deal, someone needs to drive it home for her so she doesn’t show such egregious bad judgement in the future.

                  I would probably not fire this employee but I would have a serious sit down in which I explained that it was a fireable offense and she only gets one strike for this kind of thing. And I’d explain in detail the purpose of sick days.

                3. Renna

                  Here here!

                  Unless I am mistaken, this woman doesn’t sound repentant at all. I don’t blame people for not wanting to speak to her, and if she seems downright flippant about it, I’d boot her out the door.

          1. Lemon

            I was wondering what the appropriate punishment is for someone who does something like that, and then I saw your username. :)

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Or possibly she genuinely didn’t know how awful norovirus is and how contagious it is. I don’t think we need to label her pathological. People mess up without being sociopaths.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          Maybe, but even if she was that ignorant, how could she let the kid into the potluck food? That’s what’s got me in a tizzy. I don’t care if it’s a cold or noro or Ebola, if you’re sick, you don’t get into shared food and drink.

          1. AMG

            Exactly! She didn’t just bring s sick kid into work, she was negligent about it for letting the kid touch food, not disinfecting common areas, etc. (and how much work is she getting done while entertaining a PRESCHOOLER???)
            At least 2 people with compromised immune systems were exposed to this because of her. If my child were undergoing CHEMO and she exposed him/her, it would be everything I could do to be around her without incurring an assault charge, much less be civil.

            I strongly disagree with your advice, Alison. She needs to be fired. She was too reckless.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)

              Yeah, I have an immune-compromised child at home – as in, we’d be in the hospital if he got this bug. Someone knowingly bringing it to work would have me seeing red. I get that some people are thoughtless and/or ignorant about viruses, but you’d have to be pretty extreme of both to let your sick kid wander over and touch shared food.

              1. Artemesia

                I agree; this isn’t a kid with a cold or on the second day of antibiotics with strep throat — this is a kid with something that is highly contagious for about 2 weeks (although symptoms only last a day or two for most people, the virus is still being shed for two weeks which is why hand washing is so critical).

                The CEO’s executive assistant brought a child into our offices with chickenpox where there was a pregnant woman and an elderly woman working, neither of whom had had it. The CEO was out of town. I was not her supervisor but insisted she go home immediately as chicken pox is incredibly contagious through the air. What are people thinking who would inflict that on other people?

                1. Zombeyonce

                  Even if people in normal health situations (read: not pregnant or elderly) got it, chicken pox can be incredibly dangerous for adults, even more than for children. I’m glad you told her to go home.

                2. Workin on my night cheese

                  !!!

                  The lack of judgement from people really astounds me sometimes. And kudos to you for saying something!

            2. Fortitude Jones

              I’m right there with you, AMG. As someone who is also immunocompromised with family members who are also in that position, somebody knowingly bringing their sick kid into my workplace and letting them touch all over everything, thus getting me sick and potentially getting my family sick, would piss me off. I too would want that person gone from the office.

            3. Jadelyn

              I agree – she demonstrated a willful, reckless disregard and carelessness about her coworkers safety by bringing an extremely contagious illness to work, even though she had other options (like paid sick time she could’ve taken???). As a result, someone’s child had to be HOSPITALIZED. I honestly don’t see how in good conscience OP can keep that worker on their staff, especially considering the obvious damage it’s done to their effectiveness given that nobody will speak to them anymore.

              1. Sara M

                I agree. Usually I’m with Alison, but I think she’s wrong here. I think this is cause for firing. Yes, a terrible mistake, but clearly shows awful judgment and disregard for company policies.

              2. Nancy Drew

                I fully agree. This is a rare instance where I strongly disagree with AAM’s advice and think it’s way too lenient. This employee needs serious discipline up to and including firing. All of AAM’s advice here is geared toward the scenario where the responsible employee turns out to be rational and apologetic, and from the letter at all, I’m not getting the vibe that that’s on the table. The responsible employee already reportedly didn’t think this was a “big deal” AND didn’t speak up whatsoever once the outbreak started. She was only outed by an actual public health investigation that had to be initiated, which doesn’t sound like a routine matter. Nothing in the letter makes me think she now understands, or will understand, how serious her actions were.

                1. LeRainDrop

                  I totally agree with you, Nancy Drew, Jadelyn, and others. The OP’s letter doesn’t give any indication of the responsible employee showing any remorse or reasonable awareness of the consequences of her actions. In my opinion, the employee should be fired.

            4. Jessesgirl72

              Yes. I’m with you. She needs to be fired. She could have seriously killed both that child and the grandmother. She knowingly brought her contagious child to work- without permission!-let him get into public food, and didn’t even fess up until public health made her do so! There were very serious consequences to this for other people, even if it was just a “mistake” – one that should result in serious consequences for HER.

              1. Sharon

                I agree with you 100%. If the child and the grandma had died, then what? It’s not at all acceptable to take such flippant risks with other people’s lives. I normally agree with Alison but in this case I feel it’s grounds for termination. Ignorance of the severity of Norovirus is no excuse.

              2. Ren

                It sounds like the kid got out of her office and into the food without her realising (which lead to her being caught with a kid in the office). The thought of what else that kid could have gotten into (files, electrical equipment, machinery, onto the stairs and fallen) is a security/safety nightmare in itself. I’d want to check everything else in the vicinity of her office in case there’s other things that she hasn’t admitted to/noticed.

              3. Engineer Girl

                This is the thing. She made a chain of thoughtless bad decisions, not just one.
                * She brought a knowingly contagious child in to work even though she had other options. The day care told her that this situation was so bad the child was temporarily banned. Why then is work OK?
                * She allowed her sick child to touch food.
                * She allowed her sick child to touch the fixtures
                * She didn’t admit the problem until she got caught. This is the most egregious in my book. Even though there were serious consequences, she didn’t take responsibility for what happened. And how could you ever trust her again?
                * I see no mention of her willingness to cover out of pocket expenses for the chemo child’s hospitalization.
                * I see no mention of her attempting to make apologies.

                1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

                  This. I have a problem with her complete refusal to accept responsibility. I do know there are office cultures where admitting responsibility for something done wrong can be the kiss of death (these places are toxic, which probably goes without saying), but this is a big pet peeve of mine. OWN your [stuff]. Everyone has bad judgment sometimes … but you admit wrongdoing and do what you can to make amends.

                2. Manic Pixie HR Girl

                  Having said that, I wouldn’t jump to termination. I would have a serious conversation with this employee and what my expectations are going forward – not just re: sick leave, but in general.

                3. ZenJen

                  ALL OF THIS! And, if this was my coworker, not only would I be livid over the situation, I’d lose all respect for her. She used extremely bad judgment, and the situation got out of hand, and there should be consequences for her bad judgment.

                4. blushingflower

                  to answer the first one, there are plenty of times when kids feel fine and are probably not going to get any adults sick but can’t go to daycare because it hasn’t been 24 hours since they last had symptoms. It’s possible she thought the daycare was being overcautious.

                  HOWEVER, this is what sick leave is for. If you have a sick child who cannot go to daycare, you take leave or you work from home. You don’t bring a sick kid to work where they can make everyone else sick and where they will also be bored and miserable.

                  I wouldn’t go for firing, but I would go for a serious discussion with her and also clarification of what is expected of people when they or their children are sick.

                5. Susan

                  In addition to all of these points, she was already violating company policy for bringing the kid to work, regardless of whether the kid was sick. That alone should be cause for disciplinary action. We can debate about whether she understood the serious nature of norovirus (and I have a hard time believing she didn’t have some idea, if only because the daycare told her about the outbreak of norovirus and banned the kid because he was contagious), but it doesn’t really matter because she violated company policy.

                  I work in an industrial facility, and if I willfully violated a company policy and caused a release of a toxic chemical that made people sick, you better believe I would be in for some serious disciplinary action, and probably termination, even if I didn’t know at the time that what I was doing would make people sick.

                6. Stranger than fiction

                  You forgot brought child to office without permission. She should be written up at least.

                7. college employee

                  Yep. I agree. Everyone makes mistakes but her failure to take responsibility is a major character flaw. And, if I was one of her coworkers, I would never trust her again.

                  If the letter writer doesn’t want to fire her, the letter writer could have a meeting with her to discuss these bad decisions. Have her sign a document stating that she understands why these decisions were bad and that she will not repeat these decisions again and that she will take full responsibility for her mistakes. This document should also explain the consequences if she makes any of these mistakes again.

                  She should also be required to issue a written apology to her coworkers explaining that she now understands the gravity of her mistakes. While her coworkers may never trust her again, a written apology might go along way toward thawing relations between her coworkers and her.

              4. pnw

                They should talk to her to find out why she brought the sick child in and then discipline her up to and including firing her. When my grandson was undergoing chemo he could have died from a virus like this.

                1. Artemesia

                  The symptoms of this are ghastly and miserable. No one can honestly say they didn’t think it was a big deal. I remember the Thanksgiving when I was about 7 and living with my folks and brother in a 1000 square foot house with 26 people visiting one of whom brought a couple of barfing kids. Before that one was done, we had 26 violently ill people and one bathroom and we were sick for a couple of days after they left. This is contagious and people well exposed come down with it in a matter of hours and it isn’t pretty.

            5. Elizabeth H.

              I agree, I find this pretty egregious. It’s not clear if people ever bring a child to work such as that it would be grounds for feedback regardless of whether he/she is sick – in some offices it isn’t a huge deal to have your kid in the office for a few hours but in a lot it would be.

            6. boop the first

              Especially considering that you can’t really disinfect norovirus away. It’s so infectious and it seems to take less than 24 hours to incubate, so it seems like there’s no opportunity to get away from it. My husband told me of an outbreak at a weekend conference, and before the weekend was even over, every single person at the conference was already vomiting. Then he gave it to me, even though I wash my hands religiously. Noro stays home, it’s mandatory!

              1. Artemesia

                Those alcohol gels don’t touch norovirus — only bleach does. Rigorous handwashing helps but the person with symptoms needs to be doing that to prevent it spreading on surfaces and no kids does that adequately and plenty of adults don’t either.

            7. Bonky

              I agree. I strongly, strongly agree. If this was my office she’d have been fired, and I firmly believe that would have been the right thing to do.

              The wife of one of my colleagues gave birth twelve weeks early last year because someone brought norovirus into her office. Everybody there came down with it, but worst of all, the baby was in intensive care for months, because her heart and lungs were so immature when she was born. The person who knowingly came in while sick was fired. (I feel particularly strongly about this stuff at the moment – I am 29 weeks pregnant myself.)

              This woman’s actions have put at risk the lives of a kid having chemo and the residents of an old people’s home. Allowing her kid into the office – let alone the toilets and the food (dear god, the food) is beyond stupid, thoughtless and selfish. It’ll have been clear to her from the preschool’s instructions how dangerous this was.

              I get the strong impression from the email that she’s pretending that she did nothing wrong. That’s an indicator of the level of selfishness right there.

              1. Britt

                Agree wholeheartedly here. I hadn’t even considered the danger to unborn children AND to anyone pregnant…I had walking pnemonia while pregnant and you cannot take *anything* in terms of medication. All of that would have been a cakewalk compared to catching the norovirus while pregnant

              2. VroomVroom

                I’m currently 25 weeks pregnant. This whole thread – and given the fact that the VP of our region was out sick on Thursday and Friday… and is in today… and I needed his signature on a few things… – has me hand sanitizing like crazy. Literally just disinfected my entire work surface, and have probably washed my hands 8 times today already, and hand sanitized double that many times. Every time I leave my office, I hand sanitize as soon as I re-enter.

                Gah. I do NOT want to get this sickness :(

                1. Honeybee

                  @Rex – You can’t use bleach on your skin. I mean, I’m sure that’s not what you are suggesting, but just to be clear. Also, VroomVroom didn’t say her VP had norovirus.

                  Also, the CDC says that alcohol-based hand sanitizers used in conjunction with (not instead of) hand-washing can indeed prevent the spread of norovirus.

                  The study that people cite for this doesn’t show that hand sanitizer is ineffective against norovirus. All it showed is that in care facilities where providers were more likely to use hand sanitizer than handwashing with soap and water for routine hand hygiene (translation: care providers were not washing their hands very often, and were relying on sanitizer – ew), norovirus outbreaks were more likely to happen. That means that hand sanitizer alone likely isn’t effective against norovirus, but combining it with hand-washing might be.

                2. VroomVroom

                  @Rex Technically I hgave some Antibacterial Wet-Naps with aloe. I am also washing my hands like crazy – every time I go into our communal kitchen I get a paper towel, and use that to touch any surfaces. And then I was my hands with soap and water in the sink before I leave the kitchen – since I’m about to eat what I went in there to get. We have a communal fridge, but I keep my stuff in a lunchbox in the fridge anyway so others don’t touch my stuff.

                3. VroomVroom

                  @Honeybee – I think there’s a good chance he had Norovirus considering it’s going around like crazy where I live right now. My sister was hospitalized with it 2 weeks ago and lost 8 pounds. Her husband got it too, but not bad enough to be hospitalized, but he was still pretty sick for 48 hours and lost 12 pounds.

                  So, my money’s on noro.

            8. eplawyer

              As was discussed on the letter about the overly generous sick leave policy, not everyone knows what everyone’s home situation is. You are presuming the mother knew the other employee had a kid with chemo and another one had a parent in a retirement home. It is highly possible this was not general knowledge in the office.

              Quite frankly, this is probably more ignorance than not caring about anyone’s health.

              Let she who has never made a mistake weld the firing hammer.

              1. FOH Manager

                Agreed. There’s nothing to say that the employee knew about the severity of the norovirus, or that a co-worker’s child is undergoing chemo.

                I wasn’t even aware of the affect it may have on pregnancy until I read a comment above.

              2. Kimberlee, Esq

                The kid was sent home with norovirus. What parent hears “your kid has norovirus” and doesn’t Google “norovirus?” Norovirus is absolutely, positively nothing to f*ck with. It’s like if you knew you had contagious pneumonia and came to the office anyway. It’s beyond a mistake, it’s reckless endangerment (in I presume a non-legal but still very real sense).

                1. EmmaLou

                  What parent hears “your kid has norovirus” and doesn’t Google “norovirus?” Probably quite a few. There are people who believe strongly in letting their kids get sick to build their immune system; that you can’t live in a bubble because someone is walking around with it; that we all have to ‘eat our pound of dirt’ in our lifetimes; that some/all vaccines are bad; and they don’t realize that some things are exceeeeeedingly more serious than others. So they wouldn’t look it up. They’d make a mistake. And once faced with it, because they’ve not lived through “(my loved one) has an immune compromised system and could die because of a stranger’s gambling”, they just don’t see the big deal that it is.

                2. Koko

                  Also, “your kid can’t remain here at daycare because he has a contagious illness” should pretty logically extend to “your kid can’t be here at the office because he has a contagious illness.” He didn’t magically stop being contagious just by leaving the daycare facility, and her coworkers don’t have magically better immune systems than the daycare staff and clients.

                3. Lovemyjob...truly!!!

                  @EmmaLou – it’s like you know some of the people at my kids school! My kids currently have 10 sick days each for this school year because people keep sending their sick kids to school where my kids catch it. My son, who has asthma, catches every single one of these and then passes it on to the rest of us. It’s awful! I refuse to be the person who sends the kids to school sick: first because it’s not right and second because my kids aren’t going to learn anything while they’re miserable.

                  I agree wholeheartedly that this woman should have been fired! If she’s not, then I think she’s going to be looking for a job soon because she’s officially the most hated person in her workplace right now.

                4. TootsNYC

                  And even if you do google it, have you seen the CDC info?

                  You can become infected with norovirus by accidentally getting stool or vomit from infected people in your mouth. This usually happens by
                  • eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus,
                  • touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth, or
                  • having contact with someone who is infected with norovirus (for example, caring for or sharing food or eating utensils with someone with norovirus illness).

                  Norovirus can spread quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships. Most norovirus outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.

                  I can totally see that someone might think they’ll keep their kid away from other people enough to avoid these. It doesn’t say “airborne,” and I can see someone thinking that handwashing in the bathroom would be enough.

                  I’m not saying it’s right–no one should bring a sick kid into the office. But this info isn’t particularly alarmist.

                5. kb

                  Because a lot of the reporting around norovirus recently has been related to dining establishments (Chipotle), some people incorrectly think it’s food poisoning and not contagious from person to person. Clearly this is incorrect, but it’s a reason a person would not Google it. Most people don’t double-check things they think they already know (which I’m not advocating for, it just is a common human tendency).

              3. ali

                That’s exactly it. Whether or not she did or didn’t know doesn’t matter. I would be in the hospital myself if one of my coworkers brought norovirus in. Do they know that? No, because it shouldn’t be any of their business. The exact point is you DON’T know everyone else’s situation and that’s exactly why it needs to stay home. It is absolutely a complete disregard of every single other person in that office AND their families.

                1. Jeanne

                  I would be in the hospital too. If you work with more than about 5 people, one of them has an illness or a sick kid or an elderly relative. She doesn’t have to know each person’s situation to know that.

              4. Jessesgirl72

                If I made the kind of “mistake” that sent someone to the hospital and cost my company likely 10’s of thousands of dollars from lost work and an office’s worth of people out on sick leave, I would expect to be fired, and would not fault them for doing so. Because unlike the OP’s coworker, I take responsibility for my own mistakes.

                1. Jeanne

                  Good point that wasn’t addressed. How much productivity was lost from sick days because of this illness? She literally cost the company serious money.

              5. Clumsy Clara

                I agree with this. I think the AAM community is probably generally more conscious of appropriate workplace behaviors, being considerate of others, etc. so people are quickly jumping to “this is inexcusable she should be fired,” when really I think it is a case of severe thoughtlessness. Said thoughtlessness is obviously not OK since she did endanger people, but I am sure there are plenty of people faced with a sick toddler would not think “oh people i work with may be immunocompromised/have immunocompromised loved ones.” It’s unlikely that thought would’ve occurred to me if I didn’t read this blog.

                All in all, I agree with Allison’s advice.

              6. Observer

                I agree on the not understanding the severity of norovirus being a mitigating factor. On the other hand, it’s no excuse that she didn’t know the specifics of people’s home situations. You see, simple common sense says that in any group of people there are going to be some who are either at some level of risk themselves or in regular contact with someone else who is at risk. How many offices have you been in where NO ONE has a young child, aged relative, sick relative or pregnant relative?

              7. Kat

                Daycares and other schools actually have materials on the norovirus and if there is an outbreak they tell the parents and give them papers about the virus. So the fact that commenters are saying she wouldn’t know the dangers of the norovirus make no sense to me. This happened to my nephew at his daycare with the norovirus and foot and mouth and the employees not only explained it to parents, but gave them papers on what to do/what not to do. They also told them to call their doctors if they had questions/concerns about what to do.
                She most-likely knew the impact of the norovirus and brought her kid in anyway. Also, it doesn’t matter if she didn’t know about other family situations. You don’t knowingly bring a contagious virus on other people. You also don’t lie about it. That to me is a firing offense. What would have happened if the child with cancer died? Or who knows if it has made it worse for her in future? What else is she lying about or doing at work?

                I caught the norovirus once (from a nice restaurant in London) and it was awful. It was the worst experience and bringing in your child to work or school when they are that sick makes no sense to me (or even when they are getting over it). To me it is a lack of common sense or decency all together.

                1. VroomVroom

                  The most-likely is kind of an irrelevant fact here. IF she didn’t know, she willingly ignored the information she was likely supplied (from daycare, from pediatrician, from google) regarding it. Which means even if she was still ignorant, she was WILLFULLY ignorant, which is equally bad as being fully aware of the ramifications and bringing the kid in anyway.

              8. Honeybee

                Sure…but that’s why people should always assume that they have the potential to be around someone immunocompromised when it comes to highly contagious and potential dangerous pathogens. You can’t always know and people don’t always feel comfortable disclosing (especially for something stigmatized, like HIV).

            9. Tequila Mockingbird

              I, too, think Allison was WAY too easy on this person. Being fired is the least of it. I think the OP should contact the CDC and local public health authorities, and look into having her criminally prosecuted. People could have died from her idiocy.

              1. Cat

                This is just silly – nobody prosecutes people who come to work sick, and nor would they. There’d be zero resources left to do anything else.

                1. Tequila Mockingbird

                  Allison – I have never replied in “all-caps” to anyone here, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to, or if you’ve confused me with someone else. “O RLY” is an old internet meme.

                2. Honeybee

                  @Tequila Mockingbird – There are relatively isolated incidences in which people have been prosecuted for negligence for not following public health edicts, but it’s relatively rare to prosecute people for simply being out in public sick. In the case you cited above, this was a person who had a particularly dangerous form of tuberculosis AND ignored treatment directions from an actual medical provider (not a day care center) repeatedly (he was given five opportunities to follow directives).

                  Moreover, I’m not even sure that this is the outcome we actually want in cases like these. Aside from the insidious socioeconomic patterns that are usually present in these cases (the county officials admitted most of the TB patients they have prosecuted in the last 30 years are drug users whose street drugs interfere with the TB drugs), jailing people is not going to prevent the spread of serious illness – putting people in an enclosed and likely overcrowded spaces with poor medical care is only likely to jumpstart the epidemic.

            10. Lauren

              She was BANNED from daycare. That makes her VERY AWARE of how contagious this was. That kid with cancer could have died. Those elderly residents could have died – do we even know if any did as a result? This person didn’t think it was a big deal when talking to the health department????

              I would fire her if she isn’t showing any remorse, because OP is about to lose several people instead of just one over this carelessness. SHE KNEW. That is why she was hiding the kid. I would quit if that was my kid / relative that could have died over her disregard for other people’s welfare and I’d be watching my boss’ handling of the situation.

              Some people prob will think I am over-reacting, but my reaction DEPENDS on this employee’s reaction to the serious talk that Alison suggested to OP. If the employee continues to think its no big deal, your other employees will start quitting over something like this – because it looks like you took no action.

                1. Siberian

                  Yup. My child was excluded for a “rash” that I pointed out was not a rash, but once they decided it was a rash, he could not return until a doctor saw it. It was keratosis pilaris (those white bumps a lot of people have all the time on the back of their arms). I worked for years on child care health and safety materials so I’m sympathetic to their position and the regulations, etc., but when this happens frequently it can have the effect of desensitizing people. Not excusing, just providing that context.

                2. aebhel

                  Yeah, my kid’s daycare bans kids with colds. Which is reasonable (and I’m certainly not going to bring a miserably sick toddler into work with me even if it is just a cold), but it doesn’t necessarily follow that ‘daycare ban = deadly illness’.

                  I don’t think the employee should necessarily be fired, but she needs a serious talking-to. She was at minimum extremely irresponsible and dishonest.

                3. paul

                  No joke. I had to get a doctor’s note that my kid had eczema or they were going to not let him go in with a “skin condition”. And they want 48 hours clear of any fever or puking. Which, I can understand, but even with decent PTO I can’t afford to take 2-3 days off anytime either kid spikes a small fever or hurls.

                4. Callie

                  Yeah. And I’m not sure how a daycare could say “your child has norovirus”. I mean, teachers aren’t even allowed to “diagnose” things like ADHD, becasue we aren’t medical professionals. We definitely can’t diagnose illnesses. We *can* say “hey, your child is throwing up, please come get them from school.”

                5. Temperance

                  @Callie: the Health Department could very easily identify an outbreak of norovirus. It’s not about diagnosing a kid (and IMO, it’s a very silly statement to compare dxing norovirus to dxing ADHD, which is mental/behavioral and not vomiting/pooping like mad), it’s about protecting everyone else.

                6. fposte

                  @Temperance–it’s not that easy to identify, since they actually have to test stool, so I doubt a daycare is doing that on its own; it’s also not clear to me if public health was involved at the daycare stage. So this could also be just a big GI outbreak that daycare guessed was norovirus or used “norovirus” broadly for NLV and turned out to be right when public health tested it.

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Yeah—something being highly contagious isn’t the same thing as it being severe. Lots of low-grade medical issues are highly communicable and are unlikely to kill folks (e.g., lice).

                  Norovirus is particularly nasty, but I don’t think having your child “banned” is an indicator for (a) whether your kid has a medical issue at all, or (b) has a severe medical issue. It’s just a signal that whatever your kid has might be contagious, and the daycare is trying to mitigate risk to other kids by being overly cautious.

                  I’m not excusing coworker, but I think the “everyone knows norovirus is awful! she should have known when her kid was sent home!” line of reasoning is a little weaker than folks realize. Whatever she did after people were getting sick might be another matter, but I think the bringing your possibly sick kid to work for what you thought was a few hours might not be as egregious as it’s being described here.

              1. Teclatrans

                Yeah, I am wondering if some folks don’t know that daycares are very rigid about attending with signs of illness. Your kid has a fever that breaks at 1pm on Sunday and is high-energy at 7am Monday? Stays home, because the rule is 24 hours after a fever breaks. Now, I know how germs work and realize that this is a good rule (and 24 hours post fever the kid may well be contagious), but so many people truly do not know about disease vectors and how contagion works.

            11. Dust Bunny

              “Angry” doesn’t even BEGIN to describe how I would feel if somebody did this at my office. My mother, whom I see daily because I help her with housework, etc., is a transplant recipient and on immunosuppressants for life. She has ended up in the ER twice when she got illnesses that caused vomiting and/or diarrhea because a) dehydration and b) inability to take medications. She could literally lose her transplant and possibly die because of something like this.

              The fact that the daycare wouldn’t allow the kid back should have gotten the message through, never mind that who lets their kids touch all the food even if they’re healthy? If your kid is too sick to go to school/daycare, the message is that s/he is too sick to be out in public.

              1. Jeanne

                I am transplant too. Two years ago a vomiting illness put me in the hospital for over two weeks, many procedures, a week in ICU, a month recovery. It was nasty. Keep your mom well!

            12. Ellen N.

              I agree that she should be fired. If she didn’t know how dangerous bringing a child with norovirus was it was because she was knowingly disregarding the information. If her daycare insisted that she pick up the child immediately she should have understood that she shouldn’t expose others. Also, she hid the fact that she brought the sick child which indicates to me that she knew at least that she wasn’t supposed to.

            13. Ray

              I agree, AMG.

              If I were this person’s co-worker I would be furious at her, and yeah, I’d never talk to her again unless I absolutely had to. But also frankly I would pretty mad at the company for not firing her. As if the actual consequences weren’t bad enough, someone could have died from her thoughtlessness – that is, if you choose to believe it was just thoughtlessness.

              Since her son’s daycare sent him home and would not let him return until he was no longer contagious, it’s unreasonable to believe her explanation that she thought it was no big deal, especially after her co-workers started getting sick. (And if she really did think it was no big deal – good lord, what terrible judgement that displays). I don’t see how any of her co-workers, especially the parent of the child receiving chemo could be expected to get over this.

            14. DMD

              I was about to chime in. I think slightly stronger methods are in order. Not necessarily firing her, but some type of formal reprimand or discipline based on whatever policy the company has. A mere, “I hope you learned your lesson” talk just doesn’t cut it for me.

            15. turquoisecow

              I think firing is a little overboard. Unless this woman is working in a medical-related position, she might understandably not realize that she’s putting immune-compromised people at risk. Lots of people don’t understand the gravity of health risks, but that’s hardly something that relates to her ability to get her job done.

            16. lokilaufeysanon

              I agree with you that she need some to be fired. It’s outrageous that she had no idea how bad norovius was when she knew her kid’s daycare had an outbreak of it a d a thing she wasn’t allowed to bring him in when he himself got sick.

              And honestly, if I were the parents of the child undergoing chemotherapy that had to be hospitalised because of this woman’s actions, I would be talking to a lawyer.

              1. lokilaufeysanon

                Wow! *and that (in the last sentence of my first paragraph).

                My iPad is on its lady legs, sorry.

            17. Annonymouse

              I’m sorry Alison but I have to disagree.

              This person truly doesn’t get “it” or, at best, has shown such bad judgement that they have lost the trust of everyone in their department.

              I’ll outline all the decisions that could have been changed to ones that impacted people less.

              1) was asked to pick up child because they were “too contagious” to be at daycare. Instead of deciding to keep child at home and stopping the virus spreading they brought them to work exposing dozens of coworkers and their families.

              2) did not ask boss or anyone if it was ok to bring child in to office or if they could take sick day

              3) hid child in office – indicating they knew this was the wrong action to take.

              4) allowed contagious child into common areas – meeting room and kitchens (bathrooms too but it’s not reasonable to expect them to not use the bathroom)

              5) allowed sick child to touch potluck food.

              6) did not inform coworkers what sickness they had been exposed to.

              7) only confirmed it when Public Health got involved (!).

              8) Child was immediately pulled from daycare because they’re contagious but she didn’t think a few hours in the office “was a big deal.” This shows a disregard for the health of everyone in her office when it was clear that this was a big enough deal for her child to be sent home for two weeks.

              And the worst part (for me at least) is that this person has not shown any remorse, mortification (once realising how serious this is) or other indications that they’re sorry and being accountable.

              In my opinion this is a serious enough issue to be written up for or maybe even fired if they can’t get work back on track – much like the one that made the assistant watch her children.

          2. Christy

            You can’t control kids every second. It sounds from the letter like the kid escaped from his mom’s office–not that the mom brought him out to the potluck. It still stinks, and I’d like to think that the mom would have said something (or, you know, kept him home) but a kid escaping a boring office makes a lot more sense than a mom knowingly taking her kid to the potluck.

            1. AMG

              Or the bathroom?? or it’s a small child who is going to touch everything because that’s what kids do. You can reasonably expect–you should absolutely expect–your infected child to be Touching Stuff.

            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              Distinction without a difference, IMO. Still reflects a level of bad judgment, because any parent knows that you can’t control kids every second, and that’s why they’re not to be brought to work.

            3. Kate

              Except even after other people started getting sick with the exact same symptoms her kid had, she said nothing. I think she knew what she was up to when she brought him in.

              1. Bwooster

                I’m guessing that when people started getting sick she was scared of getting fired.

                I think it’s fine to think she was exceptionally, negligently thoughtless without considering her a sociopath.

            4. Tuxedo Cat

              I’m not sure it makes a significant difference. To me, both scenarios show poor judgment with one being somewhat more egregious.

            5. LoiraSafada

              Sorry, but if you bring your kid into the office when it’s not allowed or encouraged, not watching that kid like a hawk is even more egregious.

            6. chomps

              But the mom DID knowingly bring her kid to the office. If the kid weren’t there, this wouldn’t have happened.

              1. Marcela

                Are we sure? She was exposed to novovirus anyway, and she herself could have spread it to her coworkers and families.

                1. VroomVroom

                  Yea but she **has sick leave** so once she and her kid were exposed she should have stayed home.

                  No one faults anyone for an accidental exposure. Like if she got it from her kid and came in before she knew it was norovirus, but stayed home after she knew, the scenario would be different.

                  Like the VP of my company who was out last thursday/friday for being sick. He’s in today, but is in his office with the door closed except when absolutely necessary. He says it’s been 48 hours since he was symptomatic. But I’m still washing my hands like crazy.

                  If I did get sick, I’d probably be miffed and think I likely got it from him (I needed his signature on something today) but I wouldn’t fault him – because I am aware that he’s done everything possible to not be contagious, and I’m also taking precautions of hand-washing like crazy.

            7. Jesmlet

              That’s not the only part of the issue though. She brought a contagious child into her office. Even if he sat in the office all day, he was bound to touch something and spread it around. Such a serious lack of judgment. It takes less than a minute to google norovirus and figure out it’s not something to screw around with.

            8. Rusty Shackelford

              You can’t control kids every second.

              You can’t “control” them but you can absolutely confine them. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to keep a sick child corralled in your office. And if you can’t – because you have to leave your office frequently, or because he’s a Tasmanian devil who simply can’t be contained – then you should know it’s not going to work and you should never, ever bring him to your office.

            9. ali

              And that’s yet another reason the kid shouldn’t have been in the office in the first place. If you can’t control the kid every second then the kid shouldn’t be there. Period.

            10. Elizabeth West

              This is true, and if a healthy kid escaped and grabbed some cake, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But a sick child (especially one ill with an EXTREMELY contagious disease that is well known) should not have been there in the first place.

            11. Lovemyjob...truly!!!

              “You can’t control kids every second.”
              This is exactly the reason why she should not have brought the child to work.

              And she said nothing to anyone when she realized her kid had left the office: “he came out of her office because there was a potluck and he saw the cake and the food on a table by the coffee maker. It was at this point that she was found out (for bringing him to work) and was asked to take him home.”
              This is the moment she should have said “OMG, I am so sorry. I should let you know that he was kept out of the daycare for possible norovirus. Please don’t eat this”

            12. ABizzle

              ….the child couldn’t have escaped if she hadn’t brought a sick child into work so that point is pointless.

        2. Dan

          I’m willing to cut the “offender” some slack. Quite frankly, I go YEARS between getting anything beyond the sniffles. The only reason I have ever even heard the word “norovirus” before is because I cruise from time to time, and that is the one systemic thing that happens on ships that makes news.

          I can also see how someone would think that children’s immune systems are weaker than adults, so what would shut down a daycare wouldn’t even make a blip in the office.

          Somebody made a bad judgement call, and doesn’t deserve the heat she’s getting here, UNLESS she knew what she was doing and didn’t care. But if she (and her kid) are generally healthy, it’s easy to see how someone acted out of ignorance.

          1. Leatherwings

            +1
            A serious conversation in which she expresses embarrassment and remorse plus promises to never do it again is plenty.

            Obviously if she blows off the serious conversation, that’s a different story but there’s nothing here indicating that that would be the case.

            1. New Bee

              I agree. Alison recommending a first step that’s not firing /= her saying firing isn’t a reasonable option. To me, it was implied that if the employee doesn’t show remorse more serious consequences would be warranted.

            2. MWKate

              Agreed. Clearly, her actions show questionable judgement. The fact that she wasn’t forthright about what happened when people began getting sick is even worse IMO.

              However, I don’t think firing her right off the bat without a discussion and allowing her the opportunity to address it head on would be appropriate. If in the meeting she doesn’t understand that her actions endangered others, or doesn’t recognize the repercussions on the sick child or the grandparent that is another story. However, without that discussion you can’t know what her thought process was. I doubt it was “Yes, let me take my kid in and infect everyone.”

              Now – I’d be furious if I were a coworker. It would be really hard to look at this objectively if I were the one that got sick, or especially if my child were the one that ended up in the hospital.

          2. Jessesgirl72

            There were serious consequences to people because of her “mistake” That warrants there being serious consequences for her. Not just a talking to!

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Speaking more broadly than just this situation, that’s a really punitive attitude that won’t normally make for good management. People sometimes do make work mistakes with serious consequences. If they’re an otherwise good employee, often a serious conversation is the appropriate response. If you get into a “serious consequence for us means serious consequences for you” mindset — a punishment mindset — you’re going down a weirdly punitive path that generally isn’t going to get you good long-term outcomes.

              1. FOH Manager

                +100000!

                I really think a lot depends on the woman’s attitude once the seriousness of the consequences are made clear to her – LW an update when you’ve talked to her would be awesome.

                She may not have realised and may be genuinely horrified once everything has been laid out to her – I don’t think an immediate firing is the right thing here, and jumping to the worst possible punishment immediately is not a reasonable reaction IMO.

                Of course, if she did bring in her kid KNOWING the severity of the virus, and still doesn’t think it is a “big deal”, that’s different.

                1. SignalLost

                  I can’t reply directly to Elizabeth West because of nesting, but there are two very different ways to frame that.

                  1) Oh gosh, I didn’t realize it was a big deal!
                  2) Who cares, kids get banned from daycare for every little thing, it’s no big deal.

                  We only have the OP’s experience of the situation to say whether it was 1 or 2. Certainly the fact she’s still saying it’s not a big deal (apparently) suggests that she’s operating with 2, but I can see where she was operating with 1 and it comes off as 2 in recounting. I don’t see doubling down on how it doesn’t matter as the winning strategy here, but if she’s got her back up because people are angry with her, she might. I’m also not trying to excuse her, but I think there’s degrees of unfair behaviour on both sides here. Hers is certainly more severe at this point, but it could have started as a mistake/misunderstanding of what norovirus is.

                2. Catalin

                  @Elizabeth West and Signal Loss (but also the angry mob that seems to have formed here),
                  1) Suppose Public Health official roll up and ask you about something like this and you’re the culprit. What are YOU really going to say, “Well yes, Dr/Officer/Agent, I knew he’d probably get the whole office sick but I just didn’t give a damn.” Human nature is going to get 9 out of 10 of us to hedge our responses because of consequences.
                  2) It is possible that the culprit coworker could have spread the virus to a lesser extent without the child’s presence: it wouldn’t have been to the massive scale without little Robbie touching everything in sight, but people do carry viruses as secondary sources.

                  That said, there’s no excuse to bring a sick child to the office. Kids are germ factories and you may not realize that the woman you passed in the hall near the copier has a compromised immune system.

                3. FOH Manager

                  I must have missed that she actually told public health it wasn’t a big deal – thought that was said to manager/coworkers.

                  I’m not saying that the end result shouldn’t be firing, but that shouldn’t be the first and only option, IMO.

                4. TootsNYC

                  The OP said this:

                  “She told public health she didn’t think a few hours was a big deal.”
                  Didn’t–as in “when she made the decision to bring him in for a few hours.” That’s how I read that.

                  That’s a far cry from “still doesn’t think it is a “big deal”. ”

                  She thought he wouldn’t be able to get fecal matter in other people’s mouths in a span of a few hours.

              2. Lissa

                Yeah, I totally agree! I think it should be less about the consequences of the mistake and more about the mistake itself. I do think this was really bad (and I’m one who thinks the attitude of “you got me sick” is a bit overblown in some cases) and she should be talked to, but I don’t see what good doing more would do.

                The woman’s attitude here is so important.

                1. Amy the Rev

                  I agree- the consequences shouldn’t necessarily be a factor in the response to this situation

              3. Mike C.

                And when those work mistakes seriously affect the health and safety of others those people get fired. Immediately. You don’t endanger your co-workers, that’s inexcusable.

                1. Kate

                  Agreed. People were hospitalized because of her “mistake”. What if someone had died?

                  To me, as I mentioned above, the big blaring warning sign is the fact that people had symptoms exactly like her son’s and she stayed silent. And now that she has gotten caught, from what the LW doesn’t mention, she hasn’t even apologized, just made excuses for herself.

                  It isn’t just that she brought her son in with norovirus, it is all these things combined that makes me think she should be fired: the lying by omission, the lack of remorse, etc.

                2. Mike C.

                  If there was a public investigation, there is likely going to be samples taken. From there, it’s a basic lab exercise to determine a rough order of infection. I used to see this done with food-borne illnesses all the time.

              4. EAB

                She didn’t make a work mistake that had serious consequences for the employer. She made a mistake that cost her co-worker hundreds or thousands of dollars in hospital bills *out of the co-worker’s personal pocket*. Is her apology going to pay those bills?

                As a manager, I expect that employees will mess up sometimes and hurt the company. I’ve made those mistakes. But to me, there’s a big difference when your (avoidable and foreseeable) mistake has serious effects on co-workers’ health and finances. That’s worthy of some consequence, IMO.

                1. AMG

                  She made a mistake that most likely cost her co-worker hundreds or thousands of dollars in hospital bills *out of the co-worker’s personal pocket*. Is her apology going to pay those bills?

                2. Artemesia

                  If a child was hospitalized then that family is going to be out thousands. No American is hospitalized without it being very very expensive even with insurance.

                3. Chicken

                  Artemisia, it’s just not true that hospitalization ALWAYS costs thousands out of pocket. My previous insurance had a copay of a flat $250 per hospital admission, no matter how long the stay was (it was very good insurance!). Also, a family with a child undergoing chemo is very likely hit their out of pocket maximum for the year, meaning that there are no copays and no costs for additional care.

                  (None of this is to say that it isn’t a serious situation, or that having a child hospitalized isn’t horrible and awful and terrifying. The situation is bad enough without inventing additional problems that may or may not exist!)

                4. TL -

                  @Artemesia not necessarily. The kid is already on chemo and with the ACA and/or depending on what state they’re in, it’s quite likely they’ve hit their out-of-pocket max. It’s also possible their kid’s health costs are covered through a benefactor organization; my youngest brother had a back condition that was 100% covered by Shriner’s and had he broken his back, that would’ve been covered as well.

                  My insurance, IIRC, covers everything above maybe $10,000 out of pocket? That’s including deductibles, copays, coinsurances – there is a magic number where I have to pay $0 for anything for the rest of the year. (I hope I never hit that magic number.)

                5. Artemesia

                  To those who think it won’t cost money — my daughter recently had a miscarriage and has ‘good insurance’ — they were out of pocket a thousand dollars. My husband had an ER night with tests and we were out 3 thousand with medicare and medigap insurance. Medical treatment in the US usually means big money.

                6. fposte

                  @Artemesia–it’s all over the map, actually. My first spine surgery I was out $10k until I beat them down; my second a couple of years ago was covered 100%–I didn’t pay a dime. So it’s by no means automatic that it would be costly.

                7. Dot Warner

                  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that even if the family didn’t have to pay a dime for the hospitalization, the child still could have died. And if the employee doesn’t care about that, then yes, firing her is the way to go. If you can’t get worked up about something that important, I don’t hold out much hope for you taking your day-to-day responsibilities seriously.

              5. Critter

                Is it common for someone to be fired for something like this? I know it’s happened, since other coworkers have seen it happen, but it is something employers have the right to do?

              6. PlainJane

                I think “otherwise good employee” is important here. She showed appallingly poor judgment, but if that’s an anomaly for her, I can see a serious talking-to–and I’d add a written reprimand to reinforce the seriousness. If she has demonstrated poor judgment in other instances or has other significant failings as an employee, then I’d be inclined to fire her.

              7. pnw

                I think a lot of us are reacting to the idea that our loved ones could have died from her carelessness. The idea that my grandson could have died because this woman didn’t want to take a few hours off work horrifies me.

              8. ABizzle

                Ummm sorry I know this is your job but you suck at it right now. She didn’t accidentally make a mistake…her actions were with purpose and she knew they were wrong. Your mindset is to hire people who don’t consider their coworkers and put themselves when they know they are endangering peoples health. It is wrong to keep someone working in an office who almost killed two peoples relatives and feels know remorse for it. She would be fired in a second if I were her manager and I manage 19 people right now and am getting another batch soon because I have done so well over the last 5 years. I would never force people to interact with someone whose actions (not careless actions but purposeful actions could have led to their love ones death. You are defending this woman way too much. Imagine if you were in those workers shoes for one second. If I almost killed people because of an action I committed on purpose I would be fired and I home she is too.

            2. JB (not in Houston)

              We don’t yet know though that she was reckless rather than a mistake. We don’t know that she knew how bad a norovirus can be–I work with plenty of people who wouldn’t. Kids get sent home from daycares and schools with illnesses that adults would go to work with. We don’t know if she felt pressure from her boss or colleagues to get a project done and not miss work. I agree that she made a terrible decision, which should have consequences, if she knew how bad it was, didn’t have any reason she had to come in, but she did it anyway. But we don’t know that.

              1. KR

                Honestly I didn’t know how bad norovirus can be until a few years ago when I became a supervisor at my old job, because it was one of the five big illnesses that we had to send people home with if they had any symptoms of. I could see how a clueless person who has never had a food service or customer service job might not know too.

                1. paul

                  That seems like a *really* odd job duty for a manager (unless you were a nurse or something). I mean a lot of noro symptoms are pretty common to other illnesses too, how is a manager at a retail store/random office/whatever supposed to know?

                2. The Strand

                  KR,

                  Out of curiosity, what are the other four illnesses that they were careful to send people home with?

              2. Jesmlet

                It’s bad judgment not to look up what it is, bad judgment to not clear it with management before bringing him in, and bad judgment not to watch him once he was in the office. Layers upon layers of reckless decisions.

                1. Kimberlee, Esq

                  Yeah, the part that gets me is not knowing how severe norovirus can be when you’ve been told your small child has it. And then bringing the kid to work without, apparently, looking into that at all…

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  When was she supposed to look it up? When she was called in the middle of the day to get her kid who, for all she knew, had food poisoning or a stomach bug? Or was it when she was trying to figure out what to do with her kid given that she was unaware that there was a company policy re: kids at work?

                  I feel like folks are assuming the absolute worst of coworker without putting personal experience into context. She didn’t make great choices. And there’s certainly a universe in which she could have just been a really horrible, selfish person. But there’s also a world in which she could be a frazzled mom who was just trying to get through that day and who didn’t realize her kid was sick with a serious communicable disease.

              3. PlainJane

                I’d argue it’s very poor judgment and extreme selfishness to bring a sick child to work with you, even if the illness is just a cold. You don’t expose co-workers to your child’s illness. I’d be a little more forgiving if she had no paid leave–desperation leads to tough choices–but in this case, I have exactly no sympathy. I’m a working parent, and my child’s illnesses are mine to deal with. I don’t inflict them on my co-workers.

            3. Leatherwings

              A serious conversation with your boss in which you’re told your judgement was seriously lacking and you put a bunch of people at risk is a consequence in most places. It’s an (AT LEAST implicit and likely explicit) warning that you need to be more thoughtful in your decision-making going-forward.

              I’ve had a few of those conversations with bosses before and it put the fear of god into me because I knew I had to step up and do better.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I can’t get behind this. We all do things during work that could have serious consequences for others. Even getting in a company car with a coworker and driving someplace is risky. And a lot of the time we undertake those activities with no malicious intent, let alone because we’re being selfish.

              The coworker’s prior knowledge of how serious this was matters a lot, imo. She may not have known her kid had norovirus at the time she brought the kid to work, and it’s also possible she had no idea how serious and contagious it is. If I got a call that my kid was puking and had to leave daycare, I would first assume they had food poisoning, and my second guess would be stomach flu. Norovirus would be so far down on my list that it wouldn’t even occur to me. Bringing her kid to work was not great, but it could also have been that she didn’t know/understand the policy re: kids.

              I think she made a lot of mistakes that had serious consequences, and that merits a frank conversation. But I don’t think it’s right to whip out the pitchforks and torches—even if there are serious and scary consequences stemming from the coworker’s actions—without knowing the full story from the coworker’s perspective.

              1. lokilaufeysanon

                She knew. It was the reason he wasn’t allowed to go to daycare – because he had the symptoms and the daycare also had an outbreak of it. Plus, her assistant knew. There is no way that I believe this woman didn’t know, given the facts of the letter. She knew and she snuck him in anyway and a whole bunch of people got sick as a result – including a co-worker’s kid who wasn’t undergoing chemotherapy.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  You don’t know that she knew. You’re inferring it because you think she’s evil. It’s possible for there to be a noro outbreak and for her child to be sick with something else. We also have no idea what the kid’s symptoms were. Was it a low-grade fever? Puking? Either one could be a sign of norovirus, or a sign of nothing serious at all.

                  I’m truly not being cavalier about this—I’m an immune-compromised person (who doesn’t “look” like it) who has extremely strong feelings about sick leave policies, public health, and the workplace. But I think there’s a rush to judgment because of what happened after this incident took place. What if there had been no kid going through chemotherapy? Would you feel equally outraged? What if what her kid brought was the flu—which is equally dangerous to a chemo patient and almost as contagious as noro? Would you be more forgiving if she had apologized or indicated that she made a mistake?

              2. The Strand

                I agree with you, Princess. There are plenty of decent, loving, *ignorant* people out there who have no idea how serious this or that illness or practice is.

                So much hinges on what she knew and how she reacts to the stern discussion her supervisor needs to have with her.

                This situation reminds me of the tragedy involving ’40s movie star Gene Tierney, famous for “Laura” (a story that was actually adapted for the Agatha Christie novel, “The Mirror Crack’d”). Tierney was in the early stages of pregnancy and on a tour of military bases, when a young servicewoman who had (IIRC, symptom-free) German measles broke quarantine to see her. Tierney was exposed, and her child was born severely handicapped; she was devastated and had a nervous breakdown. The servicewoman had no idea she was threatening the life of Tierney’s unborn child. She did it out of ignorance.

                In the absence of drug addiction or a mental illness, I think most exposures like this are done out of ignorance and thoughtlessness.

          3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            I’m a biologist, so there’s that, but I really don’t understand how people can’t have heard the word norovirus and gathered some concept of what it is and how severe it is, just from reading news and being generally informed.

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                Yes, exactly. I work with people are well-educated and try to keep up with the news, but some of them would not know because they don’t keep up with health news. A lot of people aren’t well-informed on health matters but believe that they are.

                1. Artemesia

                  Well it is ‘stomach flu’ — much stomach flu is caused by the norovirus. But does anyone think ‘stomach flu’ is no big deal.

                2. fposte

                  It is food poisoning, actually–to be more technical, it’s “food-borne illness,” and it’s the most common cause of it.

            1. Leatherwings

              I didn’t really grasp until this post how serious it was. I do read the news, but health news isn’t something I follow particularly closely.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                Please don’t take this as a personal indictment or insult, but…..man, this is why we as citizens need a better grounding in health issues than health news. Health news isn’t reliable, quality basic health knowledge, and it’s written by journalists, not doctors. Given the quality of the health news, no wonder people have off-the-wall ideas about how to deal with sickness.

                Like I said, it’s all the exposure most people get to health education. I just wish there were better general health education.

                1. Leatherwings

                  I mean… this is kind of personal. Personally calling out someone and implying they weren’t properly educated is not necessary.

                2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                  I don’t see why you’re taking it personally. I think there’s several topics about which almost everyone isn’t properly educated, and that’s no slur on them, it’s an indictment of an education system that doesn’t prepare people with knowledge they need.

                3. fposte

                  Though another scientific view would be that there are lots of things that can cause this kind of GI illness and I doubt that anybody ran an assay to determine the actual microorganism here, so it’s a little sloppy to pin it all on the rep of one virus.

            2. PK

              Until I actually got it from a sick nephew a year or two ago, I had no reason to think it was any more serious than a stomach bug/flu. I also read the news pretty regularly so I don’t think it’s unheard of for some folks to not realize the seriousness of it.

              1. many bells down

                I’d never had strep throat in my life until my kid came down with it in kindergarten. I had no idea how terrible that was either! I think it can go for a lot of illnesses; if you’ve never had it, you really don’t know how bad it can be.

                1. SignalLost

                  For me it was a really bad sinus infection. I thought I was going to die from the pain in my face, and I spent a month in bed with pseudotumor cerebri once, which was also not fun. Sinus pain is the utter worst, imho.

                2. Observer

                  And a LOT of people don’t have the faintest idea of how dangerous untreated strep can be. I’m talking about people who you REALLY would expect to know better too – to the point of not giving their kids antibiotics for it!

                3. many bells down

                  @Observer – see, now that you say it, it’s obvious, but it also never occurred to me to consider that it would have complications if you didn’t treat it. Because I’d never had it except that one time.

                4. Observer

                  Scarlet Fever is just one of the possible issues.

                  For instance, the Mayo Clinic has this to say: If untreated, strep throat can cause complications, such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can lead to painful and inflamed joints, a specific type of rash or heart valve damage.

              2. PlainJane

                That’s understandable. What I can’t get past is that she knowingly brought her sick child to the office. Even if she thought the illness was minor, it’s so not OK to expose your co-workers to your child’s illness.

            3. edgwin

              My spouse had it last year. I didn’t catch it. I didn’t realize it spread so easily. I thought it was just like a cold where some people get it and some don’t. I didn’t know that in most cases, if one person in a house gets it, then everyone in the house gets it, because it didn’t happen to my family that way.

              1. Temperance

                I think most adults are generally better at confining their illnesses. When I had norovirus, my husband (thankfully) didn’t catch it.

                I cleaned up after myself, took many showers, and washed my clothes, towels, and bedding on the hottest setting. I also slept in our office/guest room rather than our room, and once I started throwing up, I stayed out of the kitchen and I clorox-wiped the bathroom door handles and toilet seat every time I used them. I wouldn’t expect my toddler niece and nephew to be able to do any of those things.

                1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night

                  I had nonovirus at the beginning of the month (the stomach cramps were so bad I went to the doctor thinking my gall bladder was about to blow). I managed to not pass it along to my husband and adult daughter, but we followed near hospital-level sanitation and I basically quarantined myself in another part of the house until I was no longer contagious.

                2. Ann Cognito

                  This is exactly what I did when I had it just over 10 years ago, when my son was a newborn. I was nursing him, but thank goodness he also accepted a bottle (his older sister point blank refused!), so my husband was able to keep the baby, himself and my daughter completely away from me. None of them caught it. I was really afraid, especially for my son!

            4. AnotherAlison

              Have you ever watched the local news? Everything is reported as if it’s reached pandemic proportions. I’m not so sure the layperson can easily distinguish what are real day-to-day dangers to us, with the way things like Ebola and Zika are reported.

              I couldn’t tell you the first time I heard the word norovirus, but I’m sure it was when I was an adult with kids. Never in HS biology or health, or college biology. I think I had it in 6th grade, but it was called “the flu” back then. As for kids’ illnesses, if you have a kid in daycare, there’s always hand/foot/mouth or fifth disease or some other thing you’ve never heard of.

              We should all be more educated, but it’s not that easy just to pick up this info casually, imho.

              1. LoiraSafada

                The town next to where my parents live had over 800 students get ill at one school this year. Not a lot of critical thinking required. Norovirus is in the news every. single. year. Adults don’t get a free pass for their ignorance, particularly when it can have devastating impacts on others.

                1. AnotherAlison

                  Well, that’s fantastic information for the people in the news bubble where your parents live. Guess what, I don’t really watch my local news. I get ready without the TV on, then I leave. I don’t watch it at night either. I will typically scan the local news channel on the internet, but I’m not going to read a story that doesn’t affect me. If something like that was going around us, I’m sure I would hear about it from friends, family, or coworkers if I otherwise missed it, but why should I clutter my brain with information about what’s going on 100s of miles away from me? Unlike the employee, I do pay attention to notifications of illnesses at my kids’ schools, and I’m kind of a hypochondriac so I will google any symptoms anyone has, but I think saying something is on the news all the time so people should know doesn’t really consider how people take in information these days.

                2. Observer

                  A LOT of things get a lot of airtime. And as others have mentioned a lot of things are treated like much bigger threats than they are. It’s the classic “boy who cried wolf” problem.

                3. LoiraSafada

                  I live 2,500 miles away. I heard about it here. Hardly a “news bubble.” And, again, norovirus outbreaks are in the national news yearly.

              2. FileAllThings

                This. You’re telling me your kid got sick with this specific virus and you didn’t Google it at any point? You didn’t Google to know more info, to know what to do, to know how long to expect it, to know if they’re contagious, especially when deciding to take him into work with you? That just seems like some common sense is missing.

                1. Elizabeth West

                  I would expect a licensed daycare to know, even if the mum didn’t (assuming it was one). Wouldn’t they convey that information to her? They did tell her the child was temporarily banned. They should have some knowledge of the illness–did she disregard it? I would love to know what they told her.

                2. Karin

                  And even if this was a parent who didn’t Google an illness, my child’s daycare gave us literature on various illnesses when they circulated around. I’m told other daycares in my area do the same thing.

                3. Observer

                  Most of the people I know – and I’m talking about the educated ones – would not do this.

                  What’s really interesting is how many doctors actively discourage their patients from googling health information. The official line tends to be “You’ll just scare yourself” The actual thinking tends to be “You’re too stupid to tell the difference between sound information and junk” and “I don’t want you questioning my judgement.”

                4. SimonTheGreyWarden

                  Depends though on if she was specifically told norovirus or just told “the flu.” (I mean, I assume from this story that she was told noro but the daycare on campus here just calls anything that little kids get sick with – from colds to actual influenza to viral things – ‘the flu’.

                5. Jean

                  There are plenty of parents out there who don’t see the need to Google about viruses and illnesses, etc. They trust their doctor. And sometimes it can end up with severe consequences, like the death of a child. I’ve seen it happen.

                  Now, as far as this parent goes, it was a very bad decision to bring the child in, especially because the daycare, if at all reputable, would have given her info about the norovirus. I work at a private school and any time a student comes down with something contagious (other than just a cold), all parents receive an email with what the problem is, what the symptoms are, and what to do if your child catches it.

                6. TootsNYC

                  Tell you what–go google “How is norovirus transmitted” and click on the CDC link. Read that, and tell me whether it sounds like everyone around you is going to get that disease from you.

                  It doesn’t, to me.

                7. TootsNYC

                  I would expect a licensed daycare to know, even if the mum didn’t (assuming it was one). Wouldn’t they convey that information to her? They did tell her the child was temporarily banned. They should have some knowledge of the illness–did she disregard it? I would love to know what they told her.

                  If they’re like my daycare, they handed her a fact sheet like the ones they pass out for fifth disease, et al.

                  It’ll read a lot like the info from the CDC–it won’t sound all that hysterical.

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  @ElizabethWest, you can’t really diagnose noro without a stool sample. I think most daycares are going to say “hey, your kid is puking, it could be x, y, z, but whatever it is, they can’t come back until they’ve stopped puking for 48 hours” (at least that’s been my experience). I have never seen a daycare diagnose a child unless they have a health professional on staff (RN, PA) or unless the issue is easily identifiable by non-professionals (e.g., lice). But I have seen them require medical clearance or a demonstration that your kid is no longer symptomatic before they can come back.

                  Based on the story, it sounds like she had to leave work to get her kid and came back to finish the workday. For all we know, she’d have taken her kid to the doctor the next day.

                  There are so many other, more common stomach/GI illnesses that I would assume a kid had before I think of noro. If my kid gets the flu, I’m not going to assume they have H1N1 without taking them to the doctor. Nor am I going to google the symptoms and try to diagnose them myself unless something seems very out of the ordinary.

            5. Anna

              Literally had no idea how severe it was until I caught it. It’s not that unusual to not be entirely familiar with something if you’ve only ever heard it referred to on the news.

          4. AD

            Well, glad it hasn’t been an issue for you but others may have different experiences.
            And if, as an adult colleague, someone knowingly comes into work with norovirus, that would be a “bad judgment call” that would get plenty of wrath in my organization and for good reason. As someone said earlier, whether it’s norovirus, mono, flu, or whatever there’s little excuse for an adult to be ignorant of the effects of viruses, sorry.

          5. paul

            Yeah. I’m not exactly Mr. Live and Let Live but the attitude here among a lot of commentators is outright bloodthirsty. What on earth?

          6. turquoisecow

            Agreed. I find it’s hard to believe that she willingly brought a sick child to work with the INTENTION of getting her coworkers or their loved ones sick. Seriously. I’ve gone to work while sick – lots of people have. If I had a kid who was generally feeling okay and I had no other options, I might bring him to work. Unless you work in the medical field, it’s a bit outrageous to think that she brought her sick kid to work with the intent of getting others sick, and it’s more believable to think that she simply didn’t realize the extent of the illness spreading – like to immune-compromised relatives. It’s also possible that she herself could have spread the virus even without bringing the kid into work.

          7. Annonymouse

            But wouldn’t the child be vomiting and have diarrhoea?

            These are inconvenient enough that you should be at home instead of an office and obvious enough that this, to borrow from Ron Burgundy, “Is kind of a big deal.”

            These are signs of serious sickness and would point out (to me at least) that my child was infectious to everyone who would come into contact with them or stuff they touched – like sink taps, staplers, door handles or the conference table.

        3. Mike C.

          You mean she’s never heard of norovirus, never heard of any cases of cruise ships full of sick people or couldn’t be bothered to use Google?

          Ignorance only goes so far, especially when so many get sick.

          1. Cat

            I actually think the cruise ship stories reinforce the idea that it’s not a big deal. Yeah, everyone gets sick, but it’s always portrayed as a wacky traveling misadventure.

            1. Kate

              When I have seen those stories, it is never portrayed that way. They always talk about how awful it is and how quickly it spreads. I mean, entire cruise ships with every man, woman, and child flat on their backs because they are so very sick? That is the way I have always seen it on the news, but I haven’t seen the news in the midwest or south, just west coast and east coast news.

              1. PK

                I’ve always thought it was just a result of being stuck in tight quarters for a prolonged period honestly. It wouldn’t need to be norovirus for an outbreak in that situation.

                1. Mallory Janis Ian

                  Yeah, I always thought that it spread quickly because of everyone being in tight quarters with nowhere else to go, and that it was basically a stomach bug that especially sucked because they were supposed to be having fun on a cruise, not stuck in the cabin vomiting and/or having diarrhea.

            2. Mike C.

              Uh, what? Maybe from mean-spirited people on the internet but the reality is that it’s an absolutely terrible situation.

            3. Temperance

              I do not agree with this. It’s always portrayed as a risk of cruising, but a disgusting nightmare. One of my friends was on the nightmare cruise a few years back that spent extra days at sea with overflowing toilets and norovirus … it’s not a cute wacky thing, it’s disgusting at best.

          2. KR

            I check the news every day and I’ve never heard of these cruise ship stories. She made a big decision but I don’t think we can assume she knowingly spread this around.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I just don’t think this is a reasonable expectation. Most of us don’t have knowledge of medical disorders unless we actually experience them or unless they sound like really horrific pandemics (e.g., Zika, Ebola, swine flu, H1N1). I only heard about noro when I met people who went on cruises, and I honestly thought they were one of those awful things people get when they’re in a contained vessel with lax health standards that is crammed full of humans.

                It’s not “negligent” for a non-health-professional to be ignorant of the full range of awfulness that can come from different communicable diseases, even if it’s on the news (assuming one watches the news—I don’t, and I’ve never seen noro written about in a newspaper unless it’s a local news story involving more than 15 people).

            1. Leatherwings

              I don’t understand what you don’t “buy.” I read the news everyday. I have three news tabs open right now. I probably even have run across those cruise ship stories. But this isn’t my field of expertise, it’s not something I deal with ever because I don’t work with the public or kids, so those stories didn’t stick in my mind.

              Yes, I’ve heard of norovirus. The cruise ship thing kind of rings a bell (likely from the news), but I still understand why a mom of a kid with a small fever might not realize how serious the virus really is. This isn’t difficult to “buy”

              And by not “buying it” you’re basically implying that the mother brought in a sick kid intentionally and just didn’t care, and that’s a huge stretch and assigns malfeasance where there is likely just a serious human blunder.

              1. Mike C.

                Because it’s a trivial exercise to type the word “norovirus” into a search engine and find tons and ton of good medical and public health information aimed squarely at the lay audience! This isn’t one of those illnesses that wackjobs try making money off of, so she wouldn’t have to filter that crap out first.

                And surely, if you read the news on a regular basis, you know how to search for things on the internet.

                1. Leatherwings

                  So we’re now villainizing an employee and calling for her to be fired because she didn’t research the illness on the internet?

                  I mean, c’mon. Yes she should’ve done it. I probably would have if I had a kid and she should get a talking to about it. But if we’re coming right down to it and saying that she should be fired for not googling something that’s way out of line.

                2. Mike C.

                  No, she should be fired for putting her coworkers and families in danger and keeping information from public health officials. I’m not villainizing her.

                3. Cat

                  What if she did and found the wikipedia entry that was quoted above and which says it’s mostly harmless and passes in a couple of days?

                4. Leatherwings

                  But Mike, she didn’t do that intentionally. People screw up. She screwed up big time, but it was almost certainly an accident. You’re saying the accident could’ve been avoided if she’d googled it. The logical conclusion of that sentiment is that because she didn’t google something, she should be fired.

                  Even if that’s not the logical conclusion of what you’re stating, I think it’s extreme to fire someone for this as a first offense. We obviously just disagree on that.

                5. Mike C.

                  No, she should be fired because she was told that her kid had a serious and highly infectious disease and decided to take her kid into work.

                  I’m saying that it could have been avoided if she had acted like a reasonable person would have acted.

                6. Amy the Rev

                  Yeah, Cat, that was my thought as well. A quick Wikipedia search makes it sound like a pretty run-of-the-mill thing. Plus I think many of us have been conditioned to think ‘don’t google symptoms/illnesses because the internet makes everything seem worse than it is’. I also had no idea that there was such a thing as ‘immunocompromised’ (aside from folks who have to live in quarantine in a hospital like that boy on grey’s anatomy), until last year. So while I would *definitely* say that co-workers actions were thoughtless/careless, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say negligent or a firing offense. Going into work with a cold could be dangerous for folks with immunocompromised family members, it would seem, and it’s hard to know when you’re no longer contagious with a cold, and often impractical to stay home from work for the full duration of your symptoms (since the residual sniffles can last a couple weeks). The fact that she knew her kid was likely contagious and brought them in anyway seems like the main offense here, not the type of illness it was.

                7. Creag an Tuire

                  Y’know, I just googled “norovirus”, got the CDC’s pages on that, and my first casual browse didn’t make it sound any worse than every other little stomach bug and cold out there. “Usually passes in 1 to 3 days. Some risk to young children and older adults. Ensure hydration. Etc.”

                  I mean, I know better because I’ve had it, but no, its severity is not obvious from Just Googling.

                8. TL -

                  Well, it’s talked about like that on the CDC/wiki/ect… because it is a disease that makes you miserable for a few days and then passes – unless you’re immunocompromised/an at-risk population.
                  It sounds like a miserable experience, but it *doesn’t* sound like it’s actually life-threatening for the majority of people who catch it.

                9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Mike, we actually don’t know that she was told her kid had a serious and highly infectious disease when she picked him up from daycare and brought him to the office. And it doesn’t sound like she kept bringing him in—the letter reads as though she brought him in the day daycare called her, but not thereafter.

                  All we know is that sometime between her kid coming in and others in the office becoming sick, it became clear the child had noro. You can’t punish people because they didn’t do what you would have done; we have to take into account the fact that many good, non-evil, non-selfish people could have easily done the same thing she did.

              2. Koko

                I am not one who thinks she should have been immediately fired – but certainly a serious conversation that, “I am horrified by the decisions you made that led to this outcome and am very concerned about your judgment. I will be keeping a closer eye on you and there cannot be any more lapses in judgment like this,” and then reacting with greater consequences if she did anything like this again.

                But, since we don’t have a ton of info to go on in the letter, I would ask OP about the culture around sick days at her office. At my office nobody comes in sick…ever…even with a minor cold. We all have jobs we can do remotely, which makes it easier, but people will literally say, “I feel my throat becoming sore, I’m going to finish the day at home so I don’t get everyone sick.” We have a culture that tells people to work from home or take a sick day when you need it, no buts about it. Nobody is weighing whether their illness is “serious enough.” It’s an illness, period, and nobody else wants to get it, so the polite thing to do is keep your germs at home.

                I would ask OP, is there anything you can do to cultivate this kind of culture among your employee? More flexibility to work remotely when ill, more senior staff modeling appropriate behavior by staying home for a persistent cough? Ideally your employees never need to decide whether an illness is “serious enough” to be cautious. They will have the flexibility and confidence needed to simply practice good hygiene, which includes quarantining anyone with a contagious illness, period.

                1. Amy the Rev

                  I think this is a great idea, Koko, and reminds me of the LW from a few days ago with the ‘holy grail’ of sick policies….if only more employers could get on board!

                1. AMG

                  I assumed she was basing her comments on the facts as related by the OP. If she cared, she likely would have done something different.

              3. Artemesia

                You have a kid with stomach flu who is barfing and having diarrhea — you KNOW what you are bringing to spread around the office. This isn’t the sniffles.

                1. fposte

                  I’m not sure the kid was barfing and pooping in the office, though, especially if he was interested in the cake.

          3. edgwin

            I thought the people on the cruise ships were getting sick from mass food poisoning. I think that’s what I thought norovirus was until very recently, some kind of food-borne bacteria.

            1. Artemesia

              It can be contaminated food especially if you have sick or contagious workers handling the food. A worker who was sick last week is still able to shed the virus this week and if he doesn’t wash his hands after pooping very very well will be putting the germs in the tacos or the snacks or whatever. And anyone who comes aboard carrying the virus will transfer it to railings and other touchable surfaces. And then someone barfing in the elevator will create a virus aerosol that will infect people who breath that air. Virtually no one washes their hands well enough to keep from spreading it especially after their major symptoms have abated. My 9 mos old once picked it up on a flight (we assume as no one we knew had it and she got sick the night after the flight) She was sick for a few hours and was fine — everyone else got it one after another and were sick as cats. Then completely well we visited my brother’s family in another town and managed to infect them presumably the 6 year old didn’t practice sufficiently good hygiene and gave it to his cousins. We thought we were well and therefore not contagious. It is mostly hand mouth but kitchen workers can spread it through the food as well. And if water tanks get contaminated then that is another source.

        4. kimberly

          My problem is I can’t see someone that is so ignorant that they don’t know how awful and contagious norovirus is, that can be competent at their work.

          She needs to have this spelled out to her. The fact she could have caused the deaths of 2 people and did make their families run up huge medical bills (assuming they are in the US even with insurance for the child and insurance/medicare for the grandmother you know they had huge bills to pay). I have immune compromised people in my life a transplant patient, and a child with cancer. A coworker/student comes down with something like Rotovirus I can stay away for the incubation period.

          She should have reacted like one of the parents at my school. Her grade school kid had a temp just over 100, a mild rash, and that sick kid out of sorts attitude. She sent her other 3 kids to school. She took one to the doctor. He was diagnosed with one of those no problem for most kids viruses that run its course in a week, but huge deal for pregnant women and those who are immunosuppressed. Knowing that her sick kid and another child had teachers who were pregnant, and a 3rd child had a classmate who was getting chemo, she called the school and told them to get her kids to the nurse’s office until she got there. When she got there, the nurse brought them and the check out paperwork out so she didn’t have to drag a sick kid inside (90+ Houston heat/not safe neighborhood).

          The school had the classrooms of that family’s kids and common areas cleaned and scrubbed down. The child receiving chemo got homebound instruction for a couple of weeks on their doctors orders. The school sent home a letter about the virus, making a point of praising the parents (without naming them) for their quick response. Fortunately no-one else caught the virus. The babies were born healthy and the other student is in remission.

          The Mom was apologizing to everyone and she took action as soon as she knew. Later she told me she was furious at her SIL. Turns out a week before the kids had been with their cousins and the SIL knew one of her kids had the virus. She thought it was nothing because no one in the family was expecting. Other people in the general public weren’t even on her radar.

          1. Natalie

            “My problem is I can’t see someone that is so ignorant that they don’t know how awful and contagious norovirus is, that can be competent at their work. ”

            Seriously? Unless the OP works in medicine or public health, these two things aren’t even a little bit related.

            There’s an awful lot of things in the world to know.

          2. Observer

            Do you know why the school sent out a letter praising this mother? Because her reaction was so incredibly unusual.

          3. SimonTheGreyWarden

            For real? My dad is a good guy, a good manager, very competent at his work…I am 20 weeks pregnant with my first…I visited my folks this weekend and my dad didn’t mention until I had been at their house a while that noro was going around his workplace and that he’d washed his hands and wouldn’t give me a kiss when I left. I mean, if I had known ahead of time, i probably would not have gone to visit at that time. My dad’s not incompetent; he just never gets sick.

          4. aebhel

            My problem is I can’t see someone that is so ignorant that they don’t know how awful and contagious norovirus is, that can be competent at their work.

            Unless she’s in public health, it presumably has nothing to do with her work. This seems like a really bizarre overreaction.

            1. Anna

              Seriously. I wonder how many people who don’t work directly with WIOA on this board can give me a detailed breakdown of what it does and name more than one program it touches.

              Probably not a whole lot. Because it has literally nothing to do with their work or interests. But it’s an important piece of legislation. I guess if you don’t know about it, you’re just ignorant.

              1. Emi.

                I like to consider myself a reasonably educated lady, and I’ve never heard of WIOA until now, so there’s that. :)

            2. Jeanne

              That is an overreaction. But to me it seems like she could have opened her phone and typed norovirus.

              1. Anna

                As several people have posted already, even when you do search for norovirus, the information provided does not indicate it’s as horrible as it actually is. And I suspect some of the people here don’t actually know from experience how uncomfortable it can be, they’re just assuming it is. I had no clue what the symptoms were until I actually got it and found out that about 200 other people at the thing I went to had it and there was a Public Health Department inquiry. If not for that I would have never guessed I had norovirus.

              2. Rater Z

                I wouldn’t be able to open up my phone and type norovirus because all I have is a simple Tracfone without internet connection. However, I have heard about it and know it’s something not to play around with. I’m on the internet at home reading the news.
                I work in a convenience store and my boss is upset because people are calling off sick — one of them is on her third round of antibiotics. I wound up in ER in December because I was complaining that I was feeling real tired and coughing bad. (They used to have a prompt-care unit as well, but they had stopped it.) It was diagnosed as acute bronchitis and, for the insurance, it was coded as potentially life-threatening but they didn’t tell me not to go to work. I should have called off a couple of weeks ago when my heart rate was 150 but didn’t. When I told her afterwards, she wasn’t concerned. Just said she gets that as well — I don’t believe it.

          5. Artemesia

            If it was rubella then she could have destroyed the life of a future child of a pregnant woman she passed in the store; that stuff is contagious not just communicable like norovirus. i.e. through the air not just by touch.

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I would really recommend greater sympathy, then. I know a lot of competent, non-negligent, non-ignorant people who do not know noro, strep, whooping cough, etc., are awful and can kill people, particularly babies, the elderly and the immune-compromised. Just because you’re aware of the disease, or your community/friend group is aware of it, does not mean that you’re the norm.

            I work in a region where you can get a life-long, TB-style fungal infection that presents like bronchitis or even pneumonia. It’s widespread here and in Arizona, and nowhere else in the country. I would never be upset at someone for being “ignorant” that this super common, easy-to-inhale spore that presents like a chest cold can ultimately kill you. Absent a showing that this woman was actively behaving like a sociopath, some level of sympathy is in order.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Amen. It’s actually not that scary if you catch it early, but the problem is that most local doctors won’t screen for it until you’ve had it for at least a month or more, at which point treatment is much less effective. It also kind of ruins the outdoors when you know that you might be breathing in aerated soil with fungal spores that will wreck your lungs.

          7. Old Biddy

            I wish everyone was as careful and knowledgeable as your friend. I caught chickenpox at the age of 30 because one of my coworkers’ kids had it. I sat in a meeting with coworker for a hour or two and ended up catching it. People really don’t realize how contagious it is. The worst part was this was a year or two after the vaccine became available, and I had made an appointment for a physical and was going to ask for it then. Sadly, I caught it a week before the appointment. I still have a grudge against that coworker (he was a slacker and a jerk so that didn’t help)

    2. Emotionally Neutral Grad

      In some offices, she *would* be penalized for having a sick child and taking that time off, whether directly or paying a sort of “mommy tax” on her career development. People who learn maladaptive behaviors from toxic environments have trouble shaking them when escape finally happens.

      1. Bee Eye LL

        Agreed! I came here looking for someone to make this post. I used to work with a guy who’d sit there sniffing and snorting all day at his desk while bragging “I’ve never taken a sick day in my life.” Some work places won’t even let you take a sick day until you’ve been there six months or a year. It’s crazy.

        1. boop the first

          This is so true, but there is a huge difference between having a cold and having norovirus. I often never call out sick with a cold, even though I work with food, not just because of a lack of sick leave, but also because of all the guilt tripping from management and sometimes just plain not being “allowed” to leave work. But norovirus?? It’s so short and SO debilitating that there was no question, I did not leave the house. Just say “horribly contagious intestinal explosion” and no one at work will side-eye you, hahaha.

          1. Amber T

            “No one ever questions explosive diarrhea” – my favorite Chelsea Handler advice.

            The other issue is – what’s the sick leave policy for an employee’s child? In my office, I have unlimited sick leave if I’m sick. Now, I’m childless, so I don’t know the policy 100%, but I know at least one coworker who took a half vacation day when she had to pick her kid up sick from school, but another emailed in using a sick day when her child stayed home from school sick.

            The norovirus sucks. It absolutely does. It spread around to half my office about three years ago, and it was 72 hours of pure awfulness, followed by at least a week of blargh. And I 100% agree she used very poor judgement here. But given all the facts we know (and lack thereof), I don’t think she deserves all the hate she’s getting here.

            1. Observer

              This can be a real problem – in many places you cannot take sick leave to take care of a sick child. NYC recently made that policy illegal. Now, if a company has more that 15 employees, they need to provide up to 3 sick days and they need to allow the time to be used for caring for a sick child.

        2. Sprinkled with Snark

          This is absolutely true. I once worked for a public children’s garden, where customers PAID to tour the grounds. It had the worst time-off policy ever. You had to work there one full year before you could get any vacation what-so-ever, then you would earn one week for every year you were there, meaning you might have to work from 12-24 months before you could get a week off. There was NO sick time at all, so if you were sick, you had to take a vacation day. In December, I had worked there about 5 months when they had a “Christmas event” at the garden in the pouring, freezing rain. No visitors came, at all, and yet we had to keep the place open and EVERYONE was sick for weeks, coughing, sneezing, fever, chills, and everyone just kept coming to work every day, coughing all over the butterfly house, sneezing all over the picnic facilities, coughing all over the arts and crafts supplies. I actually came to work (I was a children’s group educator) and kept excusing myself from class to puke in the bathroom. My employer knew I was sick too and wouldn’t let me go home. When it comes to health, some people (like my old employer) are just THAT stupid, thinking people should be able to just work through any illness.

          But this wasn’t the case here. She had a generous sick day policy, and most of us know just how dangerous spreading illness around a closed up facility can be. I DO think she should be fired, or at the very least given a strict warning that a second mistake would lead to her immediate dismissal. She can no longer use the excuse that she “didn’t know” any longer.

      2. Jadelyn

        Which is understandable, but…it was still willful disregard for her coworkers’ health and safety. The fact that she didn’t say anything to anyone about doing it and was “found out” when the kiddo escaped her office strongly implies to me that she knew she shouldn’t have been doing what she was doing, making it not just ignorance but specific and willful misbehavior. So I sympathize, I’m still unlearning things from toxic workplaces I’ve been at in the past, but she got someone’s kid hospitalized. There’s only so much slack I’m willing to cut her for that.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          We don’t know that it was willful disregard, though, because we don’t know from the letter what she knew.

          1. Jadelyn

            “After public health spoke to the person who brought her sick child to work when they were investigating the outbreak in our office, she admitted to knowing his daycare had a norovirus outbreak and still bringing her sick child to the office. She did not speak up when others started getting sick, even though they had all the same symptoms as her son.”

            It absolutely was willful. She admitted to the public health investigator that she knew it was noro and yet she brought kiddo to work and didn’t speak up even when other people started getting sick.

            1. JB (not in Houston)

              No. We don’t know that she knew what that meant or its implications. You can say she was negligent, but we don’t know that she knew the risks and willfully disregarded them.

        2. fposte

          I think willful disregard is really strong–unless you’re willing to admit to willful disregard for people’s safety if you ever go to the drug store when you’re sick with anything (or have ever talked on the phone while driving, for that matter). As noted below, there are people for whom catching a cold could be fatal–are you willfully disregarding their safety if you leave your house when you have a cold?

          What she did was super-stupid, but it’s on a spectrum with you going to the drugstore when you have a cold; it’s more dramatic here because we know the linkage with the consequences and the health department rap on this particular virus (I’m assuming this is actual diagnosed norovirus, since there are other GI viruses, including a group whose official name at least one point was “Norwalk-like viruses,” that can be pretty exciting), whereas if anybody dies after catching our cold we may never know.

          1. LoiraSafada

            Nice false equivalence. SICK PEOPLE ARE EXPECTED TO GO TO THE PHARMACY. Adults are not expected to bring their sick children into the office, particularly when it’s not allowed.

            Also, they have drive-through pharmacies for a reason. Try again.

            1. fposte

              If your drive-through pharmacy will sell you OTC cold medicine, it’s a lot more obliging than any around here. (And if you think drive-throughs were instituted because of health concerns, you have a touching faith in the good intentions of capitalism.)

              My point is that you, yes you, almost certainly every one of you and of course including me, have knowingly exposed other people to health and safety risks. And you have decided that’s okay, usually because you perceive the risk as slight and your behavior as necessary. But our perceptions of risk documentably suck and are documentably self-serving. So while the difference here may be one of a significant degree, it’s not one where you don’t engage in willful disregard of other people’s safety–we all do it.

              1. Elizabeth H.

                I feel somewhere in the middle. Anyone who works at a pharmacy is aware who comes in to the pharmacy and that a lot of them are contagious. It’s like working in a kindergarten or at an airport or as the receptionist for a pediatrician’s office. Probably we should all be washing our hands more often, but it’s reasonable that we perceive greater or fewer risks in different situations and behave correspondingly.

                1. Amy the Rev

                  Pharmacy workers, yes, but other customers going into the pharmacies aren’t necessarily thinking about how many sick people have touched that door handle or that self-checkout screen or that same bottle of brand-name medicine before putting it back to choose the generic brand….I’ve definitely gone into the pharmacy with the flu, without realizing it was the flu (it was early so symptoms hadn’t ramped all the way up yet, which also means I was likely very contagious then). What if some other customer was checking out for a prescription for their immunocompromised kid? I agree with fposte, we all make these snap judgements that may put others at risk but don’t quite fall into the category of willful ignorance/negligence…

                2. Elizabeth H.

                  @Amy the Rev, the pharmacy worker is there all the time so has a much better chance of catching something that walks through the door a couple times a month than does a customer who walks in there once a month.
                  But in general I think that people who are sensitive to these sorts of things (the parent with immunocompromised kid) would be conscious of this. To me it seems pretty straightforward that you try to avoid touching your face after you have been in CVS, before you wash or sanitize your hands. We expect certain environments to *regularly* be exposed to higher level of infections illnesses and that we have a lower frequency of them in others.

              2. AD

                That’s not really the same thing, and lets the employee off lightly.

                She was told her child was banned from daycare because he was exhibiting signs of norovirus. That she didn’t take the trouble to do a quick google search (if she really was clueless on what norovirus is) is entirely on her. It’s not something “we all do”.

                1. fposte

                  I get that we’re a pretty high-information community around here, but I’m willing to believe that even here there are people who don’t Google what their daycare tells them about their kid. (And even if they do, good luck in figuring out whether you’ve found a reliable resource.)

                  I’m not so much interested in letting the employee off lightly as incriminating the rest of us. If we’re going with this Manichaean good/evil approach that seems to be popular in the comments today, we can’t position ourselves on the good side if we’ve gone out into the public symptomatic with anything–or with our kids symptomatic about anything–either.

                2. Elizabeth H.

                  fposte, I agree with you in principle but I think that people are most upset about the employee’s purportedly blase attitude and that is what is causing such a strong reaction in many commenters, even if it’s being expressed here mostly in terms of “how could you be so uninformed, obviously norovirus is an *extreme* thing, etc.” I think that this is a more reasonable attitude than you are painting it. I feel that a lot of people can probably relate to being unaware of something and not having realized that they acted thoughtlessly, but are not sympathetic to making an uninformed mistake that you then learn has serious consequences and then continuing to act like you feel like it’s not a big deal.

                  It might be off base to focus so much on the lack of awareness or carelessness re. contagion as the main problem, given that most of us are guilty of these things in some regards, but it’s an easily identifiable target in this chain of events.

                3. fposte

                  @Elizabeth H–I agree with your summation and many of your opinions today. But I also think if we’re considering the psychology behind what people are saying it’s worth doing that with the employee, too, and that people’s portrayals are getting rather reductive. And while we’re obviously not managers in this situation, decisions about what to do would need to be based on broad understanding of the employee and not just people’s reactions to her.

                4. AD

                  @fposte
                  Reductive might be the case in some reactions, but in others there’s some downplaying going on for sure. The employee, at best, can be objectively assessed as having poor judgment in the sum of her actions. Not sure any deeper psychology is necessary or warranted, though as her manager this one instance would need to weighed against her overall performance and other factors.

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  The problem is you’re mad for how she behaved later. We don’t know what she knew on the day she picked up her kid. And we also don’t know if the daycare told her he had “signs of norovirus.” All we know is he was sick, and it was later confirmed to be noro.

                  I don’t know why she didn’t say anything when others became sick. Maybe she was terrified that she’d lose her job if she said something. Maybe she was already worried because she’d been chastised for bringing her kid in. Maybe she thought they caught this super-catchable disease from someone else. Maybe, when she said she didn’t realize it was a big deal, it’s because she genuinely did not realize that her child had a “big deal” virus on the day she brought him in, or maybe she was not told afterward that noro is a really BFD. It could be that she’s being blase, or she could have been sincere and gobsmacked.

                  What she did was not great. But without knowing more about what she knew, when she knew it, etc., what she did is not inherently as sinister as folks are making it out to be.

              3. Triangle Pose

                I think this a great point. I think many commenters here who are calling for her to be fired immediately are very upset that she has not been outwardly remorseful and letting that fact magnify the blame assigned to her for endangering others with her thoughtless actions. We all endanger others at times for our own benefit/convenience. In this instance the direct consequences are known and devastating but that doesn’t make her more responsible for those consequences than each of us when we take the risk of venturing out in the world and brushing up against immunocompromised folks.

                1. fposte

                  Yeah, from a human dynamics standpoint the problem isn’t so much that her sick kid was in the office, it’s that she hasn’t acknowledged how bad the consequences of this have been for people. If I were her manager, I would have been very firm about her addressing this; I don’t care if she’s sincere or not, I just need this to happen for her to keep working with people.

                2. Jeanne

                  I can see your point of view. But for me part of the firable offense is bringing your child to work when you know you’re not allowed to bring your child to work. You don’t break a rule like that. Sick or not, I would have been unhappy as a manager. Most of us wouldn’t break a rule like that.

                3. Triangle Pose

                  Jeanne,

                  I see your point of view. When you say “part of the dfireable offense” do you mean bringing in her kid and hiding it alone would be enough to fire her? For me that would be a serious discussion but not immediately fireable.

                4. Jeanne

                  I mean it’s a big factor in deciding whether to fire her. Since we don’t know the company, we don’t know how dangerous it was (safety, chemicals, etc). If you know the rule is no kids but you sneak him in and try to hide him in your office, I am not going to feel you are trustworthy. That’s not an innocent mistake anyone could make.

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  @Jeanne, it sounds like she didn’t know that was the policy. And there are lots of workplaces, including my own, where bringing your kid in is not a big deal, let alone a firable offense.

                  @TrianglePose, I think this is really the core issue. There’s all these studies that show that when a doctor screws up, often an apology can prevent a malpractice lawsuit. Similarly, I think this woman’s coworker’s are upset because she hasn’t expressed the kind of remorse they want to see. For all we know, she feels terrible but is keeping her head down because she had no idea how severe this would be and she feels unfairly blamed. Or maybe she really is blase/minimizing and not taking accountability for what happened.

                  But at a minimum, an apology/acknowledgment would go an awful long way.

          2. Jadelyn

            I will just reiterate that she KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING. She told the public health investigator that she knew it was norovirus, she brought her kid to work anyway, and chose not to speak up even when other people started getting sick. That, to me, is what moves it from “super stupid” to “willful disregard for others”.

            And norovirus, while it may technically be on a “spectrum” with having a cold, is so far on the other end of said spectrum as to be out of visual range when you’re trying to see it from the “leaving the house when you have a cold” part of the spectrum.

            1. fposte

              Right, but if you have a cold and go out or go to work you know what you’re doing too, right? So how are you differentiating somebody immunocompromised who gets a cold from you and ends up hospitalized from somebody whose immunocompromised who gets norovirus from the OP’s situation and ends up hospitalized? Are you saying that the immunocompromised people who catch colds from you shouldn’t be out if they’re that fragile, or that if you don’t know about that consequence the possibility doesn’t bother you, or that some viruses it’s okay to be out with?

              I’m not actually arguing for deviation from public health guidelines, but people seem to be pretty readily exculpating themselves when they’ve likely made similarly self-focused decisions, just without encountering consequences.

                1. fposte

                  Of course it’s applicable. Where do you think all the old people who die of pneumonia get their respiratory viruses? From the likes of you and me.

                  I get that you wouldn’t do what the employee did, and neither would I. But the difference isn’t that she was willing to put people at risk for her own convenience, because so are the rest of us.

                2. AD

                  I guess we all have different approaches to health and hygiene, and the like. If I had a kid who was banned from daycare (regardless of how meaningful or not that is) you can bet I wouldn’t take them into work. And if I took them into work, and people got really sick, my reaction wouldn’t be “Oh we all get sick and old/immunocompromised people are susceptible to many minor bugs, so I have no active role to play in the sickness of several people who came into direct contact with my ill child”. That’s a leap I would not make, but I guess some would so let’s move on.

              1. Vin Packer

                Yeah, this. Should people also be fired for not vaccinating their children? Someone close to me is immunocompromised and was on high alert when whooping cough went around again….

                1. OP#2

                  @Mike C, there are many reasons folks don’t vaccinate their children, some of which being that they actually cannot, for health reasons. It is for this that we need all the other parents to vaccinate their children, so that the unvaccinated (and the ~17% for whom the vaccine proves ineffective) will be protected by herd immunity. The act of not vaccinating your child doesn’t inherently mean child abuse. Some children, for medical reasons, actually cannot be subjected to certain vaccinations.

              2. PlainJane

                It’s one thing to go out with a cold. It’s another to bring your sick child to work (even if it’s just a cold). That’s what makes this so egregious to me. She had paid sick time available but chose to sneak her sick child into the office instead of staying home. Most of us working folks get exposed to enough germs from our co-workers. We don’t need their children coming in sick too.

            2. Triangle Pose

              It’s very possible she did not know how serious the norovirus was. Despite being an informed group, many commenters here have said that they don’t watch local news or follow health news closely enough to know how contagious and serious norovirus is. Yes, she should have looked it up and it’s terrible she didn’t, but I think some folks here are being too quick to say she KNEW about the child/grandparent health situation and that she KNEW how serious norovirus can be. We just don’t have that information and it’s clear from commenters here that it’s perfectly plausible to not be informed about the specifics of norovirus.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              It doesn’t say she knew her child had norovirus. It says she was aware that there was a norovirus outbreak at her child’s daycare. I know that might sound like splitting hairs, but it makes a difference.

        3. Pup Seal

          Sadly some people don’t care about other people’s health and safety. My coworkers are prone to respiratory illnesses, but the Big Boss will get angry if we use sick days. One time I came to work with a bad cold. One co-worker was so upset that I was there sick, and eventually my supervisor sent me home. Big Boss got mad at both my supervisor and me and gave me a lecture that I should just stay away from everyone when I’m sick. Big Boss even admitted that my coworkers can easily get sick.

          1. Rater Z

            I had a job once where the manager said he expected everyone to come in sick anyway because they would feel just as bad at home as they would at work. Unless it was the flu because he didn’t want it spread to everyone else. That was back in 1970 and I was only there for three months.

            When I was working with freight charges, if I didn’t feel good, I was usually tell the boss that if it was within five hundred bucks, that was close enough. That would get me sent home.

      3. TootsNYC

        And this is what would motivate me to add to Alison’s advice:

        Make sure she truly understands, and that everyone does, that it’s OK to call and say, “my kid is sick, I have to stay home with him.” Do everything you can to reinforce how OK that it, how preferrable that is.

        1. yasmara

          Right – @TootsNYC, this is what I was thinking too. The OP is her manager. So the OP needs to be sure she is very clear with ALL employees about the appropriate use of the sick leave policy and the inappropriateness of bringing a sick child into the office. And she should sit down with this particular employee and say that “this can never happen again,” making it very very clear. I am a working parent myself, with a spouse who travels quite a bit, so I have tons and tons of sympathy for the position working parents are put in between daycare, school schedules, events, etc. But I would NEVER bring a sick kid into an office. I do often work at home with a sick kid, but I’m not risking anyone else’s health/safety.

        2. Elizabeth West

          I like framing it that way–rather than, “DON’T DO WHAT VERONICA DID OMG,” which everyone is probably already thinking, say it positively. “Your sick time is there for your benefit. If you or your children are ill, we encourage you to use it to care for them or yourself. All we ask is that you call in and notify your supervisor.”

      4. Mike C.

        That doesn’t excuse putting the health of others in danger. It’s a terrible situation when it happens, but that’s not a justification.

      5. Lauren

        I’d expect the mommy tax to judge her more for bringing the kid to work vs. taking a sick day off or working from home.

        1. Amber T

          Meh I disagree. “Look how parenting doesn’t interfere with my ability to do my work at all!” vs. “Out of sight, out of mind, if I’m not at work then I’m not working.” It’s possible there was a thought of “look how dedicated I am to my work, still working even though my child is sick” (similar to the people who show up for work sick, then brag how they never take a sick day).

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          That’s not been my experience, at least not at nonprofits or in the academy. While people are irritated by mom bringing her kid in, I’ve found they’re more likely to penalize her for not coming in at all. And that was in the super liberal Bay Area.

    3. Allison

      I’m thinking that too. Maybe she’s stingy with her sick time, because she doesn’t get much or because she and her children get sick often enough that she does legitimately worry about running out.

      She could have also had some pressing task that she felt she couldn’t push until the next day, or a deadline coming up.

      Also, maybe a past job frowned upon absence, and discouraged working from home, and she was worried about optics despite the realities of her current job. I’ve been there.

      1. Liane

        “Maybe she’s stingy with her sick time, because she doesn’t get much…”
        The OP says they have sick time and don’t penalize people and Alison’s asked that we take OPs at their word.

        Yes, it was a horribly thoughtless act and there needs to be at least a Very Serious Talk. Lots of people have very wrongheaded ideas about health, unfortunately. (There’s at least one “Health Pros Tell the Most WTF Things Patients Think” list making the rounds in Facebook right now.

        And speaking of Very Serious Talks, I hope that if this had been a place with stingy, vindictive sick time policies and the employee told Public Health so, that Public Health officials would have been having a Serious Talk with some great-grandbosses.

        1. 42

          >>The OP says they have sick time and don’t penalize people and Alison’s asked that we take OPs at their word.<<

          I take the OP at their word.

          BUT. What the OP says is one thing, but my original point wayyy up there was in essence 'What is the employees' *perception* of PTO use'.

          Wrong or right, my instincts are telling me that for a particular reason, the employee believed it was better to bring her child into the office with her than for her to take a sick day.

          So I would want t be sure that the OP is crystal clear, with all employees, at all time, that taking PTO for a sick family member is encouraged and will not be frowned-upon, that caring for a family member and getting PTO for it is indeed part of their benefit package, etc.

          1. Amber T

            To piggyback off of this (I mention it above) – a lot of sick policies are not clear at all regarding what you can do when a dependent is sick. My company has unlimited sick days if you’re the one who’s sick, but there’s no formal policy on what we can do if we have a child who’s sick. It seems it’s up to the employee’s manager.

      2. Ann O'Nemity

        “Maybe she’s stingy with her sick time, because she doesn’t get much or because she and her children get sick often enough that she does legitimately worry about running out.”

        Sure, that’s possible. I thought I our leave policy was very generous *until* I had a baby in daycare.

    4. LC

      I have to say, I’m surprised by some of the vitriol in the comments. While bringing a sick child into work certainly shows poor judgment, the idea that the employee could have killed her colleagues’ family members is a tad overblown. People show up to work under the weather the time*–not to mention the illnesses you inevitably come into contact with at the gym, the supermarket, etc. IMO, the real problem is the very real violation of a work norm–not bringing children to work, and particularly sick children–rather than any kind of consequentialist argument.

      (*Like Alison, I think sick days exist for a reason, and people should use them when needed. But sometimes you just wake up and feel a little iffy, and it’s not worth using up a sick day if you’re going to shake it off by noon.)

      1. AnonEMoose

        I’m going to disagree with you on one point – that her actions could have ended up killing a colleague’s family member is not overblown. It’s a fact. Someone on chemo, someone elderly, etc., does not have a healthy immune system.

        And it is quite possible for them to develop complications a healthy person would not, resulting in hospitalization at the least. At least one person did end up in the hospital because of her carelessness, and that’s bad enough.

        I’m not advocating for firing her, not now. But I do think a very serious conversation is in order, and that she needs to be told “Your colleagues are probably going to be pretty chilly to you for awhile. It’s not ok for them to be rude, but their feelings on this are entirely understandable; you are going to have to earn back their trust.”

          1. BeautifulVoid

            People with compromised immune systems (including myself) or who live with an immunocompromised person likely weigh the risks of working alongside other adults who may very well be coming in to work with simple colds. They can take as many precautions as possible, and hope that the other adults they work with also take precautions when they’re sick to help mitigate the spread of germs. Having a child with an extremely contagious, serious illness come in to the office and stick his hands into food that was shared by everyone probably did not factor in to the initial risk calculation.

            1. PK

              Sure, but you’d agree that a simple cold could send you to the hospital regardless of your risk calculation?

        1. LC

          But my point isn’t that her actions couldn’t have resulted in killing someone related to a coworker. It’s that the world is full of sick people, and the OP’s colleagues are likely to come into contact with similar or worse germs in day-to-day life. So the consequentialist argument doesn’t seem particularly persuasive, at least to me.

          More to the point, I think emphasizing the particulars of the illness puts too much weight on the norovirus itself, when the real issue isn’t what illness her kid had (or even necessarily that he was sick). It’s that you shouldn’t bring kids to work. After all, if her kid was suspended for a few days, it would still be inappropriate to bring him to work–and it’s crucial that the employee understand that bigger picture.

          In my opinion, the best way to stave off similar incidents in the future is to emphasize the inappropriateness of bringing a child to work–especially but not exclusively a sick one–and to speak to the value of using sick time for family illnesses that require attention. Something like, “I realize you may have been put in a tight spot the other day, but I want to emphasize that we don’t permit employees to bring their children to work, as it’s a distraction from the work we pay you to do. And it’s especially important not to bring sick children to work, since that exposes the whole office to illness. That being said, I know it’s hard to manage schedules when family members get sick, so I want you to know that we encourage you to use sick leave for these kinds of situations, and I hope you’ll feel comfortable doing so in the future.”

          1. fposte

            And we do allow kids in to our work sometimes, and we have no official policy on when they’re allowed or illness, so this post is making me contemplate what that policy would be and whether I should have one.

            1. AD

              You work in higher ed, don’t you? Do people just come for quick visits with kids, or do employees actually bring their children to work for longer stretches of time? I’m curious.

            2. Gov Worker

              I’m surprised no one has mentioned the potential liability of having unauthorized people in the workplace. If the child had injured herself on company property, the company is exposed to loss. Also, the child could have picked up an illness in the office!

              Another point I’m surprised not to see mentioned is that a recovering child would likely be far more comfortable at home rather than in an office for eight plus hours. I wouldn’t have subjected my child to this.

              As a parent who did all vaccinations and was very careful about my childs health, I would have found out more about norovirus if it came up at my child’s school, and this was long before the internet. Outbreaks were limited to pink eye and lice at her school, and she never got head lice, but pink eye is highly contagious too.

              Norovirus is almost irrelevant here. If children were not permitted in the office, and no official exception was requested or granted, that in itself is worthy of disciplinary action. To me, the mom here does sound pretty clueless to not connect the office outbreak to her child, but hey, anything’s possible. Actions have consequences, so she will just have to live with the consequences.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Not all parents feel they have the ability or resources to leave their child at home, particularly if they can’t provide care.

                If this is an office—which it sounds like it is, not a warehouse or a workplace that requires security clearances, etc.—the liability concern is actually pretty low.

    5. Callie

      I know OP says that people aren’t “penalized” for taking sick leave, but even if it’s not official, the office culture could be that people are discouraged from taking sick leave even if you officially CAN. I once taught somewhere where even though we were given 12 sick days a year, we got a lecture and a Disapproving Look from our principal if we dared actually use it. She even told us in a faculty meeting that we could time our pregnancies to end in summer because she “didn’t want to have to find long-term subs while we were at home with our kids”. So while officially we had 12 paid days, we were discouraged from using them, and no one at the district office would have known about her lecture. (Unless that was their attitude too…)

  2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    I’d have been so mortally friggin’ pissed with her that she’d have already gotten Alison’s suggested “what were you thinking,” delivered at high volume and not particularly as a question. To bring your norovirus-infected child to work is unthinkable enough, but to let him traipse around the potluck, coffee maker, and meeting rooms? This is not just a lapse of judgment, it’s evidence of a lack of judgment that is profound and bizarre. So is the fact that she hasn’t already personally apologized in an abject and public fashion. What the hell is wrong with this woman?

    1. Admin Assistant

      For. Real. If you’re going to bring a sick kid to work, 1) Don’t do that 2) keep him/her the hell away from food/the kitchen and other common areas.

      This whole story shows such poor judgment on this woman’s part that if I worked with her my opinion of her would be irreparably damaged. WOOF.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Yes, irrevocably. I’d be considering letting her go, honestly.

        1. automaticdoor

          Same. It would very much depend on her response to the talk, but I would also be considering letting her go.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Maybe my tune would change if the talk triggered an agonized OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE and heartfelt, spoken, personal apologies to the people and families affected, combined with an offer to assist the family with the hospitalized kid. Honestly, I think she’s damaged her relations with her coworkers too much at this point.

            1. AMG

              Right–but now she knows and still hasn’t said a word to anyone. What a terrible person. I hope she is at least so ashamed she can’t bear to face anyone. But I doubt it.

            2. Lora

              +999999999999999999999999999999999999

              If she had a bonus to take away, I would be all, “and your bonus is not happening for you, because we will be using that money to pay for your colleagues’ hospital bills.” I would DEFINITELY have a mandatory training on communicable disease and infection control for the whole office, and if senior management was unclear on the need for lots and lots of paid sick days, I would tally up the cost of everyone being out, including in terms of lost business and opportunity cost for new programs that were set back while everyone was out barfing, cost of temp workers to cover for people, all of that, and present it to my manager with on one side, $$$$$$$$ or whatever vs the cost of paid sick days $$. Just so they are all crystal clear on the meaning of penny-wise and pound-foolish.

              Crap, I wouldn’t be surprised if the colleagues at least tried to claim workman’s comp.

              But mostly unless I saw a profuse apology, maybe a couple of tears wouldn’t go amiss (YOU MADE A SICK CHILD NEARLY DIE WITH YOUR FOOLISHNESS, YOU SHOULD CRY YOUR DAMN EYES OUT AT LEAST FOR ONE DAY), she would be so fired.

              If she actually DOES know anything about norovirus (e.g. if she had a medical-type background or biology background), she would be fired and have nothing but hate mail for her reference. “This person was my employee from (date) to (date). I fired her on the spot for deliberately infecting the entire office with norovirus. Elderly people and a child nearly died. It was horrible. Have a nice day.”

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Lora, that’s not rational, and honestly, it would be a big problem to claim you’re withholding someone’s bonus to “pay for your colleagues’ hospital bills.” It’s not reasonable as a manager or an employer to try to punish people this way. Children and old people also die from the flu, from chickenpox, from strep-acquired scarlet fever, etc., etc.

                There are any number of “low level” illnesses that can become quite serious for specific populations. But that doesn’t mean that we tell people who come in with the flu—before they know if they have the flu but are aware that something’s going around—that we’re going to withhold their bonus because a coworker passed along the flu to someone in their family.

                I really think folks are going off a really deep edge on this. I understand that folks have really strong feelings about coming to work sick, bringing your sick kid to the office, norovirus, etc. But some of these reactions are extremely disproportionate.

                Also: You can’t claim worker’s comp for something like this. And if someone did, they would look extremely strange.

            3. Gov Worker

              Yes. My 90 year old mother is in a nursing home, and if I brought norovirus to her because of these circumstances, boy oh boy would I be pissed. Mom seems somewhat insensitive here. People have been fired for less.

          2. ExcitedAndTerrified

            Considering? You all are being more understanding than I am. I’d fire her outright, and never bother having a conversation about it.

            Intentionally exposing coworkers to diseases, then hiding you did it until there’s a public health investigation, might not be explicitly covered in the employee manual as “don’t do this”, but from a boss point of view, I’d look at it as being exactly the same as striking another employee. “Sorry, you’re unemployable in our eyes because you’re too big a risk to those around you, get out.”

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              It’s clear that you feel strongly about this, but your reaction here strikes me as over the top. You talk to the employee, you find out what on earth happened, and you go from there.

              It’s very unlikely that she deliberately exposed people to disease; it’s far more likely that she didn’t realize the consequences of what she was doing.

              1. Admin Assistant

                But her child was banned from the daycare due to the illness. Even if she somehow was completely ignorant of how deadly (literally, deadly) serious it can be, I don’t think that excuses her actions in the slightest. Absence of intent doesn’t make what she did any less reckless or serious.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  As others have pointed out, daycares can be notorious for being overly cautious on illnesses. (They weren’t here, but that could have been the mom’s thinking if she wasn’t familiar with this particular illness.)

                2. RKB

                  Not to mention Google is a FREE tool to use. I am always mind-blown by the explanation of “maybe they didn’t know.” You’re living in the age where the answers to any mindless question literally resides in a tiny pocket computer. Unless you don’t have access to these resources, there’s no excuses anymore.

                  Gosh, I’m an adult and if I get a weird bump I’m all over the internet about it. My dogs ears were warm yesterday and I spent an hour reading about why. I simply, truly, cannot fathom why she remained wilfully ignorant.

                3. fposte

                  @RKB–do you Google stuff you *do* know about, though? Because I think there’s a disconnect here that isn’t first apparent. People can say “Oh, he has norovirus–I don’t know about that”; they can also say “Oh, he has norovirus–I know about that” but be wrong. The second is a pretty common response, maybe more common than the first, and since they don’t know their information is wrong, they don’t seek correction.

                  For an example from this comment section today, some people were talking about using hand sanitizer to protect against norovirus; others were pointing out that norovirus is a pathogen that hand sanitizer doesn’t work well against. Obviously I don’t know what people actually would do, but the odds are some of them would have whip out the hand sanitizer because they learned it’s the useful thing, and that they wouldn’t have decided to investigate whether they learned correctly or not.

              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                Ignorance only gets you so far with me. Even if you have no idea what noro does and how infectious it is, exposing the potluck food, going to a meeting room, and then keeping your head down until the local public health authority is investigating and still claiming it’s no big deal is compounding ignorance and bad judgment with shadiness and tone-deafness.

                1. LawCat

                  I am with you, The Not Mad. I’d want her gone. You don’t get to behave like that and be off the hook even if you were super sorry about it and operating from ignorance. No. That woman is a serious liability for not only people’s health, but also morale. I would not give a second chance here.

                2. Jessesgirl72

                  People are fired every day, without being Lucifer.

                  Not firing her for this abject ignorance- when everyone knows it hospitalized someone else’s child!- is going to be such a huge morale problem. Better, smarter, more conscientious workers are definitely looking for other jobs.

                3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                  We’ll see about that. Here’s a duck; we shall use my largest scales.

                4. AMG

                  Nobody is saying she is Lucifer. We are saying that she exercises terrible judgment, has put the safety of her coworkers and their immune-compromised loved ones in danger, has permanently damaged her relationships with those coworkers, and has shown no effort to make the smallest of apologies.

                5. ThursdaysGeek

                  However, if she was ignorant about the seriousness of norovirus, she could have also been ignorant how it spreads or that the subsequent sicknesses were caused by her sick kid. We don’t know what she doesn’t know. You know it and I know it, but it’s quite possible you’re suggesting firing for something that she really didn’t know.

                6. fposte

                  @Jessesgirl–if she’d brought the kid to work and the disease hadn’t spread to people or resulted in anybody’s hospitalization, would you believe should be fired then?

                7. neverjaunty

                  She doesn’t have to be Lucifer to be someone you wouldn’t want around the office – not because she was ignorant about norovirus, but because she seems to care very little that her actions harm others. And that attitude will manifest itself in lots of other toxic ways beyond the one-time problem of kid with norovirus.

                  Absolutely the OP should talk to her and find out WTF she was thinking. But if her attitude isn’t overwhelming remorse and a realization about why her actions were not OK, then this isn’t something a PIP can fix.

                8. AMG

                  Yes, I called her a terrible person. I can see that she (hopefully) really didn’t know that norovirus is a Big Deal. But them to not even apologize? That doesn’t make her Lucifer, but all of it together is fireable, IMO.

                9. Bonky

                  Totally agree, Not Mad. The lying by omission and the insistence it’s not a big issue – even after the involvement of the health authorities, for heaven’s sake – just underline the selfishness and stupidity that made her make this horrible decision in the first place.

                10. Jesmlet

                  I’d say she was dangerously reckless. The fact that she kept that info to herself and seemingly hasn’t apologized only make it worse. This is not someone I’d keep around, if only for morale’s sake. So many other employees clearly feel strongly about this and while you don’t necessarily want to make it seem like public opinion can influence the status of an employee’s employment, keeping someone around that no one wants to work with will be such a huge drain that it’s not worth it. Plus I’d imagine she cost them money in lost productivity and all the sick pay so it was likely an expensive “mistake” too. Unless she was a top performer, better off for everyone except her if she’s just let go.

                11. Jessesgirl72

                  @fposte

                  If she had merely been caught for bringing him to work and no one got sick, no. Then she gets the stern talking to.

                  However, people did get sick- and she did not own up to the fact that she knew it was norovirus and hasn’t even APOLOGIZED since then. The sickness is not the only factor.

                  She also probably cost the company 10’s of thousands of dollars in sick leave and lost work.

                  If I cost my company a bunch of money, even if it was a mistake, I’d be fired. Especially if I didn’t even take responsibility for it, and said it was “no big deal”

                12. fposte

                  @Jessesgirl–okay, that interests me. So you’re saying the big okay/not okay divide is whether it costs the company money? Does that mean you’d similarly discipline an employee who came to work with a cold if people in her unit then had to call out sick with colds of their own?

                13. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Not Mad, et al., this reaction makes no sense to me. What if her kid had a cold? What if he had a flu that’s known to sometimes develop into pneumonia? Would we still be lighting torches and demanding her head for letting her child go to the bathroom or escape to a meeting room/potluck? I’m not saying her behavior was great, but I think folks are reading in a lot of nefarious intent that’s not really supported by the information in the letter.

              3. Unanimously Anonymous

                Alison, this is going to be a rare instance in which I disagree with you. Her conduct was completely deliberate – the kid had been suffering from a specific set of upper and/or lower GI symptoms, she knew he was sick, and she brought him to work anyway because she just didn’t give a damn about her colleagues. IIRC from my Business Law 101 class, civil law defines “intent” as being aware that a particular course of action is likely to injure another party, but deciding to take the action anyway.

                If it was just negligently spreading a headcold, I’d give her a mulligan along with a stern lecture. But this part…

                One of my direct reports has a child who is undergoing chemotherapy and who had to be hospitalized when she got sick. Another gave it to his grandmother, who resides in a retirement home. Pretty much everyone who works in my section was off sick from the norovirus at some point (diagnosis confirmed by public health).

                After public health spoke to the person who brought her sick child to work when they were investigating the outbreak in our office, she admitted to knowing his daycare had a norovirus outbreak and still bringing her sick child to the office. She did not speak up when others started getting sick, even though they had all the same symptoms as her son.

                …does it for me. She needs to be fired. Now.

                1. Emi.

                  She could know he was sick without knowing how easily he could spread it, especially if she’s had no or lucky experience with noro in the past. My little sister had noro and none of the rest of us caught it, and if you skim the CDC page it’s easy to miss how cautious you have to be. I had no idea how easily it spreads until a couple weeks ago–i.e. I wouldn’t have been aware that taking the kid to work would be likely to injure another party. It’s a huge and unwarranted leap from “brought sick child to work on what sounds like short notice” to “doesn’t give a damn about other people.”

              4. Mike C.

                Alison, I think you’re seriously underestimating the situation here. It’s pretty normal for someone who makes a serious safety error or otherwise puts their coworkers at serious risk to be fired immediately. That is done for the protection of everyone else. It’s the first job of a manager – to keep employees safe, why isn’t this your focus?

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  You can deal with the safety issue by making sure she understands the mistake and won’t repeat it. Most jobs actually don’t fire people the first time they make a serious error, although it sounds like it’s different in your particular field.

                2. Mike C.

                  It’s more than just making a serious error – and even then, some errors justify firing.

                  Her error caused harm, and her reluctance to talk at first caused others to be harmed further and public resources to be wasted.

                  Also, I should clarify that “immediately” means “immediately after an investigation to ascertain all the facts”.

                3. Elizabeth West

                  I think it depends on the field, actually. In a lab? Hell yeah–everyone who works there is expected to understand protocol. In an office? Depends also on what the error was.

                  While I think this could definitely be a fireable offense, I do agree that a serious discussion is merited, at least so the management can understand exactly what happened. Did someone start a fire? Bad. Why? Was it a mistake, or did they deliberately ignore signs of trouble? As management, even if I were going to let her go, I would want some details about the situation first.

                4. Doe-eyed

                  Allison, my professional experience has been that outcomes drive consequences. If someone makes a mistake and causes someone to be seriously ill, they have typically been fired. If you catch a school bus driver going over the speed limit and otherwise being safe, it’s probably worth a talking to. If you find out she’s speeding when she runs over a pedestrian, there’s a different set of consequences.

                5. Admin Assistant

                  Totally agree. I really think Alison is right on the money 99% of the time, but I also think that she’s underestimating/downplaying how incredibly serious this was.

                  I don’t think we know all the facts in this case to determine whether she truly warrants being fired, but I 100% think it’s on the table and am honestly quite surprised at Alison’s responses in the comments.

                6. RKB

                  I’m immunocompromised. Two years ago, i caught the chicken pox. This led me to miss a whole semester of school and I now have an extra $6,000 to fork out.

                  This isn’t just a woman who brought in her sick kid. There’s economic, social, and psychological ramifications spreading far and wide. People had to miss work. Use vacation time. Pay medical bills. A child was hospitalized. An outbreak was spread to a vulnerable population AND their caretakers. Then the epicentre of this situation refuses to apologize for it?

                  Maybe she won’t get fired. But if I worked with her, I would find it very hard to look past this situation, and I’m a particularly forgiving doormat type. It may actually be to her benefit to leave this position, as I can’t imagine the mother of a hospitalized child would be too fond of this lady, nevertheless anyone else.

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  @Doe-eyed:

                  If someone makes a mistake and causes someone to be seriously ill, they have typically been fired.

                  What’s your industry, and what was the mistake, and what was the illness?

                8. Doe-eyed

                  @Princess Consuela – this has been across multiple industries.

                  In high school, a coworker brought in the chicken pox to a restaurant we worked at and they were fired when diners got sick and complained. (They weren’t actively sick, they had an infection in their house and laughed about it)

                  After college I worked in a building services co (janitorial, day porters, etc). A coworker was horsing around on equipment, ran over another coworker’s foot breaking it. Other people had done it before and had been reprimanded, but because they had injured someone and we paid for it, they were terminated.

                  Same business, an employee carelessly emptied a sharps container into a regular trash can to save time. They didn’t typically work in medical offices. Their coworker got stuck by a needle and spent months having to be tested for various bloodborne illnesses. Also fired.

                  Now that I’m in healthcare, they’ll just outright fire you if you don’t get vaccines for things, much less bring in active virus. Not only do they encourage people to go home if they’re sick, they have a bounty for coworkers who let managers know there are sick people on the units.

                  Lots of people have done careless, thoughtless things that they didn’t intend to do harm, but sometimes you hurt people and it seems very callous to the people you hurt when their punishment is “a strong talking to” and your punishment is spending 3 days in the ICU with your sick child.

              5. Engineer Girl

                She deliberately covered it up until the Health Department outed her. How do you trustee her again, especially since there seems to be no apparent remorse?

                1. Sprinkled with Snark

                  She also covered it up when she brought the sick child to work to begin with. She brought a sick child to work, and didn’t think twice about letting him have the run of the place. She should NOT have brought the child to work to begin with, but she did, and then, instead of shutting the door to the office and guarding it with her life, she came and went about the business of the day, leaving him alone for periods of time long enough where she couldn’t even grab him quickly if he made a dash for it, like kids will do. She didn’t even warn her co-workers that the kid even had the sniffles, let alone noro. All her co-workers knew was that “Mary” had her kid at work today. They couldn’t even have chosen to avoid Mary and the kid if they wanted to. If I thought a co-worker’s kid even had the sniffles I wouldn’t go near him. Mary’s silence tells me that she knew it was serious enough to lie. What did she tell her co-workers when the kid was grabbing food and coughing on everything in the lunchroom? I’m sure someone must have said, “oh, little Fergus is here today. What’s up?” She surely didn’t say he couldn’t go to daycare because he has noro, no big deal. It’s clear she knew it WAS a big deal. I think not only does Mary need a STERN warning (perhaps even a suspension without pay for a few days), but the company needs to examine the child in the workplace policy, when is it okay, for how long, under what circumstances. He was there longer than just a quick visit or a drop-of or something. is this okay?

              6. Gov Worker

                I disagree. Offices aren’t much different than daycare centers in that they are petri dishes for all kinds of nastiness. So there are limited to no tolerance policies for sick children. It’s not a reach to think that having a sick, even seemingly recovering child in the workplace might not be prudent. It’s a stretch to me that she had just no idea about what she was doing. Would she have let sick folks around her new baby, or invite them over for dinner. I think claims of ignorance are somwhat disingenuous here, but I realize everyone isn’t like me.

            2. regina phalange

              I am falling on this side of things too – I would fire someone outright for doing this. Zero sympathy or understanding, especially since the OP has noted she has a full bank of sick days and would not have been penalized for using them. NOTHING you are working on, tight deadline or not, is more important than the well being of your coworkers and their families.

              1. SarahKay

                I’m in the UK, so our definition of sick days may well differ from that in the US, but is it possible it just wouldn’t occur to her that she could use a sick day because her child is sick? She might think sick days = only to be used if she herself is sick, and thus that calling in sick to stay home with her kid would get her into trouble.
                And as others have said, she may also have had no idea how awful Norovirus is, especially if her kid had only had a very mild dose of it.

                1. GingerHR

                  In fact in the UK sick leave is almost always for the individual – parents / carers shouldn’t use sick leave to cover a dependent’s illness. That’s a different type of leave (I’m sure that sounds OTT to our American colleagues, but there are a number of reasons).

                2. CanCan

                  I’m in Canada. I have generous sick leave, but when I use it, I certify that I was unable to perform my duties due to illness (i.e. *my* illness). I’m sure people do it, but I would feel bad claiming to have been ill when I myself wasn’t. We do get “family” leave, but it’s only 5 days/year, and that’s for all family-type responsibilities (including caring for a sick kid/family member, attending a school function, unexpected daycare/school closure, meeting with your lawyer/banker, etc.) – which is not a lot, considering how often kids get sick (esp. if you have more than one).

                  Not that I would bring a kid with recent gastrointestinal symptoms to work! or school, library, store, etc.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  It’s possible, SarahKay, although we’d have to ask OP. There are a good number of employers who do not allow you to take sick leave to care for your ill dependents—they’ll often make you take it out of accrued leave for vacation or personal-time-off (PTO). And there are also a number of employers who do in fact let you use sick leave for caregiving, but neither practice is so dominant that one could assume “sick leave” automatically includes caretaking.

            3. AMG

              No way is she over the top. She’s right on the money. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t think or not. She still did it. If she can’t get from A to B on her own brainpower on this, then she still shouldn’t be in that office. I would never trust her judgment again.

              1. Jessesgirl72

                That’s exactly where I think it falls.

                The consensus around here is that either you trust your employees or you don’t.

                How could anyone reasonable trust this woman again?

                1. fposte

                  That’s not how that phrase gets used, though–we use it to mean if you do trust your employees, why would you not trust them to get your work done? It’s not a suggestion that trust is black or white, and I would strongly argue that it’s not a binary.

                2. yasmara

                  I absolutely agree that she did something wrong. But painting her as completely untrustworthy is pretty harsh. I’m married to a food scientist and I’m a health news junky, so I know a lot about norovirus for a non-health-professional, but I know many, many people (educated, well-read, people) who have NO IDEA how contagious & hard to kill norovirus is, much less that you can reinfect yourself as well as others.

                  Is the issue that she doesn’t seem sorry? Or sorry enough? Not understanding that she made a big mistake is indeed a problem. Does she have a pattern of this kind of behavior? I have a pretty strict employee conduct handbook at my work and this is not something I can imagine anyone getting fired for unless it was the culmination of a series of bad decisions/bad judgements.

                  Here’s a real world example from my life. At age 4, my kid had whooping cough and was contagious on an airplane, family wedding, at daycare, and a host of other places before it was identified by *anyone.* He had been fully vaccinated on time and we had no identifiable vector of exposure. This was years ago, before pertussis was more visible in the media and he presented with a mild case. After four weeks of coughing, but showing no other symptoms whatsoever (beyond the first mild fever, which had gone away after a few days), we took him to the pediatrician where, based on my description of the cough, he was identified as probably having pertussis. A nasal swab ended up positive.

                  His entire daycare cohort was informed & the state public health department called us as well. We didn’t know. I didn’t send him to daycare when he had a fever, but he certainly went back when the fever was gone & he was left with just a cough. Should we have been banned from our daycare? Fired as clients? My husband has a PhD & I have a master’s degree, but we had never heard of a vaccinated child getting pertussis and we, at the time, had never heard the characteristic cough. I’m not saying ignorance is always an excuse, but it certainly could be a factor. (BTW, the pertussis vaccine is only about 80% effective.)

                3. NoMoreMrFixit

                  I don’t think it’s a matter of trust. This has nothing to do with whether she can do her job properly. The problem is that this person has completely shredded her reputation and relationship with her coworkers. She’s now facing the new reality of an openly hostile work environment caused by her actions. That is what the manager has to contend with – how to get work done with a team ready to lynch one of the crew. Even if she isn’t fired I doubt she has much of a future left in her current role.

                4. Jessesgirl72

                  No, the rest of the sentence is normally, that if you don’t trust your employees, they shouldn’t be working for you anyway.

                  She snuck the kid in, she lied by omission even after people were dropping like flies, and then she has not even apologized.

                  This is the kind of thing that makes me say someone is not generally trustworthy. It isn’t just bad judgement or potentially not thinking norovirus was serious- it’s about genuinely sneaky and underhanded behavior.

                5. AlexDCgovPR

                  @Yasmara- I really like your example. I think if many of us looked back in our lives we could find similar ones.

                  I have a very serious kidney disease and was the recipient of a transplant last year. Due to this, I’m immunocompromised. If my colleague had done what this woman did, I would have likely been hospitalized. However, I still wouldn’t be calling for her to be fired. People make mistakes. Sometimes really, really bad ones! But negligence does not ill intent make. If the option is there to educate the person and they seem genuinely open to discussing why their initial behavior was unacceptable and understand that it can’t be repeated, that’s better in my opinion than firing the offender.

                6. Knitty Knotty

                  @Jessesgirl72 – I absolutely agree with you about never being able to trust this person again. The fact that she snuck her child in is just nuts. What if a fire or tornado (sorry – living in the midwest makes that a possibility for me) had happened and the building needed to be evacuated? No-one else would have known that child was there if something had happened to her mom.

                  The public health issues aside, this is a huge security problem that happened. There’s no way this employee could ever be considered trustworthy again.

        2. AMG

          Absolutely let her go! At a bare minimum, she should be written up and be threatened within an inch of her job. What on EARTH. What if the chemo child or the elderly grandmother had died because of this? It could have easily happened. She’s a menace, whether she just didn’t think about other people or not is irrelevant.

      2. Temperance

        Honestly, there is literally nothing she could do to make up for this, at least in my opinion. Letting your kid touch communal food WHEN HE HAS NOROVIRUS makes you a jerk. A disgusting jerk at that.

        1. Cat

          It sounds like that part was the kid sneaking out. Yeah that’s why it was a bad idea to bring the kid there, because they do that. But it wasn’t just willful disregard for the kid touching the food.

          1. Hermione

            Oh, I saw this after I posted below and if that’s indeed the case, please disregard my post. Kids do wander, and cake is hard enough for me to deny myself, so I don’t blame him.

          2. Jesmlet

            Nah, if your kid is sick with a contagious illness, you watch him like a hawk. I’m curious how old this kid was… if he is in daycare I’m assuming younger than 5 and if so, how could you let that kid out of your sight in your office? And with enough time to touch food… This isn’t the worst part but it just adds to it.

            1. PlainJane

              This. And you don’t bring a sick kid to work with you anyway. But yeah, if you bring your (healthy) child to work, you watch that child. That’s why really small children shouldn’t be at work–keeping them out of trouble requires a lot of attention, which means either you aren’t working or your child is at risk of getting hurt (or in this case, hurting someone else).

        2. Hermione

          Honestly – and this depends on the maturity and age of the child, but given that the letter uses ‘daycare’ and not ‘school’ I’m making assumptions here – I’d be hard-pressed to imagine letting my kid near communal food at all, regardless of them being sick. Grabbing a cracker or carrot off a communal plate, sure, but most daycare-aged kids wouldn’t be tall- or coordinated-enough to safely navigate a potluck, and though I’m typically wary of judging how people parent, this part pinged in my head as something ‘not right.’ And while I certainly wouldn’t reprimand/fire an employee based on their parenting-styles, it’s another thing that makes me question her judgment here.

          1. J.B.

            If kid wanted cake (understandable), why didn’t mom bring him a plate? I don’t get this. Well, I don’t get any of it but really not this part.

          2. Kate

            Ooh, good point. I know that in my break room there is no way the child could have gotten into the food by himself, the table is too tall and we don’t have chairs there.

          3. Temperance

            In a previous life, I did banquet service. Little kids are surprisingly good at putting their hands in buffet food, including things like fruit salad, tuna salad, etc. They’ll reach above their heads on occasion.

            Which is why Mom shouldn’t have brought the little kid to work and left him unsupervised.

    2. BeautifulVoid

      Yeah, I think it’s the combination that’s making me (and some others?) side-eye this woman so hard. If she’d snuck the sick kid in, but did a good job containing him, to the point where no one even knew he was there until they left for the day, and her attitude was “meh, whatevs”, then it’s just time to have a chat where you review policies and tell her it’s not acceptable for her son to be in the office. If he bolted while she wasn’t paying attention and stuck his noro-infected hands into communal food, and she fell over herself apologizing, giving a reason like not wanting to miss an important work deadline or something like that…okay, still problematic, but again, I think just the chat about policies is warranted. But the fact that she seems so indifferent to all the problems she’s caused is the sticking point for me. People may or may not want to work with someone who has poor judgment in a non-work-related area, but there’s a higher chance they’re not going to want to pretend to be civil to someone who, so far, has been completely unapologetic about getting everyone in the office sick and sending their family members to the hospital. I can see this eventually becoming an “it’s her or us” situation, either outright, or more subtly as her colleagues quietly jump ship. And if that’s the case, I don’t think it’s the wrong call to get rid of her.

  3. Grey

    Ooooh. I am still nursing a grudge against whoever was the source of a terrible, long-lasting illness I got last fall (it was someone in Scotland, and that’s as far as I’ve been able to narrow it down … so far).

    Sounds like you’re still on a mission to hunt him down. :) Can’t say I’d blame you though.

  4. Cambridge Comma

    A separate apology/card to the parent of the child undergoing chemotherapy might be a good idea too.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Absolutely, given that the family is now out a significant deductible and coinsurance.

    2. EddieSherbert

      Seconding this!

      (assuming that employee’s family situation is common knowledge and OP wasn’t told as a confidant outside of work).

      1. Cambridge Comma

        I guess she could be told (with the person’s permission) that an unnamed colleague has a family member undergoing chemo and that that family member was hospitalized, and she could write an apology despite not knowing who she was writing to. If she doesn’t know about this particular consequence of her actions, she really should.

        1. EddieSherbert

          That’s a good point.

          Also (if it’s not common knowledge), learning about this should help her understand how bad this situation is (…if she still doesn’t get how bad a move this was).

    3. Marche

      One for the person whose grandmother caught it as well, I think – elders are often hit hard by illness, and since she’s in a retirement home it could possibly spread there very quickly.

    4. Elizabeth H.

      I don’t know if this would really be appropriate. It may seem like a “let the punishment fit the crime” thing but her actions should be dealt with by the employer (however severely) on the grounds of appropriate workplace behavior and her professional judgment, rather than in terms of person-to-person consequences.

      1. Amber T

        It’s sad that that’s what immediately came to my mind too. An apology is automatically* an admission of guilt. Fair? Not fair? This is why I didn’t go into law.

        *I am not a lawyer, so I can’t say that with 100% accuracy, but that seems to be the case.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          An apology is not an admission of guilt, but some attorneys think it is, so they caution their clients not to apologize—especially in the context of malpractice cases (a kind of negligence claim).

          The law has been changing on a state-by-state basis in the context of negligence because most of the time we want people to be able to apologize without fearing legal repercussions for expressing empathy.

  5. Grits McGee

    As someone who caught norovirus at work, I would have a really hard time trusting the judgement of someone who did something like this. Honestly, I feel like this tops some of the letters we’ve had about bosses crashing weddings and funerals. Not only do you feel like you’re dying (and actively wishing you were dead) when you have norovirus, this woman could have legitimately killed someone doing this.

    1. Another Lawyer

      Same. I got norovirus at work and it was easily the most miserable weekend of my life. I’ve never been so violently ill and I’m young/healthy. I would probably need a few weeks away from this person to cool off enough to be polite again.

      1. Lauren

        I had it for a week, and was out of commission for 2 weeks because I was so dehydrated that I went to the ER 2x to be given 3 bags of saline overall. I was technically healthy, and it destroyed my body and my ability to eat / retain any fluids.

      1. AMG

        How about this:
        1. I went to a bar and had a few beers. (Brought my sick kid to work)
        2. I needed to go home. I know I shouldn’t drive drunk, but I didn’t think it was a big deal (kid shouldn’t be around people, but I need to bend the rules because…I haven’t taken a sick day in 2 years? Whatever.)
        3. I know I am buzzed, but don’t realize how drunk I am (didn’t realize how bad norovirus is)
        4. I proceed to put other people’s lives in jeopardy but still don’t think it’s a big deal. (same/same)
        5. I show absolutely no remorse and have no consequences for my actions. Everyone I come in contact with should be okay with this.
        She should thank her lucky stars that nobody takes her to court for the lost income / medical bills / endangerment. And that she still has a job.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden

          But even an intelligent adult could be told by the daycare that the child couldn’t be around *other kids* and could fail to extrapolate that to other *people* in general. She may have believed the child was only contagious to kids and that this was not something adults would come down with or would be as likely to come down with. I don’t think that excuses the negligence, but I don’t think the vitriol is really necessary or useful.

    2. Cath in Canada

      Same. It’s one thing if it’s accidental (a lot of people don’t seem to realise that norovirus is incredibly infectious, and that people can stay contagious for days after their symptoms are gone), but this sounds truly egregious. I hate hate hate norovirus, which has ruined two Christmases and part of the Vancouver Olympic games for me.

      1. Emi.

        Until recently, I did not realize at all what a big deal norovirus is. I knew it was nasty, but I didn’t realize how easily it spread, and the daycare sending a kid home wouldn’t have tipped me off, because I expect daycares to have paranoid disease policies.

          1. neverjaunty

            My experience with daycares and schools is that when a serious disease or something like lice is going around, you get a flyer or other information explaining what the illness is and how to prevent spreading it. I find if extremely hard to believe that this employee had no idea that it was anything different than “hey, somebody here has the sniffles”.

            1. Kate

              Agree. I have seen/heard of these for chicken pox, differentiating flu and cold and when symptoms are dangerous, etc.

            2. Elizabeth West

              That’s what I was thinking. Wouldn’t the daycare know this? A ban seems more serious than just saying, “Don’t bring little Eddie back until his fever is gone.” Eddie could still be sniffling but no longer contagious.

              I wish we knew what they told her. Of course, I have no experience with daycares, though I do know they don’t want sick kids there because illnesses spread so easily (hands in mouths, etc.).

            3. Anon for this

              Same here.

              Also, even if you make it to adulthood without learning what norovirus is or how to use Google, I think we can all figure out that if your child’s too sick to be around other kids, the child’s also too sick to be around adults. It’s not rocket science.

              I’m so sorry for everyone who had to deal with this bad decision, including the poor sick child stuck in a workplace for the day.

              1. Zahra

                Yup. My kid went to 4 different daycares between ages 6 months and 5 years old. Not one has given us info-sheets on illnesses when there were outbreaks. They would send our kid home for pinkeye, which is hardly a dangerous illness and is as likely to be virus-based than bacteria-based. Giving antibiotics is often a waste of time and money, but they wanted antibiotic ointment before admitting him back.

                On top of that, a home-based daycare could have to close because the owner is sick or some kids got sick and they need to disinfect the whole place. That doesn’t mean your own kid is sick, just that some other kid was.

                I can totally understand why a parent with a sick with no or minimal symptoms would not take the illness seriously, especially if they are not aware that others have immuno-suppressed loved ones. And using that line to say why they brought the kid to work.

                Yes, the employee should know the extent of the consequences for other people. She should show remorse. But it doesn’t justify an immediate firing.

          2. Mike C.

            But you know what is common? Google!

            I get that we often disagree on the issue of ignorance (especially labor law!) but when it comes to issues of health and safety, shouldn’t that possible risk tip the scales even a little bit?

            1. Emi.

              From skimming the CDC page (which is what I would do if my kid got sick), it’s pretty easy to miss how freakishly paranoid you have to be.

        1. AnotherLibrarian

          Me neither. Not sure I should be admitting this, but I had to Google “norovirus” after reading this letter and these comments. I think she could have honestly not realized what a risk she was exposing her coworkers too.

          1. EddieSherbert

            True (I recently learned about it when friend’s work had an outbreak), but I still stand by “if they’re sick enough to be sent home, they’re too sick to go to your work… especially if you suspect kids aren’t welcome at your work and you have to hide them in your office.”

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Absolutely true. I don’t think anyone is arguing that bringing a sick kid to work is okay, whether or not it’s norovirus, just that she may not have grasped the full situation.

              1. Cat

                It’s also not uncommon in some offices. I don’t think that’s a good thing, but I’ve worked in offices where that’s the culture and people think of it as normal.

            2. Observer

              Sure. She definitely messed up, which is why she definitely also needs to have a VERY SERIOUS TALKING TO. But, it doesn’t mean that she knowingly and intentionally put people’s lives at risk.

          2. Bonky

            …but she then failed to speak up when other people started demonstrating the same symptoms. And continued failing to speak up until the public health authorities became involved. And she appears to have continue to attempt to minimise what a dreadful thing to have done this is. There’s not just ignorance at play here; someone’s trying to disingenuously dig themselves out of a hole.

        2. Michaela T

          Yes, my experience as a non-parent is that people I know tend to treat daycares as being over-the-top about sending kids home. It’s a common thing to hear people complain about, especially when a parent has to use PTO to stay home with a child that doesn’t appear sick.

          1. Government Worker

            Yes. I’ve got two kids in daycare, and they have to stay home for all sorts of stuff. I’ve been stuck at home before for 2-3 days with a kid whose only definable symptom was a low fever (and maybe some lethargy that disappeared when the fever was medicated). Maybe it was teething, maybe it was a mild bug, or maybe something else but they were home for 24 hours after the fever ended. Pinkeye, hand foot and mouth, strep throat, and croup are other common reasons for kids to be excluded from daycare – all are contagious, but not nearly as bad as norovirus. So it’s easy for parents to shrug off kids’ illnesses.

            1. NW Mossy

              Lice is another one that’s particularly maddening. From a public health perspective, it’s generally considered to be a nuisance rather than an illness, but kids get booted from daycare/school in most places if they have them. My older daughter’s missed more school due to lice than anything else in her life, and while I get it, I still wince at the $100 tab to get it professionally removed every time it happens.

              1. Rusty Shackelford

                I’m… confused. You’re annoyed that your daughter gets sent home if she has lice. You’re also annoyed that you have to pay $100 to get it professionally removed (does that work? because when we were stuck on the lice carousel, I’d have given a major body part to be done with it) when she catches it at school. Aren’t these two conflicting opinions? Or am I misreading?

                1. NW Mossy

                  Not so much conflicting, but simply that it’s a situation for which there is no good solution. Lice spread and no one likes them, so that weighs towards kicking kids out of school until they’re nit-free. On the flip side, booting kids from school means they’re not learning even though they’re well enough to learn and there’s little to no risk of making another child seriously ill by giving them lice.

                  And yes, professional removal does work. That’s why I’m willing to spend the money – it’s the only way I can be sure that I’m not going to take several more days off work in the following weeks to deal with future generations of lice from the same originating exposure. I only wish it were more financially accessible for the benefit of others. I can afford it, but the family that needs to treat 3 kids and 2 adults at $100/person isn’t able to and they end up being the ones that loop it back through the school several times before it finally gets stamped out.

              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                You know who else thinks the $100 treatment fee is a major drag? You know who benefits when affected kids get booted to be treated? Every other kid’s parent – a group which typically includes you, too. Or do you just want all the parents, including you, to all pay $100 every time a kid with lice shows up?

              3. Pommette

                Lice are a good example of the kind of problem that makes it easy for parents not to take daycare and school warnings seriously.

                Lice are super unpleasant, but they aren’t a serious health problem. They are highly contagious in a school environment, but not that contagious in the adult world. My niece’s school recently shut down over a lice epidemic. It was a reasonable decision on the school’s part, but the parents who picked their kids up from school and took them to work, or to the store, or to any other public space were also making a pretty reasonable decision.

                Schools and daycares will send children home for all kinds of minor health concerns. It’s reasonable: their clientele is made up of tiny people with underdeveloped immune systems who like to put things in their mounts. The OP’s employee made a huge mistake, but I can see how it would be easy to think that the bug your child is bringing home from daycare this week isn’t any worse than the bug your child brought up last month, or the month before.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)

            Yes, but the thing is, as parents we know daycares have to send kids home for every little thing, and we also know they tell us when it is really actually serious and not just “policy.” That’s why it is irritating to have to keep your kid home so often – because we know they tell us when it is serious, and most of the time it isn’t.

            Like, “Your kid has a fever, so sorry, you have to pick her up and she has to be fever free for 24 hours before she can come back” is a pain in the neck, but then when it is serious you get a “OMG SOMEONE HAS NOROVIRUS AT SCHOOL AND WE ARE TELLING EVERYONE!! There is a norovirus outbreak, this is incredibly contagious and is contagious for several days after symptoms, your child needs to be home and in quarantine if she shows any symptoms at all, we are letting you know now so you can make plans.” If your child is the one showing actual symptoms of norovirus/whooping cough/flu, they tell you and they tell you to keep your kid home for days and they tell you it is serious.

            1. Kyrielle

              Your day care is better than the one my kids were in for the first seven years I had kids! (The one my youngest is in now would have conveyed that.)

              They just called and said your kid was throwing up/fevered/lethargic/out of sorts/whatever, and if there was something going around they’d mention that when they first became aware of it – not when your kid showed signs – and hand you a dry information sheet on it.

              And even so, IMO, you read the sheet, you research it, you do what is needed.

              And for goodness’ sake if you misjudge it and people get sick, you apologize.

              I can see how someone could make the mistake *as* a mistake, and not as a purely-selfish “I need this so never mind these obvious potential consequences” decision. And I think the argument that “day care took it seriously so obviously parents should also know to take it seriously” is…not as universal as you could wish.

              But still, at *best* she made a huge mistake and mishandled the consequences of it afterward (she should have proactively notified her workplace sooner, and she also should have apologized – I’d have been mortified and groveling if something I did had consequences at this level!). I’m not excusing her. I am saying that the information from the daycare may not have been as obvious to her as is being assumed. It depends on the day care whether it was well-communicated what a significant issue norovirus is. (And if it wasn’t and she failed to research it, again, she owes huge apologies for that – but it’s possible.)

              1. neverjaunty

                Yes, this. It isn’t just that she could have made a terrible judgment call – it’s that she doesn’t seem to appreciate that it WAS a terrible judgment call.

              2. Elizabeth West

                and mishandled the consequences of it afterward

                This part is what I believe has got stuck in people’s craws. Yes, she screwed up. Yes, it’s possible someone else could have made this mistake. No, she is NOT owning her mistake but trying to wriggle out from under it. If she were my coworker, I’d be disinclined to trust her myself. And if management doesn’t at LEAST censure her for it, I’d probably wonder if I should be looking for a new job.

          3. Mike C.

            It’s my experience that people who aren’t medical experts or scientists often needlessly disregard the advice of such experts when it comes to the formation of laws and other forms of public policy. Those policies may seem stiff in the case of a single individual, but you have to consider things like probabilities and risk of harm. Folks who aren’t trained in this aren’t very good at evaluating such things.

          4. AGirlCalledFriday

            As a teacher and as someone who works with kids every day, I have to say I definitely do not think day cares are over the top regarding child illnesses.
            1. Children tend to have weaker immune systems. Children not only get sick more often but their illnesses can be more severe.
            2. Children will more easily spread illnesses to other children.

            I think it’s worse when it’s school and parents treat it like a daycare center. I’m not a babysitter, I’m an educator. This distinction is important because if your child is ill, not only are they spreading their illness to the other students in the classroom and to the other classrooms in the school, but also to myself and other teachers. They also are unable to concentrate and don’t learn anything and usually prevent other children from learning by being a distraction.

            I do sympathize and understand that not all parents can just take off of work when their child is ill. I don’t want to demonize parents who can’t just stay at home with their sick children, but I do think people in general downplay or misunderstand the role illness has in a classroom or daycare. A child having a low-grade fever might not be a big deal to you, but that fever could be a symptom of something worse or grow into some other type of illness, and now the children (and in a daycare, there will be infants) have that and they can die from it. Students in my classroom are more likely to have infant or very young siblings and those babies catch it when your sick child comes to my class too. I think as adults we are used to ‘toughing it out’ and many of us, particularly those who don’t have much exposure to children, forget or don’t realize how dangerous it can really be.

            1. PlainJane

              This. So many illnesses, minor and serious, start out with a low-grade fever or other common symptoms. And plenty of people have compromised immune systems, asthma, or other conditions that make even minor illnesses not-so-minor. What frustrates me as a parent is that schools have strict policies about illness (rightly so, as you point out) but also have draconian attendance policies. I try to be responsible and keep my son home when he’s ill. Then I get a nastygram from the school saying he’s at risk of losing a semester’s worth of credits due to absenteeism. So I send him to school when he’s not feeling great but not contagious (a common occurrence–he has a chronic illness), and I get called to pick him up because he’s too sick to be at school.

          5. Amy the Rev

            Also with young kiddos, their bodies go so haywire sometimes you miss that they have an actual illness. Maybe more for infants, but things like spitting up can be so common that you can miss an actual GI bug- I used to babysit for a ~year old baby and one time I came into work and the mom said she had spat up the night before but has been fine since. So we all assumed it was just a case of eating too much/being in a weird position/crying a lot/burping weird/etc. The next night I had sudden and horrible case of GI illness, sleeping on the bathroom floor and everything. Was fine 24 hours later, but by then my roommate had caught it. Also the father of the infant ended up with the same thing, so clearly it was a virus, but I never would’ve guessed that from hearing that a baby spit up one time in the night.

            1. Sprinkled with Snark

              Add to that the toll even a “minor cold” takes on a child’s body. Kids with illness are crabby, whiny, lethargic, wipe their noses with their hands and sweaters, pick their noses, cough without covering their mouths, touch other kids’ things, put pencils in their mouths, don’t want to eat, and cry and throw temper tantrums, even children you think are too old to behave that way. Illness changes all of that. When I have a sick child in class, I’m not only the teacher, but the mom, the nurse, and the enforcer, trying to get Fergus to stay awake and take his head off the desk, or try to get Mary to stop crying when she can’t open the glue. Sick kids are completely exhausting and require almost 100 percent of my attention and energy. Teachers know when your kids are, or about to, get sick before the parents, yet very few parents will even listen or care when I tell them little Fergus has the beginnings of a cold.

              1. Amy The Rev

                oh the coughing! I would get this baby’s (seemingly bi-monthly) cold every time she had it…I’d sit on a thursday, symptoms would arrive on saturday. It stopped happening almost entirely when I started wearing my glasses instead of contacts…when she coughed, it didn’t get in my eyes!

        3. Tuckerman

          I used to work in daycare, and yes, we sent kids home a lot. We let them come back if they were improved (they couldn’t have a fever or be throwing up, and they had to have been on antibiotics for 24 hours for pink eye, etc.). I think most of us are used to taking off during the worst part of our illness (or keeping kids home during the worst part) but then returning when we are still less than 100%. The problem with Norovirus (and I didn’t know this until today) is that you’re still contagious for a few days after feeling better. So it doesn’t follow the normal arc of socially acceptable level of illness at work/school.

        4. BethRA

          I get that not everyone understands how seriously norovirus is, but I have a hard time buying not understanding that someone who’s symptoms include vomiting and/or diarrhea is not someone who should be in the office.

          I’m not on the “hang her from the nearest yardarm” bandwagon, but bringing her kid in was completely obnoxious even if she didn’t fully grasp how serious norovirus can be.

          1. blushingflower

            Yeah, I feel bad for a kid with norovirus being in an office that was probably boring and uncomfortable and having to use a communal office bathroom. Even if it weren’t terribly contagious and dangerous, if my kid had those kind of intestinal symptoms I would probably opt to keep them at home where they could be close to a bathroom and clean clothes.

        5. Amber T

          I only heard of the norovirus 3ish years ago… when I caught it after it went around my office >.<

    3. J.B.

      Norovirus was going around work (and around town) when I was pregnant and I caught it. Ugh, ugh, ugh it was awful. At least my doctor called in zofran for me. I probably went back to work too soon after because, pregnant! Needed sick days.

      It is so incredibly contagious that I can understand it going around an office from folks who didn’t know they were sick or started getting queasy at work. Bringing someone else in knowingly with norovirus is something else.

      All that being said, most viruses are contagious long before symptoms show. Honestly the employee could have passed the illness on her ownself due to being exposed by her child. The still sick child touching the food is beyond the pale.

    4. BPT

      As someone who lives in a city without a car, this has really gotten me thinking about what I would do if I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with norovirus or something similar. There would be literally no way for me to not come into contact with people. Taking public transportation home from the doctor’s office would probably be the worst solution. Walking home (if even possible and in a sick state) would still put me into contact with others in a crowded city. Taking a cab or uber home seems like the only option, but that would still put me in contact with people like the driver and whoever rode after me probably.

      I don’t know what the option would be to not be accused of bad judgment.

      1. Emi.

        I bet the office would give you a face mask, which might help some, but other than that, I don’t know what to do in a situation like that.

      2. Pineapple Incident

        First, it’s so great that you’re even thinking about this, because many people don’t!

        A good option would be to ask whatever doctor’s office you went to for some hand sanitizer, gloves, and a face mask for public transit/walking so you can get home safely, then buy bleach wipes for your house. These things, along with bleach (for surfaces at home, especially if you live with people who can’t get sick), can be bought at most small drug stores too- consider wiping down your credit/debit cards with bleach wipes if you can, because cashiers are exposed to a lot of nasty stuff touching people’s money. Washing your hands often and not touching your face when you are diagnosed with something contagious are also very helpful if you stick to it!

        1. SarahKay

          For what it’s worth, in the UK the advice for norovirus is generally not to go to the doctor at all.
          You have a virus, so they can’t help you and by the way, you’ve possibly just infected all the staff there and everyone else who was waiting to see a doctor. They recommend telephoning for advice particularly if there are other underlying conditions, or there are symptoms of severe dehydration, it lasts more than a few days, and a couple of other provisos.

      3. VroomVroom

        From what I understand, the main spread of norovirus is unwashed hands of the infected person touching something. Then, an uninfected person touches it later. And then touches their face/mouth/eyes without thinking. Think about how many times you touch your face? I tend to be overly germaphobic and if I have to touch a public surface I make a point of balling my fist – so I don’t forget it’s unwashed – until I can hand sanitize OR wash my hands. But I’m sure I slip up sometimes.

    5. Anon-IBD-sufferer

      As someone with Crohn’s (inflammatory bowel disease), I would be in your shoes too as far as not being able to trust someone’s judgement about this. Contracting norovirus from someone would likely put me in the hospital. No matter how accidental causing the outbreak was or non-malicious coworker’s intent was in bringing her son to the office, the contact her contagious son had with multiple surfaces and food sources is kind of ridiculous. If you bring a kid who is having diarrhea/vomiting to any shared space, you know it, and have to bleach surfaces accordingly and be very careful with food handling.

      I know I wouldn’t be able to trust this person again after all that. I’d definitely never eat anything she brought into the office kitchen, at the very least, and be sanitizing like mad if I ever had to shake her hand again or if she touched things on my desk.

  6. The Letter Writer

    Thanks for printing my letter Alison.

    Normally people do not bring children into the office at all. There is no policy allowing it and I cannot recall anyone else ever doing it.

    No one is bullying her, I haven’t seen any and she has not brought it to my attention at all. I don’t know why she didn’t take sick time, we offer paid sick leave, don’t require a doctors note unless it’s for a long term illness and she would not have been penalized for using it. She had not taken a sick day for almost 2 years so she wasn’t on notice about using too much. She has not apologized or said anything besides that she didn’t think it was a big deal.

      1. The Letter Writer

        It is good advice. I will be trying what you suggested. You always give advice. I agree with your second point especially and will be sure to frame any discussion about bringing sick children into the office with as much tact as possible. I’m sure given what’s happened that everyone will understand an office-wide memo.

      2. AD

        Alison, how do you feel about “She has not apologized or said anything besides that she didn’t think it was a big deal.”
        I think that warrants reframing your thinking on how this employee is handling this situation.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I want to know more, like whether she realizes the impact it had on her coworker’s child. And now that she does understand it was a big deal, has that changed her thinking?

          1. Amber T

            Oomph, yeah I read the original post as “she didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but now realizes it was.” But if she STILL doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal… that raises a heck of a lot of red flags.

          2. AGirlCalledFriday

            To me, this almost seems like bending over backwards for this employee. I totally understand that we don’t want to vilify every person who makes a mistake, and that sometimes mistakes do have real consequences. However, the Letter Writer clearly says that to this date and to her knowledge, the employee has neither apologized nor said anything else aside from the fact that she didn’t think it was a big deal. I don’t know what she knew or didn’t know about the virus, I don’t know why she didn’t take a sick day (previous toxic work environment? never sick? proud of a track record of never being sick?). I don’t know if she knew a child was immunocompromised. I don’t think any of this matters. I think the things that matter are here:
            1. No one brings kids into the office and the employee sought to hide her child from everyone else,
            2. When people started getting sick, she said nothing, and
            3. She has not profusely apologized or made any other comment except to be weirdly defensive about it all.

            I don’t think this woman is the devil incarnate, but I do think you are being far, far too easy on her. If she had asked permission and didn’t adequately convey the illness to management, if she brought her child in but let everyone know what was up as soon as she understood the symptoms were the same, if she had brought her child in, not realized everyone had caught her child’s illness, but when she was made aware was extremely concerned and apologetic I would completely agree that a stern conversation about this would be in order. I mean, hell, if she had asked permission to bring her kid in AND let everyone know what happened afterward but felt too uncomfortable to apologize or comment after I would still cut her slack.

            These three things, in my mind, makes me feel like she is untrustworthy or callous about the health of others. This is why I would be letting her go. If she was a rock star employee, I might have the very serious conversation with her while simultaneously preparing to let her go if I see something similar in the future, but not for someone who didn’t have a long track record of being amazing.

    1. Temperance

      She sounds like a colossal jerk. She could have killed someone. At the very least, her stupidity landed a sick child in the hospital. I’m guessing she didn’t offer to cover the bill?

      1. AMG

        The financial impact and the absolute horror that the mother of the child undergoing chemo must have felt. What a low-life. She should be groveling for forgiveness while she carries out a box of her stuff. What a complete jerk.

        1. Temperance

          That’s how I feel about this. I contracted norovirus before I became immunocompromised, and it was hellish. Imagining the pain of that child with cancer, and his/her parent, is making me so angry.

        2. Ren

          My thought is how much did her refusing to tell people it was noro make matters worse? If people had known immediately they would have been able to alter their habits and maybe not pass on the illness so widely. To me that seems far far worse that just bringing a kid in without permission and touching stuff, she knew what the kid had and told no one, doubling down on the awfulness for everyone :(

          1. Temperance

            Oh this is a very good point. When I was exposed, the Department of Health sent us all an email saying that they were running tests but we probably all had norovirus, and then gave us a list of precautions to take. One of my coworkers exposed his mother because he didn’t read the email until a few days after exposure, but the rest of us were able to keep it contained.

      2. Anna

        I’m a little confused about the covering of the bill part. It’s terrible that the kid’s family will have to foot this, but do you really think it’s reasonable to ask the woman to come up with many thousands of dollars herself? That seems…as ridiculous an idea as building a wall in your country and expecting another country to just hand over the cash to pay for it.

          1. fposte

            How many people have you paid for lost work or doctor’s visits when they’ve caught colds from you?

            1. VroomVroom

              If you cause a car accident due to your negligence and someone is injured/hospitalized as a result, you are liable for the costs.

              While we don’t have “sickness insurance” I feel like this woman should at least be offering to help in some way. Additionally, it COULD be a civil case against her? I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know but I feel like this is in so many ways wrong.

              If she’d brought in the kid and just told everyone – “hey Junior is here for a couple of hours because his daycare sent him home sick. I’m going to try to keep him contained but everyone please be vigilant with hand washing today!” I wouldn’t consider her negligent.

              1. fposte

                Right, but I’m saying that we’re mighty quick to assign these costs to other people when we haven’t paid them ourselves.

                (And it really is highly unlikely to be a civil case against her.)

                1. VroomVroom

                  I agree. I just feel like if this had happened because of something I had done (see two options, and continue thought below)
                  – whether I knowingly was aware that I was doing it and thought it wasn’t a big deal (which has happened before) and then realized it WAS a BIG DEAL later when I realized the scale of repurcussions it’d had for someone else
                  – or I had no idea the severity of a seemingly trivial action that I didn’t even pause to consider twice it was so mundane, but it caused severe repercussions for someone else of a similar scale to this
                  I would feel absolutely horrible. And offer to do whatever possible. That may not go as far as ‘let me pay your hospital bills’ but it may be how can I help? Can I bring food? Can I cover for you while you’re out sick with YOUR child? And I would likely give a gift of some significant monetary value.

                  But, I’m not a self-absorbed jerk like a lot of people in this world seem to be. I swear it seems like some people go about life with their heads stuck up their butts and have no idea the problems they cause everyone else – whether they don’t know or don’t care is irrelevant (I’m looking at you, slow drivers in the left lane)

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      If she still doesn’t think this is a big deal and hasn’t apologized, she is monumentally deficient in judgment, ethics, or information, or all three. You absolutely need to have a very, very, serious talk with her, because she affected multiple lives and cost at least one family a significant amount of money for an unnecessary hospital visit.

      1. Newby

        She really really needs to understand that she seriously messed up. If she is still saying that she doesn’t think it is a big deal then maybe she should be fired. I think that letting someone go over one mistake is extreme, but if they don’t even understand why it was wrong, you can’t trust their judgment anymore.

        1. K.

          Agree. I’m seeing red over this, especially the part about the child undergoing chemo. It would be one thing if she were completely contrite – she’d still need a VERY serious talking-to, but at least she’d understand the gravity of her mistake. But she does all this – very literally nearly kills someone and triggers a public health investigation and basically shrugs it off? Fired.

      2. Tuxedo Cat

        I assume the public health worker would’ve explicitly told her that what she did was dangerous, correct? I was willing to believe she might’ve thought this was akin to the flu (although it still is irresponsible to bring in sick children), but if the public health worker didn’t get through to her, that’s really concerning

        1. BeautifulVoid

          I think I’d be equally pissed if she brought in a kid with the flu, and I bet the end results (colleagues taking time off, kid undergoing chemo hospitalized, illness spread to the elderly) would be the same.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Or she’s terrified. I would err on the side of figuring out what’s going on in her head before jumping to conclusions.

    3. Leatherwings

      The fact that she hasn’t taken a sick day in over two years is significant to me. Someone asked above what she was so afraid of job-wise, but if she’s never really taken sick days it probably just wasn’t on her mind that that was even an option. That’s not a good excuse, but probably helps explain why she made that choice.

      1. the_scientist

        I have pretty much endless sympathy for parents who are stuck between the rock and hard place of having a sick child and being penalized for taking sick time or being unable to afford to take time of, but it doesn’t sound like any of those things is true for this woman. There are some people who believe their work and their role to be so essential to the functioning of the company that they can’t possibly take any time off- maybe she is one of those people? Alternatively, maybe she believes that taking a sick day should be reserved for when you’re actually flat-on-your-back-can’t-get-out-of-bed levels of sick and since *she* wasn’t sick she figured it was okay for her to bring her still-sick child to work.

        Regardless, this is such monumentally poor judgement on her part. I’m a public health professional, and my head is spinning over this. If this person was my employee, I’d be having a come-to-Jesus talk with them, for sure, and I’d seriously be considering if this employee showed poor judgement in any other area of her employment and whether she had the common sense and good judgement to continue in her role. The fact that she’s seemingly shrugging it off as not that big of a deal is even more concerning because she’s compounding her initial poor judgement with an inability to evaluate her actions and admit an error.

        1. Leatherwings

          I totally agree that this is poor judgement, and she obviously should’ve taken the kid home. I guess I just don’t know if the employee is shrugging it off because the LW hasn’t had the serious conversation with her yet.

          And again, none of this excuses the poor judgement, but I can see how it came to be given that the employee doesn’t seem to really take sick days. That’s just background info that can inform the serious conversation.

          1. the_scientist

            I guess (and this is my public health professional bias here) I’m wondering how this person doesn’t see it as a big deal despite the fact that their local public health unit had to come and do an outbreak investigation and an infection control person sat down and interviewed her and likely told her that she was the start of this outbreak. When an outside agency has to sit you down to discuss the consequences of your actions at your workplace, I’d think that would lead any reasonable person to realize that they’d made a pretty serious error. Instead this woman said she didn’t think a few hours was that big of a deal. That being said, I think it’s premature to fire her just for this.

            1. Leatherwings

              There are quite a few posts here with other people saying they wouldn’t have recognized it as a huge deal either. She SHOULD have recognized it as a big deal (or at least googled it), sure. But I really don’t see anything in the letter about how she’s totally blown this off or not taken it seriously yet. OP presumably wasn’t even in the room with the public health official when she had this talk, and OP hasn’t had the serious talk yet. I think people are assigning some reactions to the employee that we have no evidence the employee had.

              1. Amber T

                To be fair, the norovirus had been going around my office for about a week before I caught it, and up to that point, all I thought was “oh, everyone is catching this stomach bug.”

            2. TootsNYC

              well, that’s after the fact, of course.

              But yes, it should be a cue that she needs to apologize sincerely to everyone.
              She may be too embarrassed, and that’s something the OP / Letter Writer can guide her through.

            3. Liane

              Not worked in Public Health but do have some graduate coursework in it, so I agree with you that Public Health interviews should have given her a clue or 4.
              BUT, alas, there are Way. Too. Many people who blow off Public Health, Doctors, Scientists, etc., the way you and I would blow off a random claim that eating raw organic cycads* every day will prevent you from dying of anything, ever.
              I am still not on Team Fire Her Now!, but am definitely leaning towards that Serious Talk including “Do you not even realize NOW after Public Health gave you their talk, what a terrible mistake you made? I don’t care whether you took them seriously, but you better take seriously that you are to never bring your sick child into work again, or you will be let go Right Then.”

              *organic or not, these are poisonous

              1. Amber T

                I think this is the path to go. Drive it home that this is a BIG DEAL, she SHOULD NOT have done this, and she SHOULD NOT EVER do this again Then depending on the response is the next course of action. If it’s still “not a big deal” or she doesn’t get the fuss… I’d keep a very careful eye on her.

            4. Sadsack

              I wonder if she didn’t think it was a big deal before bringing her kid in, as opposed to not understanding that it was a very big deal afterward, particularly when being interviewed by the health dept. I have to assume that she realized the impact of her actions at that point. It isn’t clear to me, but I may be overlooking something. OP needs to have the conversation and make sure her employee gets it now.

            5. Mike C.

              I’m really, really frustrated at how these medical/public health professionals are being written off and ignored.

              1. Leatherwings

                I don’t think they’re being written off at all. I now fully understand how serious norovirus is, which is a really good thing. But here’s the thing: The mom made a huge error in judgement, but there’s not a whole ton of info here to indicate that she hasn’t learned from it. She was talked to by a public health official, but that doesn’t mean she realizes how people at work were affected.

                Her manager hasn’t had a serious talk with her yet to guide her through that information. That’s why OP wrote in. Nobody is ignoring the medical professionals here who are saying it’s a big deal. People ARE saying that it’s possible mom didn’t know how big a deal it was. And just because she likely understands now doesn’t mean she knows about how seriously it’s affected her workplace.

                1. Lora

                  Okie dokie. Here’s the deal:

                  If the government authority with extremely thin budgets and underpaid workers and not half enough resources to carry out the mission they’ve been charged with, takes time out of their overwhelmingly busy day to speak with you, when for lesser issues such as bubonic plague (not kidding, it’s in prairie dogs in the southwest and California) they would simply speak with the doctors personally and take notes, it’s a VERY big deal indeed. It’s not a social call, it’s not outreach to encourage people to eat their vegetables, it is the thing they do to decide if they should stick you in a big plastic scrubbable room all alone for a month.

                  There are legal provisions in every state to enforce quarantine, your Constitutional rights be damned. The government officials who decide whether you need to be quarantined are speaking to you nicely. Their next step will be telling you that you aren’t even allowed to go get your mail from your mailbox because you are too contagious.

                  I’ve been quarantined. It’s not fun, even in the comfort of your own home, and you run out of Netflix and internet after a week. Thankfully I live in an area where I can have groceries delivered, and I had a mini-fridge set up outdoors that got disinfected after I collected my delivery. And that was when I happened to be working with something highly infectious for which most of the population is not vaccinated; I was itchy and slightly feverish and grumpy, but otherwise felt pretty OK. It’s way less fun when you are really horribly ill, because you can’t even have your mom/sister/friend come over to make you soup or anything. You just kinda drag yourself between the bathroom and bed, subsisting on crackers, gatorade and ice cream. Or so my colleagues tell me.

                2. TL -

                  @Lora
                  Yeah, you know a lot more about the public health department than most people do. We don’t know what the employee knows about the situation/consequences (does she know 2 immunocompromised people got sick?); we don’t know how she reacted after the health department talked to her, or if she realized it’s a big deal and not something they did to everyone whose kid had norovirus.

                  And she’s almost 100% not up on the bubonic plague in California prairie dogs. So she didn’t know. Sometimes people don’t. Sometimes people don’t know because we, as a society, don’t have good methods to teach them (hi! leaving to go to an international school to learn science outreach because it was literally the only option!), and when we find out they didn’t know, we castigate them for being ignorant and stupid and make darn sure that they never want to spend any more time ever in the company of people who can help them learn.

                  She knows now; we don’t know what her reaction is now that she knows, but that’s for the OP to suss out.

              2. NaoNao

                I am frustrated too, but I understand why. There is *so* much information and “noise” out there about health. Articles, FB posts, blogs, memes, shows, news, etc. There’s also many articles and listicles that have things like “10 most ignorant things said about bodies” and there’s things like “Why don’t you just stand up after sex to avoid getting pregnant? Easy!” and so on!
                Even when offered a plethora of easy to find, easy to read medical facts, many people remain confused (at best) about basic biology. Let alone incubation rates and infection risk for a less-known illness.
                People here in the States seem to have (a perhaps unearned) pride in individualism and making decisions on their own, avoiding a “nanny state” and using their “gut” to find the truth. No amount of stern lectures, google searches, warnings, or quite frankly, even consequences of a severe nature are enough to shake some people out of the mindset “I know best.”
                That’s what I think happened here. This woman felt that, for whatever reason, she knew best.
                And there is a lot of support for that viewpoint out there, like “as a mom, you know your child best” (diaper commercial) or “you know what your baby needs” (baby food ad) or what have you.
                Also, as a side note, I recently babysat for my 2.5 year old nephew and I was in an exhausted daze after like an hour. I thought I could get some work done here and there…nope. It took every ounce of focus and concentration to keep him alive! I’m NOT saying what she was doing was okay, but once he was in the office, if she turned her back for 2 minutes…hello infection city!

          2. Temperance

            I’m honestly baffled at her behavior. She brought a child with norovirus into work, and then only admitted her misdeed when public health officials interviewed her. It seems like she might have been trying to cover her tracks, but honestly, my take on this is skewed because I see it as such a massive violation that I am doubting the employee’s character.

        2. Jadelyn

          “The fact that she’s seemingly shrugging it off as not that big of a deal is even more concerning because she’s compounding her initial poor judgement with an inability to evaluate her actions and admit an error.”

          This is what’s taking it from “What the hell is wrong with you?” to “Nope. Out. Now. Get out. Fired.” for me. Initial ignorance, I can understand if not necessarily excuse. Poor judgment in bringing the kid in, deserves a Serious Conversation at the least. But the fact that after a PUBLIC HEALTH INVESTIGATION and someone’s kid who has cancer being HOSPITALIZED, she still seems to be treating it like “*shrug* nbd, whatever”? That scares the bejeezus out of me and I would have absolutely no faith in her ability to recognize and learn from her own screwups in any situation anymore.

            1. Anna

              Because this has nothing to do with the actual work she produces and if she weren’t a good worker, that would be why you wouldn’t trust her for work things.

              1. PlainJane

                Fair point. I do think it’s natural to wonder, though, if someone who’s this cavalier about something so serious wouldn’t be equally cavalier about other work-related things. I don’t know how much poor judgment and self-centeredness are compartmentalized vs. more general traits. Were I the manager, I’d consider her entire track record. If she had been a stellar employee, that would suggest that this is an aberration rather than an indication that she has generally poor judgment.

      2. A Plain-Dealing Villain

        Actually, people who never take leave are a big red flag for fraud. OP should look over this person’s work carefully, especially if they are in a finance role. Honestly, employers should have a talk with anyone who isn’t taking leave, because it also hurts productivity.

        1. Leatherwings

          The fraud thing is a huge huge leap. But I agree that OP should impress upon the employee that sick days can and should be used.

          1. Jenna

            Well, it’s a Venn diagram, and although the group of people who never take leave includes lots of people who are just healthy and not interested in vacation, it also includes people who don’t want other people having any reason for checking their work.
            In turn, that smaller group has people who just don’t like being checked up on, and also a group that has done something shady that they can hide better if no one touches that task.

            1. Leatherwings

              Yeah, I hear that not everyone who never takes sick days is committing fraud, but given that there’s no indication of that concern from OP, I think it just adds an extra layer of unnecessary and unhelpful speculation.

          2. Blue Anne

            Honestly, it is something we’re taught to look for as auditors. If an employee who has enough access to finances to be able to commit fraud and hasn’t had any time off in years, that’s a red flag. It’s not necessarily enough to require more audit work on its own but if there are any concerns at all, it has happened that the employee has been told to take holiday during the audit, with very little or no warning.

            1. Ren

              When I worked in the banking industry it was a requirement to take several weeks leave back to back because most fraud would start to smell by then and someone else would have touched on your work enough to spot inconsistencies. It was a really good idea and did catch some people out while I was there. But that was time off not sick leave

            2. Natalie

              Except all we know is that the person hasn’t taken a sick day, not that they’ve never taken any time off.

              1. Blue Anne

                Oh, totally. I’m just saying it’s not actually a crazy thing to think of, it’s actually something auditors do look at. That doesn’t mean it’s accurate in this case, though.

            3. Poppy

              Yup, I once worked for a small accounting firm and they required employees to take at least one 2-week vacation per year specifically to discourage/catch fraud. It helped they also had a generous vacation policy, so people were never upset about that requirement.

        2. AMG

          It is true–that is one of the markers of someone committing fraud. Is not conviction-worthy but should be looked at.

          1. JB (not in Houston)

            Whoa, that’s a huge leap for just not taking sick days. Over the years I’ve worked with lots of people who rarely take sick days because they don’t get sick, or because they feel like it makes them look bad, or for other reasons besides fraud.

            1. AMG

              It’s just one data point and a well-established marker. Doesn’t mean everyone who doesn’t take sick days is clearly a criminal, just something to check and see if she has any of the other markers.

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                Frankly, it sounds like people are just trying to vilify her further. She did this thing, she is clearly a garbage human being, so we better check to make sure she’s not also committing fraud. I’m not buying it.

                1. neverjaunty

                  But this isn’t “she never takes time off”. It’s that she never takes sick days. Those really aren’t the same thing.

                2. Mike C.

                  It’s a common issue in some industries, like finance. The folks making those comments work in industries where that’s a huge issue which is why they’re taking it seriously. It’s the same reason I’m focusing on health and safety, because that’s a serious issue in my industry.

                3. JB (not in Houston)

                  @Mike C I’m not saying that this isn’t a common practice in some industries. I’m saying that the math people are doing here to get to “you need to check she’s not committing fraud because she doesn’t take *sick* days” is a leap, and people saying it should happen are people who seem to thing she’s a low-life human being, and therefore capable of anything.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  @AMG, it’s not well-established across all industries. I really feel like people are just digging for any excuse to confirm that they think this woman is some sociopathic degenerate.

        3. Susan C.

          Seconding Leatherwings – I know what you’re talking about, but we don’t actually know whether she’s never taken any vacation either.

        4. BPT

          Whoa, huge leap. First, OP said that she hadn’t taken a sick day, not that she hadn’t taken vacation or anything. Secondly, there’s really just no reason to go there in the context of this question.

      3. Emmie

        Me too! It is a red flag for me.
        • Is it a personality issue? Some folks are perfectionists, martyrs, feel guilty, or have trouble making the “do I call off” judgement call. Maybe she feels that only she can do the work; likes the reward for doing things despite tough circumstances; or these habits are ingrained from a prior employer.
        • There is an element of sneakiness about keeping the child in her office. If no one else brings a child in, she has to be aware of that culture. How did she not know that?
        • I would be especially tuned in if she does work that no one else does, like she is the only payroll, accountant or bookkeeper. When someone in that role feels like they cannot take a day off in two years, I should at least be doing some kind of audit to ensure that those books are consistent with our practices. And also ensuring that she has a well-trained back up in her absence.
        • Is she worried about job security? Does her company offer paid sick days? How are others treated when there’s a sick day?
        She could have been genuinely unaware of these things, but I would investigate these other issues too.

        1. Jesmlet

          Now I’m feeling super insecure about the fact that I haven’t taken any days off yet. I’ve been at my new job about 10 months and haven’t used any sick or vacation days. But then again I haven’t gotten sick and because of certain circumstances, haven’t taken a vacation yet this year. Hopefully no one considers this a red flag for me… Oh well

            1. Jesmlet

              Lol thanks for the encouragement. Planning a family vaca for July as we speak but that’s a while away and there’s no reason before that to take any time. Meanwhile I’m sitting in an empty office (literally) and my boss didn’t even bother putting time in… he’s just not here. Must’ve had too much to drink last night with the Superbowl.

              1. Marillenbaum

                Just because you aren’t going on a specific vacation doesn’t mean there’s no reason to take time off before then. Maybe pick a random Wednesday-Thursday and give yourself a treat! Go to the movies, sleep in, binge-watch something on Netflix. It can be remarkably restorative to have a day off for no “good” reason other than wanting one.

          1. NK

            If you’re not showing up to the office sick, no one is going to think twice about the fact that you haven’t taken any sick days. Even not taking a vacation day in your first 10 months on the job isn’t all that unusual (though I’m a big proponent of using your vacation).

            I think OP just brought up the lack of taking sick days to make the point that there seems to be no reason the employee couldn’t have taken one.

          2. Emmie

            It’s always hard to figure that first PTO out when you’re new in the company. It helps that you’re planning and probably have already requested time off for July. Enjoy your well deserved vacation!

          3. Emmie

            And to be fair, the “red flag” might mean that I am doing something wrong as a director – not you as an employee.

      4. Jessesgirl72

        But surely, since she has worked there for at least two years, she has seen other people take sick days and not be penalized for them!

      5. SittingDuck

        “The fact that she hasn’t taken a sick day in over two years is significant to me”

        OP, I know you say she wouldn’t be penalized for using sick leave – but I wonder if she clearly knows this? Since she hasn’t taken any sick days in over 2 years – it would seem to me that she either a)isn’t aware she has them to use b) isn’t clear on the policy that her child being sick can count as a ‘sick’ day for her c) feels she will be penalized for using it.

        While it may be clear to you in a managerial/HR? role that people are not penalized for using sick days I wonder if she previously had a job where sick days where heavily discouraged and that is the mindset she is currently in still?

        Not that this is an excuse for what she did – I covet the small amount of sick/paid leave I have and do try to find ways around using it when I am healthy but my child is sick (such as finding someone else to watch him who doesn’t have kids of their own….NOT bringing him to work….) and its particularly hard when a child is ‘too sick’ to go to school, but showing no symptoms at all (last year my son had a few episodes of ‘nervous induced vomiting’ that would occur once per day – he was not ‘sick'(in the terms of carrying an illness) just having anxiety issues and throwing up due to it, but the rule at schools is 24 hours after throwing up before you can return to school, it was incredibly frustrating to have to use my sick/vacation time from work to spend the day at home with my active, healthy and capable child, I exhausted my sick/vacation time due to this which is very frustrating as a parent)

        It sounds like this child was up and about and not displaying symptoms of being sick – but the parent was stuck by the school rules of when the child can return – so again, not excusing the behavior, but as a Mom myself I can see a bit of the thought process of ‘oh well he’s fine, he’ll just hang out in my office and color/read while I work’. She may not have known he was still contagious even. (That being said I would never bring my child to work without first asking management…..and I would actually never even ask because I already know that its just not a thing that is allowed)

        And – just to play a bit of devils advocate – I feel it is also possible that the norovirus came from someone else in the office – anyone else could have caught it a number of different places and brought it in before they showed symptoms themselves around the same time this boy was in the office. The thing with these viruses is its pretty hard to trace the exact origin – it totally could have come from the child – but I feel that its a pretty hard thing to prove (perhaps i’m wrong on this though?) that no-one else may have also brought it into the office.

        Correlation does not mean causation…..

          1. Lady Blerd

            SittingDuck is correct. You can be an asymptomatic carrier, like a lot of communicable diseases.

            1. Anna

              My grandmother carried TB. She wasn’t contagious, she didn’t give it to anyone, but she sure did carry it around. My friend is a nurse and has been vaccinated against MMR a bazillion times, but every time they do her test thing (starts with a T) she shows no antibodies, so they stick her again. The human body can be a super weird thing.

              1. Natalie

                The infamous Typhoid Mary was almost certainly an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. Given the time period, it’s one of the reasons they eventually had to quarantine her – she didn’t feel sick, so she didn’t believe that she was making other people sick.

                1. Rater Z

                  There is a video on You Tube about her, which I saw just a few weeks ago. They almost had to hogtie her to get her out to the island so that she wasn’t around anyone else who could get it (other than other patients who were also quarantined for other reasons). She was a family cook who had no idea she had typhoid and didn’t believe she might have it or pass it on. She wouldn’t even believe Public Health. She kept disappearing and finding new families to work for.

                2. Rater Z

                  My error…she never had typhoid but was definitely a a carrier for it. They had found her because a scientist was checking out a theory that someone could pass it even though they never actually had been sick from it.

              2. VroomVroom

                I’m a carrier for Mono (kissing disease). I’ve never gotten it, that I know of, but I gave it to my now-husband when we first started dating. He came down with it, and I was all worried I’d get it – you’re apparently contagious for a few weeks before you’re symptomatic, so I could easily have already had it and not be sick yet – and so I went and got a blood test to see if I had it. The blood test confirmed that not only was I NOT sick, but that I was a carrier.

                I learned that apparently only 33% of people who get mono ever get symptoms. If you never had mono, and you’re now an adult, you probably got exposed to it at some point and just never got symptoms. Meaning, you could be a carrier of it (not all people who get it are carriers, and you’re not always contagious it can just flare up). Funnily enough, my older brother and younger sister came down with it at the same time about a year later – again, strong possibility it came from me. My brother was 26 and my sister was 18. Her case was much more mild – bad symptoms at first but didn’t last terribly long. He was sick as a dog for about 4 months.

                Given that I’m my husband’s first girlfriend, the running joke is now that I gave him mono.

        1. Artemesia

          If the kid had the illness but had not been ‘clear’ for 24 hours or whatever he would still be very contagious — norovirus hangs around in the stools for a couple of weeks at least, after symptoms have abated.

    4. Grits McGee

      LW, does your direct report know about all the issues her coworkers have had (ie, the child who was hospitalized, the grandmother, the number of family members of employees who were infected)? If she does’t, I think when you talk to her this would be good information for her to know, not necessarily to browbeat her, but so that she knows the full cost to the business and her coworkers.

    5. Tuckerman

      Can parents use sick time for their children though? At my job, you can only use 5 days of sick time per year for a child. Then you need to use vacation time.

    6. Cerberus

      There’s definitely an overdue conversation here. You need to find out exactly why she felt she couldn’t use a sick day to care for a sick child. Is that not the purpose of sick leave? Does she understand that? If she can’t understand that the company wants her to use that leave or if she thinks that it’s acceptable to NOT use it and bring her child in, then I think you have a huge red flag waving at you. It would definitely be time to question her judgement. But it is also entirely possible that something previously has been said or done to make her think that taking sick leave isn’t really a good thing. If she can justify that, then I think there needs to be some wiggle room given to her for that aspect of the issue.

      However, the most concerning aspect to me is her utter disregard for the consequences of her poor choices. If she cannot understand why this was a big deal, then I think it shows a major character flaw that may prevent her from working well with others. If she cannot have compassion for the coworker whose child is hospitalized because of this virus or the coworker whose parents in the retirement home are suffering then I question her ability to make sound judgments on any sort of work. That may certainly not be applicable in your industry, but if she interacts with the public or with clients, that lack of compassion may be problematic. For goodness sake, the Public Health Department was investigating the outbreak! That’s a big deal. If she can’t recognize that as a big deal and agree to make changes that reflect that (by apologizing and taking leave when needed), then she is not a good fit for that job.

    7. Bonky

      She did this awful thing in the first place, knowing it was against the rules, knowing that office policy gave her an easy way to deal with the problem (take sick leave).

      She compounded it by lying by omission until the authorities got involved – she kept quiet when other people in the office started showing the same symptoms.

      Even after the episode, she will not acknowledge that she did anything wrong, and minimises what happened.

      She will not apologise.

      In my organisation, that’s gross insubordination. We’d fire her. And I promise you that my organisation is *not* one that’s quick to dismiss people.

      1. Artemesia

        Most people try to cover up their misdeeds. I heard of a case where there was staph transmitted during surgery and an investigation was undertaken to see which doctors were carrying the germs; several of them dosed themselves up with antibiotics so that they could not be identified as possible carriers.

        Hiding one’s sins is pretty common behavior especially when it has a big impact on others.

    8. eplawyer

      Hasn’t taken a sick day in 2 years? She’s afraid to use it. Even though she has it, she is afraid what will happen if she does. So she only thought “I can’t take sick leave because it’s bad to use it.” The rest then kind of happened.

      1. Tuxedo Cat

        It could be that but it could be she just never had a reason to. Up until this past Christmas, I never used any sick leave until I found myself sick with the flu. I have been at my job for over 2 years.

        I know she has a kid, but her circumstances in the past might’ve allowed for her spouse, the grandparents, or someone like that to watch the child if the kid was sick.

        The best thing for the OP to do is to ask why she brought in the kid.

    9. Amazed

      Does she know you offer paid sick leave? If she hasn’t taken a day in 2 years she might not have been familiar enough with the policy.

    10. kb

      LW, if you’re updating policy or sending out a company/dept wide email, I’d mention that staying home when a child/family member/ cohabitee has a severe, contagious illness (and I’d provide examples) is encouraged. Because while the the employee bringing in a child she knew had the illness increases the “what was she thinking” factor and made the outbreak larger and more certain, the employee herself could have brought the illness from her sick child. I’d even mention that there are immunocompromised people (not naming them) in the community for whom exposure would be dire so everyone fromantic his point forward concretely knows how big of a deal this is.

    11. Observer

      Your email should be tactful, but crystal clear.

      In your conversation with her, in private, though, you need to not worry too much about tact. You need to be clear about the policy on sick time, the policy on children in the office, and the need to be minimally considerate of other people. You also need to make is clear to her that this IS a big deal – tell her in completely clear terms what some of the known consequences of her behavior were.

      Here’s the thing – Allison’s advice assumes that your conversation will have some results. You need to think about what to do if it doesn’t. If she still insists that what she did was no big deal you have a real problem on your hands. At minimum, I would be looking very very hard at the rest of her work, and the way she interacts with other people. Not as a punishment, but because she has shown that she cannot admit that she messed up. That’s a problem all on its own.

      Lots of luck, and please do update.

    12. Oh no, not again

      I’m dismayed by some of the comments. At what point is a person culpable for someone else health and well-being? Where is the responsibility of the caretakers in practicing excellent hygiene to prevent those in their care from getting ill? We come across all sorts of pathogens in day to day life- even if you show no symptoms, you can be a carrier for an illness that can be devastating to someone immunocompromised. Do we all wear masks in public? No, we don’t. I myself had an infection for a long time before I was diagnosed. I thought I had IBS. Turns out I had something infectious that needed treatment. I was upfront with work as soon as I was diagnosed, but what then had I passed it on to someone else before I was diagnosed and they blamed me for not getting my symptoms checked out sooner? Risk is everywhere–caretakers should exercise utmost caution and workplaces should make it crystal clear what policy is regarding sickness and sick time. Have mandatory meetings regarding illness and when one should stay home and for fudge sake, do not bring your kids to work! The workplace in question shoulders some of the responsibility here–communication matters. Make sure employees know how serious this issue is.

      1. Anne Marie

        How on earth is the workplace responsible? These employees are adults and shouldn’t have to be told everything they can and can’t do. You don’t let a super infectious sick child to work and let them get into the food.

      1. Elizabeth H.

        She may not have brought him to the potluck but it is not like he is a wild animal who once introduced into a building, there’s no reasonable way to control his movements thereafter. Especially when it’s an office culture when nobody brings their kid to work like this and you are not really supposed to have your kid at work, particularly a sick kid, you would have thought she would have been extremely careful to supervise him very closely. Yes mistakes can happen but it’s legitimate for mistakes to have consequences, that’s why we think of them as mistakes and not “ok things to happen.”

      2. MashaKasha

        It kind of does: “he came out of her office because there was a potluck and he saw the cake and the food on a table by the coffee maker. It was at this point that she was found out (for bringing him to work) and was asked to take him home. But he had already been in the office for several hours and had been in contact with food from the potluck.” How could he have seen the potluck food, and come into contact with the potluck food, if he hadn’t been at the potluck?

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden

          I read that as, he took himself out of the office because he saw food; not that Mom necessarily took him out to the potluck, since mom had snuck him into work in the first place. If there was potluck food out, but no one watching it at that moment, he could have gone dish to dish, touching spoons, licking them, etc. before anyone noticed.

    1. cncx

      yes. i generally have a lot of sympathy for parents who sneak their kids in, especially in the US…but the lack of judgment in letting a kid with norovirus at a potluck is what sealed the deal for me.

  7. Temperance

    I was exposed to norovirus at a work event a few years ago. It was awful. I was incredibly ill for a few days, but I was lucky – many others at the event ended up in the hospital.

    I probably would have a very hard time dealing with this person. Your kid is sick, you know what norovirus is because of how seriously the daycare treated the outbreak, and at the very least, you don’t keep your germy kid away from communal food? That’s absolutely disgusting at best.

    1. Kyrielle

      To be fair, daycare treats *everything* seriously…and they don’t always know it’s norovirus. There’s a “stomach bug” going around, your kid gets and gets sent home, and you really don’t know if it’s norovirus or something else. (Did the assistant confirm the daycare said ‘norovirus’ or did they say something else?)

      I once had a child who had to be out for an afternoon and all of the following day because he was fussy and unhappy and “had a fever” when they checked his temperature. He was unusually warm when I picked him up…he had taken a large blanket for nap time (because his usual one was dirty) and instead of putting one layer over him, they had wrapped him up in it so he had like three layers of plush fleece all around him, in a well-heated room! When they determined he was “sick” they kept him bundled up and cuddled him. I immediately removed him from it, and within less than five minutes he felt to be at a normal temperature. Within ten we were home, I took his temperature, and it was totally normal. But, he was still out a whole day, because regulations, and he’d had a “fever”.

      Day care’s level of taking things seriously is such that you really can’t actually count on it being serious when they act like it is, IMX. Understandably, because no one really wants an illness like norovirus or pinkeye to spread everywhere, and you can’t always judge what you’re dealing with until it’s too late – but parents do have to make a best-guess based off what they know and “day care took it seriously” is…a pretty weak data point.

      I would never bring my kid, sick with anything, into the office. But I can see where a parent might not have had – at that moment – all the data. Did she know it was norovirus specifically? Did she know what norovirus is?

      1. Helen

        OP said that the daycare called this employee’s assistant and told them her son needed to be picked up due to the outbreak. The employee also admitted that she knew the daycare had a norovirus outbreak but that she brought him into work anyways. So the facts show she knew it was norovirus and brought her son into work anyway.

        1. Evan Þ

          But did she know how serious norovirus is? Upthread, we’ve got several people saying they had to Google it. Myself, I didn’t have the least idea until I happened to learn it from my grandma just last year.

          1. Jesmlet

            That’s part of the point though, when your vulnerable loved one gets exposed to an illness with something that has a very specific name, why wouldn’t you just google it to find out how dangerous it is? I find it so hard to believe that she didn’t look it up. Either she did and she ignored how serious it was, or she figured it wouldn’t matter. Either way, bad judgment.

              1. Emi.

                Whoops–I was remembering that there was an outbreak at the daycare, not that this specific child had it. But still, if my kid had a disease I didn’t know about, I’d check Wikipedia (“The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. Although having norovirus can be unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous and most who contract it make a full recovery within two to three days.”) or the CDC (“You can become infected with norovirus by accidentally getting stool or vomit from infected people in your mouth.”).

                1. Jesmlet

                  I get it… I’m not saying go crazy and stick your kid in a bubble, but because you work with other people who may have elderly or newborns at home or otherwise in their lives, I just think bringing any kid to work like that is dangerous especially given the type of illness it is. It’s like bringing your kid to work when they have the flu. Most people recover just fine, but it’s very dangerous for a certain percentage of the population and why risk exposing them to that?

                2. Emi.

                  Oh, I definitely think it’s inappropriate to take a sick kid to work. I just don’t think it’s so beyond the pale that someone wouldn’t think noro was particularly bad as far as sickness goes—even if you google it, you might not realize how serious it is.

                3. Observer

                  Of course bringing your sick kid to work is a REALLY bad idea. But, the comparison to flu is apt here. Most people would NOT see a flu as something to be all that worried about. And, that’s despite all of the publicity around the issue.

              2. Jesmlet

                Okay, totally your prerogative. If someone at my kid’s daycare told me another kid brought in a highly contagious disease, at the very least I’d be curious enough to look up the symptoms so I could watch out for them, just out of an abundance of caution… but that’s just me.

                1. Emi.

                  Well, I’d probably look it up casually when I got home. When I wrote that comment, I thought the daycare had sent everyone home because another kid was sick. In that case, I wouldn’t bother looking it up before I took the kid to sit in my office, if that was my plan (although it wouldn’t be). But it turns out that’s not applicable here.

              3. Temperance

                I’ll admit that I’m a germaphobe, but I’ve seen this response throughout the thread and I find it surprising. I would research the disease before making any other moves. Otherwise, how do I know how contagious it is, whether we need to see a doctor, if any OTC meds might help, etc.? I wouldn’t just grab a kid who is vomiting or has vomited and bring him to my office.

                1. kb

                  Yeah, I’m an avid Googler of all things, so it surprises me that someone wouldn’t Google something they didn’t know, but I think it’s just as likely that this woman *thought* she knew what norovirus is and was wrong. Because it’s been found at a lot of food establishments lately (Chipotle), people assume it’s food poisoning and not contagious. That’s completely incorrect, but I could see why someone would think that and therefore think it’s no biggie to come to work (bringing a child to work still strikes me as odd, but I don’t have kids and my workplace just isn’t a place for kids due to the nature of our work).

            1. Observer

              Your reaction is actually out of the norm. What’s more many doctors actually discourage parents from googling illnesses. So, acting like a person is an evil and neglectful parent because they don’t react the same way you do, is just not reasonable.

          2. KM

            This. I’ve never heard the term “norovirus” before this post, and, based on what people are describing, I guess it’s a lot more serious that what I think of when I hear “stomach flu.” I can easily imagine thinking that this was no more serious or contagious than a regular cold and that the risk to anyone else would be minimal if she just kept him in her office for a few hours. That… seems like a reasonable thing to think to me, if we leave out the part where she’s not supposed to bring her kid to work with her at all.

            1. Artemesia

              Norovirus IS stomach flu — it is one of the most common viruses that cause these symptoms. Most people are sort of okay in 48 hours or less — but it can really raise havoc with those with weak immune systems the very young and old and people with chronic illnesses.

      2. kbeers0su

        I once got a call like this. It was summer, mid-afternoon, warm outside. Standard for them to put the kids in swimsuits and do water play out in the yard. When I got there daughter had rosy cheeks and did feel warm, but it’s summer, it’s hot out, and they’re in the sun. I took her home anyways because I didn’t have much to do in the office and was looking forward to hanging out with her. By the time we had made the 7 minute drive home her cheeks were fine and she was normal temp. I took her temperature to be sure and called the daycare to tell them that she wasn’t ill, and that I suspected she was just overheated from being out in the sun. They at least apologized profusely and didn’t make a fuss when I dropped her off the next morning.

    2. Salamander

      I am really not having much sympathy for this person. I picked up a life-threatening C. diff infection last year, and I was in quarantine for months after I got out of the hospital. Months. I didn’t break quarantine because I sure didn’t want to visit this illness on anyone else. Not my mother, not the pizza guy, nobody. Not all germs out there are susceptible to be killed with the ubiquitous hand sanitizers that folks seem to think are magic talismans. The really bad stuff out there is completely unfazed by anything but bleach, and lots of it.

      This worker spread it around knowingly. Other people got sick. And they’ll be feeling the effects of this for quite awhile, I’d bet. If the child undergoing chemo had a lengthy stay, that might increase everyone else’s insurance premiums.

    1. BetsyTacy

      Okay, I’m going to push back on this.

      In general, yeah- you’ve got to keep sick kids home. The pressure to keep up at work after you’ve had a kid is real. I was one of those people who rarely took sick days and now I’m in a place in life where I am often facing the dilemma of the meeting I can’t miss or the sick kid (partner travels for work). I feel like I need to argue for the other side for a moment and say that sometimes, it really isn’t that big of a deal. Norovirus though- that I would basically stick the kid in a bubble and come out 3 days later reeking of bleach.

      Sometimes, if something is going around they’re more apt to call at the slightest sign of a cough or fever. I’ve gotten the call when something was going around and ‘kid seemed a little grumpy waking up and his temp was 99’. In that case, I did consider just bringing him back to my office to finish the day. The pressure of being a parent and keeping up like you did before you were a parent, including not missing time, is real.

      1. BelleD

        I think people are also responding to the woman’s lack of remorse, even after being told how seriously she had hurt her co-workers. I get it that people can be defensive rather than admit wrongdoing, but in this case the lack of apology rubs salt into the wound.

        1. BetsyTacy

          The lack of remorse is ridiculous, I agree. I noticed that the thread had started to go in a ‘if your kid is at all sick, you keep them home’ thread, which I think is a little extreme.

          My office is one where we technically can’t work from home when caring for a sick kid, but it’s kind of a don’t ask/don’t tell policy when you need to get work done but also have a sick kid. We also just got a WFH policy this year- previously, you were still expected to WFH but also had to charge a sick day. Worst of both worlds right there.

      2. Parenthetically

        Agreed with all of this. I remember occasionally having to go to work with my dad when I was very mildly sick and my mother didn’t want to take the day (she didn’t get paid if she didn’t work). Obviously this situation is different as the employee had paid sick leave, but I’m loathe to say “99.2 fever and the grumps” = “too sick to sleep and sip ginger ale on the couch in dad’s office.”

        1. Allison

          Yeah, I had to go in with my mom when I was mildly sick. This was in the 90’s and early 2000s where working from home when you or your kid was sick was a relatively new, not yet widely embraced concept. There were days where she told me “99 is barely a fever, I can’t stay home today so either you go to school or you go to work with me.”

      3. AMG

        But if you read upthread, that’s not the position she is in. I hear ya–I have 2 elementary school kids and am the sole provider for the house. My husband is too chronically ill to care for them. So when they are sick for the umpteenth time and I have a deadline, it completely sucks. But you call in sick–it’s just what you do.

      4. MashaKasha

        Second this. My children’s daycare had a policy where, if a child threw up, he or she was considered contagious and had to be picked up immediately and not brought back until 24 hours later (can’t remember if we needed a doctor’s note). Which is a great and reasonable policy, unless your kid is going through the two-year period in his life where he nervously throws up at the drop of a hat. On top of getting carsick over the course of a 15-minute ride, and not able to properly digest a lot of foods. Which happened to be the case with my youngest. I got calls from daycare on a weekly basis to pick him up immediately. One time I loaded a healthy kid into my car and fifteen minutes later he got out of the car in the daycare parking lot and immediately threw up. The daycare employees met us at the door and turned us around when we tried to come in. That, by the way, was the day when I brought him to work, because my mom, who was normally willing to babysit him in emergency situations, refused to do so on a five-minute notice. Did I mention that my employer at the time offered zero paid time off for the entire first year of working there, and five days a year after? So yes, some daycares overreact. However if my kid’s daycare called and used words like “virus”, “outbreak”, i.e. if they made it clear that it was a legitimate disease going around at the center, and if my kid didn’t have a history of randomly throwing up daily, I would’ve taken that kid straight home.

        1. many bells down

          My daughter has a digestive disorder that started causing problems in her teens. One of the symptoms is vomiting. It’s not contagious, it’s caused by a physical anomaly in her digestive tract. First the school insisted she had to be out for 24 hours after vomiting. Then they got mad that she was missing too much school. We went back and forth with the school and the truant officers and still they’d try to send her home if she had an episode at school. We couldn’t get the school to accommodate her until she was actually hospitalized for a week to treat it.

      5. PlainJane

        I’m going to push back on your push-back. I don’t think preschoolers–especially sick ones–belong in the workplace. Unless the child sleeps the whole time, a parent isn’t going to be able to get much work done while watching the child, and if a child is unwatched at work (where generally things aren’t child-proofed), the child could get hurt. I’m a working parent, and I do know it’s tough to manage sick kids and keep up on work. But that’s not a valid reason for bringing a very young, sick child into the office to infect your co-workers.

    2. Michelle

      I worked for Head Start about 15 years ago. I can’t tell you how many times we had to send sick kids home.

      One child threw up on the bus on the way to school and when they got to school, they threw up several more times. Their skin was hot to the touch, but I couldn’t take her temp because she gagged when I tried to put the thermometer in her mouth. The teacher had her in the restroom and I was calling the Mom. She wouldn’t answer. I finally left her a message stating that if she did not come pick up her child, we would be sending them to the ER and she could meet child services there. She showed up and said she “didn’t understand the problem because she had given her Pepto-Bismol and Tylenol” . I asked her incredulously ” So you knew she was sick, throwing up with a fever and you sent her to school anyway?!? You have exposed all the children on the bus, all the children in her classroom and staff members to whatever she had and you don’t understand the problem??”

      I realize norovirus is much, much worse but this kid ended up being out for the rest of the week, plus 2 days the next week. The center director wouldn’t let her return without a doctor’s note saying she was no longer contagious. Four other kids got sick, the teacher got sick and I felt bad for 2 days, so I stayed home.

      1. Michelle

        Just to clarify- we wouldn’t be calling child services because the child was sick, it was a policy that if we had to transport kids to the hospital for anything other than an emergency (broken bones, hitting their head & being unconscious, severe cut, etc.) child services had to be notified. I know many will not agree with that, but I had to follow policies of the program.

      2. the_scientist

        My aunt ran a daycare for 15 years and this is a near-daily occurrence. Parents who know their kid has a fever will dose them with tylenol in the hopes of making it through the day, plus pepto if the kid is throwing up. they know daycares typically send any kids who are febrile home and they have to stay home until they are back to a normal temp, same with vomiting.

        Having said that, my aunt worked in a lower-income community. These parents weren’t, generally speaking, doing this because they didn’t feel like looking after their kid, they were doing it because they worked in precarious jobs with no paid sick leave. They risked losing money (or worse, losing their job) if they took time off to care for their sick children. Is it fair that they’re exposing everyone at the daycare to infection? No, it’s not, but it’s also not fair that they might be fired because their kid got sick.

        1. PlainJane

          I have great sympathy for parents in this situation. I have none for the person described by the letter-writer, who had sick leave and still chose to bring a sick child to the office.

          1. VroomVroom

            I may have sympathy for parents in that situation, but that’s exactly why my soon-to-be-kid isn’t going into daycare and we’ve lined up a private nanny.

            1. Zahra

              You are very, very lucky that you can afford a private nanny. Most people can’t (even on what you’d consider a very good compensation package) and a lot of people barely can afford daycare.

              1. VroomVroom

                I know how lucky I am. My husband and I both work very hard and are probably in the 1% for our age range. We have student loans, and a mortgage, but we bought a house that was less than half of what we could afford (not just what we were approved for, what we could actually afford to spend each month) so that we could have disposable income for trips/etc. and then eventually for babies/childcare – and 3 years later that disposable income is now going to go towards childcare.

                I certainly feel for people who have less. But because I can afford it, I won’t be exposing my child to the fact that many companies don’t offer good sick leave, and therefore many families have to send kids to daycare sick and hope for the best. Just because I feel for them doesn’t mean I have to have my kid get their kids’ germs.

      3. chomps

        Piggybacking of off what the_scientist said, I have a lot more sympathy for a parent of a child in head start doing this. Head start is only available to low-income families and most of the parents have the types of jobs where, at the very least, you don’t get paid if you don’t come in and at most you might get fired. It definitely sucks that that happened, but I have a lot more sympathy for a mom making in that situation sending her kid in than a mom in a situation where she has sick leave and isn’t penalized for using it to stay home with a sick child.

    3. Us, Too

      In my experience, my kids have been sent home from daycare for some absolutely absurd reasons.

      One time I was forced to come pick up my kid because there was a round of pink eye going around and he had started crying and rubbing one of his eyes. When I got there his eye looked perfectly fine – I couldn’t even tell which eye was supposed to be infected. So I asked him what was wrong and he said “so and so poked me in the eye, but it feels better now.”

      BUT… I had to take the entire rest of the day off work and take him to the doctor (copay $!) just to have the doctor look at his eye and say “not pink eye. What happened, son?” “I got poked in the eye” “Yep, that sounds about right.”

      I lost 3/4 of a work day and spent a lot of money just to verify that someone had poked him in the eye EXACTLY AS HE HAD SAID.

      That is not to count the number of times he has puked and it was because he has sinus drainage, not a virus. Etc.

      So, yes, sometimes kids are sent home because they are legit contagious or legit sick, but sometimes it’s mostly the result of zealous health policies.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        If you’re going to second-guess your daycare, though, best Google it and have reasons, rather than wing it and conclude it’s probably NBD based on nothing but your own guess.

        1. Emi.

          That’s a false dichotomy–the kid said he got poked in the eye. It’s not just a guess. It is a reason, and it’s not like “Google” is a reliable source of health information.

          1. SignalLost

            But I’d love to see the google result that said “Your kid got poked in the eye.” Like, diagnostically. Not for “my kid says his eye hurts – what’s wrong”, just “what is wrong with my kid’s eye.” “Your kid got poked in the eye.”

      2. Jessie the First (or second)

        Sure – but your example of an overzealous daycare policy is completely different and irrelevant.

        If there is an actual illness involved – like there was in the letter, where the child was showing symptoms and the parent knew it and there was no question of anything being invented or silly – and you are told what the illness is, then if you do not know that illness, you google it or make SOME effort to find out something about it.

        Your story of having your kid get poked in the eye doesn’t change that. It’s common sense, right? I mean, if your kid really DID have pinkeye and you didn’t know what it was, you’d google it, right? I assume you are not suggesting that when a child is vomiting it’s fine to assume it’s not real because it is theoretically possible that your child is not sick.

        1. Us, Too

          Here’s why it’s relevant. This is SUPER common and it lends itself to parents treating daycare as sometimes a “Chicken Little”.

          In fact, every single time (probably over a dozen times now?) that my daycare has sent my kid home because “x” is going around and my kid is showing symptoms… my kid has not had the disease!

          In other words, parents often treat any kind of “medical” assessment made by daycare with great credulity because they are usually wrong (or at least they have been for me) and err on the side of caution – which I get but which creates a situation like the above pretty easily.

          If I had a dollar for every time my kid allegedly had whatever puking virus was going around and when I brought them to the doctor learned that it was just sinus drainage… UGH.

          Unless this woman was told by a pediatrician that her kid had norovirus, I can sort of understand why she wouldn’t necessarily take a daycare worker at face value.

          If you combine that skepticism with the fact that it can be impossible to get in the same day for a ped appointment to confirm it, I see how this can happen.

          (I wouldn’t bring my kid into work, but I get why a parent wouldn’t give a lot of weight to a daycare’s medical assessment.)

        2. Us, Too

          Incidentally, puking is actually a fantastic example. It’s allergy season right now and my kid has terrible drainage issues. He pukes daily (literally) because he has a highly sensitive gag reflex and the drainage causes a throat tickle. This is most common at night and during nap time, but he’ll have the odd coughing-puking spell now and then at other times.

          So in my kid’s situation, if they told me he was puking the first thing I’d ask is “does he have a fever? Was it after coughing? Are there any other symptoms?” etc.

  8. LoiraSafada

    Unreal. This would honestly make it hard for me to work with this person going forward. What an incredible lack of basic decency and common sense.

  9. Namast'ay In Bed

    Oh man I had a coworker at OldJob come to work feeling and sounding like death because he didn’t want to “waste” a sick day. I understand that OldJob was awful when it came to PTO, but I caught a worse version of whatever he had and was out for a week and a half, sicker than I had been in years. When I came back to the office he laughed it off and said he’d make it up to me by buying me lunch. To say I was pissed was an understatement. Not only did I have to use all of the PTO I had saved to actually go on a vacation for once because he didn’t want to use one sick day, he never actually bought me lunch.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      What the actual flibbertigibbet! THIS IS WHAT SICK DAYS ARE FOR YOU ARENT WASTING ONE BY STAYING HOME WHEN YOUR SICK! Like, this is the actual reason you have them!

      1. edgwin

        I get only 6 sick days for the year. I stayed home one day in early January because I had a particularly nasty migraine. Then a week later, I had emergency gallbladder surgery and missed four days. I was able to combine some vacation and sick, but now I’m down to three sick days for the rest of the year. Pretty sure I’m gonna end up coming into work with colds this year because now I’m terrified about using up my sick days on “just a cold” when unforeseen surgeries are now a real possibility in my life.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          Then I hope you’re willing to do what’s necessary to keep it away from your colleagues.

        2. Lord of the Ringbinders

          6 days?! Is that normal in America? I feel naive that I’m so shocked. I have 8 weeks on full pay and 8 on half and it goes up after two years of service. Obviously you need documentation to take that much.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            No, that’s a piss-poor sick leave policy, bordering on abusive.

            1. Temperance

              Abusive? I don’t think giving employees 6 paid days off per year for sick time, not counting PTO or personal days, counts as “abuse”.

            2. BPT

              Haha. At my last workplace I had three.

              Of course, my work was pretty lax and would let people usually “work from home” if they were sick. But officially, three.

          2. fposte

            Average in the U.S. is 8, I think, but I think that’s only with people who *have* sick days–nearly 40% of U.S. workers don’t have paid sick days.

          3. Nobody Here By That Name

            6 days of sick leave here, and that’s going on 10 years with my current company. I have 3 weeks vacation though. Since I have chronic illness I end up using up my sick days and then going through my vacation days. If I’m lucky I have enough vacation left by the time the year is up I can take some time off as actual vacation. :D

            1. VroomVroom

              We get 19 PTO days in a year – but they’re all one thing. Sick & Vacation. It means that we don’t really take sick unless we’re REALLY sick (with a cold I may come in and confine myself to my office, be extra vigilant with hand washing – even to the point of I use paper towels if I touch anything communal like the coffee maker/water machine/fridge).

              However, we’re also super lenient about working from home when you feel less than 100%, so if it’s a really BAD cold or I’m really sick (last year I threw out my neck and had to work from home for a week, but I could still work, I just couldn’t move around very well) I’ll just work from home. I haven’t actually taken an “I’m so sick I’m staying home and cannot work” day in the entire time I’ve been at the company – 3 years.

          4. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Eight weeks?! And that’s just your sick time???

            Holy shit, I thought I’d landed in the cream when I went from a job that accrued 1.8hrs of sick pay per 2 weeks to a job that gives 10 days per year for sick!

        3. Marcela

          I have intestinal endometriosis, which causes me horrible pain every two weeks, on my period and ovulation. Since I only have 15 days of PTO for everything, you can be damm sure I’ll go to my office unless I’m dying. I WILL do my best to keep my illness contained and not to spread it, but my company should care enough about everyone’s health to have policies that help to stay home when sick.

      2. Rex

        To be fair, this sounds like one of those unfortunate employers that combines their sick leave and vacation into one PTO bucket, which means that being sick too much can interfere with your ability to take a vacation.

    2. EddieSherbert

      Oh, I’d be really upset too! Some people are just really, really bizarrely nonchalant about infecting other people. Like it’s this unavoidable thing that just happens.

      1. SignalLost

        But … it is. As long as we continue to use HVAC systems, as long as we continue to not provide sick time in appropriate amounts, as long as we continue to share other air environments such as planes and public transit, as long as we continue to make shaking hands an unofficial policy when meeting strangers, as long as we continue to encourage high-stress tight-deadline workplaces that will shame people for taking time off, and, most importantly, as long as we continue to get sick without manifesting symptoms while infectious, we will continue to infect other people with common illnesses.

        There’s a difference between “I have been diagnosed with measles, but screw you, I’m going to the club anyway” and “did I sleep weird? My neck hurts a little” that two days later turns out to be a cold, but unless you live on a ranch in Eastern Montana by yourself, it is pretty much not avoidable to get sick by exposure to other people. If it was, we would never, ever get sick with anything because viruses and illness-causing bacteria would have died out millennia ago.

    3. Kasia

      My coworker recently came in sick because she didn’t want to waste a sick day…. I told her that if she didn’t take on someone else would have to because she’s going to infect the whole office! Why is your PTO more important than your coworkers!?

      Luckily I didn’t end up getting sick and she did eventually take a day off but I would have been pretty angry if she had gotten me sick

      1. ZSD

        This is why it’s best for offices to separate vacation and sick time. Combined PTO makes it more likely for people to come in to work when they’re sick. (I mean, I know I’d hate to lose a vacation day over a cold. I’m glad I’ve never been in a job with a PTO setup.)

      2. Christine

        One of the lab techs came in with strep throat, infected everyone in their lab. Sick & Leave are in separate pools and she could have taken the time off. Her supervisor & husband had a trip to china scheduled and both got too sick to go. They had been saving for it for years. They lost money on that trip. The supervisor held a grudge for a long time after that.

        1. Elizabeth West

          One time at OldExjob, my supervisor came in while HORRIBLY ill. I was terrified to go near him or even in his office. Reason? I had non-refundable plane tickets to go see a long-distance bf, and I was not going to miss my trip because of him. If I had gotten sick, I would have been so angry I might have quit on the spot. Not just at him, but at the company, who didn’t seem to think he needed an assistant for backup (I was the receptionist; it would have been a separate job, and yes they did need a second person in there).

    4. Namast'ay In Bed

      To actually relate this back to the post, I was able to push past this and continue to work with him, partly because I don’t think he realized how sick he was or that it would hit me way harder, but in my mind he’s pretty much always going to be the asshole from my old job who got me sick.

      OP, you should absolutely talk with your employee – I think at the very least they need to apologize to their coworkers. It’s one thing to get everyone sick, it’s a whole other level to get everyone sick and openly appear to not care, especially with your generous sick time policy.

    5. LoiraSafada

      I worked for someone that had to be hospitalized twice because she refused to stay home and rest when ill. She ALWAYS came into the office sick. Needless to say, she wasn’t very sympathetic when I had a health scare that required me to actually take sick leave for appointments and an in-office procedure.

    6. NonProfit Nancy

      FWIW I struggle to know when things are bad “enough” to use a sick day, and I’ve probably come down on the wrong side of it a few times. I feel stupid staying home, knowing I’m making more work for my colleagues, if I don’t really feel “that bad.” (I do also think the hystrical witch hunt Who Got Me Sick is stupid. It’s just as likely to be someone who sat in your seat on the bus before you, and you’d never know it). Anyway, I’m working on this. I think it’s a holdover from school days, when I was always assumed to be faking / trying to get out of something.

      1. Allison

        I’ve worked places where if someone was out sick, people might make comments as to whether they were really sick or just faking. Or hungover. To policy or no policy, if someone was afraid people would stand around their empty cubicle going “oh yeah, ‘sick,’ riiiight!” and guffawing as they pretend to drink or play video games, OR tsking and going “hmmm, must be nice, I came in with ____ once because *I* had work to do . . .” , they might want to limit how often they’re out.

        1. NonProfit Nancy

          Yeah, everybody on this blog says “if you’re at all sick, just stay home,” but in all offices (and school) you are rewarded for being as hard working martyr and it’s often looked askance if you’re out sick. Particularly on a Friday or Monday – which is 2/5ths of the week!

          1. Allison

            Seriously. Last year I was sick at least two Mondays in a row. One was for the flu, the other for a very bad cold. I couldn’t help it!

        2. MashaKasha

          My evil twin would be tempted to come in sick, walk up to each of those commenters, sneeze on each of them personally, then call in sick for the rest of the day and go home. Seriously, these people make a workplace demoralizing as heck, not to mention help turn it into a germ factory.

      2. Parenthetically

        Same. It doesn’t help that there’s literally no one available to teach my classes for me if I’m gone, which means either my students are stuck doing homework all day or my coworkers are running around desperately trying to cover my classes during their breaks. My general rule is high fever or vomiting, otherwise I’m coming in and just using hand sanitizer eighteen times a day.

    7. Allison

      Nod nod, at my first job you only accrued two weeks of PTO your first couple of years, with no separate sick day bank, so people had to really save if they wanted to actually go on vacation. People often came to work with colds, and people may have said “awwww, seriously, go home, it’s okay” (if they liked you) but simultaneously hailed these people as hard working martyrs. I’ll never forget when one person sent around an article about a postal worker who never took a single sick day in her life and said “we should all strive to be this woman!” I’m so happy I don’t work there anymore.

      1. Regular Attendance

        100% perfect attendance people are either just lucky or reckless with illness. No awards should be given. I remember getting an award for great attendance as a kid and I think it was a just year later that pneumonia took me out for a couple of weeks. So stupid.

    8. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Back at OldJob, I had a boss come to work with walking pneumonia, the whole time she was sick — she was technically our grandboss, but our boss had recently and very abruptly passed away, and so grandboss/acting boss felt that she absolutely had to be there because otherwise we would have no supervisory levels present between team lead (with basically no real authority) and great-grandboss (who was responsible for like half the building). It was not a good show.

  10. MuseumChick

    I had to read the post twice to make sure I understood it. I assumed that company must have a terrible sick-day policy so the employee is scared of missing work or something but that’s not the case.

    OP, I agree with Alison, you need to have a serious talk with her. IMO, I would point that people with compromised immune system were effected by this and there is a real danger to those people getting a norovirus. Watch how she reacts, if she is defensive or dismissive I would seriously think about if this is they type of employee you want in your office.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

      I don’t get any PTO and I would even stay out for the worst of the virus (does it last longer than 3 days or so?) I would have to come back as soon as I was through getting physically sick, but you can bet I would stay out as long as I could afford. And I wouldn’t touch food for others till I felt better!

      1. Tuckerman

        I think that’s one of the tricky things about Norovirus. Even after you feel better, you’re contagious for a few days. So the parent might need to be out for a couple weeks.

    2. INFJ

      I agree. There definitely needs to be a serious conversation about what happens, with OP paying close attention to the employee’s reaction: is she mortified and apologetic or defensive?

      While I am truly horrified at some of the consequences of this person bringing norovirus to work, I think the lynching mob in this comments section is way overblown.

      1. SignalLost

        There’s a really sanctimonious quality to it – “I’ve never made this mistake or ANY mistake!” I agree with your entire comment, too; I think we’re missing some information conveyed by tone/action.

  11. Snarkus Aurelius

    Sometimes the consequences of our actions are so great and so terrible that to take responsibility is too emotionally overwhelming, especially if we honestly didn’t think whatever bad thing that happened was going to happen. (I’ve worked for one too many bosses who refused to admit problems because admitting it would require dealing with it.) This woman would have to admit that she not only got a lot of people sick but she literally threatened the well-being of some pretty vulnerable people. To make matters worse, she had no excuse because she didn’t make use of your company’s sick time policy!

    I’m not excusing her actions; I’m explaining her actions.

    All signs point to this explanation, which is not okay of course, but I hope this helps you in the conversation you have to have with her.

    1. I don't feel like getting jumped on for this post, so anon

      Yeah, I’m totally with you on the old Explanation is not an Excuse deal. However, I have to admit, I’ve been reading the comments and I’m really surprised at the level of vitriol that’s been displayed towards this woman, and I’ve had norovirus! I was out for weeks with it (I’d just got over the flu, gone back to work for 1 day, and got the symptoms of norovirus that same evening. It was horrible). But until that moment, I didn’t even know what norovirus was.

      I’m not Excusing this woman’s actions either, because who takes a sick kid to work anyway? If they’re actually sick, they should be in bed resting, and if they’re just a bit poorly, they’ll be bored stiff and causing you hella problems in the office! But I can understand her thinking it’s not a big deal, especially if she doesn’t know about the immuno-compromised individuals (and privacy concerns mean she may not). She still needs to apologise profusely, because she did something egregious, but she MAY not have known how bad it was until after the fact. Why can’t we give her the benefit of the doubt until we have evidence to prove otherwise?

        1. Relly

          I think the level of vitriol is attributable to two things:

          A: her lack of remorse, which to be fair, may be related to the explanation just given, and

          B: sympathizing / identifying with the other employees who had immunocompromised loved ones, whose lives were endangered.

          If it were simply “loads of people got sick,” that would just be aggravating, but the fact that a child with cancer was hospitalized ups this a few levels for me.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Do the people in your glass house ever talk on the phone while driving or do any of the myriad other things that people do that can put others at risk? Because, as fposte points out above, most people do plenty of things that do.

              That doesn’t mean that what the employee did was okay; of course it wasn’t. But the level of vitriol here is over the top (and is reminding me of Jon Ronson’s book on public shaming that I recently read).

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                My read is that folks are reacting to the chain of bad decisions – not just the bringing of the kid, but the letting him eat potluck food, the staying mum during the public health investigation, and the continued dismissive attitude and lack of contrition. In combination, I think that paints a picture that gets a lot of folks lathered up.

                1. BPT

                  But the same could be said for anyone who has texted while driving – there’s the chain of bad decisions – you have your phone where you can see it while you’re driving instead of in your purse or tucked away; you see a text; you decide to read the text; you decide to answer the text. Same could be said for speeding. Same could be said for jaywalking.

                  I’m not saying that it’s ok. Both my parents have had cancer within weeks of each other – I get how important it is for immunocompromised people to stay away from things that could make them sicker. But I seriously doubt that there are people here who haven’t done anything that could cause death or serious injury to another person. And people generally will keep doing those things until something bad happens.

                  And lack of contrition and dismissive attitude, while could be true, might also not be true according to the LW. It could be embarrassment or being so ashamed that she doesn’t want to talk about it.

                2. Kimberlee, Esq

                  in response to BPT: in order for that example to work, you have to throw in consequences. Most people who talk on the phone in the car don’t have anything bad happen as a result (same with most people who bring, say, a cold into the office). This example is like if you’re texting while driving (something that there are public service campaigns against) and then hit someone in a crosswalk and send them to the hospital. If that were me, yeah, I’d feel pretty dang bad about texting in the first place and would be fully contrite about it. It would be *nice* if people got to the contrite part without landing others in the hospital, but it’s downright remarkable that having that level of consequence has _not_ led to contrition in this case.

                3. BPT

                  @Kimberlee – but again, there’s no proof that she doesn’t feel bad about what happened. Her actions can be interpreted many ways. Further, many people who cause accidents absolutely DO NOT admit fault or apologize because it could lead to legal consequences.

                  I’m saying that there’s nobody here who hasn’t endangered someone else’s life in some way or another. People seem to be forgetting that.

                4. a

                  I agree about it being the chain of decisions that’s the problem. It’s not a single mistake here, it’s a pattern of terrible, terrible judgment calls.

                  To me, the coworker allowing her child near the food (or simply not watching the child closely enough to prevent it) is the part that took me from “bad, but potentially understandable” to “firing offense.” Even if you have no clue about the severity of norovirus (which honestly, I didn’t until I read this post), no matter WHAT they are sick with, allowing them to touch/taint communal food is heinous. That’s an issue where you can ask yourself “Would I want to eat food that was touched by someone with a communicable GI infection?” and if the answer is no, that tells you what to do. You do whatever it takes to keep the kid as quarantined, and if your kid gets into the food before you can stop him, you raise the alarm even if it means taking the hit of having to admit you brought your kid to work.

                  I tend to see the coworker’s actions being careless/ignorant rather than sociopathic, but… sometimes people are *malignantly* careless or ignorant, you know? The coworker’s actions fall into that category to me.

              2. Relly

                To clarify, I’m not saying “they’re right, she’s Satan and should be shot out of a cannon,” but that I think the anger is understandable, given the situation. I doubt she was malicious rather than thoughtless, and had she apologized, mortified, I doubt anyone would be calling for blood. But I think the seeming disregard for the lives of others is what is getting up so many hackles.

                1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For

                  Me too. And I feel like I reference it weekly (though it could be because the TED radio hour just shared his talk again).

                  He made a great point that we are making things a “this or that” situation to a startling degree. That people are now great heroes or horrible villains, that the space of “in between” is disappearing.

                2. fposte

                  @Not the Droid–I was thinking recently how the Manichaean approach is one that humans find it difficult to resist. Hell, they had to make it a heresy and it still didn’t stop people.

              3. Britt

                I’m surprised by your leniency here honestly. I wouldn’t exactly call putting someone’s child in the hospital and potentially exposing an entire nursing home to this, “glass houses”. The employee exercised poor judgement at every turn here and then feels no remorse for what she has done. That is not a person I would trust and goes far beyond a small “everyone is human” screw-up IMO

              4. LawLady

                I was just thinking of Jon Ronson’s book while reading through this. Agreed that it’s a similar reaction.

              5. AD

                Alison, I must disagree here (as others have done). It feels like some people are excusing her behavior as she didn’t know what norovirus is, and there’s more to the story than that. As Britt says, it feels like you’re being quite lenient here.
                And there may be some posts more strongly worded than usual, but….it’s not exactly vitriol. I’ve read your site for 2 years and this is the first time I’m honestly getting the feeling that you’re getting annoyed by and trying to marginalize comments that don’t agree with your thinking. Hoping that’s not the case….but dissenting opinions (even those that call on the employee in question to be fired) are not vitriol.
                There are strong feelings when something like this comes up because lots of people have worked with colleagues who are thoughtless/inconsiderate about coming in sick and exposing others to illnesses/viruses. Those feelings may be strong for a reason, because that thoughtlessness can cause serious illness and inconvenience for others.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Me strongly disagreeing doesn’t equal marginalizing other viewpoints. But yeah, I’m going to be vocal when I think people are way off-base about something and out for blood (and advocating for someone losing their job over it).

                  I do think, though, that this has turned into one of the weirdest comment threads in the history of the site.

                2. AMG

                  Yes, I can agree that it certainly seems like everyone is baffled at why others think this is such a big deal / not a big deal. I’m pretty surprised myself.

                3. AD

                  @Alison Likely because this is a subject that fires people up. It’s hard to be disaffected/unemotional about potential contagious illnesses. Although calling for an immediate termination (which I wouldn’t do) isn’t necessarily being out for blood. Some folks/managers have a higher threshold of fireable offenses than others, is what this tells me.

                4. Ypsiguy

                  Alison, I would be interested at some point in hearing your thoughts about when firing is appropriate. Like you, I’m amazed by the number of people who think it’s appropriate here–and how many people are advocating it simply as an extreme punishment.

                  What’s not clear to me is how the people advocating for the firing of NoroMom think the company will be improved by that firing. If you think the company will sell more teapots if she is fired, then okay–firing makes sense. But there are too many people who seem to advocate firing-as-punishment or firing-as-revenge.

                5. MegaMoose, Esq

                  @AD: I think it’s remarkably easy to be disaffected/unemotional about potential contagious illnesses when you and your loved ones have not been directly impacted by those illnesses and you see it happening as a fairly remote possibility. Most people probably don’t take these things nearly seriously enough, but the human brain is pretty good at minimizing risks in favor of even slight rewards. Distracted driving has come up as an example a number of times – how is satisfying your curiosity about that text message possible worth even the small possibility of killing another human being? And yet…

                6. fposte

                  @Ypsiguy–I think that’s a really good question. For me a lot of this would depend on how damaged her collegial relationships are. If she doesn’t help fix the situation so that people are more willing to work with her, I might serve the company better by replacing her.

                7. AD

                  @MegaMoose
                  Lumping together distracted drivers with people exposing others (unwittingly or not) to viruses is not helpful, nor is it the point I (or others) are seeking to make. I’m not rehashing what I’ve said elsewhere, but the employee’s actions here are troubling and it feels like those feeling strongly about this (and who are not going to the extreme of insulting her) are being shot down or told their approach is wrong. Sorry, doesn’t work that way.
                  And I think we’re all adult enough to weigh each person’s actions individually without painting the world with a broad brush. I see an employee who disregarded the daycare’s instructions, had no knowledge of (and no desire to seek knowledge of) norovirus, brought her sick child to work (against company norms), and had him there for hours. When it became clear (at some point thereafter) that he had infected others (some quite seriously) she doubled down and didn’t come forward to acknowledge that her son was ill and most likely others got it from him. And on top of it all, she was not and is not apologetic.
                  What this woman’s really, really poor choices have to do with drivers who text is completely a straw man argument.

                8. Emi.

                  @AD, people have called her a jerk, a disgusting jerk, a colossal jerk, a complete jerk, a low-life, disgusting, lacking basic decency, a terrible person, willfully reckless, and shady, and also advocated for “looking for a way to hit this employee where it hurts.” There’s more vitriol in this thread than I’ve ever seen on this site.

                9. MegaMoose, Esq

                  @AD: I was really only responding to your comment that “it’s hard to be disaffected/unemotional about potential contagious illnesses” by noting that humans often downplay the likelihood of serious consequences to what they (rightly or wrongly) see as trivially dangerous actions.

                  @EMI: I feel like threads touching on parenting or female-specific issues can get pretty ugly, but I’ve been surprised at much of the language here as well. It hasn’t just been one or two people, either.

                  @AD: The above comment @EMI is in no way meant to criticize your position or language. I’m just consolidating.

                10. INFJ

                  @Alison, I’m not surprised at all. Just look at the response when the letter is about coming in to work with a cold, and this was norovirus. The second I read the headline, I knew the comments would be pitchforks and torches.

                11. AD

                  @Emi.
                  Alison has a whole section/tag called “Jerks”. So calling or labeling someone a jerk, based on evidence and actual egregious behavior, is not exactly out of bounds for commenters or the owner of this site.

                12. AD

                  @MegaMoose
                  Let’s call a spade a spade (and I’m sure they’ll own up to it). AMG and Temperance were the ones who used the strongest language. There have been dozens (if not more) people who also felt strongly about the employee, and whose input is worthy of consideration (and that is whether Alison agrees or not).

                13. Temperance

                  @YpsiGuy: I actually do think her firing would improve the company. Right now, she’s working with a bunch of people who are reasonably angry with her for exposing them to a disgusting, unpleasant illness, and at least a handful of people whose relatives have faced serious health consequences due to her actions. While yes, I am feeling vengeful because I’m so viscerally disgusted by her actions and her allowing the kid to touch communal food (or neglecting to mind him in such a way that he accessed communal food), I am honestly gobsmacked that a grown woman whose actions caused the serious illness of a sick child and a senior is just … not owning up to her shit.

                14. Temperance

                  @AD

                  I will absolutely admit that I called her a jerk for a.) exposing people to a potentially serious illness, b.) not owning up to it once her kid became sicker and/or other people started to show symptoms, and c.) not apologizing to her coworkers, especially the parent of the child with cancer and the person whose grandmother was exposed.

                  I am an admitted germaphobe, and just picturing a toddler with norovirus sticking his little toddler hands in a bunch of communal food has set me on edge, honestly. (I dearly love most children, but having worked as a catering server, little kids and communal food do not mix on the best of days.) This woman could have prevented the spread of the illness if she owned up to her mistake, but instead she chose to pretend nothing happened up until the Department of Health got involved.

                15. I don't feel like getting jumped on for this post, so anon

                  I’m advocating for leniency in light of not having all the available information. If this had been me (I have no children, so not likely, but say it was me that went in sick), I would be HORRIFIED to learn of the consequences of my actions. So on the one hand, I would be almost too afraid to admit to others (possibly even to myself) what I had done. That could very easily look like minimising.

                  I also have depression and anxiety, which unfortunately makes owning up to mistakes (or even potential mistakes) very difficult – I spiral into ‘People will hate me forever, I hate myself, how could I make this mistake, I’ll never recover from this’.

                  I ALSO really really hate having to admit my mistakes to others (it feels like my nose being rubbed in it). It’s not enough to apologise, you want me to take you through the inner workings of my mind so you can revel in my mortification?! No thanks! This especially if people are jumping on a bandwagon, and I’ll start to dig my heels in. It’s not a healthy attitude to have, and I’m working on it, but to deny that it exists (and I’ve seen it in LOTS of people!) is futile.

                  So all of this is to say that I think Allison’s advice is correct – find out whether the employee still thinks it’s NBD, and if she still doesn’t intrinsically get it (I’m not talking about a public display of remorse, no matter how satisfying that might seem), then maybe move to a more serious consequence. But since we cannot know all of the facts based on even the LW’s opinion (unless the LW has heard straight from the woman herself), then let’s exercise a bit of discretion and compassion. I have to say, this kind of outrage is not something that I expected from the AAM crowd, who normally advocate for finding out more information before jumping to the nuclear option.

                16. Temperance

                  Here’s my .02: I’m a huge germaphobe. This situation is my worst nightmare. I’m picturing this scene playing out like the beginning of the movie Outbreak. (Great film, absolutely the start of my germaphobia.) The fact that LW’s employee doesn’t seem remorseful at all and has been minimizing her responsibility would make it even worse.

                  It’s hard for me to relate because this is something I could literally never do myself. I have anxiety issues relating to the spread of disease, so I wouldn’t really have much sympathy for someone who got me sick and then pretended to be not involved whatsoever. This is doubly true for someone who put a sick child in the hospital, and who exposed a senior to a potentially deadly illness.

                  I’m coming on so strong because this is such a shocking breach of the social contract, I think. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that she had no clue what she was doing was putting people in danger of contracting a disgusting illness. Your kid’s daycare has a norovirus outbreak + your kid has symptoms of norovirus = it’s fine to bring your kid to work and either not supervise him or allow him to touch communal food.

            2. AMG

              No, we actually do not.
              And am I saying we are the Christ family incarnate? No, but we sure as Hell do not do that this woman did. There are consequences in every society for people that endanger others. Some people are so lacking in judgment that they should be fired because the relationships are too damaged by that negligence–I believe this woman is one of them. If that fits the definition of public shaming as defined in your book, then so be it.

            3. PK

              Plenty of folks come in to work and passed on sicknesses to others that could easily cause a doctor/hospital visit. I’ve never once had a coworker apologize for starting an office outbreak either. Hindsight is 20/20.

        2. Don't want to throw stones in my glass house

          I agree that I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt up to the point where she brought her kid to work (it does surprise that she didn’t ask anyone’s permission, which makes me think she knew it probably wasn’t ok from a policy standpoint). The part I’m having trouble with is the complete lack of apology or acknowledgement of the very serious lapse of judgement. As AAM said above, this might not make me fire this person but it would definitely diminish my trust in this person. Making bad judgments happens all the time at work, but waiting to come forward, not acknowledging your part in the eventual fall-out, and not attempting to make amends shouldn’t be happening from employees who you want to keep around. This may be a one off or it may be a pattern with this person. That’s what I would try to focus on.

        3. Mike C.

          I don’t endanger the lives of others with my mistakes.

          Look, maybe it’s because you don’t work anywhere that’s actually dangerous, but I certainly do. You don’t screw around with health and safety “mistakes” because it’s “mistakes” that get people killed. Too often I’ve seen the flashing lights from the company ambulance pull up to a work area and take one or more people away. Most of the time, it was because “someone made a mistake”.

          Do you understand what that feels like? Wondering if they’re going to be ok? If they’re going to see their kids again? If they’ll be able to come back to work? The intense guilt felt by the rest of the team for being lucky enough not to be the one instead? Even if that person is able to come back physically, PTSD is always a possibility.

          Work is supposed to be a safe place. That comes before any other concern, period. You are supposed to come out of the building in more or less the same fashion you came in. That is the first and primary responsibility of everyone at the workplace, including management.

          The vitriol you see is because so many, including the employee, are not taking this responsibility seriously.

          1. Cat

            I’d be surprised if there’s any of us who have never endangered the lives of others with our mistakes. Gone to the drug store sick? Been distracted for a micro second while driving? Etc. We do a lot of things that have potentially disastrous consequences.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yep. I really appreciated these comments from Fposte pointing out that most of us have knowingly exposed other people to health and safety risks and decided we were okay with it:

              http://www.askamanager.org/2017/02/my-employee-knowingly-brought-norovirus-into-the-office-and-got-a-bunch-of-people-sick.html#comment-1354837

              http://www.askamanager.org/2017/02/my-employee-knowingly-brought-norovirus-into-the-office-and-got-a-bunch-of-people-sick.html#comment-1354676

              1. BPT

                Um, it definitely can. If you’re sick with something contagious, you’re coming into contact with other people there. Same principle of bringing it to work – if you’re around other people, you can pass it on. There are probably people at the drugstore picking up medicine for immunocompromised people who could pass along your germs. I don’t see how it’s any different.

              2. fposte

                Sure it is. Immunocompromised and elderly people shop too. (And while I’m focusing on the drug store, I think lots of us also hit the supermarket to stock up, too.)

                I really think people want this to be black and white and it’s not. Colds are not norovirus which is not TB; it’s absolutely appropriate to have a different level of alarm for exposure to each of them and to have different polices in offices about them. But they can all lead to death in people we expose them to. And most of us have decided that that’s okay with some contagious diseases, such as colds, mostly because it’s just the way people operate but likely because we believe the chance of serious illness as a result of contagion is low. But it’s still there, and then throw in all the times we think we have a cold but we actually have influenza, because low-level flu is pretty tough to differentiate from a cold.

                1. AD

                  This feels like a lot of hocus-pocus to minimize the poor judgment of an employee who brought her very sick child into work (against policy) and then kept mum on the illness he had as others became sick and continued to hide it.
                  The straw man argument you’re making (we’re all sick at some point, what are we supposed to do about it?) isn’t aligning with what this specific employee did.

                2. fposte

                  It’s aligning with the moral position many people are taking, though–that willful endangerment of other people is unforgiveable. If you’re not taking that position and are just saying she shouldn’t have brought her kid in, then I’m with you.

            2. a

              “Been distracted for a micro second while driving?”

              But the punishment for distracted driving depends on the outcome as well. If you’re distracted changing the radio station and have to stop short to avoid hitting the person in front of you, no big deal. If you’re distracted changing the radio station and plow through a group of pedestrians in the crosswalk, the consequences are going to be much more severe.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            So does it follow then that you think anyone who comes to work sick should be fired? Because while this time it happened to be a kid with norovirus who led to another child being hospitalized, next time it could be an employee with a cold.

            1. Jesmlet

              That’s not really the same thing though. You have to factor in the intent, the result, and the subsequent response to the result. It was careless and dangerous bringing in a child with that severe an illness, it resulted in harm to multiple coworkers, and she’s expressed zero remorse for it. Even if it’s just willful ignorance, you’d expect them to apologize but she hasn’t. She permanently poisoned every relationship she has in that place and odds are won’t be able to fix it at this stage.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Roughly half the people commenting here (among a community of generally reasonable commenters) don’t think this is a firing offense, so clearly it’s not as absolutely clear-cut as more vitriolic comments are positioning it as.

                1. AD

                  Well, half feel more strongly and discounting their opinions is not something that feels like something that usually happens here.

                2. Jesmlet

                  Just saying that not all comments saying she should be fired are vitriolic too. Also I think as far as consequences, your rebuttal just focuses on the results of her actions and I was just pointing out that a lot of the “fire her” comments are looking at more than just that. She’s certainly not an evil person for doing what she did, but you have to be reasonable about how the workplace environment can recover after what she did and then what she still hasn’t done.

                3. Anna

                  Not all opinions are equal, AD. Just because you have one doesn’t make it the right one. That’s not discounting it, it’s letting you know that perhaps your opinion needs a bit more fine tuning.

            2. AD

              That’s a bit of a false equivalence, as norovirus and a cold are not remotely the same thing and it feels like this is downplaying what the employee here did (she was apparently notified by the daycare that her son was exhibiting signs of norovirus).

              Coming to work with a cold is not in the same league, and not sure why you’d think that’s the case.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                But for people focusing on the consequences (the child being hospitalized), the same outcome could have occurred with someone coming in with a cold.

                I don’t disagree that the employee was solidly in the wrong. But I think the demonization is way over the top.

                1. AD

                  I don’t think she should be fired on the spot (some comments may be in that general camp) but would have a serious conversation with this employee

                2. AMG

                  But not nearly as likely. Norivirus isn’t anywhere near a cold. I had the swine flu once and it was the only time in my life that I was genuinely afraid for my well-being because of contracting a bug. If someone hadn’t taken care of me, I would been at the hospital within 24 hours.
                  Point is, it wasn’t a cold–it was something very, very dangerous.

                3. Observer

                  @AMG But for some people a cold is actually more dangerous than a stomach bug – it depends on what their particular issue is.

                  What’s really bugging me here is not the people who are saying that she really needs a stern talking to, and that her reaction to that should inform the OP’s next moves. Of course that should happen. No, it’s the “Well *I* know / would find out / would have daycare that does” whatever, so OBVIOUSLY *she* KNEW / DELIBERATELY did not find out / ABSOLUTELY IGNORED her days care’s UTTERLY ACCURATE assessment in order to knowingly infect the office. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But not by much.

            3. Mike C.

              The employee knew it was norovirus, and kept that information away from public health officials. That’s a much, much different situation than someone coming in with what they in good faith believe to be a minor ailment.

              1. fposte

                Can you expand on the “kept that information away from public health officials”? Are you meaning that she didn’t tell until she was asked by them? I don’t think she was required to report it just because it was suspected by the daycare–you’re not in my state.

                1. fposte

                  Sorry, that last phrase is confusing–I mean “There is no such requirement in my state,” not “You do not live in the state that I do.”

                2. Mike C.

                  I confused two aspects of the letter – she didn’t say anything to her coworkers. It’s intermingled with the part about public health officials, my mistake.

          3. TL -

            You’ve never driven in weather you realized you shouldn’t have been driving in once you’re actually caught in it? Ever ran a yellow light – or a red one, accidentally? Driven in a bad mood, or been ill, or something else that would make you less likely to make good decisions?

            You’ve never gone to the doctor’s office for a contagious disease that they couldn’t treat you for – and exposed their entire waiting room? Or out sick in public at all? Gone to the ER for something that turned out to be minor (and thus potentially took time away from someone who was really sick if incorrectly triaged?)

            You’ve made mistakes that have endangered people; it’s just that like most of our mistakes, none of them have ended up harming someone. Hopefully you learned from them and moved on with life, as we all try to.

            1. Mike C.

              Those aren’t examples of negligence. A reasonable person can make those mistakes in an honest fashion. A reasonable person would not have brought a sick kid to work like the employee did.

              1. TL -

                A reasonable person should check the weather report, refrain from driving and going into public when under the weather, do all sorts of things. This was bad judgment and that should be addressed but I just have a hard time believing you’ve never made a mistake, including a negligent one, from bad judgement.

      1. Temperance

        I read in the letter that she was informed of the norovirus outbreak, and that her child had symptoms. I also read that she allowed him to touch communal food and use the facilities without sanitizing afterward. That’s why I can’t give her the benefit of the doubt. I hate people who expose others to illness on a purposeful basis, which is probably why my reaction is so strong. Norovirus is awful, and she knowingly exposed people to it.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          And we all carry around tiny supercomputers that allow us to access in seconds most of the knowledge, cat pictures, and pornography the human species has produced in its time on this planet.

          1. Natalie

            “The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. Although having norovirus can be unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous and most who contract it make a full recovery within two to three days.”

            Norovirus, per Wikipedia. The fact that this woman wasn’t acting like a medieval villager afraid of the black death doesn’t mean she didn’t google norovirus and read something similarly sedate.

            1. Jesmlet

              Even so, it’s VERY contagious and who would be fine exposing all your coworkers to an extremely contagious illness that causes severe gastrointestinal issues. I used to work in a hospital and picked it up once and it was awful. Vomiting 2-3 days is not fun. I passed out from the dehydration. I can’t even imagine awful it would’ve been for someone not young and in good health.

              1. Natalie

                I’m not saying it’s not super contagious, and I don’t think she made a good decision. My point was simply that most of the reliable resources on norovirus describe it (correctly) as a short, not terribly dangerous illness. That, to me, is the difference between “dangerously negligent, should be fired, etc” and “serious error in judgment, have serious conversation with her”.

                1. Jesmlet

                  I feel like what she did was the equivalent of knowingly bringing a dish that causes food poisoning to a potluck, but worse. Not everyone’s going to eat it, some people might bring it home as leftovers, some might give it to their immunocompromised kids. It’s just not a risk you should be taking. Food poisoning doesn’t usually kill, it just really sucks, but when the wrong person gets it, it can have devastating effects. Very similar to norovirus.

                2. AD

                  Still…why bring your child into work at all?
                  I feel like people are doing loop-de-loops to avoid criticizing a parent (with apparently ample sick days banked up) who decided to bring their very sick child into work.
                  What justification could there possibly be for that? Whether it is norovirus or flu or a very bad cold, why subject your coworkers to that? The “most people don’t know what norovirus is” argument is a red herring. Your child is sick; you don’t bring them to work. It’s not unreasonable to hold people to that standard.

                3. fposte

                  @AD–people have brought kids, sometimes kids who weren’t well, into my workplace. It’s worked well for us (though as I said, this thread is making me think I should put down some policies in advance of any GI invasion). So I’m not with you on that as a blanket statement.

                4. fposte

                  @Jesmlet–norovirus is the leading kind of food poisoning, in fact, so that’s why it’s very similar to it :-).

                5. Amy The Rev

                  @AD, from all the comments I’ve read, even the folks who have suggested that it’s very likely she didn’t realize the potential dangers of norovirus (or any illness, really) to an immunocompromised person, or who have given reasons why she may not be visibly/vocally contrite, are still doing so within the context that they believe that what she did was Not Ok. I have yet to see a commenter try to actually “avoid criticizing a parent”…could you point out which comments are advocating that we not criticize the woman in question?

                6. Natalie

                  @AD, well, it’s a good thing I didn’t suggest or even hint that the kid should have been brought into work!

                  One of the primary threads of argument here is that everyone knows norovirus is super-duper serious or would have found that out by Googling, ergo this woman behaved so egregiously that she should have been fired. The fact that most reliable sources are not so alarmist about norovirus is a reasonable counterpoint to this. And as I said, to me, that is the difference between “dangerously negligent, should be fired, etc” and “serious error in judgment, have serious conversation with her”.

                7. Kathryn T.

                  There are currently several outbreaks of a particularly severe strain of norovirus that are approaching epidemic level. One of my friends in a different state is at her wits’ end because her kids’ school declared an emergency 2-week quarantine closure in an attempt to stop the spread; several children and teachers had been hospitalized and they didn’t see that they had another choice. But now she has 3 kids under 10 with no school or daycare and a job that can’t be done remotely!

        2. JB (not in Houston)

          You are reading a lot into the letter about what she “allowed” him to do and how serious she knew the problem was. We just don’t have enough information to draw the conclusions you and some of the others are making.

          I say this as someone who hates it when people come to work sick and who catches everything that goes around. I would be furious at the person. But quite a few commenters are projecting actions, knowledge, and intent on the woman with no basis for it.

          1. Temperance

            I will concede that it’s entirely possible she was just not watching the kid and he got into the cake/food. Either way, her actions caused an outbreak of a serious, unpleasant illness that put another child in the hospital.

          2. Kate

            She knew enough to hide her child from her employees, and to continue to hide what she had done (bringing a sick child to work) until a public health official caught her.

            1. PlainJane

              This. I can’t speak for others, but I’d be less angry if she had had a mild case and come in herself (though that’s still not OK, but you could argue that she didn’t realize it was severe, and many of us have come to work feeling less than our best). But bringing in a sick preschool child (when she seemed to know she wasn’t supposed to) shows either a lack of judgment or a lack of concern for her co-workers. Then she compounded her carelessness by staying silent till she was caught. Preschoolers don’t belong in most workplaces. Sick children don’t belong in most workplaces. These seem like pretty basic principles to me.

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        I agree, it’s possible she didn’t realize how serious norovirus is. After all, many posters here had no idea, and we’re all smarter than the average bear (yes, every single one of us). I don’t consider it a fireable offense (although I suspect she DID realize her sick child wasn’t welcome at the office, since she went to the trouble of hiding him, and therefore I think that’s a bigger work-related offense). Her remorseless attitude afterward is what bothers me.

    2. neverjaunty

      Yep, this can be and is emotionally very difficult. Grown-ups have to do emotionally difficult things all the time in order to behave decently and responsibly. I get what you’re saying, but calling it “too” emotionally difficult pushes it into excuse territory.

      And there are people who simply don’t care about being jerks as long as they’re doing OK. Absent the development of mind-reading technology, there is no way for this woman’s co-workers to know which she is.

    3. BPT

      Yes, exactly. I’ve could certainly see her mind working this way:
      -Gets told that her child is sick with norovirus, knows she has to finish some work that day, googles norovirus and see Wikipedia says, “The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare.” Thinks, ok, I’ll just bring him in for a couple of hours, he’ll stay in my office and not come into contact with anyone else and I’ll leave as soon as I can.
      – Goes to the bathroom quickly and during that her child sneaks out of her office. She takes him home.
      -People at work start getting sick over the next 1-2 days. It’s flu season anyway, so she says to herself, “it’s most likely the flu or something else. Everyone brings in sickness during January. There’s nothing to definitely say it was my kid’s sickness. Right?” [obviously a lot of denial going on, but she wants so badly for it to not be her fault.]
      -Doesn’t say anything. Then the health officials come in and say it’s norovirus and presumably tell that it was her son that brought it. Then she admits to it when there’s no other explanation.
      -Feels so guilty and ashamed that she tries to avoid the topic and is just trying to keep her head down and not remind people of it.

      Sure, there’s a lot of denial going on here, but this seems to be just as likely an explanation as the ones that suggest that she’s a sociopath with no empathy and no remorse. Sure, she might be a horrible person. Or it might be this explanation.

      1. Jesmlet

        Google also says it’s very contagious. There’s no chance that a toddler isn’t going to put his hands on something while in the office. Why not just take one of her many sick days?

        1. BPT

          I’m not saying it was a smart decision – this thread has been over that SO many times. Literally nobody is saying that she should have brought her kid in. But there are plenty of things that are contagious that are not life threatening. And it’s a different possible read of the employee rather than “she has no empathy and doesn’t care and has no remorse.”

      2. Elizabeth West

        This is why I think they should talk to her, even if they do decide to let her go. That way, they can figure out where the thought process went off the rails. It might just be her interpretation alone, or it might be something systemic–policy aside–and I would want to know.

        1. PlainJane

          I agree wholeheartedly, especially with the last bit about something systemic leading her to think this was the right approach. Great point.

      3. neverjaunty

        But she’s not just keeping her head down. She’s saying she thought it was no big deal.

        It is unlikely that she is a genuine sociopath. But from the OP’s point of view, she has an employee who had, and continues to have, extremely poor judgment. That means a serious talk to figure out if this person’s attitude has changed, and it also means that ‘poor thing, she feels terrible’ really isn’t a justification for acting as if it was no biggie.

        1. BPT

          According to the letter, she didn’t say that the outcome wasn’t a big deal. She told the health officer that she didn’t think that bringing her child in for a few hours would be a big deal. That’s explaining her original thought process.

          There’s a big difference there – if she doesn’t still think that the outcome was a big deal, then yeah, that’s something to discuss. But the letter does not say that she currently doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

  12. Fiennes

    To me it seems like there are only 2 possibilities:
    1) this woman has never had norovirus, her child hadn’t shown symptoms yet, and she genuinely didn’t understand how serious this is. Seems like a stretch, but possible. (I’m continually amazed how many people who’ve never had the flu think it’s just a bad cold. NO.)

    2) this person is so seriously lacking in judgment and/or consideration that I’d be surprised if there weren’t other red flags.

    Assuming it’s the former, she needs to make individual apologies to everyone affected, stress that she didn’t understand how serious norovirus is, and promise never to pull anything like this again. If it’s the second – you need to keep tabs, bc if she acted like this was no big deal, her priorities aren’t about the job & her responsibilities there.

      1. Christy

        Truly. I’m not totally understanding the reactions that this woman needs to be fired. Obviously it was a lapse in judgment, but this doesn’t make her a sociopath. That said, the relationships definitely need repairing.

        1. Grits McGee

          I can see the justification for firing on the judgement front thought. Imagine this was an unintentional but preventable accounting error that cost the business a huge amount of money, resulted in a audit, screwed up bonuses, etc. That error wasn’t made in malice, but the consequences and harm would still be plenty of justification for termination.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Even then, if the person has otherwise done excellent work, I wouldn’t necessarily jump straight to firing. You have to look at everything you know about them, not just that one mistake.

            1. Grits McGee

              Oh sure, absolutely! I just wanted to make the point that this lady doesn’t have to be a mustache-twirling biological terrorist in order for a firing to be (potentially) justified. :)

          2. Lynne879

            What is getting a lot of people in the comments section fired up is that it wasn’t just this woman’s coworkers who were sick- it was also a coworker’s sick child undergoing therapy who had to be HOSPITALIZED (!) and a second coworker’s ELDERLY GRANDMOTHER who also caught norovirus because of this woman’s severely poor lack of judgment.

            When the health of your coworkers’ family members have been jeopardized because of your poor decision, I can totally see justification in firing this woman, especially since she seems to have shown a complete lack of empathy.

            If the mother was horrified & extremely apologetic to the people & family members who were sick, I would argue not firing her because she acknowledged her mistake & will not do it again. But she hasn’t apologized. Her actions & lack of an apology have not only shown an extreme lack of judgment (I’m not buying the whole “She might have not known how contagious it was” argument. You’re telling me that your child has norovirus & you didn’t even bother to look up online how to treat it or if it’s contagious?? Or that if you took your kid to the doctor that the doctor didn’t tell you it’s contagious????), but her actions have endangered the lives of other people. I would argue that’s reason enough to fire her.

              1. Observer

                You do realize that according to the CDC, norovirus is NOT the end of the world. A lot of people are acting as though this stuff were malaria, or Cholera or whatever. It’s not.

                And, for some people a cold is as dangerous as anything gastric, because for them anything respiratory is the really dangerous stuff.

            1. AMG

              Seriously. That’s not difficult for someone with a moderate amount of common sense to figure out. It’s not about malice; it’s just basic decency. And the coworker has neither.

            2. SarahKay

              We don’t know that she has been told about the co-worker’s child, or second co-worker’s grandmother. That may be to come, as part of the conversation that OP will have with her. We know that OP is aware, but both the co-worker’s report to OP; it might not be general knowledge in the office.
              She hasn’t said to anyone in the office that it was no big deal. OP’s letter says that she told public health that she thought it was no big deal, which to me reads that she didn’t think bringing the child into work for the day was a big deal health-wise.
              Yes, she was wrong, but wrong =/= deserving to be fired.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)

          But she’s made no effort at repairing them, it seems. She put a kid going through chemo in the hospital because she brought her sick child to the office, and per the LW’s follow-up above, all she’s said so far is that she didn’t think it was a big deal. She endangered a child’s life, and not even an apology??

        3. JessaB

          I’d agree with you except to point out that she kept her mouth shut during an investigation. After she was told there was an issue she never apologised, etc. I’m not sure I’d trust her judgement in the future because the LW has put in the letter absolutely no evidence to show that the employee changed or understood what she did was so wrong that it literally could have killed the kid with cancer or the grandmother. It’s not about bringing the kid which was bad but she might not have understood how bad. It’s about what she did AFTER that makes this a possible firing offence. She shows an enormous lack of empathy and willingness to admit wrong. If her next wrong is something that kills someone or costs the company half a million because she wouldn’t step up and tell them she made a mistake?

          disclaimer – I’m hella immunocompromised, so I may be biased here.

          1. Elizabeth H.

            I think the lack of understanding, regret etc. is a serious issue, assuming she is aware that it’s her fault everyone got sick. She might be paralyzed by shame but even so she should at least express that she understands the consequences of her actions.

            If it was just a cold that went around the office and everyone was annoyed with her (everyone in my office recently got sick with a cold, I don’t really know who it came from but nobody got blamed) that’s one thing but given that this illness was so serious that public health investigated and someone’s relative got hospitalized it feels to me like she should express regret and understanding of what she did.

            1. Newby

              I agree. Making mistakes happen. She should not be fired because she made one (serious) mistake. Maybe she should have known better but she didn’t and can learn from it. It’s the fact that it seems like she still doesn’t think it is a big deal that is the problem. Her coworkers need to be able to trust her to not do it again.

        4. Mirax

          The thing is, I’m not sure those relationships CAN be repaired. I know that I would have an incredibly difficult time continuing to work with this woman if her actions had caused my family member to be hospitalized. She almost certainly didn’t have malicious intent, but that doesn’t change the outcome.

        5. Jesmlet

          You should not have to tell a grown adult to apologize to her coworkers for making them all sick and endangering the lives of their loved ones. How does she not get this already? That would be a huge red flag by itself. Even if it was all a horrible mistake, I’d be so mortified I’d be apologizing every time I saw someone.

      2. The Optimizer

        Plausible, but is it probably considering how much about norovirus is in the news for closing restaurants, generating lawsuits, turning around cruise ships, etc?

          1. ZVA

            I didn’t know until this post. I’m sure I’ve heard the term “norovirus” before but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what it was!

              1. Observer

                I didn’t know about it till this thread. And, if her kid had ever had rotavirus, which is similar, she probably thought it’s much the same and how bad is it really. Because in most healthy children, it passes as long as you make sure the kid drinks.

                Not that it’s a good idea to being a kid with ratavirus into the office – or any sick kid. But, that’s not really the question. The point is that it is really common for even reasonably educated people to not be aware of this stuff.

              2. MegaMoose, Esq

                Out of curiosity I asked my husband (who, like me, is an attorney) what he knew about norovirus and he said “isn’t that the virus that gives you colds”? So anecdotally at least, this appears to be not an uncommon belief.

          2. Lissa

            Yeah, I thought it was food poisoning! (You’d think the “virus” part would’ve tipped me off, but I just didn’t think about it that hard I guess)

                1. Natalie

                  “Food poisoning” isn’t one single thing – bacteria, viruses, and parasites can all cause foodborne illness.

          3. Regular Attendance

            It is hard to know in the moment. Norovirus took both my husband and myself out a few years ago (I had to make an ER trip for fluids) and we had a baby in daycare at the time. Thankfully she didn’t get it and it didn’t come from daycare. But we were clueless idiots until it took us OUT.

            The coworker with the sick kid should know now though how serious this all is. Unless everyone’ shunning/freezing her so hard that she legitimately hasn’t heard of the full impact of her kid’s unauthorized office visit.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

              Ditto. I saw ‘norovirus’ in the title of the post and actually had to read into it before I remembered where I had even heard the word before. If someone asked me for details of it, on an average day, I would not have been able to get anywhere beyond “it’s… an illness, right? For people?”

          4. rozin

            Same here. I’ve heard of norovirus in passing, but I’ve never gotten it before (and I hope I don’t anytime soon), and I had no idea it was so serious (I didn’t even know the symptoms). Granted, I’m one of the lucky types that rarely get sick, so the calls for firing feels very over-the-top to me. But I do agree she needs a stern talking to, and she should apologize profusely to her coworkers.

          5. Notorious MCG

            I’m one of those people that until today was vaguely aware of norovirus as a thing. I’ve heard the news stories about restaurants/cruise ships etc, but until today never connected that it was more than just a stomach bug. But, additionally, if I were a parent and the daycare closed for an outbreak of a disease I wasn’t familiar with, I’d google it before deciding what to do with them. She had several lapses in judgment here. I’m on the come-to-Jesus talk team, but if she doesn’t show remorse I’d be extremely wary of her decision-making skills and her general empathy for her coworkers.

          6. Turtle Candle

            Yep. Part of what’s amazing me about this thread is the assumption that the woman in question must have know how bad norovirus is, so she must have been doing something willfully awful.

            Truth is, I didn’t know what norovirus was until about two years ago, and I’m thirty-four. I think when I was about sixteen I asked someone what it was after seeing it mentioned in a book and they said “stomach bug” (possibly simply as shorthand, possibly because they didn’t know what it was either, I don’t know), and so I associated it with what I thought of as “stomach bugs”–a day or two of nausea and digestive upset and maybe some vomiting, unpleasant but sort of routine, like a bad cold. Saltines and Gatorade and a day in bed and you’d be fine, I assumed. Same way that it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I realized that “flu” didn’t just mean “really bad cold.” I am a well-educated adult who reads the news, and I still didn’t realize it, because there is a great deal of knowledge to know in the universe, and a lot of it, even a lot of important stuff, has never gotten to me yet. (And the things I don’t know I don’t know, I can’t look up.)

            And yeah, in that time I didn’t Google it, because… I thought I knew what it was. And contexts of conventions and cruise ships being laid low by norovirus didn’t clue me in either, because I just assumed that the virulent spreading and unpleasantness was at least partly simply because of a lot of people being in close quarters. I had no idea that norovirus was as virulent and as dangerous as it is until last year, and that only because a close friend contracted it.

            It may be that this woman had no excuse for knowing what norovirus is… but if that’s the case, then a LOT of us are in that boat.

        1. Blue Anne

          I dunno, until this thread I just had it in my head as “contagious stomach bug”. I didn’t realize norovirus was so terrible. I’ve never heard any of those news stories.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq

            Same here – I don’t watch/read local news or really pay much attention to health stuff related to kids, since I don’t have them and they seem to be little bags of disease all the time anyhow. I’ve heard of outbreaks on cruise ships, but I assumed that’s because of cruise ships being inherently gross as well. I’m glad I now know more about how serious norovirus is, but man, I didn’t expect the comment section to get this nasty.

        2. Emi.

          I’ve never read about norovirus in the news. My baby sister had it once, and it was over in a day or two without touching any of the other eight of us. When I skimmed the CDC page, what jumped out was “You can become infected with norovirus by accidentally getting stool or vomit from infected people in your mouth.” So, yes, it’s totally plausible.

        3. MegaMoose, Esq

          Also, it seems like a lot of these outbreaks get covered on local rather than national news, and I suspect there are plenty of people (myself included) who consider the quality of our local news to be so reactionary, low-quality, and often flat out offensive that we avoid it in favor of more widely-respected national outlets. I usually glance at the front page of my local paper when I walk past a newsbox on the way to work but that’s it. Out of curiosity, I searched the NYT archive for “norovirus” for the last 12 months and got a couple headlines that mention a “contagious virus” or “illness” in places I don’t live, a bunch of articles about Chipotle (I’d thought their issue was e-coli – shows what I know!), and something about the need to expand sick leave (appropriately enough).

            1. MegaMoose, Esq

              Yeah, I knew it was bad, but not that bad – I hadn’t followed it that closely because I never eat there.

            2. Observer

              So, I also thought their problem was e-coli. AND all of the articles I saw seemed to indicate poor food handling with a dose of food service people being expected to come in even when sick. That’s a recipe for trouble, with lots of less contagious diseases.

        4. boldlybookish

          I discovered through this post (deciding to Google “norovirus” to see how bad it was) that I *had norovirus in December*. I thought it was a freak stomach flu (literally until an hour ago), but in hindsight it was BAD and the symptoms fit to a T. Doubly glad I was so sick I couldn’t go work, and I’m thankful the only poor soul I infected was my mother, who was visiting for Xmas :(. I’m a college educated individual who keeps up with news (I love morbid, weird stories… I’m casually interested in outbreaks, etc.)… and yet I had no specific, passing knowledge of norovirus, or that I had had it. But, that said, man, if someone said to me “your child has norovirus,” I would have Googled it stat. So I’m inclined to think she likely did know? Who wouldn’t immediately look up the contagious disease their kid has?

    1. Temperance

      Actually, from the letter, we know that #1 is not possible. The woman was called to pick her child up from daycare because he was showing symptoms of norovirus. Her assistant confirmed this.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          Possible, but not really likely if the child’s daycare communicates well – in my experience (and I know it’s only anecdotal) daycares really thoroughly explain the risk when it is a highly contagious illness – norovirus, whooping cough, etc. Anything really contagious and serious they explain the hell out of the need to keep the kid away from school and quarantine.

          Maybe she has a crappy daycare and they don’t say much so she didn’t know. But that’d be unusual, I think.

          1. Observer

            You’re making a LOT of assumptions. Day care where the dangers or really dangerous stuff is explained properly AND the non-dangerous stuff is not treated like it’s terribly dangerous is the exception, not the rule.

        2. Betty

          If daycare called me to tell me to pick up my kid & I was told they had NoroVirus & I did not understand what it was, I would find out. It is not that hard to get educated, you can ask daycare or even google it. It sounds to me that she did know & chose to act the way she did anyways. It is obvious by her actions that she did not care about infecting her coworkers or the consequences. I wouldn’t fire her but I definitely would make sure that there are consequences for her actions. She needs to learn from the situation & her actions/choices do have ramifications.

        3. Mary

          I agree, from what I read of the letter it seems to me that she did not understand how contagious norovirus is and how badly sick people can get from it. Even after picking him up she may not have understood what he had and her actions were in ignorance rather than malice. Maybe this is why she felt it was “no big deal”.

        4. Snow

          It also seems there has become a bad trend of people calling any stomach or gi issues Norovirus – the same way people call a bad cold flu which is minimising the impact for those who’ve only heard about it which may have also impacted how seriously people see it.

      1. NonProfit Nancy

        Also, she might be like, “oh right, they say he has some symptoms but they’re always so overcautious, I’m sure he’s fine.”

        1. Mike C.

          While all the folks with biology backgrounds are silently screaming, “THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT CAUTION”.

          1. Observer

            All good and fine. But, most of the world does NOT have that background. And you also run into the issue of crying wolf. I do understand where it comes from, but it does create problems in terms of people being able to accurately asses the real risks.

    2. Cambridge Comma

      I think it’s a useful distinction to make — you can have an incident of incredibly bad judgement without being a bad person. It’s how she acts now and how she responds to the OP’s questions that will show what she’s made of.

      1. BF50

        I think she is using the flu as an example of another illness that people frequently underestimate the severity of until they’ve had it.

        Norovirus is to a stomach bug as the flu is to the common cold.

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden

        Growing up where I used to live, anything that made you sick to your stomach – whether that was eating off food, an actual virus, a bacteria, etc – was all just called ‘flu.’ “So and so has a touch of flu and won’t be in today.” As an adult, I know that’s wrong, but I still hear my relatives call nausea/stomach bugs ‘the flu’ and cringe.

        1. Turtle Candle

          Wow, I totally would not have guessed that this would become a 1,300-comment thread. I think the last time I’ve seen this site so mad at someone, it was the person who didn’t let their employee attend the college graduation.

          1. Turtle Candle

            Oh gosh, I’m sorry, I meant this to be a wholly new comment and have no idea how it ended up here. SimonTheGreyWarden, this was absolutely not directed at you. (Also, as a Dragon Age fan, I adore your name!)

    3. eee