can we ask a potentially contagious coworker to contain his germs?

A reader writes:

I have a coworker whose children unfortunately get sick very frequently. Usually, he catches whatever they have, but comes into the office looking like death warmed over because he doesn’t want to use up all of his sick days. Then, like a charm, his office mate always gets sick a few days later and the illness slowly spreads through the small company.

Well, one of his kids now has the flu. He took some sick time this week to care for the child, and returned to work today seemingly well.

However, since he was in such close contact with the flu virus, the rest of us are very paranoid that he may be contagious without showing symptoms yet…or that with his track record, he will show up even if he starts feeling terrible. So we asked him to move to a private office for the rest of the week “just in case,” to reduce our exposure. As could be expected, he was not very happy, but he complied.

Now I am wondering…did we do the right thing? What is the proper etiquette for this kind of situation where the person is not “sick” yet but very likely will be? Was he wrong to come to work, or were we wrong to prematurely quarantine him?

I think you were completely reasonable, especially considering his track record of coming into work sick and infecting others. His interest in not using up all his sick days is trumped by other people’s interest in not getting sick themselves, and his refusal to recognize that is inconsiderate.

Ideally, of course, his manager would be handling this so that you don’t have to — telling him not to come in when he’s sick, allowing him to work from home when he’s contagious (if it’s feasible for his job, which it isn’t always), and pushing the company to reevaluate how it handles sick leave, if their policy is directly influencing people to infect others. And really, if you have a reasonable manager and a good relationship with him, you might want to consider asking him if there’s something that can be done so that Bob isn’t predictably infecting the rest of the office with his frequent colds and flus.

But meanwhile, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask Bob to take measures to avoid spreading his germs. And the fact that he was “not very happy” about being asked indicates that he’s either remarkably clueless about the impact he’s having on other people or doesn’t think it’s his problem. If you continue enforcing quarantines, maybe that will change.

{ 148 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob Bird*

    It would be nice if you could charge your sick days to his account when you get sick, That way you don’t use your sick days when he is to blame.

    1. KarenT*

      Yes! I totally wanted to do that to a co-worker who coughed and sneezed on me, giving me her nasty cold.

    2. Amy*

      A coworker refused to go home when I was 2 days way from a trip to Paris. I got sick in Paris, and even sicker when I got back because I couldn’t take care of myself there. I have asked my boss not to be assigned to work next to someone who’s contagious but she has not replied to it. My first week on the job I got infected by another coworker who came in sick and my boss made a point of asking me if I was still contagious before coming into her office. Why should I care about her health if she has so little concern for mine?

  2. Malissa*

    It’s things this that me feel fortunate to have plenty of sick leave and coworkers that will all but throw me out if I come in sniffling too much.
    In this situation the forced quarantine seems just. Also copious hand washing and having disinfectant wipes near community phones, fax machines, copiers, and printers is also good.
    When I worked in an auto parts store I started making them stock wipes by every phone as we answered the one closest to us, in order to stop the germ passing. Worked really well too!

    1. AJ*

      I like this approach a little more than the quarantine one. I think people can still retain some dignity here if everyone is diligent in using hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes (etc.) in policing their hands and work areas.

      1. Jamie*

        It’s also good longer term. I mean people should absolutely be home when sick – but some of these things linger with a mild cough or the sniffles for a long time.

        I’ve got the flu the day before Christmas and my fever broke last Saturday. Yesterday I was fine for the first time in ages, but I woke up with a sore throat and sniffles again.

        Being home during the main part of it is sensible – but people can’t realistically stay home for weeks at a time until their sinuses dry up. So just behaving with the caution that you and others are always contagious will help protect everyone.

        1. Job seeker*

          Jamie, hope you feel better soon. The mother in me wants to tell you to eat hot chicken soup and rest when you get home. I honestly am lucky and very rarely get sick, but if I do I eat oranges in the winter. At my last job I had constant public contact and wiped my desk, phone and computer every morning before I started. Remember the chicken soup.

  3. Becky*

    My only question on this is if they ask all employees who have been exposed to contagious bugs to be quarantined. I can understand Bob feeling a little put out if he’s not exhibiting any symptoms and no one else is ever asked to stay away from everyone else. That being said, I think Alison is correct; it’s unfair for sick employees to infect the others. But if employers won’t/can’t allow people to stay home as often as they actually are sick (it sounds like this guy is sick quite often) then what is a person to do? He needs the job (presumably), and I’m sure he’s not intentionally getting sick.

    1. KayDay*

      If Bob is being singled out (compared to other co-workers with their own little bundles of germs), I would understand his reaction. Having a policy to send home all workers who show signs of illness (and allowing people to work at home, when feasible) is definitely a good start.

      Also, be sure the office is equipped with things like hand sanitizer, hand soap, tissues, etc. will help everyone. I definitely understand your concern about getting sick, and think it’s fine to provide a private office for people who are might be contagious but are able to work. But this option should be suggested to everyone who might be sick, not just Bob.

      And mostly follow the golden rule: treat Bob how you would want to be treated if you had been exposed to the flu.

    2. BCW*

      I agree. I could see if he was hacking up a lung or something, but a “pre-emptive quarantine” is a bit much unless this is standard practice. I mean how long who decides how long he needs to be in isolation? Will others with sick kids start having this happen?

      1. fposte*

        I think this is low-impact enough that it might make sense as a standard practice. Telling people to stay home doesn’t work. People here were already joking that they’d happily self-quarantine if it got them a private office for the day. Make it a nice space with great internet that’s a combination of privilege and safety net and encourage people to self-select when their kids are sick or they think they’re coming down with something. The problem will be keeping people *out* of it, not getting them into it.

    3. Sydney*

      If he is the only person with a track record of coming in when he’s contagious, then I don’t see the problem with sticking only him in quarantine.

    4. Emily K*

      Yeah, he might have been less upset about the practical request and more about the way it was presented to him. It’s hard to know without knowing how they brought it up. Was it, “Dammit, Bob, we just know you’re going to get us all sick again. I can’t believe you came into work. You know you always get us all sicks! Just stay in the spare office down by the storage room this week if you insist on coming in”? Or was it, “Bob, we’re glad to hear your children are feeling better and it looks like you may have dodged the bullet yourself. *knock on counter* Just to be on the safe side in case you’re carrying something silently, we thought we could set up the spare office down the hall as a private office for you this week, to reduce the risk one of us will catch the flu.”

  4. Jamie*

    This particular flu is brutal – it’s really bad this year.

    Unfortunately a lot of companies make it really hard to stay home when sick – so it’s a horrible rock and hard place of risking infecting your co-workers and facing the ire of your boss.

    Another thing that’s tough is that we’re contagious before we show symptoms. Now, in Bob’s case his kids were sick so he knows he was exposed – he should be jumping at the chance to work privately. But in many cases we have no idea we’ve been infecting others until we get sick ourselves – so in a way we need to act as if everyone is a carrier…symptoms or not.

    Wash hands frequently, stock your workspace with tissues, hand sanitizer, Lysol or Clorox wipes. Wipe down your phone and keyboard often – especially after someone else uses them. Wash your hands immediately if you use a common phone or keyboard.

    And I hope everyone reading in the position to do so lets your reports know they can go home and get better without guilt. Rest, fluids, germs kept home…all good things. Send people home.

    No business ever folded because someone got the flu. Whatever it is can either wait or you should have had a backup for just such a time.

    And yes, remoting in is great if you think you might be coming down with something or you have a cold…in other words you’re well enough to work but are contagious. But if people have the flu they need rest. Just because they can remote in doesn’t mean they should…let them sleep. They will get better faster and it’s just the decent thing to do.

    I had a brutal case of this last week and yes, I did come to work, because the office was closed and it was just me and even then I stayed in my own office and Lysoled everything. But it was brutal and I know I’m a raging hypocrite – but it was a time sensitive project so I felt like I needed to push on but I would have been eternally grateful if someone had told me to just go the heck home and get some sleep.

    Give your people the gift of recovery without guilt.

    1. AJ-in-Memphis*

      If a manager is laying a guilt trip on a sick employee, then that manager needs to re-evaluate some things. Managers and the companies/orgs they work for should not want their people working if they are legitimately sick. It lowers productivity and can be hazardous to everyone who interacts with the sick person. I hope this is not something you’ve encountered. If so, I hope it gets better and I hope you don’t get sick from others not being able to go home and recover.

    2. Yup*

      I hear ya. I’ve gone to work with bronchitis, stomach flu, residual food poisoning, and any number of wretched transmittable illnesses because (a) the place I worked for gave people a seriously bad time about sick days, and (b) sometimes you’re on a deadline and no else is available to step in. It’s a no-win situation when lousy policies create self-defeating situations like this. Because when push comes to shove, people will do what they need to in order to keep their job.

      1. Jamie*

        If you ever move to Chicago, and we had an opening, I can guarantee you an interview. Your posts indicate you’re not squeamish about manufacturing. :)

  5. AJ-in-Memphis*

    I send my employees home when they’re sick. I’ve had to do this because of one employee who came to work with a fever, running nose and cough – habitually but also still comes to work because they don’t like to stay at home. However, on Mondays and Fridays they’ll call in feeling disgusting. This person has company-provided health insurance and available sick days. To stop this trend, I’ve required a doctor’s note every time this person is sick – at work or home (per our company sick leave abuse policy). It requires them to get the medical attention they need, reduces the call-offs and hopefully lowers the chances for the rest of us to catch anything.

    1. Ann*

      Yeah, except that creates another problem. Our office requires a doctor’s note for use of sick leave. But not every illness warrants going to the Dr. If you have the flu, some stomach bug, or a particularly nasty cold the Dr. really can’t do much. Our office also doesn’t offer health insurance (our office is exempt from the new healthcare laws). So, that means most employees have to shell full price ($70-$150) for a useless doctor visit. In the end, I would rather come in to work sick than have to essentially pay for my “rest” (hard to get much rest when you’re having to shuttle around trying to find a Dr that will take you last minute and then wait for hours in their waiting room).

      1. Kou*

        Or if you’re like me, use public transit, and going to the doctor means a long walk and a ride on a bus where I’m then breathing my germs on all those people. Negates my ability to rest with the bonus of exposing all the people on the bus with me.

      2. Dennis*

        Requiring a doctor’s note actually encourages employees to come to work sick. Bad idea. Most illness does not require a doctor’s care.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agree — there really should rarely be cause for requiring a doctor’s note. If someone is missing work too much, deal with that issue. But requiring notes penalizes truly sick employees, encourages people to go to the doctor when they really don’t need medicine, drives up health care costs, and is generally anti-employee.

        1. Peaches*

          Just curious- how do you feel about company’s that require a doctor’s note only if you are going to be out of the office for more than a certain number of days? For instance, my new company has a policy that allows you to stay home for two days, no questions asked, but if you need that third day off, you need a doctors note.

          Especially in a country with socialized medicine, a company with paid sick leave, and a good health plan, I don’t think that is so unreasonable. I can understand their perspective.

          I’m still not looking forward to going to the doctor if I catch flu-zilla and it knocks me down for three days.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s still anti-employee. Trust employees to know if they need to see a doctor. If someone is using too much sick time, deal with that, but don’t penalize everyone as a matter of course.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Not only that, but I have such a hard time getting in to see my doctor that the illness may be over before I can get a note. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this issue.

    2. Kou*

      You don’t need medical attention for almost any normal illness, though. And if I can get myself in gear enough to get to the doctor, I could have gotten myself in gear to go to work.

      1. Chloe*

        Exactly. Requiring a doctors note for flu, rampant food poisoning, or a migrane is utterly pointless. It might reduce fake sick days, but it will also reduce the incidence of ill employees staying off work. Many low-paid staff can’t afford to go to the doctor every time they get sick, and are not going to sacrifice money they need for day to day living expenses when they know their doctor can’t do anything for them. A manager telling themselves they are making their staff get the medical help they need is being a little disengenous, I think.

        1. Natalie*

          Given the typical food poisoning symptoms, requiring people to go to work would be especially horrible for everyone involved.

          If I had come in to work when I had food poisoning I would have needed to work in the bathroom with a laptop. That, or deliberately miss the trash can when I had to vomit.

    3. KellyK*

      Wait a sec, you’re requiring the doctor’s note whether they come in or not? That’s kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” isn’t it?

      If you’re going to require a doctor’s note, then the way you’re doing it—only when a specific individual already has a lot of absences and you suspect abuse–is pretty reasonable. But what you just described, “fever, running nose, and cough” could easily be viral, and it seems like a waste of a doctor’s appointment.

      For that matter, requiring someone to go to the doctor is kind of presumptuous and inappropriate, because it suggests you know more about their health than they do.

      Case in point, several really nasty bugs have been going around here since Christmas, including viral bronchitis. After my husband spent two weeks coughing his head off, he went to the doctor, who determined that it’s the nasty virus going around, and he started feeling better shortly thereafter. So when I got the same cough right before New Year’s, I figured I was in for about the same. Someone who heard me hacking up a lung at work might have assumed that I was about to keel over right then and there, and should really go to the doctor, but why? The odds that I’d caught the viral thing *that’s going around* from the person I live with were a lot higher than the odds that I’d randomly acquired pneumonia and needed a doctor’s care. (Sure enough, it went away on its own. Eventually.)

  6. Chriama*

    This sounds like a situation that sucks for everyone involved. I don’t think there was anything wrong with what you did, but it really isn’t a viable long-term solution.
    Assuming the guy’s kids aren’t going to develop super immune systems anytime soon, it seems that this needs to be addressed on a management level. As Alison suggested, considering a work from home policy or reconsidering the sick leave policy really should be a concern for management, if the current state of affairs encourages people to come in sick. It’s very easy to say “don’t come in” but we don’t know where people are financially and no one should have to choose between coming to work sick (which is miserable for everyone) or not paying all their bills that month.

    1. Stella*

      +1 On stay at home policies. My husband is in an job where he could quarantine himself by staying at home but his organization’s work from home policy changed and he’s not allowed to work remotely. He stays home when he is actively not feeling well but if it’s borderline, he drags himself because the work has to get done.

      I would also like to put out a plea for some kindness for those suffering the lingering effects from an illness – my husband was really embarrassed and offended when his co-workers asked him to dial into a meeting from his office (all of 10 feet away from the conference room) because of his cough (he was no longer contagious). They were within their right to ask him to leave but I got the impression they were rude about sending him away.

      1. class factotum*

        Being rude is not acceptable, but I can tell you I would rather have someone with a bad cough participate in a conference call from another room with his phone muted than be in the same room with me. If you are coughing, it makes it hard for me to hear. And I’m talking to you, lady who was about to hack out a lung at the Milwaukee Rep’s performance of “Sense and Sensibility” last Saturday. Honestly. You can change your tickets for free if you’re a subscriber or for $5 if you’re not. But going to a live theater performance when you are going to disturb everyone around you is rude.

        1. JP*

          Off topic, but ooh Sense and Sensibility! I really wanted to go, but I didn’t realize it would be closing so quickly and wasn’t able to find a date that worked in time :(

      2. fposte*

        Ditto to class factotum. They should have asked him politely, but asking him wasn’t in itself rude, and he shouldn’t be embarrassed and offended that they preferred to have him at a bit of a remove.

  7. Frances*

    Everyone should have to watch the Mythbusters episode where they examined how a person with a cold spreads germs to others — basically, if you are super paranoid you might be able to avoid catching someone else’s germs, but the BEST way is for the person who is actually sick to be especially vigilant about the contact they have with others (not shaking hands, washing their hands a bunch, having others pass out items as much as possible). I had a brutal cold just after Thanksgiving but had to be at work for an important meeting and I was super careful about washing my hands, not touching my face, and avoiding all contact with the water pitcher and glasses we set out — as far as I can tell, no one else got it.

    Then the other day a colleague handed me a report, and as I took it I realized in the same hand he was also holding a used tissue. I washed my hands immediately (and tried to only handle the part of the report that he hadn’t been touching) but sometimes you just can’t win.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I saw that. Kari Byron was the only one who didn’t get the fluorescent “mucus” on her, and it was because she refused to touch ANYONE! But that would not have stopped an airborne organism. :(

  8. RF*

    That topic really is important. I take (mild) immunosupressants for an autoimmune disorder, so iwish more people would just stay at home before I catch whatever they have and get way sicker than they got… But since I do not wish to announce my illness to my office, I can’t really tell them why I am so vocal about people staying home when sick.

    It certainly doesn’t help that my employer requires a doctor’s not from day one instead of for anything longer than three days, as is usual in my country. I myself sometimes come in sick (non-contagious stuff) just because finding a doctor who will see me that day is a pain in the ass.

    1. KayDay*

      Ooh, I would seriously approach your management about the doctor’s note thing.That’s unreasonable. Most illnesses that keep people home–sever colds, the flu, walking pnemonia, etc. don’t require a visit to the doctor, especially not on day one (for adults with strong immune systems). And really, I don’t want sick people out and about trying to get to a doctors office (and encountering the public along the way) when they don’t actually need to do that, nor would I wan’t to drag my sick behind to my doctor all the way across town.

      1. RF*

        My management is unreasonable about this and will not change it. They say it’s for the good of the employees, but of course we all know that it’s to keep people from staying away when they could work.

        It’s not a complete deal-breaker for me, so I’m staying for the moment. Management will just have to deal with me being out sick *more* because of this policy, both from catching stuff from my co-workers and from going to the doctor’s for my chronic illness, because if I see a doctor about this, the doctor’s note is always for more than one day.

    2. Noelle*

      I also have this problem, although fortunately it’s for a pretty small portion of bacteria. But my manager is pretty understanding, if not about making sick people stay home at least letting me avoid them. Even if you aren’t comfortable telling your coworkers, could you approach your supervisor or HR?

      1. RF*

        My boss knows about why I am sick more often than others and he is very understanding and has also told people they should stay at home when sick so they won’t infect others. But some people just like to play martyr at work, I suppose :/

    3. Sinus Sufferer*

      I luckily don’t have the Doctor note thing to worry about but I have a similar immune system problem due to All-year Rhinitius and Sinititus. Due to the amount of stuff that has been going round the offices and been passed on to me this year (plus the fact that two of them became serious chest infections) – despite my best efforts to avoid anyone who is ill – I’m one step away from losing my job because of people who come in sick and don’t quarantine themselves. :(

      Of course no one appreciates this is the reason I do gently make vocal comments about people coming in so ill even though they complain very vocally themselves when I’m not there to do their bidding! Typical huh!?

      1. RF*

        Oh, so sorry about that. Until now the fact that I have a few more sick days than others (not a really big amount, but a couple of days every year and usually a few days in a row and not just a single day here and there) has not affected my raises, so I hope it stays that way.

    4. AgilePhalanges*

      I agree that the doctor’s note thing is stupid, but to your first paragraph, if there is anyone at the office you’re willing to confide in, especially if you’re willing to share with someone with authority (otherwise, share with someone who can report your issue anonymously with someone with authority), I’d like to think that companies who know they have someone with a depressed immune system will do their best to have policies to protect that person.

      We have someone at my company who has recently been going through cancer treatments, and therefore doesn’t have the most robust immune system right now, and we’ve been self-policing ourselves to stay home sick when there’s the slightest chance we could be contagious. Luckily, some departments (including mine) lend themselves to working from home, so it doesn’t necessarily eat into our PTO to do so. A co-worker spent last Monday on PTO, but then worked from home Tuesday through Thursday, and finally came into the office on Friday, for example.

      We are happy to be slightly inconvenienced ourselves (working at home on a laptop instead of at work with dual monitors) for the greater good of everyone else in the office, but especially the immune-compromised person.

  9. Jamie*

    There is an option that people don’t take advantage of because of the reaction – but it’s masks.

    I have signs up all over my workplace telling people to cover their cough (downloadable from the CDC) and they say “you may be asked to wear a mask.” But no one ever has been – and I’ve never seen that.

    I wish people would see masks like the little rubber gloves for the face that they are and utilize them instead of pretending that we’re not breathing in each others ick.

    I am seriously about two steps away from becoming Howard Hughes.

    1. Brightwanderer*

      Randomly: this is really, really common in Japan – you’ll see people wearing masks all the time in winter. And visitors to the country usually say “Wow, are they all really such hypochondriacs that they’re afraid of catching something without a mask?” Except…. it’s the other way around. You put a mask on if you’re sick. Seems pretty socially responsible to me.

      (This is also, however, a country where people insist you need to go to the doctor if you have a cold. As far as I can tell, this is at least partly because they don’t sell over-the-counter paractemol/acetomenophin in doses higher than 350mg per tablet… with strict instructions to take one every eight hours.)

      1. AussieintheStates*

        This. I really wish this was socially acceptable in ALL countries. I love that the Japanese take great length to avoid infecting each other. I think it’s a great sign of respect for you coworkers and the population at large.

        I did find the go to the doctor if you have cold thing strange though now I understand, Thanks!

        1. Jamie*

          Me too. Since reading this I’ve looked it up and they do have tons of cute ones, and peopel are just being smart when out in public.

          I really wish this would become acceptable here .

      2. zayq*

        They do eyepatches for pinkeye too! I got a really cute Winnie the Pooh mask when I visited Disneyland there. (It’s got just Pooh’s nose and mouth, so it looks like you have a Pooh smile instead of grumpy sick face.)

    2. Fifi*

      Face masks are extremely common here in Asia. If you’re sick and wish to leave your house, you’re expected to cover up in a mask, even more so if you insist on going to work. If you cough while on public transport, people will look at your strangely if you’re not wearing a mask! It’s also common to wear a mask when visiting hospitals even if you’re completely healthy, to avoid catching any viruses. Masks are commonly seen on pregnant women too, as you’d expect their immune system is weakened during pregnancy and they’d want to avoid at all costs being infected by anything airbourne! It does make sense really! :)

  10. Skylark*

    Interesting, two co-workers just announced they were diagnosed with walking pneumonia and at least 4 others are clearly sick. Wish me luck!

    1. Sunday's Child*

      FYI, I’ve had walking pneumonia before and my doctor assured me that once I was on antibiotics that I was not contagious and could continue to work. I hope your coworkers are getting treatment. Take care!

    2. Noelle*

      Usually for bacteria related illnesses (especially streptococcus bacteria, which causes pneumonia), you’re no longer contagious after you’ve been on antibiotics for 24 hours. Which makes it even more ridiculous that people refuse to use a single sick day to avoid getting everyone else sick.

      1. Skylark*

        One has not yet started any medication and the other one is now on steroids because the antibiotics failed.

        1. Noelle*

          Well, that is …….not reassuring at all. Scary on both counts, in fact. Good luck, I hope you don’t catch it!

  11. Anonymous*

    Remember to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer and not the anti-bacterial kind! It’s works better and it doesn’t contribute mutating the little bugs into antibiotic-resistant strains. Thanks over-prescription of antibiotics!

    1. Jamie*

      Yeah – and what’s with people houding the sick to go on antibiotics, anyway?

      If I had an ear infection, bacterial pneumonia, sinus infection whatever then yeah…but it’s viral. I truly don’t know why some people are not happy unless you’re on amoxicillin.

      There are less converty cults than those antibiotic people.

      1. Anonymous*

        My mom is one of them! When I encounter those people at work, I let them know I’m allergic to penicillin and it usually stops them from hounding me. There are penicillin-alternatives but they don’t seem to think about those. There’s something magical about getting people to stop talking to you when you bring up allergies.

        1. Sam*

          “There’s something magical about getting people to stop talking to you when you bring up allergies.”

          +1 to this! It’s how I’ve gotten out of eating hotdogs since kindergarten.

          1. Rana*

            Eh, I know it works, but as a friend to several people with allergies, I really wish people wouldn’t invent allergies to avoid dealing with pushy people.

            Those same pushy people will learn the “lesson” that allergies are imaginary, and then they’ll go on to serve foods with allergens in them because allergies aren’t real. A few moment’s annoyance doesn’t compare with ending up in the ER because someone poisoned you because they don’t believe allergies are real.

            1. Sam*

              Actually, the nitrates in hotdogs and some other processed meats give me horrible migraines. It’s not the same as a deadly peanut allergy, but I’ve found it a lot easier to just say “allergy.” I’ve never encountered someone who thought that allergies weren’t real, but I’ve encountered plenty who cannot or will not accept a link between nitrates and migraines.

              1. Rana*

                That sounds reasonable!

                (I probably overreacted a bit, because I know someone with an invented allergy – he simply doesn’t like the food in question – who is incredibly proud of his “cleverness” in shutting down people who offer him said food.)

      2. KayDay*

        My BF is like that…serious every cold he gets is “bronchitis” or a “sinus infection” and he “needs” antibiotics. And he justifies this because he feels better a few days later. Of course he feels better, he waited 3 days before going to the doctor, so by day 5 of being sick, yeah, he’s probably going to feel better regardless of what he takes.

      3. fposte*

        And nowadays the word seems to be that most sinus infections aren’t bacterial, and that many things that are bacterial–like ear infections–are better resolving on their own anyway.

        1. Jamie*

          I didn’t know that – that’s really interesting. So I can pretend my aversion to doctors is rooted in science and not cowardice. :)

      4. Noelle*

        I wish people understood this, we need a public service announcement! My sister is a nurse, and I have heard way too many horror stories about MRSA to ever take antibiotics if I don’t need them. And since I’m actually unfortunate enough to get bacterial infections a lot, I usually have to skip the amoxicillin and go straight to the hardcore, melt your esophagus stuff like tetracycline. Much harder on the system, and avoidable if people stopped taking antiobiotics for colds and flu!

        1. Sasha*

          Yep, and I’m allergic to penicillin so I have to use the alternatives, which tend to be stronger. Can’t tell you how many doctors I’ve been to that try to get me to take amoxicillin for the smallest stuff – even after I told them I’m allergic to it!

    2. Laura L*

      “Thanks over-prescription of antibiotics!”

      Giving antibiotics to healthy animals (e.g. chickens, cows) that are going to become meat is also a cause of antibiotic resistance.

      It’s definitely not just overprescription.

  12. class factotum*

    So we asked him to move to a private office for the rest of the week “just in case,” to reduce our exposure

    Cool! Is this what I have to do to get my own office so I can have some peace and quiet to do my work?

      1. Malissa*

        I would come in with a fake cough everyday if it meant getting sent to what could be my actual office! I don’t even have a cube. I have an open-floor plan set-up. which is great in some respects, but can also really suck for the very same reasons.

        1. aname*

          Hubby had a long term cough for over a year and got sent to occupational health. It got him a private office for quite a few months so that he didn’t disturb others.

          (Work have been brilliant about it.)

  13. Kathryn T.*

    What would be great is if you had one shared office bay for all the walking wounded. (Assuming plenty of sick time and remote-working options.) If you’re willing to expose me and mine to all your grody germs, you can work right next to everyone else who has the same priorities.

  14. Noelle*

    Not only is this behavior inconsiderate, but it can also be a huge health hazard for some people. I have a genetic autoimmune deficiency, which means I get certain illnesses (in particular, streptococcus virus-related illnesses) incredibly easily. One time my coworker came in with strep throat and not only did I catch it, but it turned into a staph infection. I was out for a week and a half and could have died, all because this guy didn’t want to take a single vacation day while his antibiotics kicked in. I don’t think the OP and coworkers overreacted at all, and even if your coworkers aren’t unusually susceptible it is still incredibly selfish to knowingly expose them.

    1. fposte*

      But that’s where you hit a problem that I think this kind of quarantining is helpful with. What do you do with infectious situations that aren’t sick-day worthy or antibiotic-worthy? I don’t think it’s reasonable to require people to stay home with a boil. I do think somebody like you should be able to keep separate quarters from somebody with one at the office, though.

      1. Noelle*

        Yeah, and as RF posted above, a lot of employers won’t make workers stay home without a doctor’s note. I’ve coped by telling my manager I easily get sick with certain things, and I will be staying in my office/avoiding meetings if my coworkers are sick. I don’t want to be the office pest by whining that they should be sent home for the littlest thing (especially because often they’re contagious before they know they’re sick), so I’ve tried to be proactive at making sure my manager understands I may become a hermit if someone shows up with an illness.

        1. fposte*

          Side query, but is there anything you can do about people who just are staph carriers (who probably don’t even know that they are)? Or does that not seem to be the same kind of problem for you?

          1. Noelle*

            It probably is, because I do get strep even when I’m not around people who have symptoms. But it definitely cuts down on it, and when you’re already getting it twice a year, you definitely want to avoid it when you can.

            1. fposte*

              I suppose minimizing it is a lot better than nothing. And now I’ve learned that there are strep carriers as well as staph carriers, which I didn’t previously know. Oh, jolly.

              1. Noelle*

                Yeah, when I was a kid I got meningitis without anyone I knew ever getting sick. This stuff can just be in the air, and you can never prevent it 100%. :(

  15. CH*

    The good news is–he’ll probably grow out of it. When my kids were preschool age, they exposed me to all the popular colds and illnesses and now I have a great immune system!

    1. class factotum*

      I am fortunate to have a great immune system, as well. I attribute it to living in South America for two years and being in circumstances where I couldn’t wash my hands a lot. I almost never get sick. I can’t remember the last time, actually. Yes, I know I am very lucky.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We played in the dirt as kids. IN THE DIRT. As in, out behind the barn, in the woods, making mud pies, and in the creek. My brother got sick a lot–he had pneumonia as a toddler, and I think it messed him up for a bit, but my sister and I were only hit by stuff everyone contracted. I swear, these little contemporary sterilized darling snowflakes are the epitome of the word “sickly.”

        1. class factotum*

          Elizabeth, isn’t there even some research that farm kids have asthma less than city kids because of their increased exposure to dirt?

          Related story: I was at a restaurant with a friend whose toddler kept throwing her pacifer to the floor. Anita would pick it up, wipe it off, and give it back to her daughter, who would then put it in her mouth.

          I asked if that wasn’t kind of dirty. Anita shrugged and said, “Have to build their immune system somehow.”

          I will note that the daughter is now a very healthy college senior. (Not that I recommend licking restaurant floors, but I guess it won’t kill you.)

          1. Laura L*

            I’ve heard of the link between more sterile environments and allergies/asthma. But there’s also a link between asthma and really polluted environments (e.g. areas near factories).

            And there’s also some sort of genetic component. Which is why I have allergies and asthma. I never had a chance. :-)

  16. Erica B*

    Where I work, there are only a few of us and are spread out enough that if one of us has a cold, we are usually all okay and don’t catch anything. We also don’t use computers/desks other than our own. Needless to say often we come in when we are sick with a cold and as a rule of thumb we stay away from others during that time. Of course if there is a major illness we stay home. We are lucky that we have sick time and other PTO that we can use, and our hours are fairly flexible we we need to shift the times we come in.

    I would buy hand sanitizer and clorox wipes for myself if I was worried about catching something, and probaly get some of those mask things. But I don’t generally get sick even when my kids do and I stay home to take care of them.

    With that said, If I worked along side someone who has health issues that make them susceptible to illnesses, I would hope that they would tell me , so I could be more mindful of the risks being imposed to them. I’m not saying this person would need to announce it to everyone, but maybe take me aside and just say, “I get sick really easy because of a health condition….” People aren’t mind readers and often working with something like a cold isn’t a big deal, so they don’t see the harm.

  17. Aaron*

    so we asked him to move to a private office for the rest of the week “just in case”

    You know why he wasn’t happy–because this conversation is always going to be embarrassing to your coworker and undermine his trust in you all. Does “we” mean that he was ganged up on by a group of busybody coworkers? I would guess that the only thing this will achieve long-term is to get him to tell you less about his personal life.

    A better option would have been to express your concerns to his boss. And if you’d feel silly raising it with his boss, that’s a good sign it’s not that far out of the norm in life, and you should deal with it. You don’t have a right never to have to sit sort of near anyone who may have been potentially exposed to an illness, sorry.

    I’d like to see a vote of the readers with kids as to whether they think this was handled well.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wait, what? You’re saying it would be kinder to the coworker to go over his head to their manager, rather than trying to work it out with him directly first?

      This is a guy with a track record of infecting the office multiple times. Why is it unreasonable to take measures to try to minimize that? Asking him to work in a private office for a few days isn’t terribly onerous, and I’d think a reasonable person would be glad to try to help.

      1. Aaron*

        Well, I think we attach different weight to the “infected the office a multiple times” thing. At a small company, this doesn’t strike me as that unusual. I worked with an office mate for three years, and I caught some colds from her. But that’s life.

        Obviously, it’s different if this guy is coming in with strep throat. But the fact this guy came in when there was no indication that he was sick, just because he’d been around sick people, doesn’t strike me as particularly poor judgment. My fiancee just got over the flu, and I managed not to catch it from her…

        If the guy really is being over-the-top irresponsible, I do think talking to the manager is the right thing to do. It’s a somewhat delicate situation that is best handled by one person who can respectfully have a communication about the need not to infect others–not by a bunch of others saying “ew, germs.” Off the top of my head, it seems similar to the body odor posts you’ve sometimes had before, though I forget what you recommend in those situations…

    2. Working Mom of 3*

      Aaron! Thank you!!! I was sitting here reading the OP and the comments thinking I must be WAY off base.

      My kids get sick… a lot. No child is great at personal hygiene, so germs spread like wildfire in daycare!

      I, however, have a pretty decent immune system, and even though I am exposed to LOTS of sickness, rarely get sick myself. If I was ostracized every time I had to take a day to care for my sick kids “just in case” I would be mortified at first, then just plan irritated!

      We’re exposed to germs just touching a door knob, a grocery cart or going through the drive through coffee lane! You can better protect yourself by practicing good hygiene than by quarantining your co-worker. Plus, most people are contagious well before they show any symptoms, so throwing him in a corner by himself is too little too late.

      Get a flu shot, invest in some clorox wipes and hand sanitizer… because your only other option is to live in a very big bubble!

        1. BCW*

          But I think the point is, anyone can be exposed to sickness and you just not know it. I don’t have kids but I have a roommate. Should I be quarantined if he is sick? And yes, in theory he is the one who got everyone else sick, but by doing this when he isn’t actually sick himself (or at least from what people can tell) you are really now making a policy that is specific to 1 person. That I think is unfair.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s not a policy. It’s coworkers saying to another coworker, “Hey, you’ve gotten us all sick tons of times in the past in similar situation, so could you sit in a more private area this time to try to avoid it happening again?”

          2. Lanya*

            It’s true that anyone can be exposed to sickness at any time and not know it – so nobody is ever safe – however, this person knows and has shared that he has been exposed to the flu at very close contact. And as someone said above, this year’s flu is particularly bad. So wouldn’t it be the most polite thing to do for the coworker to stay as far away from everyone as possible until he knows for sure he’s not going to get sick? That’s how I see it, anyway.

            1. fposte*

              And I’m ambivalent about bringing this up because it’s such a hot issue, but I think somebody who could have easily had a flu shot and chose not to can only blame another sick person so much. We’re none of us completely free of the obligation to mitigate risk.

              1. Natalie*

                Eh, the flu shot is that it’s not especially effective as far as vaccines go. It will be fantastically effective if you happen to be exposed to one of the strains it was formulated for, but the overall effectiveness is only around 65-70%. Plus, the misunderstanding of what the flu actually is (i.e., that it’s not norovirus) has created a pretty strong misconception that flu shots “don’t work”.

                1. fposte*

                  I don’t think that gets people off the hook, though (and this year’s shot got the strain bang on the nose, apparently). There are easy and inexpensive things many of us can do to reduce our chance of illness–Jamie has noted many of the other ones–and it’s not just the responsibility of sick people to ensure nobody else gets sick.

                  I’m more talking about the bitching than the actual shot–I’m not all that bothered about people getting flu shots or not. But I think somebody who could have gotten a flu shot and didn’t has lost their right to bitch about somebody who could have restricted their viral impact and didn’t, because they’re doing the same thing.

                2. Jamie*

                  Actually, ymmv but I typically get a flu shot every year (and the pneumonia shot last year) and I’ve never gotten the flu a year I’ve had the shot.

                  I was “too busy” this year and see what that got me.

                  And fposte is right, this years shot works because they hit the strain on the head so if you haven’t gotten it yet its worth mentioning.

                3. fposte*

                  It just makes me think of how often I see guys on legal boards who berate their casual sex partner for getting pregnant and thus leaving them on the hook for child support. Did they wear a condom? No. Do condoms guarantee no pregnancy? No. Is it nonetheless irrational to blame the woman for getting pregnant when you did nothing to stop it? Yes.

                4. Natalie*

                  Agreed on the bitching.

                  And I get the flu shot every year and advocate it to my friends. But the time I’ve spent hearing justifications of why people don’t get them has indicated to me that their is a larger amount of misconception about the flu shot compared to other shots.

                5. fposte*

                  Yup, and that’s why I didn’t want to get into a discussion of the shots themselves, and I’m grateful you didn’t either.

    3. Chloe*

      I have two children, and of course they have had many childhood illnesses. I don’t think I feel any differently about this topic than most people, whether they have kids or not – its not fair to repeatedly infect your office with your family illnesses.

  18. Nyxalinth*

    In call centers, it’s a much different dynamic. Management would rather have a staff of 100 coughing, hacking and sneezing people than 99 well ones with one out sick. Unless you have something giving you the runs/making you barf, you’ll often get the stink eye at best for staying home when sick. It’s one of the many reasons I’m desperately trying to get away from them.

  19. Victoria HR*

    I’m in the unfortunate position of still being in the first half of a 90-day probation period at a new job. The work is still slow as I’m getting up to speed, and I have a sinus infection that’s causing me to be sluggish and slow. I ran to the walk-in clinic over lunch, hoping to get a doctor’s note saying that I had the plague or something similarly contagious so that I could be sent home, but he said sinusitis. I told my supervisor but he didn’t say anything about me going home, and I don’t want to ask, being new with no time off available. Bleh!!

    1. Nyxalinth*

      I was in that situation once, and I asked the doctor to say on her note “Sinusitis is contagious, also Nyx’s work would be severely impaired for longer without a few day’s rest.” that worked fairly well, and it was true.

  20. Anonymous*

    Try to keep in mind that this just a likely track record, perhaps probable, but it’s also possible that others could have contracted their colds from other sources. Our small company has been hit hard by a virus that is going around , but not from exposure to each other. It’s just “sweeping through the city”, as my doctor’s office explained. Some explanations feel so right that we don’t (or can’t) dig deep enough to see if our thoughts match the facts.

    I think asking him to work in a private office was reasonable, as long as it wasn’t done rudely. (I really can’t tell how it came across – that is so dependant on body language, tone, facial expression) As others have said be sure to be consistent with that request.

    1. JT*

      I was thinking the same thing. Sure if someone is contagious they shouldn’t be at work, but unless you all are living in isolation at home and avoiding other people, illnesses may be going around the community-at-large, not just the office, and the person in the office who gets it first might not be infecting the other people. They just got it first.

      1. fposte*

        I’m thinking along the same lines–if stuff’s this contagious, there’s no particular reason to think this is the only person they know who carried the virus. But I actually like this quarantine idea anyway–just don’t make it about scapegoat guy, make it the office that anybody works in when they’ve got somebody sick at home or feel like they’re coming down with something. It’s a way around the stay-home-lose-money conundrum, too.

  21. Camellia*

    Does any company truly NOT encourage employees to come in sick?

    My old company had ‘Incidents’. One use of one or more consecutive sick days was counted as one Incident. Three Incidents in a one-year period, even if it was only a grand total of three sick days used, meant you were ‘counseled’ about your poor attendance. Five Incidents in one year meant you could be fired. So you better believe we all came in sick.

    1. Malissa*

      A cough in the wrong direction at my office gets you stares and plenty of helpful suggestions that you might be better off at home. But our benefits are generous enough to support this king of germaphobic behavior.
      I seriously thought I was going to get tossed back into my car one morning in my first year here.

      1. Sam*

        +1. My company’s policies encourage staying home if you’re sick, and the culture ostracizes those with obvious symptoms. And they offer free flu shots in October to anyone who wants one.

    2. Elizabeth*

      Yes, mine does.

      We have a list of You-Can’t-Work-With-That illnesses. If you show up and you’re showing the symptoms of one of those, we will send you home.

      We’re a hospital. We have an obligation to not make people sicker! We also have an obligation to not give otherwise-healthy newborns conjunctivitis (a constant problem in most hospital nurseries, because the nurses there also generally care for sick pediatric patients), and to not give each other influenza.

      I had a co-worker come to work with pink eye over Christmas a few years back. Her office area was segregated from everyone else’s, and she was the only person in that area, thanks to vacations, but we still sent her home.

    3. GeekChic*

      My company does as well. We have very generous sick leave and a remote work policy in place. As well, managers will send you home if you show up with symptoms of contagious illness.

      I’m quite grateful for their efforts as I’m only just finishing my latest round of cancer treatment. It allows me to only spend my sick time on my cancer, not someone else’s cold / flu / norovirus.

  22. Kristin*

    My husband goes in to work while sick. He’s on massive doses of an immunosuppressant and picks up every bug that goes around. Unfortunately he only gets 3 sick days a year. His choice is to go in and work while sick or stay home and not get paid.

    1. Rana*

      Ditto for a lot of people who work retail. Handling things like clothes and groceries and money all day, and interacting with hundreds of people.

    2. John Quincy Adding Machine*

      We sure don’t, and it’s also a hugely ‘macho’ work environment where working through an illness is seen as some kind of badge of honour. As Anthony Bourdain famously put it, “Never call in sick, except in cases of dismemberment, arterial bleeding, sucking chest wounds, or the death of an immediate family member. Granny died? Bury her on your day off.”

    3. Erica B*

      +10 this.
      My mother lives in an area where year round jobs are slim to nil, so she works for a contractor who makes donuts for a popular donut chain here in New England. This company (not the chain compant itself) is so bad in many ways. One thing (of many) is not giving any real PTO even if requested without threat of being fired. This including sick time, as well as a requested day off with multiple months notice. My mother has chronic sinus problems and is often dealing with one infection or another. I remember once she called in sick because she had a fever among other symptoms of stomach bugs and the flu and they told her she was required to still come in or be fired. She doesn’t have any health insurance (even though it’s not legal in our state, and has to pay a fine on her taxes every year as a result) as she can’t afford it- her premium every month would pretty much equal her take home pay (working at full-time). While the state does offer plans too, she isn’t eligible as her company pays the minimum 50% of the premium (so she would need to pay 50%) required to be ineligible for the state plans, yet she makes a mere less than $100 over the income guidelines to qualify for state aid. Needless to say she is unable to get the care she needs to become and remain healthy. She does nothing but bust her ass working for the company and in return they treat her like dirt. Due to the scarcity of jobs in the area, she is too scared to leave to be otherwise jobless.
      I’m sure many other companies treat their employees like this, and it scares me to think of all the people consuming the food being handled by people so sick. blech

  23. jesicka309*

    Ugh sick leave. We have unlimited sick time at work, but not everyone uses it. I myself have come in sick, however, I have a few qualifiers.
    I catch a train to work. I leave home at 7 am for a 8.30 start. Quite often, I will get up and get ready for work, and not realise how awful I feel until I’m sitting on the train, and there is no way in hell I am getting off and going home by then.
    But, if I get to work and I’m still feeling terrible by 10 am, I’ll go home then.
    Once I came to work with a heavy cold, and decided at 9.30 that I had to go home. I ended up having two days off, but had the sniffles for a week. Another girl got sick a week after me, and had a few days off too. When she came back, I asked politely how she felt, and she turned around and snarled “awful! You shouldn’t have come to work while you were sick, because you make others sick! F***ing hell!”
    I was shocked – because chances were she didn’t catch it from me anyway. She could have caught it from the other people on her train, her younger brother and sister, the other 4 people in the office suffering from colds.
    What a cow. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re sick until it’s too late! I know I just feel tired in the lead up, and I’m generally quite sniffly (hayfever) so I don’t realise I’m sick often until I cough up a lung. People can make mistakes, and unless you have immune problems, you should probably accept that if you work with other people, you could get sick. Live in a bubble, or deal with it.

    1. Cassie*

      That”s just rude! It’s not like you sneezed on her or coughed on her keyboard.

      It takes me an hour and a half to get to work too and if I’m already there, I just can’t imagine going right back home. I suppose I could stay home when I’m sick (I have something like 800 hours of sick leave sitting there), but most of the time, I feel well enough to work. Plus I don’t have constant interaction with my coworkers that I would likely pass on anything (I stay in my cubicle most of the time). No one has ever sent me home for being sick (although the manager did tell one staffer to go home because she had been out the day before and still wasn’t feeling up to par – but that staffer is in a customer service-type position).

  24. Rosemarine*

    As someone who has been mainly working at temp jobs for…longer than I would like, shall we say, I’m sure I’ve come in to work at times when I should have stayed home sick. If a temp doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. That’s a big incentive to come in when you suspect you shouldn’t.

  25. Vicki*

    I overheard a manager once teling a sick employee to go home… along with threats of repercussions “If you pass this to me or anyone on this team!”

  26. ew0054*

    I had a boss who would send people home if they were sick. I don’t know if this is legal or not, but I agree with this approach. You cannot afford to risk losing your entire department for a week because one person could not be considerate enough to take off a day.

    1. KellyK*

      Not a lawyer, but the only way I could see it not being legal is if they were exempt and didn’t get paid for the time.

  27. Jax*

    My company has ZERO sick days/personal days but even worse, has a policy that any “call off” is worth an Occurance.

    1 Occurance = verbal warning

    2 Occurances = written warning

    3 Occurances = disciplinary action (inculding firing)

    Doesn’t matter if you have a Dr.’s note. My co-worker was hospitalized for Merca and came back to find his Occurance in his paycheck stub.

    Calling off means I don’t get paid AND I’m going to get in trouble for it. No thanks. I’ll drag myself in.

  28. Joey*

    Wow, what a quick way to make someone feel isolated from the rest of the group. I think its totally inappropriate for a co worker to do this- its the managers job.

    I mean c’mon, unless the guy is coughing in your face he’s not actually getting you sick, he’s just exposing you to a virus at most. Probably what’s making everyone sick is a result of touching your mouth, nose or eyes. So wash your hands regularly and take the same precautions you take whenever you’re in a public setting. It’s really the managers job to determine if this guy should go home or be quarantined, not his coworkers.

  29. Kate*

    So what can you really do? My boss asked me which led to research and this site. Situation – Large office, lot of people, most of us in an open space in the middle. Company has a very relaxed sick leave policy and an unwritten but firmly stated rule ‘Do not come to work if you are sick and contagious.’ (Big Boss is extremely germophobic.)

    Problem employee – CS (Constantly Sick) – is somewhat of a hypochondriac. It’s never a headache, it must be a migraine. It’s not a cold, it’s pneumonia. I don’t think she’s ever had a day where she felt good. And she tells everyone she comes into contact with how bad she’s feeling.

    Thing is, she also comes to work if she is really sick. She never calls out, she comes in so she can be sent home. But by then she’s already passed along whatever she has. She tries to play the martyr, either she’s not really that bad, or there’s so much work to do. Worst scenario – she made it as far as the lobby with a bucket she was puking into. She was stopped and sent home despite insisting that she could work awhile, she would just have to rinse the bucket out. Supervisor who walked her back out scrubbed herself raw afterward but still came down with the stomach flu. CS has been counseled, warned, written up, you name it, but she insists on coming in every time.

    This problem is aggravated by a few other workers’ situations. My boss is just back from New Daddy leave and has a newborn preemie at home. One of the others is just back after taking time off to deal with her teenage son’s cancer treatments. Both are obsessed with not taking any germs home. And personally I have developed an issue with my immune system. I’ve been out a lot this year because I’m catching everything that comes along. Scenario 2 – CS came in with a bad respiratory infection – running a fever, un-medicated. This time it backfired because all of the supervisors were in an emergency meeting and couldn’t be interrupted. She stayed almost all day, coughing, sneezing and whining about how bad she felt. We wiped down everything with bleach wipes, but within the week, everyone in the area had it. I ended up in the hospital because it turned into pneumonia and I couldn’t get my fever to break. With the flu season being so bad, we’ve all gotten a bit paranoid. The whole place smells like Lysol. I know you can’t control all of it, and I’m not saying stay home for every sniffle, but deliberately coming to work sick seems wrong when you know that you will most likely pass the illness along.

    1. Kate*

      And yes, before asked, I got the flu shot, always do. But I already know of 3 people who got it and still got sick.

    2. Helena*

      Does anyone have any advice for people with these kinds of special circumstances? I’ve got a newborn preemie at home after two weeks in the NICU, and the doctors were very clear. A cold would land her back there at best, kill her at worst. I’m my family’s sole breadwinner, and working at home is impossible. I’m pondering taking some unpaid FMLA leave once my maternity leave and vacation runs out, but the money situation makes that somewhat untenable.

      1. fposte*

        Okay, so you’re not currently at work. There’s no way you can eradicate the possibility of contact with contagious people or quarantine them, but what about trying the other way–can you speak to your supervisor about self-quarantining when you return? Do you have a rough idea of an end date of when this level of seclusion won’t be necessary (I imagine it’s dependent on weight gain and other things and not just time, but if you can at least give an approximation it might be helpful). Are there current measures in place for when people leave the house to go grocery shopping or anything and return? You can adopt whatever those would be for your return–shower and hand-and-face scrub the minute you get home, maybe? (I would also note that salt-water gargles are cheap and easy and untraumatic and lower the rates of respiratory infection, so you might throw those into the routine as well.)

        There’s a fair bit of information about this online (most of it is in terms of RSV protection, which may be what your doctor was really talking about); you may want to look through that for ideas and support, too.

        1. Helena*

          The neonatologist explained that newborns don’t learn to breathe through their mouths until 4-6 weeks after birth, so a stuffy nose can cause the baby to suffocate. That’s why day cares typically won’t accept babies until 6 weeks old. For preemies, it’s 4-6 weeks from full term, so, since my girl was 5 weeks early, it’ll be 2-3 months from her birth date.

          I think we’ve got the whole medical protection and scrubbing thing down, but thank you for the suggestions. I’m more worried about coming off as a crazy person because I insist on dealing with a coworker with a cold by phone. Maybe I should post a sign on my office or something.

          1. Jamie*

            If it were me I’d alert my manager, if I didn’t have my own office I’d see if there was a way for me to work in an isolated area – and acceptance be damned, I’d wear a mask.

            With stakes this high – yes, if there were any way financially I could avoid going back I would. If I couldn’t I would basically try to quarantine myself at work and wash hands/self-protect as if everyone I came into contact with is sick.

            I really hope you post an update with how this went for you, as I can see this helping others along the way desperate for tips on this.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Kate: Your boss needs to start enforcing some consequences. The employee needs to be clearly told that if she continues to come into work sick, after repeatedly being told not to, she is at risk of losing her job. And then follow through. This isn’t about firing someone for being sick; it’s about firing someone for deliberately disobeying specific instructions, multiple times.

      1. Kate*

        Thanks! Never thought of it that way – it isn’t about her being sick – it’s about her not following the rules. Took this to the boss so we’ll see.

  30. OP*

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I appreciate the outside perspective very much. It seems like a lot of other people are dealing with similar situations as we approach the height of cold/flu season. Thanks again.

  31. Anon*

    I used to work in a place where the owner of the small company never stayed home when he was ill. Never! He would walk around the place, looking like death warmed over, using my phone, touching my pens, handing me things, and without fail I (and everybody else) would catch it. This same boss was very hard on people who called in sick, and did not offer any sick days to employees, so to call in meant losing both pay and esteem. So glad to be out of that toxic (and infectious) environment.

Comments are closed.