my coworker kept vomiting in our shared office and wouldn’t go home

A reader writes:

I work in a very small office, and on one day per week, a coworker comes in to assist me. Yesterday I came in early, as did my coworker. After about two hours, she started vomiting into a wastebasket. I ram to the bathroom and got her some paper towels and gave her my own supply of wet wipes from my purse. She continued to throw up in the wastebasket (never once got up to go to the bathroom). I told her she should go home. She said she did not feel well enough to drive and called her daughter and then told me her daughter was coming to get her. She continued to vomit into the wastebasket and the office smelled terrible. She sat the wastebasket down on the floor right between us, and I told her she could not do that and that the smell was making me sick. After another hour or so, I asked her when her daughter was coming and she said her daughter was coming for her after her daughter got off work, in another 3-1/3 hours.

We work in a hospital and I offered to walk her down to the ER. She said no, as they would charge her money. I finally could not take the odor and clocked out early. I had to be the one to leave and she stayed (getting her hours in).

When I got home, I emailed my supervisor letting her know why I left early. I asked what the protocol was for this type of incident, since it would probably happen again with this coworker. I was told there was no standard in place for this type of thing. Can this be true? I would think having a coworker vomit repeatedly sitting right next to you would be considered a work place health hazard, or at the very least intolerable working conditions.

I’m not surprised there’s no formal protocol for the situation; it’s the type of thing that usually can be handled with good judgment at the time. Not everything requires a policy, after all, and most environments become pretty uncomfortable when there’s a policy for every possible happening.

Unfortunately, in this case, your coworker didn’t exercise any judgment, and you didn’t feel comfortable being more directive with her. If you could do it over again, I’d tell you to be more assertive — for instance, to say, “Jane, I’m so sorry you’re feeling ill. I’m going to take you to the bathroom now, where you’ll be more comfortable” — and then insist on taking her there (or to an empty office if she was finishing with the vomiting). Alternately, you could offer to put her in a cab home (ideally, you’d work somewhere where you’d know you could use petty cash for this or get reimbursed later).

Basically, the message should be: “I’m so sorry you’re illl, but we need to find an alternative to you remaining here in this state — both for your own comfort and for mine! Let’s figure out the options.” You can say this nicely and still be assertive about it.

It’s pretty unlikely this is going to happen again, but if it does, your manager should step in and make it clear that sick people should go home (and ideally create ways for that to happen, such as covering cab rides if necessary). She’d also ideally cover you for the hours you missed the day this happened, although not all managers have the authority to do that.

{ 310 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    Oh sweet mercy. If I had someone doing that in my office and wouldn’t leave, my sympathetic yack reflex would take over and then we’d need two trashcans. That’s just disgusting.

    But AAM is right. You shouldn’t have a policy for ever last thing and really, who would think to make a policy for this. I f you aren’t her supervisor, then I would have reached out to that person and asked them to handle it.

    1. UKAnon*

      Yes – I would just like to say well done for sticking it out for so long! (Though working in a hospital you’re probably more inured to it than most?)

      I file that under “Would probably rather lose my job than stay in the situation”.

      1. Melissa*

        Yeah, I could not have stayed past the first one. My contribution would be to hand them some wet wipes, offer to call a cab, and then clear out. I just…can’t.

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      Now I’m thinking how strange it would be if a workplace had a handbook for every last situation.

      “In the event that someone in the workplace won’t stop vomiting, consult page 32. In the event that someone in the workplace is bleeding from the eyes, consult page 33. In the event that someone has run up to the outside of the building and is now plastering it with Silly String, consult page 34. In the event that someone in the office is lying on the floor laughing and crying and going into a hysterical fit, consult page 35, unless that is the direct result of the Page 34 scenario, in which case consult page 35 and inset B.”

      1. Kay*

        Love this!

        My page 35 and inset B would read:
        “Be sure you are a safe distance from the person (in case they should lash out) and if possible, procure the silly string container. Then ask if the hysterical person is alright. Alert maintenance about the silly string defacement of the building so it can be cleaned up. If the hysterical person is non-verbal, set up orange cones around them to direct foot traffic away. Lastly, try to play peekaboo with the hysterical person. If none of these things work, alert the building Hysterics Manager and she will relieve you so you can return to your normal duties.”

        1. Raptor*

          There’s a handbook like this for the college dorms I went to. There was a whole list of really strange ones, like you could not have barrels of water in the hallway. My favorite was, odors detectable in the hallway.

          The reason? These things had happened in the past, thus meaning there was a rule for them (I’m pretty sure silly string was on the ‘banned items’ list). In regards to the water barrel, there was a campus prank of leaning barrels of water against doors and knocking. The doors swung inwards. The ban was added to the book after a 100 gallon drum was filled and left leaning against a door, flooding the dorm room and the floor below it.

          The second one… well… that ones came from the fact you had lots of college students who didn’t know what laundry was.

          1. kozinskey*

            I would have thought that’d be from pot smoking in the dorm. We had areas of our halls that were….educational.

          2. MaryMary*

            I’m pretty sure 99% of college dorms have an odor detectable in the hallway. If you’re lucky, it’s a scented candle (we weren’t supposed to have candles but everyone did) or fabric softener. If you’re less lucky, it’s old pizza, stale beer, or pot. If you’re unlucky, it’s that special odor that occurs when groups of young men live together (like old socks and testosterone). If you’re really unlucky, it’s puke, piss, or poop.

            1. Mabel*

              I used to kind of like the yeasty beer soaked into the carpet smell in my first dorm’s lobby.

          3. CTO*

            My dorm had a rule against having tanning beds in your room. I heard that it came about because someone had actually done that.

              1. CTO*

                If it was in St. Paul, MN then it’s quite possible. Otherwise I’m not surprised that this happened in more than one place!

            1. AnonyMouse*

              I think that’s how most bizarre dorm rules come about – someone brings in something obviously dangerous or ridiculous, like a tanning bed, and they can’t really make them get rid of it unless it’s against the rules…so they have to create a rule. My dorm banned cinderblocks!

              1. Diet Coke Addict*

                Wait, why did your dorm ban cinderblocks? When I was in uni it was fairly common for people to hoist their beds up on blocks to make extra space underneath for suitcases and whatnot….although now I’m seeing an accident scenario where too much activity on a bed meant it sliding off the blocks, damaging the bed, and hurting the people.

                1. AnonyMouse*

                  My best guess is that you can use them for DYIs like that, or (based on people telling me they’d done this at uni) making bookshelves out of a bunch of cinderblocks and boards, but they’re not necessarily stable and, in the case of the bookshelf, could theoretically fall on someone and hurt them. It seemed really silly to me and I never got an official reason, but like I was saying it’s probably just that they had an incident once and made a blanket rule to stop it from happening again.

                2. EB*

                  I had really thought that propping furniture up on cinder blocks woulds would be a safety issue, but apparently, one of the things that OSHA recommends to address the ergonomic problem of desk surfaces that are too low is “Raising the work surfaces by inserting stable risers such as boards or concrete blocks under the desk legs.”

          4. Cindi*

            First thing I thought of with the water barrels was what the guys’ dorms used to do waaay back when I was in college – they’d fill huge trash cans full of water, flood the hallways and use it to slide (on feet or butt) down the hallway for fun.

            The girls were smarter. We went to the guys’ dorms to have fun (slide down the hall, drink beer, whatever) and then go back to our clean, non-damaged dorms.

            Yes, we had separate dorm buildings for men and women. I am old.

            1. Chinook*

              Your not that old. There is a men’s and women’s dorm at the university of Alberta run out of the Catholic college there. There is also a university run co-ed dorm., so you have a choice, but some of us prefer living among people with the same body parts (for the reason we prefer to not share a room with the opposite sex). Butn those dorm rooms are only single occupant.

              1. The IT Manager*

                20 years ago (OMG) I lived in a coed dorm, but the floors were single sex. The dorm had about 20 floors (two towers) and only about 5 floors were women’s floors. We had communial bathrooms so it was a necessity.

                I imagine coed dorm or not, all dorms would have rules about “friends” of the opposite sex staying overnight in rooms where the occupants have roommates. Basically you wouln’t want a roommate to be pressured to agree to allow a couple to sleep and other things together right next to them. The rules give the roommate something to push back with.

          5. TrainerGirl*

            My favorite rule when I was an RA was, “If another student hits you, you cannot hit them back. You are only allowed to touch the student if they back you into a corner, and then and only then can you ‘gingerly push them away’. ” Written by the campus attorney.

            1. Bea W*

              Not disimilar to the directive at high school that if you were attacked you should curl in a ball and take it. If you hit back, you’d be suspended.

              1. Melissa*

                My parents always told me to fight back and take the suspension, lol. (they both grew up in the hood, and their reasoning was pretty rational – if you curl in a ball and take it you become a target.)

          6. ella*

            I used to work for a concert venue and band riders are like this. Wonder why the band’s management specifies that all stage hands must be sober? Because once upon a time some drunk jerkoff pushed a roadcase of $10,000 worth of guitars off a 6-ft stage. Do we really need to clarify the number, brand, and size of every single soda the venue is buying for the dressing room? You betcha.

            If you’re lucky, the band’s manager will have been traveling with the band long enough to write most of the rider himself, and then there will be stories. Oh, the stories.

          7. Melissa*

            I was just about to say…I used to work in res life. Every single thing in the handbook is something that happened before, and most of them probably more than once.

            The odors detectable in the hallway at my campus was partially laundry and partially because we had a history of students who decided that instead of going to the bathroom on the hall, they would eliminate waste into various types of receptacles and either dispose of them improperly (throwing out of windows, leaving in bathroom stalls without throwing away, etc.) or not at all (i.e., they were keeping them in their dorm rooms). History. Of. Students. AKA. More than one.

    3. NavyLT*

      I… actually do have a policy on this. It’s the “No Vomiting in My Workspace” policy, which states that if you’re puking, you leave. (If necessary, we’ll get someone to take you home.)

    4. De Minimis*

      The head of our facility has a thing written on his whiteboard that says “POLICY FOR EVERYTHING!” but I don’t know if even he would take it this far….

    5. INTP*

      I’d do the passive aggressive tattling-under-the-guise-of-asking-a-question move. “Hi Boss, Is there another office or desk where I can work today? Sally is vomiting in our office and refuses to leave, and it’s getting distracting.” If that fails, “Hi Whoever-might-be-able-to-help, What is the biohazard disposal protocol for vomit in the office? Sally is ill and she doesn’t seem able to make it to the restroom to vomit. I want to make sure that I follow proper protocol for cleaning up my wastebasket after her ride home arrives at 4pm.”

      Basically, I’m guessing no one in charge wants someone a) spreading germs b) spreading vomit or c) remaining on the clock while spreading germs and vomit and not doing any work. This probably could have been taken care of if brought to the attention of someone with the authority to make the coworker leave.

    6. Anonsie*

      Actually, I’m willing to bet most (if not all) hospitals have policies that dictate staff members with certain symptoms (ESPECIALLY vomiting and fevers) are not allowed at work. If they can’t get home themselves, we have urgent transport options for them at my current hospital.

  2. Jill-be-Nimble*

    And here I clicked over thinking, “We really haven’t seen many very bizarre/outrageous AAM’s recently!” Thank you for reading my mind.

    1. ¡Bailando!*

      I was thinking the very same thing. We should be careful of what we wish for! Blech. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as the OP. I can handle all kinds of thing, but vomit is NOT one of them.

  3. Melly*

    So gross. She wasn’t feeling well enough to drive home but was well enough to stay at the office.

    I wonder why in your letter you said that this is likely to happen again with this co-worker?

    1. Traveler*

      Well, I can see why she wouldn’t feel well enough to drive, though and would prefer to stay in the office (though obviously another location would have been preferable). At an office you’re just sitting there – trying to drive when you’re vomiting? Not the easiest.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Especially if her daughter was coming to pick her up–I’ve definitely been there where I could not even think about driving my car, but sitting very still somewhere quiet was marginally better. Driving while sick is just the worst thing.

        1. Traveler*

          Yeah. I’ve been really ill in a new city where I knew no one. It is awful! But I would also find some place discreet to hide if I was going to be near people. I’m kind of shocked at the fact this woman was willing to puke in front of someone. I’d be mortified if it even happened once!

          1. AndersonDarling*

            I dunno, when you have the flu you pretty much don’t care what is happening around you or what people will think. It’s a few days after recovery that you get embarrassed.

            1. Clover*

              Pet hate – but vomiting is not a symptom of flu, flu is a respiratory illness. The fact that so many people confuse flu and stomach bug is why a lot of people think they still got flu after having the flu shot.

                1. OriginalEmma*

                  Vomiting and diarrhea can be symptoms of the flu but this happens more commonly in children than adults. (source: CDC page on flu).

          2. Ezri*

            I’m like this too, even when I know the person nearby. Especially since throwing up is usually accompanied by tears and misery with me – I hate hate hate it, and I really don’t want anyone else to be there to witness it. I will say that a workplace bathroom isn’t ideal either, but it’s better than the middle of the office near my coworkers.

            1. C Average*

              I am convinced that the world is divided into puke-and-rally people and the rest of us.

              I’ve known people who seem utterly unfazed by being sick–they’re neat, calm, and behave like it’s no big thing. These people are a mystery to me. I sincerely don’t understand how it’s possible.

              Some people become this way through experience. I’ve known people who became puke-and-rallyers after pregnancy or chemotherapy.

              I kind of wonder if hildi is on to something with her speculation that the colleague might have some kind of serious and even life-threatening illness. The way she treated this episode like it was unworthy of medical attention or even a minor freak-out, and the way her daughter also seemed to not have any sense of urgency about retrieving her right away, makes me wonder if it’s not the first time she’s dealt with this, and that it’s in some way routine or expected for her.

              1. Loose Seal*

                I have a very delicate tummy and will puke for just about anything. I’ve learned not to fight it; just go see the porcelain god and get it over with. A little toothbrush action and re-touch my makeup and you’d never know. My husband, on the other hand, is rarely sick and really fights his nausea. It is not an easy thing for him and he marvels at how easy it is for me. I tell him that practice makes perfect and, in this case, maybe he should just be thankful he doesn’t get the opportunity to perfect his technique!

                1. Abradee*

                  Never thought about it as a skill or technique–interesting! For those of us who don’t puke very often, I think it’s harder to detect if we’re just feeling sick or if we are actually going to GET sick. I wouldn’t say I’m fighting it so much as I just don’t have enough experience to know what exactly will happen next.

              2. Bea W*

                I will puke if I overtax my heart by doing things like running too fast to avoid a missing a train/bus. It’s a known issue to me (thus I avoid that kind of activity), and less concerning than it is for someone who doesn’t know why I just stopped, barfed, and went on as if nothing off happened

          3. Bea W*

            My experience is when I have to puke, my only concern is finding the nearest receptical so it doesn’t go all over the place and/or determining if I can make it to the bathroom. I don’t even think about who might see it. I’m just too sick to care. Mid-barf it’s like no one else exists.

        2. nonegiven*

          My friend was called for jury duty. She got some kind of virus the day before and called in to try to get out of it. They told her she had to show up anyway. She showed up with her vomit bucket and they let her go home, 20 minute drive both ways.

        1. Mouse of Evil*

          No kidding–I remember reading when I was pregnant that certain websites (color schemes, layout, etc.) can actually make nausea worse. I blogged about it at the time, because I was a web developer studying usability (this was nine years ago, when that was a particularly hot topic in web development). I’ll see if I can find that study.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Trust me, there’s nothing worse than puking WHILE you’re driving. It’s happened to me and it was quite unpleasant. And dangerous. Can’t always pull over fast enough.

      1. CH*

        I started a new job the week after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, so I really didn’t want to miss work. I was sick while driving to work 2 to 3 times per week for the first few weeks. I never left the driveway without a doubled plastic bag ready on my lap (which I disposed of before I went into the building). Unfortunately, they were doding construction on my route at the time and it wasn’t always possible to pull over–I got good at slowing down and barfing quickly. By the time I got to work, I was usually feeling much better.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          OMG, right there with you. My dad got me something called “morning chic-ness bags” when I was pregnant and throwing up in the morning. I would drive to work with the bag in my lap and open. They were decorated bags to throw up in. Not that you need decorated bags but it was the thought that counted.

            1. C Average*

              In college, I worked part-time in a bar as a cocktail waitress, and there was always some concern about ushering the obviously inebriated out of the building before they could hurl on the premises. We used to brainstorm about collecting used plastic grocery bags and putting them in a dispenser in the entryway with a sign that read “Reduce, Reuse, Regurgitate.” We figured the people in really rough shape could grab a bag or two for the road and avoid puking on the sidewalk, in their friend’s car, in a cab, etc. I still think it was a pretty good idea.

      2. Loose Seal*

        David Ragan, a NASCAR driver, ran a race where carbon monoxide leaked into his car causing him to vomit into his helmet while driving. And he finished the race.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          Every time my husband does gas-mask training with tear gas, he says someone will always, always vomit into their mask. And it is exactly as gross as it sounds.

        2. Allison*

          Finished the race? I’m more impressed that he survived! Doesn’t that stuff kill you within minutes of exposure?

          1. Natalie*

            Only at heavier concentrations. At lower levels it can take hours before even the headache kicks in.

            1. Loose Seal*

              Yeah, there isn’t a driver’s side window in NASCAR — only a mesh — so there was probably enough air circulating that he didn’t get the full effects. But they can get so dehydrated during the races anyway and that was a particularly hot day, so I’m sure he was absolutely miserable.

      3. Smilingswan*

        I threw-up once while driving. I couldn’t pull over in time, but was able to dump out my tote bag and throw-up in it. The whole thing went in the trash (outside) when I got to work, and I went straight back home.

    3. Oryx*

      I don’t think it was so much “staying in the office” as it was “staying in one place.” Like, when you’re so sick at home you keep a bucket near you because the act of getting up and getting to the bathroom takes too much effort. (The fact that she continued to use the wastebasket instead of going to the bathroom points to this)

      Driving, on the other hand, requires concentration and focus, which may be especially difficult if you’re ill

    4. SevenSixOne*

      OP can probably see this co-worker doing this because it’s part of a pattern of behavior.

      I can definitely see a former co-worker of mine doing this– she was extremely proud of having only taken a sick day twice in the nearly 10 years she’d worked there. This was partly because the company didn’t offer paid sick days, but mostly because she seemed to believe “strong work ethic” meant “come to work no matter what, even if you’re too sick or injured to do your job”.

      Once, (slightly graphic TMI ahead) she stepped on broken glass and slashed the sole of her foot badly enough to need sixteen stitches. Still was at work the next day, even though her foot was so swollen she couldn’t wear a shoe (she covered her bandaged foot with a loose sock and a plastic bag) or stand and walk for more than a few seconds at a time.

      When she got pregnant, she had awful morning sickness that made her basically useless for the first 2-3 hours of the work day. The big boss offered to modify her schedule so she came in later, but she refused because “I’m not sick, I’m just pregnant!”

      Another time, she got hurt at work and had to have surgery that should have meant she’d be off work for 6 weeks. Since it happened at work, Worker’s Comp would have paid her entire salary while she was recovering… but still she begged her doctor to allow her to return to work the week after surgery because she “couldn’t be away”. The surgery meant she couldn’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds… which meant she couldn’t do at least half of the essential duties of her position, which meant anyone who worked with her had to do a LOT more work.

      It was AWFUL when she got promoted to a management role (because of that strong work ethic, I guess?), because she’d shame anyone who called off by saying something like “well, you know, I was at work less than eight hours after going to the ER to get sixteen stitches on my foot, but if you really think your migraine is that bad, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

      1. Adam V*

        > she’d shame anyone who called off

        Yeah, that’s crap. I’d probably want to respond back to her “the company gives me [X] sick days a year; I didn’t realize they required a guilt trip if I wanted to use them.”

        But then, as soon as I saw someone whose strongest qualification was a questionable “work ethic” being promoted, I’d be making tracks out the door.

      2. Koko*

        Nope. Just try that guilt-trip line on me.

        “Yes, it is. Thank you for understanding.” *leaves*

        Similar to my favorite line to get someone to drop something when they won’t stop emailing me about it and they’re no longer contributing anything of value by continuing to email about it: “Thank you for your assistance.”

        1. Snork Maiden*

          “Thank you for your assistance.” I’m putting this in my vocabulary. My grandfather had a saying for people who had difficulty ending conversations: “Please, don’t let me keep you.” Busybodies and blowhards love it because it recognizes their importance.

      3. phillist*

        Yeah, this is unfortunately a thing, especially in Food Service, where you’d think is the last place you’d want to cultivate this attitude toward sick time. But the lack of paid sick days plus the culture that tells you you’re “unskilled” labor (so your job isn’t that hard anyway, and you’re disposable–even if none of those things are true) creates an atmosphere of attendance competition and, yes, management rewarding those who show up no matter what. I have had employees that were told they had to come in with things such as severe pneumonia– servers of all things. It’s insane. I can totally see something like this happening in my old department at the hospital; we (management) were told that the policy was to send any sick person home but it was *strongly* implied that we should not actually do that. It was maddening.

        1. Liane*

          I see something similar at the retail company where I work, even though we do have some personal & vacation days. Big Retailer’s absence policy is that in a rolling 6 months’ period you get 3 absences before a write-up & if you call-in at least 3 days in a row for the same reason, it is counted as 1 absence. (Yes, you need a doctor’s note at that point.)
          The 3 Days = 1, while it is helpful to people who truly need more recovery time, can also cause the opposite problem. People who only need 2 days to recover often call in for 3, because staying home for 2 days equals 2 absences; but staying out the 3rd means you only have 1 on your record.

          1. Arjay*

            Yep. Another big retailer’s policy is that your first sick-day is unpaid, but you can get paid starting on your second sick day, and a doctor’s note isn’t required until the third day’s absence. So if you’re sick one day, there’s really no reason at all (other than work ethic and undeserved loyalty) to not call out for the following day too in order to be able to benefit from the tiny amount of sick time you can accrue.

        2. Snork Maiden*

          As a former food service worker, I came in ill. I hated it – I knew I was making others sick, and it really sucks to work while you’re blowing ten gallons of snot out your head – but it was shiftwork, it paid well, and I needed the money. Also our manager demoted you far down the call list if you passed up a shift.

          There was a lot of turnover, suffice it to say.

      4. Liane*

        I had a lab manager who could be bad about coming in when *HE* wasn’t fit for work. Once he cut his hand badly in a chainsaw accident–mild TMI ahead–& needed fingers reattached. His wife, a local medical examiner, called the most senior chemist, still one of his direct reports, to see if she could persuade him to go back home if he showed up the next day.

        > she’d shame anyone who called off
        But Lab Manager didn’t treat us crappy when we took time. In fact, he hired me permanently right after a period when my then-infant son had a lot of tests & surgeries that caused me to take (intermittent) time off my temp position. And the following year, he was fine with it when my doctor put me on medical leave when I was 7 months pregnant, meaning I was gone from mid-summer to early December.

        1. TL -*

          Labs are some of the worst environments about going home when sick. My first lab, my PI would kick you out- literally “go home, you’ll get everyone else sick, why did you come in? Go home!” and it’s a lot nicer than my current one, where there’s unlimited sick days and the PI is totally understanding if you leave, but people feel the pressure to produce so they come in anyways.
          Go home, people. I don’t want to catch your illness.

          1. Kathryn*

            As far as I can tell, deeply aggressive booting people out when ill is the only moderately effective way to actually practice unlimited sick time and maintaining a healthy workplace.

            My workplace is pretty public and bordering on brutal with throwing people out when ill and thanking them for keeping germs home. It works most of the time, but we still end up calling cabs on occasion. (Department full of crisis addicted overachievers. We try to take care of each other though.)

      5. the gold digger*

        But a sutured foot is not contagious. And you can have your foot propped up at home or you can have it propped up at work.


        The woman who fell on her bike on her commute to work, had to go to the ER (taken there by a kind stranger), had a CT scan but refused a chest x-ray and an IV, got six sutures above her eye, and was back at work after lunch

        1. SevenSixOne*

          And that’s fine when you can do your job sitting down… not so fine when your job means 4-6 hours of standing and walking in a typical day.

      6. INTP*

        Managers who shame people trying to call out deserve to have every contagious sick person who comes in cough all over their keyboard, mouse, and coffee mug.

      1. dahllaz*

        By staying in the bathroom or an empty office or somewhere other than vomiting where people are trying to work?
        There are more than just two options to choose from.

    5. TL -*

      I definitely got food poisoning one time at work and, after I spent two hours in the work bathroom, driving home was a hideous, awful, probably unsafe experience – at one point I pulled over to “garnish” a church parking lot, cry, and call my mother.
      Proud adult moment right there.

  4. The Other Dawn*

    This reminds me of the time when I worked in a grocery store at the customer service desk. A coworker liked to drink. A lot. She would routinely come in hungover. One day she came in so hungover she was puking in the garbage can behind the desk while customers watched. She wouldn’t go use the bathroom or go home, or even just go to the back office. So gross! And no manager stepped in. Lucky for me she was my relief so I only had to bear it for a half hour. People: if you’re puking, please go home! Don’t subject coworkers and employees to that.

    1. A Bug!*

      What were the policies on restroom breaks at that employer? Sometimes it seems that places with overly-rigid policies can end up with some employees exhibiting weird priorities. I can easily picture the coworker’s thought process being “I can’t leave my counter or I’ll get in trouble” because there’s a policy about not being away from the counter, but no policy against barfing in the garbage can.

      From my perspective, it’s kind of the natural result of taking employee discretion out of the equation. If you write a broad policy that communicates your business’s general goals, and let employees use their judgment from there, you can directly address employees who have bad judgment. But if you just write a policy for everything, all employees’ thought processes will default to “is there a policy about this” rather than “what’s the best option here in light of the circumstances,” and decision-making will be poorer overall because of it.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        She had another person there with her and could easily take a break or walk to the bathroom. She just chose not to. She thought it was funny, actually, and was joking about it. Meanwhile customers are turning green.

        1. cuppa*

          A manager should absolutely have been stepping in on that one. Especially in a public-facing role with food around . Yuck.

        2. A Bug!*

          Eeeuuuuhhhh… yeah, then that’s definitely a case of “employees who have bad judgment,” gross. I’m with cuppa; I’m surprised there was no intervention.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            Being that it was a large, major grocery chain, the store manager wasn’t usually privy to this stuff unless someone made a complaint. He was often out and about in other areas of the store. And our cash office manager wasn’t there. She would have sent her home.

      2. chewbecca*

        I’m not sure it was a policy or if her boss was just being a jerk, but during her first pregnancy, my stepmom worked in food service, and had horrible morning sickness. Her boss told her if she left her station to throw up again he’d fire her.

        I’m still curious about what he was trying to accomplish with that, because you can’t threaten someone out of puking. She ended up getting fired for throwing up in the fryer, instead. I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t on purpose (where she threw up, not that she did). She was young and rebellious at the time.

        1. JMegan*

          Ha, I would have been tempted to do the same thing. If you’re going to get fired either way, might as well make it memorable, right?

        2. Big Tom*

          I… cannot imagine what that was like to clean up. It’s a great story though.
          Mine wasn’t in the fryer, but many many years ago when I worked at McDonalds, I threw up in a garbage can next to my workstation, where I was assembling and wrapping sandwiches. It happened while the store manager was standing directly next to me, and her response was, “take a five and get some water.”

          1. chewbecca*

            I had thought about that, too. It was a doughnut shop, so I imagine it caused a lot of problems while the fryer was emptied and cleaned.

      3. phillist*


        Every place I have worked that saw incidents of employees doing truly weird, counter-intuitive things had a “babysitting” tone that seemed to suggest grown-ass adults needed to be followed around and given explicit direction on every little thing. Needless to say, this created a vicious cycle of employees feeling like their judgment wasn’t trusted, so they never used it for fear of making the wrong decision, so management felt that their judgment could not be trusted.

        I recently interviewed for a position where I would be traveling to various sites, and the Program Director told me that she frequently follows her people around to “make sure they’re going where they said they’re going.” NOPE.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      At a party once someone told a story about a friend who was an altar boy at church. He drank all the sacramental wine before church one morning and got absolutely hammered. He hurled before the service started, and then about halfway through the priest’s sermon, while sitting up on the stage area (I’m sure it has a proper name but I don’t know what it is), stood up, wandered off, and got himself a soda. He returned, sat back down, popped it open, and guzzled it down.

  5. louise*

    Gross. I’m sorry! I’m pretty sure I would have spoken up, but then sometimes things are so weird in the moment that I’m struck speechless. Just ew.

  6. Katie the Fed*

    I don’t understand why the supervisor wasn’t brought into the discussion until after the fact. That should have been done immediately. That’s disgusting, unsanitary, and needs to be addressed.

    I’m also trying to understand your coworker, but failing. I was on a flight last year while on a new malaria medication and it made me violently ill – as in I only barely got the barf bag open in time (thankfully I did – FYI you have to rip open the tops of them). I felt so terrible knowing I probably stank up the plane :(

    1. Michele*

      I agree Katie. I also do not understand why the manager was not notified of the situation immediately.

      1. CTO*

        Agreed. If the supervisor wasn’t available, I would’ve sought the help of anyone else who might remotely hold enough authority to do something, like get the woman a cab or move her to a more private and comfortable space in which to rest. I feel so bad for both the OP and her coworker–it sounds like both were terribly uncomfortable but didn’t reach out for help.

      1. Not going to tell*

        Seriously! I got carsick once while on a trip with my boss, luckily out the window of the car, but still. I actually considered writing in to here to ask AAM whether I should quit and get a new job, or just leave town altogether, just out of embarrassment. Luckily neither of us has ever mentioned it again and this whole situation of avoidance is working fine for me.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I will say, I knew my fiance was for me when he helpfully gathered more sick bags for me, found me a toothbrush, and helped me out during the fiasco. All the while we had this nosy lady across from us who kept congratulating him for getting me pregnant (I wasn’t).

    2. JMegan*

      Or at the very least, call maintenance to have someone clean up the vomit. It’s a hospital, they’re quite used to dealing with that sort of thing. (And in fact, probably have a requirement that it be cleaned up within X amount of time, since it is pretty unsanitary.)

      OP, I have to say. I’m sympathetic, because that does sound really awful for both you and your coworker. But I don’t understand why you sat there for an hour or more with a wastebasket of vomit beside you, and didn’t ask anyone else for help? There are lots of workplace problems that you would be expected to solve on your own, but this isn’t one of them. It sounds like you’re not a nurse or other front-line health care worker, which means that dealing with bodily fluids is very much not your job. I hope it doesn’t happen again (and I agree with Alison that it’s pretty unlikely), but if it does, please call someone outside your office to come and give you a hand.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      My sister is very prone to motion sickness, and had to use the complimentary barf bag once. She was completely mortified, and profusely apologized to the woman sitting beside her. The woman told her not to worry. She said, “Trust me, this isn’t embarrassing. Let me tell you what embarrassing is.”

      She then told my sister that she’d been recently been on a flight from JFK to Paris. During take-off, the plane went over some kind of bump while it was charging down the runway. This caused one of the oxygen mask compartments to open, and a single mask fell out. The 2 women sitting there when it dropped down in front of them got into a fist fight over who was going to get the single oxygen mask. Then they realized that they were still on the ground, and there was only one mask hanging there. Then they had to sit beside each other all the way to Paris, on a plane full of people who had just seen them make complete fools of themselves.

      1. Koko*

        On a Southwest Airlines flight I was on once, you know how they like to have fun with you, during the part of the safety speech where the usual line is, “If you are traveling with children or others who need assistance, secure your own mask before helping someone else,” our attendant said, “If you are traveling with children or others who need assistance, secure your own mask and then choose the child with the greatest college potential to assist next.”

        1. bkanon*

          Similar happened to me on a Southwest flight! But mine was “pick which child is your favorite!”

          1. Biff*

            Something I’ve always wondered about — small children are allowed to ride in laps. In the event that the cabin loses pressure…. what the hell do you do with that extra set of lungs for which the plane is not designed?

            1. Jacob*

              The plane is, in fact, designed for just this situation. Typically there is an extra mask in each row or so.


              If certification for operation above 25,000 feet is requested, there must be oxygen dispensing equipment meeting the following requirements:

              (1) There must be an oxygen dispensing unit connected to oxygen supply terminals immediately available to each occupant, wherever seated, and at least two oxygen dispensing units connected to oxygen terminals in each lavatory. The total number of dispensing units and outlets in the cabin must exceed the number of seats by at least 10 percent. The extra units must be as uniformly distributed throughout the cabin as practicable. If certification for operation above 30,000 feet is requested, the dispensing units providing the required oxygen flow must be automatically presented to the occupants before the cabin pressure altitude exceeds 15,000 feet. The crew must be provided with a manual means of making the dispensing units immediately available in the event of failure of the automatic system.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              An aside: I read an unsettling article that said children sitting in people’s laps are more apt to survive the plane crash than the person whose lap they are sitting in.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                I think that’s probably because children are just remarkably robust creatures. Quite bendy too.

              2. Katieinthemountains*

                Really? That makes me feel better – I’d heard that they basically become airbags for their parents and are LESS likely to survive. And now that I have one, I don’t think I could handle living with that kind of guilt.

        2. OriginalEmma*

          I was on an Alaska Airlines flight once with a funny safety speech. “In the event of decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. Stop screaming and put the mask on” along with “Seat belts! These haven’t changed in 50 years but we’ll remind you anyway!”

          1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

            On my flight today, we had “in case you haven’t boarded a plane in the last century, you cannot smoke on board this flight” which made me laugh.

      2. Cucumber*

        Wow, I am amazed I haven’t read about this incident in the Consumerist (where I get all my airplane fist fight stories from).

      3. Windchime*

        My son was struck by a migraine once as his plane was taking off from an airport in Germany. They were starting to taxi down the runway so he was required to stay in his seat and get sick into an airplane barf bag. He was so embarrassed on top of feeling horrible.

    4. Jill*

      I agree with Katie – that was my reaction too, that OP shouldn’t have put up with it long enough to feel compelled to leave herself. I sure wouldn’t give up my hours because a sick person refuses to go home.

      This situation falls into a lot of other “complaint about a co-worker” type questions on AAM. The question is, to what extent is coworker’s behavior affecting your ability to get your work done. I’d say working next to a puke bucket with the sound of retching going on will have a serious impact on your ability to do your own work. You should definitely be able to get your manager to intervene here.

    5. INTP*

      Agree. Especially in a hospital, one would think they would be fairly concerned about the dispersal of bodily fluids directly into the office! And especially when this is apparently an hourly employee staying on the clock for most of the workday while accomplishing nothing except soiling the wastebasket with vomit and chasing off her well coworker.

    6. T*

      I also wondered why the OP didn’t call in a supervisor while this was going on. Being a hospital, they might have a policy about who is allowed to clean bodily fluids even if there isn’t a policy for dealing with a barfing coworker.

      Not meaning to excuse the coworker, but if she moved to a new location while nauseated, that might have made her feel even sicker. When I feel sick to my stomach, I do better not moving at all. Once I start moving around, I’m even more likely to throw up (or throw up again). Is it possible the coworker felt so bad physically that she could not deal with anything else? I also think that if she had moved to the bathroom, then a lot more people would have been made to suffer from the smell, she would have had nowhere clean to sit, and that would have made two rooms grosser than before.

      If you really are concerned about this happening again, address it with both your supervisor and your coworker now. I would give your coworker the benefit of the doubt and assume that she really was embarrassed and sorry for disturbing you but felt so poorly that she didn’t see an alternative. Maybe you can work one out before the next sick episode.

    1. Kerry (Like the County in Ireland)*

      YES. Look I got sick last January, and it first hit on the bus where I vomited on myself and my bag. I convinced myself that I was probably bus sick, and could go to work. THAT WAS A MISTAKE. retched into a sink in the lobby. By 11am I emailed my boss who said to go home, and got my mom to pick me up and take me home.

      And oh yeah, I work in a hospital too. My only defense is I don’t get sick often, and I do have a history of handling it badly.

      1. Janis*

        Oh God, I puked on myself — and *into* a the cowl of a cowl-neck sweater ! — on a crazy, speeding swerving Egged bus going through the West Bank once at warp speed. The smell was so horrendous that a little kid behind me barfed about 5 minutes later. I’ll never forget that bus ride as long as I live.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      We had my parents staying with us for six (yes, six) weeks once, and we only have one bathroom in our house. There was a norovirus going around work and I was just so paranoid I was going to get it at a time when I didn’t have enough bathroom access that I actually developed a contingency plan – check into the Holiday Inn two blocks from work and stay there for the duration. Luckily I never needed to put this plan into action, but it’s in the back of my mind in case something like that ever does hit me when I’m at work and can’t get home! (I cycle to work 3-4 days a week and would probably try to ride home while puking, but no way would I ever get on a bus feeling that way on one of my transit commute days!)

      (btw I hate vomiting almost to the point of phobia, and I feel so, so bad for the OP. I’d have lasted maybe seven seconds, tops, before fleeing the office)

      1. Livin' in a Box*

        If my mother stayed with me for 6 weeks I would probably hide at the Holiday Inn anyways, norovirus or not. :)

  7. CTO*

    That’s disgusting. I understand that her daughter may not have had the option of leaving work early to pick up her mother, and that your co-worker may not have had any other options (and perhaps couldn’t afford a cab or didn’t feel well enough to ride in one). I can also understand why she wouldn’t want to go to the ER if she doesn’t actually need medical attention. As grossed-out as I am, I do have some compassion for her. She probably needed the money from working that day. (This is what happens when companies don’t offer sick leave!)

    The burden really was on your coworker to realize that this situation was untenable (how could she have actually been getting much work done?!) and come up with an alternative plan. But since she wasn’t able/willing to do that, I hope that you and your supervisor can plan together for how you’d handle a similar situation again. Is there another workspace one of you can use if the other is sick? Can there be an emergency fund for cab rides? Can sick people be mandated to go home and given the option of making their hours up later in the week? I’m surprised that a hospital doesn’t at least have some kind of general policy about coming to work sick.

    I hope your supervisor at least allows you to make up your missed hours or pays you for them anyway.

    1. MaggietheCat*

      I think what your saying about mandatory leave is what the OP was asking about when she said “is there a policy for this type of situation”. We allegedly have this policy but people still come in sick and cough all day / infect the rest of the office (and our FAMLIES when we go home which is the WORST).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I can see a lot of these points, no ride, needed the pay, etc. Get up and use the bathroom. Really. I have walked hand-over-hand to get there but I forced myself. It can be done.
      Making a coworker deal with a basket of puke is in a par with pooping in the basket, in my mind.

      Plus, part of holding down a job is to have a couple contingency plans for things. It could have been that sick coworker had a friend in another department that was leaving earlier and would take her home, too. I have been that daughter and sometimes I could not leave work. I would definitely encourage parent/friend to have plan B just in case I am stuck.

      I probably sound heartless, but dang, forcing another person to listen to me puke all day is something I could not do. I just could not put another person through that.

  8. BRR*

    This reminds me of when a coworker had to come in a couple hours late because they weren’t feeling well. Yeah, she still wasn’t feeling well when she came in and later that week others had to take off because she passed it around. I’m going into outrageous commentor mode but if you come in when you’re sick and get others sick the time should come out of your PTO.

    Also some common sense, most people don’t want to work in an office with someone vomiting. She really should have excused herself to somewhere else.

    1. Proud Socialist*

      Most people don’t want to come in when they’re sick, but quite a few companies have terrible sick leave policies which leaves workers with little choice.

      1. BRR*

        I should have provided more details. We had ample sick leave at this organization, she had a great manager who would have understood, and everything moved so slow there was nothing that needed to be done a certain day. At other companies I understand it can leave people up a creek. She just didn’t want to use the time.

        1. Ezri*

          Yep, we’ve got one of those. We had a cold bug go through the office a couple weeks back; most of us took off one or two days (including me) and got better with no problems. We did have one guy who sniffled his way through a week and a half looking feverish and medicated.

          I don’t get people who don’t take sick days (assuming they are not in a dysfunctional office). Especially when simple resting does so much for your health – working through an illness just makes it take that much longer to go away, and you’re less productive when sick anyway.

      2. Enjay*

        Exactly, or companies have a generous sick leave policy but look down upon those who use it.

        I admit, if I’m sick (not throwing up, but clearly under the weather) I show up at work to kind of prove that I’m ill so that when I leave early and call out the next day no one questions it. Without doing that, you become gossip fodder in my workplace.

        If I have a fever or gastrointestinal issues, I just chance the boss’ ire and stay home.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I am very clear with my team that I don’t consider you a hero if you drag yourself to work sick – I actually get annoyed because you’re likely to get ME sick. And I use sick leave when I need.

        2. Stephanie*

          Yeah, I’ve dragged myself into the office, knowing I’ll just get sent home, just to avoid getting charged sick leave or having the boss question if I’m really sick. It felt miserably passive-aggressive. I ended up fainting once and my boss had to drive me home (I took public transit to work). Unfortunately, we only had two days of sick leave a year and terrible backup coverage.

          1. Cautionary tail*

            Sort of same here. If you dragged yourself in and dragged yourself till lunch then you got paid for the whole day. If you called in sick then you didn’t get paid at all. Lots of dragging at that company.

            1. SH*

              A few years ago I was temping and got so sick I was put on meds and bed rest. I was offered a temp job but explained I was sick. I was told to go to work anyway and spent most of the day running to the restroom. It was awful!

      3. AggrAV8ed Tech*

        My company has a good sick leave policy…unfortunately, my manager doesn’t, so it kind of negates it.

        This was a few years ago… I was violently ill with the flu one Thursday and had to call out. I was still violently ill that evening when my manager called me (repeatedly, since I didn’t answer on the first two calls due to being stuck with my head in the toilet) and told me that I had to come in on Friday because my coworker would be out with a cold. When I told him that I was still very, very sick (and with more than the sniffles, which is ultimately what my coworker had, if that), he said I didn’t have a choice and that I had to come in to cover the office or there would be consequences.

        There was some vomiting at work that day. Thankfully, I was able to make it to a nearby restroom each time. Everyone who came into my office that day could see that I clearly wasn’t well and questioned the basic humanity of my manager.

        1. ella*

          I think that if you had vomited in a trashcan, and then left that trashcan in your manager’s office all weekend, you would be justified.

      4. INTP*

        Yep. Even 5 days of sick leave means that I have to come in to work when I have colds and such, because I’ll use up all of my days and some vacation with things like migraines and doctor’s appointments.

    2. Traveler*

      I get what you’re saying if a person has PTO, they should use it. However, I’ve had to come in sick to work a few times. I either didn’t have PTO or it was mandatory that I come in because the company had not put any backstop in to provide for my not coming in. This is why sick policies in this country need improvement, and as we mentioned not too long ago some states seem to be leading the way.

    3. Sarahnova*

      The problem with that is that people are actively infectious before they start showing any symptoms with most common illnesses.

      Sure, you should try to contain it once you know you’re sick, but what you’re suggesting isn’t really feasible.

      1. Anx*

        Thank you so much for this comment. Even if we weren’t contagious until the prodromal phase of illness, it would be incredibly inefficient to call out sick for every day you wake up congested, with a scratchy throat, nauseated or with or dull headache (I’m not a morning person and I wake up with symptoms of a mild cold fairly regularly in the winter and nausea year round).

        Of course, once the full symptoms appear, you are physically leaking around the office more frequently. The only silver lining is some people become much more conscientious once they know they are sick.

        I think one thing we all could do to make things better for spreading illness is to assume we’re sick before we are. Especially if there’s a cold going around anyway. Keep your germs to yourself. No picking your nose or sucking your fingers or picking your teeth without washing your hands. Have a system for disinfecting major shared services, whether it’s the custodial staff’s job or other workers.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      I was thinking of the scene from The Office where Dwight refused to change his eating habits to accommodate Pam’s morning sickness, so when he started peeling a hard boiled egg right in front of her she responded by puking into the waste bin while staring right at him.

        1. misspiggy*

          That’s the type my brother puked into, straight after we had stepped into our holiday house in Spain after a trying journey. My poor parents.

  9. Adam*

    Even if she wouldn’t go to the bathroom was there no kind of employee breakroom where she could go to sit and wait for her ride to arrive? I know the definition of breakroom can vary widely from workplace to workplace but in my experience for hospitals they usually have at least one private room for employees to escape to for a couple minutes. Sure she would have overtaken it for everybody that day but at least they could work in peace and when break time came just go to the cafeteria or something.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      That’s what I was thinking too. There’s a small room in our office building with a cot where you can go to lie down if you’re not feeling well. New moms also use it after coming back from maternity leave to have some privacy when using their breast pumps. I’d think in a hospital of all places, there would be something like this available.

      1. Us, Too*

        One of the last places on earth I’d want to express milk is next to someone who is puking. BLEH.

    2. OhNo*

      Yeah, I’m having trouble understanding why the coworker decided that staying in the small office with the other person was the way to go. No one sensible would make that decision – and if they did, they would surely explain it (even if it’s just to say, “I’m too sick to move”).

      Also, did someone clean out the trash can? Did someone air out the office? Because if not, that’s another thing the OP will have to deal with. Either there will be someone else’s puke to clean up, or she’s going to have to work all day in an office that stinks of vomit. Gross.

      1. Adam*

        I’d be surprised if the trashcan wasn’t taken care of. I think vomit qualifies as a biohazard in most medical settings and requires approved staff to clean it up, and while the OP sounds like she and her coworker are more on the administrative side I imagine the same regulations apply throughout the building.

        The smell on the other hand…

  10. Steve G*

    I hate when people just write “wow” as a response to blog posts, because it’s such a dramatic expressions, but it is totally fitting year so I am just going to say “Wow” to this one.

  11. Episkey*

    I do have some compassion for the co-worker because I understand not wanting to drive when you are feeling so nauseous/actively throwing up. I think the best alternative would have been for her to stay in the workplace bathroom until her daughter arrived to pick her up. I would be so embarrassed to be throwing up in front of a co-worker, this would just be common logic to me, but I guess not everyone feels the same way?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My husband and I were just discussing this a few days ago after each of us had a random bout of nausea: Isn’t the cold bathroom floor the most delightful place to lie when you’re feeling nauseated? It’s cold and soothing and the toilet is wonderfully close. (I realize an office bathroom isn’t going to be quite as delightful, but still.)

      1. Adam*

        It is weird how that works. One night in college I spent about an hour on the floor of my dorm bathroom just so I could be near the commode (scouts honor [not that it matters]: no alcohol was involved, I just felt awful). I remember laying on the cold tiles and thinking it was the best place in the whole world. I would actually start to feel better….right until I tried to stand up.

        1. Stephanie*

          Ha, yes. When I had food poisoning last spring, I noticed truly how much hair I shed. I’d puke and then try to clean and sweep.

      2. CTO*

        It’s sooo soothing! It’s even better when there’s something soft nearby like a towel or dirty clothes that you can use as a little pillow or blanket.

      3. Mister Pickle*

        My dog – who is not dumb – asked me to point out that it’s a delightful place to rest and sleep even when he’s feeling really good! In fact, it’s where he chooses to sleep every night.

        1. kozinskey*

          Our dogs agree. And there’s even a vent that comes out under the sink/cabinet thingy so there’s a nice cool breeze in the summer for their furry bodies.

        2. Natalie*

          Apparently last summer my bf knew he needed to turn the AC on for the season when he came home to his cat spread-eagled in the bathtub.

      4. Steve*

        When I had a kidney stone, I wasn’t so much thinking the cold bathroom floor was soothing as I was thinking “this isn’t the worst place I could die.”

        1. Smilingswan*

          You got that right. I think that’s probably one of the most painful things in the world.

      5. Ezri*

        I always insist on shaggy floor mats in the bathroom, for the menstruation nausea that occasionally forces me to spend the night there. Shaggy floor mats, cool linoleum, and a towel blanket make a serviceable bed in those situations.

        1. Corry*

          My bathroom has a standard-depth closet, for some reason known only to the builders of my house. I want to take out the doors and turn it into a little nook for a long bench with a vinyl-covered cushion. Not only would it be so comfy and convenient for those long, sick nights, but it would be a nice place to sit down before or after a shower too. Nice to know I’m not the only one who would love a “super comfy lounge” bathroom. I kind of wondered how I was going to explain it when I sell the house someday.

          (And back on topic: Have thrown up at work– but only in the work bathroom.)

      6. bkanon*

        My bathroom is carpeted, but I have been known to lie on the kitchen (tile) floor when extremely sick or extremely hot. I just take a pillow with me and curl up under the table. The cats think it’s hilarious, but I don’t care. So. Comfortable.

    2. ACA*

      I’d be almost more embarrassed to stay in a public bathroom, though; at least in the office she’d only be vomiting in front of one person. Who knows how many might see her if she was vomiting in the bathroom.

      1. Laura*

        But the bathrooms (unless you’re in Korea) have stalls – I’d much rather be hiding behind a stall in a public washroom to ralph than in an office with a coworker…

    3. businesslady*

      I just have to chime in here & say I have indeed laid down on an office bathroom floor (single-person). it was right before I was admitted to the hospital with a burst appendix & didn’t go back into work for another two months.

      guess what? when I started to feel nauseated on that fateful morning, I managed to make it from my desk to the bathroom even though it was a significant distance away & involved climbing a flight of stairs while dealing with extreme abdominal pain. I had a moment where I looked at the trash can (next to my desk in a shared office suite) as an option, but rejected it immediately.

      & if I HAD gotten sick in the office, you’d better believe that I’d’ve been cleaning things up/taking the trash bag elsewhere as soon as possible. I know nausea is awful, but given that I’ve experienced one of the most medically extreme feeling-queasy-at-work situations imaginable & still managed to handle it in a private & professional manner, I feel pretty comfortable being appalled by the LW’s coworker’s behavior.

      1. Ezri*

        I don’t know why, but I have never thrown up by surprise. I always feel it coming, usually a full minute in advance, with plenty of time to get to a bathroom. I know everyone isn’t like that, but it has saved me from making a mess in cars and other inconvenient places in the past.

  12. Mister Pickle*

    It’s easy to ‘blame’ the sick woman, and many of us might have handled the situation better, but in her defense: she was sick, probably embarrassed, and very likely not thinking very well.

    Also, I wonder if she didn’t want to be alone? What if she was so sick that she feared passing out and dying in the bathroom? How long would it be before she was discovered?

    Having said that: I agree that a supervisor should have been called in. Or at least OP should have gone into ‘take charge’ mode and called the ER (or somewhere) for help in moving the poor woman.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “What if she was so sick that she feared passing out and dying in the bathroom? How long would it be before she was discovered? ”

      Then it’s time to go to the emergency room, which is in the same building!

        1. Collarbone High*

          Even with fantastic insurance, an ER co-pay is often $500 or more. I once had a monthlong hospital stay, with two surgeries. They admitted me through the ER, and that was the single most expensive item on the bill. I wouldn’t spend that kind of money just because I was throwing up.

        2. Laura*

          Slightly OT: The prospect of needing medical attention and not being able to afford it makes me very, very glad I live in Canada. I feel terrible for anyone who must consider cost at a time like that.

          1. Nutcase*

            I feel completely the same. I live in the UK and I can’t imagine having to factor in what I would have to go without that month/year to counteract the cost of a doctor’s visit. Often making a decision to get checked out when I genuinely suspect something might be wrong with me is worrying enough without the knowledge that I might not be able to afford to fix it. When ideas are discussed about selling off our national health service in favour of (from what I can see) a more american style system I get very anxious indeed.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            Yeah. If you live in America and you don’t have insurance (it sounds like this woman was part time) it is always on your mind. You tend to avoid being taken to the ER unless the situation is literally life threatening. What is even sadder is that these people actually WORK at a hospital!

            1. Katriona*

              Sad, but not surprising. I once worked at a medical facility that prided itself on its amazing benefits–except they went out of their way to ensure that few people actually qualified for them (including hiring me and one other person to split one already-part-time job, so that even if we were called in for extra shifts we wouldn’t get nearly enough hours to be deemed “part-time eligible”). They talked a good game about not coming in to work if you’re sick, but with no sick time and a bare minimum of hours, who could afford to call out?

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. If she felt so ill that her personal well-being was in jeopardy then the emergency room is where she needed to be, cost or no cost.

        That said I’m guessing that wasn’t the case. More like the illness she was experiencing also brought on a bad case of brain fog.

        1. Mister Pickle*

          Yeah. To be honest, it sounds like there was a lot of ‘brain fog’ floating about the office that day.

      2. Mister Pickle*

        Or – if she isn’t found quickly enough – they probably have a morgue, too.

        Personal Anecdote Warning: I can count 3 separate occasions where I was at a hospital and someone told me “wait here, we’ll come get you” – and they never came back. And I’m not someone who spends a lot of time hanging out at hospitals.

      3. Anx*

        I don’t know. I’ve been in situations where I felt I was probably fine, but still scared. There is no way I could afford to go to the doctor every time, even with insurance.

        My boyfriend just spent a few thousand dollars on an IV for nausea. Ended up just being vertigo, but we ended up going. I racked up a few thousand dollars on what ended up being a panic attack, but friends insisted I go because they were worried (it was the only one I had after a life long phobia and presented differently. I was worried about an ectopic pregnancy). Well, now I know it’s probably best to stay in a crowd and if things get really bad someone will call an ambulance. And if I come to before it gets there I don’t have to go anywhere.

        Nausea is tricky because you can get that panic that something just isn’t right and you wouldn’t be surprised if you died, but who can afford it every time?

        I get really bad dysmenorrhea once in a blue moon and have definitely been simultaneously mortified that someone was nearby to witness it, but also relieved because I feared I might die (especially the first time).

        1. nonegiven*

          Worry about ectopic pregnancies. A classmate had one, it burst, before the blood mobile got here with her rare type blood, they gave her blood from a deputy sheriff, a nurse and another from the same deputy. If she had been alone when it happened, I’m not sure she would have lived. She didn’t even know she was pregnant.

      1. OhNo*

        Or even just asked. “Hey, my daughter is coming to pick me up, but not for another four hours. I’m going to go puke in the bathroom, can you check up on me occasionally?”

        I can’t speak for the OP, but I would’ve said yes in a heartbeat. Anything to get the sick person away from me!

  13. Erica B*

    There should be a common sense rule that if you are sick/vomiting/have fever you don’t come in for the health of the other workers. She prob felt bad before she came in, but came in anyway for whatever reason, and that is just sucky.

    If this is a case of morning sickness or maybe due to cancer treatments, then something needs to be said that if she feels queasy she needs to excuse herself if/when possible. Vomiting for these reasons is a bit different in that its not b/c you’re really sick.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      The vomit itself is still a health hazard, though (you could be throwing up because of morning sickness, but still have a cold or other germs), and throwing up in the office instead of heading to a bathroom is a problem.

    2. Molly*

      I’m not paid for sick days. I come in to work every day, no matter what, or else my rent won’t get paid. I don’t feel responsible for my coworkers’ health at all. My job has put me in an extremely uncomfortable position, but my bills being paid late isn’t an option.

      I agree that there should be a rule, but also there should be a rule that sick days MUST be paid (at least a few).

    3. Anonicorn*

      She prob felt bad before she came in, but came in anyway for whatever reason

      Not necessarily. That stuff can sneak up on you sometimes.

      1. Clover*

        Yeah, this. Especially norovirus, the hallmark of that is sudden onset of nausea/vomiting. OP said she was at work for a couple of hours before she started vomiting, so it’s quite possibly she really wasn’t feeling that bad before she came in.

    4. INTP*

      I think that’s a good general guideline, but would be unfair as a hard and fast rule. The person vomiting because of chemo or pregnancy may not be ready to disclose yet, or someone may have another non-contagious condition. Fevers can also be due to things that aren’t contagious. And if you aren’t giving at least 2 weeks of sick time, you’ll probably have people who HAVE to come in with colds and such just to save their time for things that they can’t work through (doctor’s appointments, recovery from procedures, sick family members, migraines – can’t drive with them, etc).

      1. Anx*

        Yea. I have gone to work/school vomitting or with diarrhea because I was menstruating. I would not call out for having my period for a whole slew of reasons.

        1. Erica B*

          I totally agree with this. It really is a judgement call for yourself. I often have digestive issues not because I’m necessarily sick. I still come into work, and reschedule things if I feel like it’s a day where I *really* shouldn’t leave the building for (work) appointments.

          My thinking was that I’d be sympathetic in a different manner if someone was vomiting for reasons other than a stomach bug. And by the way the OP mentioned the manager saying it would happen often made me think it was something other than a stomach bug. Is it weird to be less skeeved out knowing that it wasn’t because of a bug? Still gross? yes, but less of a concern for the OP’s general well being.

          Also if they share an office and if there is a major health issue in play and this whole vomiting situation might be a regular occurrence. it would be polite to inform your office mate that “I have a health issue that is causing me to vomit on occasion. I will do my best to make it to the rest room but sometimes it’s incredibly sudden.” It can be generic until/if the person is comfortable sharing.

      2. Nona*

        Yeah. I have a chronic health problem that makes me nauseated. I have been able to explain to people that I’m feeling sick but not contagious, and that helps.

  14. Jen RO*

    I wouldn’t want to drive in that state, so I agree with OP’s coworker on that… but I would be throwing up *in the damn bathroom*, not in a room with other people! This is beyond disgusting.

  15. Kristy*

    I really hope OP can shed some light on the lingering questions here. Primarily, why do you expect this co-worker will do this again? And why not find alternative transportation? I understand not wanting to Drive While Vomiting, but I can’t imagine holding a co-worker hostage with my illness, either. How could she have possibly thought that was okay?

    1. Cindy (the OP)*

      I did tell her I would take her to the ER; I also told her I would help her to the BR; got a headshake no to each. She does not get any benefits; only comes in 1 x per week. My work schedule is such that I can come in an leave anytime, just so I get my part-time hours in, so I could just go home and come in the next few days. Why do I think it will happen again? Because, when she sat the wastebasket down between us I saw bile. I even suggested she may have cholecystitis and should go to ER; again a “No”. So, when I discovered her daughter would not be there for some time, I left. I had to get out of there and just emailed my supervisor when I got home. This co-worker actually poked her head in yesterday afternoon; was there for an employee forum. I told her she still looked very pale (like a ghost). I should say she is 77 and there have actually been other signs of lack of judgement; constant flatulence (I don’t think she can her herself pass gas, but she does lift up on one cheek when she passes gas; so I guess she has to know she is doing it. ANYWAY, if this is a gallbladder thing and happens again, SHE will be the one leaving. If there is a next time I will call ER to come get her. She actually told me when she stopped in yesterday, that she felt better before the end of the day. When I left she was sitting with the wastebasket in her lap. I was totally sympathetic until I headed home and thought, “Why am I the one leaving work?” My supervisor sent me a note saying she saw her at the Employee Forum and made expectations known as to how she should have gone to the BR and gone home. That is where we left this. My supervisor called EVS and they odor proofed the office that evening, so it did not smell the next morning.

      1. CTO*

        I’m glad you didn’t lose out on your income by going home early. I wish your supervisor had been alerted earlier since it sounds like she is willing to intervene in issues like this. Definitely keep her in the loop about other instances of your co-worker’s poor judgement. Even the flatulence is a problem in a small shared office–it’s totally a “livability” issue and if I were a supervisor I’d want to know that it was interfering with another employee’s ability to be comfortable and focused at work.

      2. hayling*

        Eh I think you can puke up bile if your stomach is just totally empty. But she certainly did not show good judgement.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          My migraines can cause vomiting and once I’m done throwing up whatever I’d eaten that day, the only thing left is bile. Totally agree with people up-thread about the cold bathroom floor being the best place ever when you’ve got the pukes.

          I would also point out that if the woman is 77 years old, kneeling in front of a toilet could be a physical hardship and that sitting in a chair hurling into a trash can was likely the more appealing option. **not at all meant to condone the woman’s actions**

          1. the gold digger*

            If she is 77 and in the US, I think she can go to the ER on Medicare and pay almost nothing. At least, my husband’s parents go to the ER all the time and never seem to have any financial concerns about it. They also call the EMTs to help my husband’s father off the floor when he has fallen out of bed. I would say to quit going to bed drunk, but I guess they figure they’ve got it covered.

            1. INTP*

              I wonder if she has never actually filed the paperwork to receive medicare. It wouldn’t be that outlandish if she lacks judgment, a sense of personal responsibility, or a willingness to seek medical care.

              That said, at 77, I would think that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to go to the ER and not pay your bill. Not that I condone this in lieu of health insurance, but in a 77 year old with serious symptoms, it’s better than nothing.

      3. Ms Enthusiasm*

        The fact that she is elderly is really a reason she should have gone to the ER. Things can go South real fast with someone at that age. Just a little vomiting can cause extreme dehydration. I agree the ER should have come to get her – even against her will.

      4. Kristy*

        Wow. You might qualify for sainthood after that one! That is so far over the line, I may have lost it if I were in your shoes. I have a bad habit of putting off the doctor even when I’m really sick, but I can’t imagine throwing up for that long and not being panicked enough to go to the ER. It’s great that your supervisor stepped up to set expectations on this and make sure the environment you were returning to would be more pleasant. Sympathy can only take us so far before we expect the other person’s common sense to kick in.

        On a lighter note, your story about her flatulence made me think of a Family Guy episode where Peter is asking his new deaf co-worker if she can see when he farts.

      5. Louise*

        If she doesn’t get any benefits and is only contracted to come once a week. Then she might feel obligated to come in that time even when unwell, because she is expected to be there to work that only shift every week.

        I know when I was a Saturday person in retail I never went off ill. It was my only contracted day and shift. Other people could have a day off because I worked, and it was my only day of income.

      6. hildi*

        I don’t know why, but the only thing I can keep thinking about this woman is that she has some kind of chronic or terminal illness and knows it. Sure, she could be one of those workplace martyrs that enjoys being the strongest one, even while literally puking her guts out for hours on end. But the relative calm and acceptance of her fate while she was doing that? Her age? That bile thingy you mentioned? I wonder if she knows what this is all about and it’s not nearly as alarming or gross to her since it’s a thing she’s dealing with. I don’t know. Could be a million reasons. But that just sticks in my mind.

        1. Collarbone High*

          You might well be right. I have Crohn’s disease, and it’s not unusual for me to throw up several times a day. It’s just not a big deal to me, and if I went home from work every time I vomited, I’d only work about 6 days a year. I’m definitely one of the puke-and-rally people described upthread. Bringing up bile is pretty common for me too, and it’s a relief because it means that I’ve completely emptied my stomach of something I couldn’t digest. So yeah, this might be routine for her.

          I’m puzzled by the wastebasket, though — I go to empty restrooms on other floors if at all possible, because I hate all the questions and pity that I get if someone overhears.

        2. Anonsie*

          It’s also possible that this is just a side effect of some medication she’s taking. It would certainly be a couple of extremely common side effects.

      7. nodumbunny*

        I don’t mean to show a lack of compassion for you or even for your coworker, but the lifting the butt cheek is just….who does that? This woman clearly doesn’t belong in the workplace but also, clearly, has no choice but to work.

      8. Jenna*

        I’ll try not to diagnose over the Internet, but, the gas and the mention of gallbladder issues sound familiar from before I was diagnosed with Celiac. What sent me to the dr to get a diagnosis of some sort was periodic vomiting….for about three hours at a time, of everything I had eaten in the 12hours previous. So. Anyhow.
        For anyone who knows that vomiting is a possibility in their near future, especially if you can’t stay in a bathroom , gallon zip lock type bags are the best. They fold up small, open wide, and when you are done they zip CLOSED so no one needs to smell it anymore.
        Zip lock type plastic bags. Are. The. Best.

      9. Anonsie*

        How long did this go on for? I mean… This situation was obviously really rough for you, but in all fairness, I think it’s quite reasonable for someone who is having a sudden severe illness like that to not feel well enough to get up for a bit. At least for me, if I’m sick to my stomach, moving around will make it a lot worse– I have to hunker down in one spot until I get a wave of relief and then bolt to the bathroom and then hunker down again. If I were her and I really didn’t see it coming, I would probably stay fixed there for a while as well. Especially if I might have to walk through a patient care area to get to the nearest bathroom. The last thing I would ever want to do is have a bunch of families see a staff member get sick in the hallway.

      10. ella*

        This may not be your place to suggest, but if (as someone suggested downthread) she feels obligated to come in and complete her hours because it’s her only shift of the week, maybe your manager can touch base with her about flexibility time only in case of an emergency–ie, if you’re vomiting into a trashcan, it’s okay to go home and make up the hours the next day. That way, at least, she’s not losing income. This won’t work if the things she’s doing are time-sensitive but it might be something.

  16. Lily in NYC*

    Oh my god, I would have not been as nice as you! I never raise my voice at work but someone puking in a can and not going to the bathroom would get yelled at by me. The woman who sits next to me came in with pinkeye and wouldn’t leave. I called HR and they forced her to go home. I felt like such a tattle tale but I was pissed. People are so weird.

  17. C Average*

    Ugh, ugh, ugh.

    I am so emetophobic that as a kid, I used to sleep outside in the treehouse whenever someone in my family had the stomach flu. This would’ve traumatized me to no end.

    If this happened to my colleague and going home myself wasn’t feasible, I’d have gone to the hospital’s supply area and put on biohazard protection gear and then spent the rest of the day in the furthest corner of the shared office with my earbuds cranked to the highest volume to drown out the puking noise. (Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. I really, really, really cannot deal with this stuff at all. I know I should be compassionate to the sick, but the instinct to put maximum distance between the puker and myself overrides any sympathy. This is a huge part of why I have never had children.)

    People, if you are sick and you do not have to be at work, DO NOT BE AT WORK. By staying home, not only are you not spreading your illness to others, but you’re demonstrating that businesses can function when sick people stay home and get better. This is something we as a society need to internalize. If this becomes a cultural norm, maybe someday EVERYONE will have sick leave that they can use. And wouldn’t that be amazing and wonderful?

    1. Mimmy*

      Tried to look up emetophobia but nothing came up, but I assume that means fear of vomiting.

      Anyway…you sound just like me. I PANIC whenever I vomit. Plus, I can. not. deal with the sound of vomiting. Last year, husband was having terrible morning headaches that would sometimes cause him to vomit…OMG, there is just something about that sound that just makes me want to crawl into a hole. (thankfully, he has since been able to pinpoint the cause and the headaches have pretty much stopped).

    2. littlemoose*

      +1. I just cannot deal with it. I’m a non-drinker and the worst part of going to parties in college (and driving my friends home) was my fear of a puking episode. Everything about it is the worst.

      1. ella*

        I was also the nondrinker who ended up having to take care of puking drunks…until one night I finally said, “You know what? This is not my responsibility” and left my friends to figure their way home their own drunken selves. And I’m not gonna lie, it felt really, really good.

    3. the gold digger*

      This is a huge part of why I have never had children.

      I was visiting a friend. Her daughter, a toddler, threw up all over herself and her PJs and her sheets. Lenore washed and changed Jill, I changed and washed the sheets.

      Ten minutes later, Jill threw up again. We repeated everything.

      That was 20 years ago. Jill has not thrown up since. So if you think you could stand dealing with it twice – or it your spouse would be home to deal with it – it might be worth the risk.

      1. C Average*

        Well, in any case, it’s too late now. If I were to become pregnant, it would be a medical miracle, and not the good kind!

        I have two lovely stepchildren who rarely get sick, and when they do, their biological parents take care of them. I’m excellent at treating wounds, sewing Halloween costumes, baking treats, helping with homework, reading aloud, sucking hilariously at Rock Band, remembering when library books are due, locating misplaced soccer gear, and many other semi-parental activities, but I made it clear when I joined the family that I have no bedside manner whatsoever. They kept me anyway!

    4. Nina*

      Same here. It’s hard enough being around my own relatives when they’re sick. There’s no way I could have stayed in the same room with this woman while she was puking. I would have had a panic attack.

    5. Sam*

      I’m the same way. This happening is literally my definition of hell. I would have had a panic attack that required medication…even READING this entry was a bit triggery…

  18. Kyrielle*

    I really, REALLY feel for the sick woman…but I would have been so grossed out, and I would have left the space and called my supervisor about the second or third bout of vomiting. (The first one, okay, that could happen to anyone caught by surprise.)

    Seriously, if her daughter wasn’t available for a half-shift, she should have been sent home in a cab or something. (I can’t actually imagine wanting to be the cab driver, either, though….)

    Or rested in a room not otherwise in use. Or…or something.

    I do feel for her. Driving while that’s going on is NOT reasonable. But staying in the shared office space? Urghle.

    If you think it’s not a danger but you’re not quite sure, then I can see not wanting the ER but not wanting to be alone…but your coworker *did not* sign up to be your *nurse*.

    1. De Minimis*

      I was thinking the same thing. We’re doubly freaked out because my wife was at the same airport around the same time as the guy who was infected. I think he was not showing symptoms then…I hope!

      1. Kyrielle*

        It transmits by bodily fluid contact, so just being in the same airport is not a high risk also. Your wife should be fine. If she starts showing symptoms, obviously, a doctor should check that out – but my layman’s understanding is that it’s not that likely that she was exposed.

        1. De Minimis*

          Yes, and also I don’t believe he became ill until after he got home–people aren’t contagious until they start getting sick.

        2. Newsie*

          Kyrielle, you’re correct. The patient was also not feeling ill until days after he left the airport. Since the most contagious period for this virus is when one is showing symptoms, De Minimis, your wife should be 100% healthy. And indeed, it’s incredibly hard to get Ebola in countries with a robust public health system, like the U.S.

          Source: CDC, NIH, my several hours of research on Ebola for work.

          1. De Minimis*

            I think some of the public health service officers we have here at work are getting worried that they may be sent to Africa to help. That is one of the big drawbacks of their role, they can be deployed for public health emergencies, although usually it’s more a case of people volunteering for things like helping with the migrant children in Texas, or handing out supplies during natural disasters. Normally it’s competitive for who gets to volunteer to go places because it can help with promotion, but I’d guess this would be quite a bit different.

  19. kas*

    I consider myself a calm, quiet person but I would not have been quiet about this. First of all, your coworker is very inconsiderate. I understand her not wanting to drive in that condition and having to wait for her daughter but she should have excused herself and puked in the washroom or worked in a separate room/office if possible. If she refused, I would be making comments the whole time until it got through to her or I would’ve loudly packed my things and went to the other room/office. I would’ve definitely reported it to someone though.

    I would probably speak to her afterwards and tell her that in the future, she should excuse herself as she ended up making me sick due to the smell/sight of her vomit. If it happens again, I would tell a supervisor/manager/etc and get them involved.

  20. Elizabeth*

    We work in a hospital and I offered to walk her down to the ER.

    Since she refused the ER, there was one other call you could make. Almost every hospital has an employee health nurse who can be called to determine if an employee should be allowed to work or if they should be sent home. Ours even has taxi vouchers if someone isn’t sick enough to justify an ED visit but is to sick to be at work. The EHN is there to protect employees from themselves & each other, as well as to protect patients from employees.

    I’ve called our EHN on other employees before, because far to many people can’t figure out that they are a danger to our patients if they are at work sick. I don’t want to catch whatever it is, and I don’t want our patients to catch it, either.

    1. kozinskey*

      This is a genius idea and I wish our office had it. The only time I’ve taken a couple days of sick leave, I had such a bad cold I didn’t realize I was sick until I had sat at my desk for a couple hours watching words swim across paper. And a coworker recently spent half a week running a low-grade fever at work before being diagnosed with strep and finally taking time off. Sometimes you really need a voice of reason.

  21. Rebecca*

    Wait – the OP said “We work in a hospital and I offered to walk her down to the ER. She said no, as they would charge her money.”

    Certainly there was some sort of empty office, room, or bathroom where the sick coworker could have gone with an bucket and a cell phone in case something else happened. It is very unfair to expect a coworker to deal with someone throwing up next to them. Gross, gross, gross and more gross.

  22. Joey*

    Here’s the protocol: if you’re cubemate is vomiting and won’t leave, tell your supervisor when it is happening. she can’t do anything about it after the fact.

  23. Louise*

    I was sick in work once. People moan when you’re off and moan when you’re in, if you’re ill. People moan that they can’t get cover for you when you’re off ill, or that they were so short staffed, or gossip that you’re lying about being ill, even if like me you’re never off when you’re sick because of these attitudes. I couldn’t deal with the resentment and contempt from workers after that.

    My ex-manager used to have one-to-one’s with me if I called in sick. She’d question my commitment to the company and to the team, and say it was not to happen again because she didn’t believe people were ill. She would say ‘if it’s not cancer or a serious medical illness then don’t call in sick’. Plus they’d never put it down as a sick day if you did phone in ill. They would just take it off your hours that week, so you’d never get paid for it anyway. So I had to go in to get paid.

    Can never win to be honest. I was on a zero hours contract btw. It’s all that company offers to employees. Managers and supervisors were the only one’s with fixed terms.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Your boss was a total ass. People get sick. They get non life threatening illnesses all the time, that while are not serious are uncomfortable and make them unproductive at work. It has nothing to do with their commitment.

      It sucks for hourly employees because they don’t get paid for missed time, sick or not. I once worked for a place that counted all your “sick” instances, and you were only allowed like 3 in a rolling 12 month period before you got written up. Why they cared, I don’t know, because we didn’t get paid if we called in sick.

  24. Cindy (the OP)*

    I should also say that our office is only big enough for 2 computers, small workspace for each of us, printer and 2 file cabinets. We are a data registry within the hospital. Our chairs are less that 2 1/2 ft apart. When she poked her head in yesterday afternoon, I was very candid with her and what I thought should have happened yesterday. (My supervisor had advised me that I would have to be extremely direct with this person; so I was.) She looked hurt and I had trouble sleeping last night because of her expression, but I have to set some parameters with regard to expectations. We have empty suite of offices just adjacent to our door and I offered that, as well, but she wanted to continue to “work”, or that is what she said.

    1. CTO*

      Her hurt reaction is not your problem. I’m glad your supervisor is backing you and that you are able to be more firm in the future.

      1. JMegan*

        Yes, to all of this. Her hurt feelings don’t trump your need to work in a puke-free office.

    2. Artemesia*

      The supervisor should have spoken with her and not put you in that position and frankly tough noogies that she is ‘hurt’. Have you notice that grossly inconsiderate people are the ones who always have ‘hurt feelings’ when called to account. This is a manipulative technique. I once forced the executive secretary of my boss who was in no way under my supervision to leave and take her sick daughter home with her when she brought a kid with highly contagious chicken pox into the office with an elderly secretary and a pregnant secretary. They were both terrified but couldn’t stand up to their boss (the executive secretary); the boss was out of town. So I just went in and insisted and she did it. She just ‘wanted to work’ also but no way this can be inflicted on other employees or clients who might come in.

      1. Mimmy*

        See….I would fall for that manipulation. A “hurt” facial expression would leave me to believe that I stated my case inappropriate–either using inappropriate words or tone, because that’s been an issue for me my entire life.

        Yes, I do need a thicker skin.

        But that being said, you’re right…I don’t think that was fair of the supervisor. Unless the supervisor DID speak with the coworker, and suggested the OP be direct in FUTURE instances?

        1. hildi*

          “See….I would fall for that manipulation. A “hurt” facial expression would leave me to believe that I stated my case inappropriate–either using inappropriate words or tone, because that’s been an issue for me my entire life.

          Yes, I do need a thicker skin.”

          But I agree with you that sometime seeing someone’s hurt expression is genuine and it’s always worth considering if you had a part in that. There are so many variables in an interpersonal encounter like that that’s it’s not always “they are manipulating me,” nor is it always “it’s my fault.” I think what I’m trying to say is that there are people in this world that think they are being assertive, when they frankly are just being bitchy. I am a firm believer in how a person says something is just as, if not more, important than what they are saying. So yeah – sometimes there’s something to the person’s hurt expression. You may not realize how you came off to them. And sometimes they just need to grow up. But I don’t agree that it’s always a manipulation tactic. Really depends on the person and their pattern of previous behavior.

          1. Nerd Girl*

            To be honest, I wouldn’t assume that someone was trying to manipulate me with a hurt facial expression, but I wouldn’t soften either. Sometimes people don’t like to hear what’s being said regardless of the tone.

      2. Anonsie*

        Well, if I were this woman, I would have been so humiliated that I would definitely have looked upset when it came up again. It wouldn’t be that I had hurt fee-fees and didn’t think it was fair.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I agree 100% with telling her what the expectations are. Of course she is going to have that hurt look. It could be for a thousand reasons. Bottom line- you don’t repeatedly puke in front of your coworkers and you definitely do not keep a pail of puke between the two of you. I am seriously concerned about this woman’s judgement.

      If she had not puked repeated in front of you, OP, you would not have had to say that to her. It’s that simple.
      I don’t get it when people do things way outside the norm and then get upset when told not to do that.

  25. Be the Change*

    Lord have mercy. So sorry, OP.

    When I was in grad school, one time a secretary vomited *all over* the copy room while I was in it doing class prep. The poor woman was in general one of the most physically and mentally unattractive people I have ever met in my life so this was just one more straw on a big stack. I am one of those annoying, congenitally over-helpful people (it’s a bit of a curse) so I flew into action and cleaned it all up and got her to the restroom. For better or worse, my research involved fresh chicken manure…so on the grossness scale, this was pretty much right in line with my daily activities.

    I, uh, don’t do that kind of research any more. I’m not squeamish but enough was eventually enough.

  26. Cindy (the OP)*

    Oh, no…the bile was toward the end. She must have had a huge breakfast. The bile was midway or toward the end. She works Mondays only, so I am sure she wanted to do other things the rest of the week and wanted to get her Monday hours in on Monday. (And, it worked!) I usually take Friday and Monday off, but am having out of state family come in Thursday evening for a week, so came in this Monday. I did tell her that the contents of the plastic bag in the wastebasket were considered a biohazard and she said she took it home with her. She said she drove herself home at the end of the day. Lives about 1/2 hour from work. That also made me think it was a chole attack. I suspect, though, by the way she looked when she popped her head in yesterday afternoon that she had more episodes either overnight or that morning. We will see. But at least she knows she cannot stay in the office when this happens.

    1. JMegan*

      She took it home with her? Now I’m even more confused. Like I said upthread, hospitals have all the equipment and know-how to clean up vomit. They do it dozens of times a week, and don’t think twice about it. Why didn’t she just call someone whose job it is to deal with that sort of thing?

      That part is not your problem, of course, assuming she cleaned the wastebasket as well (??). It’s just…very odd.

      1. Frances*

        Yeah, there may not have been a policy for what to do about your coworker, but I bet the hospital has a policy for cleaning up vomit.

        A previous job was in a very new school building far enough off the main campus of the university we were affiliated with that we had our own separate facilities staff. After a minor accident in the kitchen (blood, not vomit), it was discovered that we had no biological waste cleanup procedures or supplies. I got to be in charge of writing that one up and ordering what we needed — although thankfully it wasn’t going to be my job to actually clean it.

  27. Shortie*

    OP, I’m curious how long your colleague has worked there, whether there were any private workspaces she could have moved to, and also what your company’s sick leave policy is.

    Personal history reasons I’m asking:

    1. Once upon a time, I got very sick with what I think was strep throat on THE day that I was starting a new job. My boss knew I was sick and still didn’t send me home, leaving me instead in a shared office for days with another employee (there was nowhere else to put me). Upon request, my new officemate agreed to try to stay away from me as much as possible, and I was also very careful about not breathing in her direction, not touching anything communal, and washing my hands frequently. I felt terrible about this, but I was young, needed the money, and didn’t have the luxury of pushing back on my boss the first week in a new job. Pushing back could have cost me the job or made it look like I was a slacker, especially if my boss didn’t believe how sick I was.

    2. Another time, I was pregnant and very ill for two months, vomiting about 7-8 times per day and not able to keep even water or saltines down. My boss (different boss) would not let me work from home even though it would have been completely possible, and we only got a couple of days of paid sick leave per year. So, you guessed it, I stayed in the office. Luckily, I had my own cubicle that was right next to a restroom, so I just ran into the restroom about once an hour. I’m sure it grossed everyone out listening to me. I had to tell folks I was pregnant way earlier than I wanted so they wouldn’t think I was sick and contagious, and I eventually lost the pregnancy.

    Now that I’m older and have a savings account, I would just go on unpaid leave in such a situation. And I would quit if my boss wouldn’t allow unpaid leave.

  28. Cindy (the OP)*

    I do truly feel sorry for this lady. I don’t think she has any friends and her daughter is the only one who lives near her; but there have been other signs that the daughter is not that interested in her. She told me she is the church secretary so that she knows what is going on with the people in the congregation, because nobody tells her anything. She is just sad. I think she is extremely lonely, too.

    1. Manders*

      It’s natural to have some sympathy for that–I also would have trouble finding a ride on short notice if I became so violently ill that I couldn’t sit on a bus, even though I have many friends in my area. I actually did end up with a (non-vomit-causing, thank god) illness recently and I was SO lucky that my partner happened to be off work that day. It wasn’t an ambulance situation, but just severe enough that trying to make in home in a cab would have been dicey.

      While I’m not in favor of having a policy for every little thing that could happen, it seems like a hospital should have a clear policy in place about what happens when an employee is too ill to work and not able to make it home. Unfortunately, I also know that the “come to work even if you’re bleeding” attitude is especially strong in healthcare.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, and she was unwilling to take OP’s suggestions. I wonder if that is how she treats everyone around her. Maybe others have tried to help but she acted the same way with them.

  29. Artemesia*

    While a stomach bug is primarily communicated hand to mouth from contaminated surfaces, vomiting does put virus into the air and people that close to it can come down with the virus. This was a health hazard to you and she should have been sent home. I am twitchy enough about this that I would have gone to a supervisor and insisted she be removed from the office (and then I would have wiped everything in the place down with sanitizing wipes. This was really outrageous.

  30. Cucumber*

    One thought: it’s a hospital, don’t they have a employee health office? I just googled and found that at least a couple do, like John Hopkins.

    1. BadPlanning*

      Throwing up repeatedly until there’s just bile left is what happens with a full blown migraine for me. It’s really unpleasant. You would think your body would give up when you ran out of stomach contents…but no….

    2. Jenna*

      Before my celiac was diagnosed I had episodes where my body basically ejected everything that I had eaten in the 12hours previous. If I tried to even sip water it would start all over. I had to have absolutely nothing by mouth for three hours before it would settle down.

      Gallon zip lock bags. Really and truly they are the best things ever.

  31. V. V.*

    Opinions? Is this a fireable offense? Could a manager justify it?

    Back in Uni, vomiting into a trash receptacle was unfortunately common at the athletic facilities where students sometimes pushed themselves beyond reason. It got so bad students caught doing it risked getting banned for the semester. There was a policy against it because of (Yes, believe it) repeat offenders and frankly the custodial staff was not getting paid enough to handle it that many times a day.

    As often as academia gets blasted on this page for failing to impart appropriate workplace etiquette, at least I learned vomiting in public trash receptacles is generally frowned upon and to be considerate of those who clean up after us.

    1. V.V.*

      Though to clarify, both the OP and this woman have my sympathy. I cannot think of anything much more humiliating than this for either party.

  32. Mimmy*

    Why am I reading this post and subsequent comments while eating lunch?? lol.

    Definitely ewwwww!! In skimming through the comments, I do understand the coworker’s dilemma. However, I’m having a hard time being completely sympathetic, especially when she said her daughter wasn’t coming for her for over 3 hours. Maybe the OP could’ve offered to drive her home or got her a cab, but the coworker probably would’ve turned those down too (I will admit, I wouldn’t want to be puking in a cab).

    I’m stumped on this one. The OP was absolutely right to clock out and notify her manager. At the very least, I would’ve insisted in moving to a unoccupied office for the day if possible!

    1. Natalie*

      For some reason every cab driver in my city seems enamored with wearing too much terrible cologne or hanging 5,000 air fresheners in their vehicle. Combine that with their generally terrible driving, and a cab is the last place I’d want to be if I was nauseous.

      1. ella*

        I’m sure the air fresheners are in reaction to having one too many smelly and/or drunk and/or vomiting people in the back of their cab. It’s a vicious cycle. ;)

  33. littlemoose*

    This is pretty much my worst nightmare. I can handle it if people are bleeding or something, but I just cannot handle vomit. At all. I realize that your coworker may have an underlying medical condition, rather than just a stomach bug, and I don’t mean to be unsympathetic – but that is just too revolting, and so far outside of what one can reasonably expect a coworker to tolerate. If it happens unexpectedly once, I get that, but after that haul yourself to the bathroom, even if you have to stay in there. Expecting a coworker to tolerate being in a shared office with a bin of vomit is completely unacceptable.
    And this comes from someone with significant GI issues, btw. Just NFW.

  34. Case of the Mondays*

    I’m 100% in agreement that sick people need to go home. However, please make exceptions for people with non-contagious illnesses. I have Crohn’s disease which frequently comes with diarrhea. It is the story of my life and I’m not disabled. I can still do my job, I just go to the bathroom more than most people. Luckily, my work has a single stall but I worked in places that didn’t. Sometimes people would be in the bathroom and know I was getting sick. I tell everyone in that situation that it is just my Crohn’s and I am not contagious and there is no point in me going home or I’d never be at work. Other people have similar Crohn’s issues where they vomit repeatedly instead. We have no choice but to work through it because it is just our life. Please don’t treat us like “ewwwww grosss.” That said, except in the bathroom, I won’t be throwing up or pooping next to you.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, I have the utmost sympathy for you and others who suffer from such conditions. As long as I know that it’s not contagious and the effects thereof are confined to the bathroom stalls, I don’t have the same reaction at all: it’s not a health hazard and hopefully not much of a gross-out. But it does make me feel bad for the person suffering it!

  35. HR Manager*

    Ugh, this would make me gag too, and I would lose all sense of diplomacy. I would not be shy about saying, sorry but you are making ME want to throw up – can you please take this to the lady’s room? Now if I were 12, I would go over and vomit in her cubicle, so she gets the point at how gross this is.

    If there is a next time (lord, I hope not) I would call the manager and have him/her do the you must go home/wait in the hallway, etc. If that’s not possible, I would even go to HR and alert them to this right away. I absolutely do not want people continually vomiting in the office, whether it grosses me out personally or not!

  36. Nerd Girl*

    This is a situation where “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” comes into play. This is just nasty.

  37. Anonsie*

    Oh god. Once I was drinking a cup of tea and choked on it, because I’m graceful and competent in all things. I tried to not just spit out my tea, but alas. To avoid spitting it all out all over myself, I quickly just leaned over to the side as I started coughing– which I did fast enough that I both spit out my tea and dumped a decent part of the rest of the cup out.* I coughed for a moment, then cleaned up with paper towels.

    What my poor cube neighbor heard, however, was a funky gag followed by the sound of a lot of liquid hitting the tile and then me sputtering. She waited a moment before calling over the cube wall, “Did you just puke over there?” I swore that I had not, but I’m about 100% sure she did not believe me and thought I just didn’t want to be sent home. I spent the rest of the day trying to look as healthy as possible.

    *Does this ever happen to other, otherwise normally functioning adults? I guess I’ve done this a handful of times before but I’ve never seen it happen to anyone else without some kind of provocation.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      When I helped the professor I work with submit a grant for the first time last year, he took me out for lunch afterwards as a thank-you. I choked on my tea within two minutes and could barely talk for about 5 minutes.

      He has not taken me for lunch since.

  38. Clover*

    This makes extremely grateful for two things at my work; almost unlimited paid sick leave and a really good manager who is both compassionate and possessed of common sense.

  39. Liz*

    If someone was throwing up near me and refusing to leave, I would have run out and never looked back. It’s awful to be sick at work, and I can sympathize with one puke and an “I need to go home”. When she decided to stay, continued to vomit into the trash can, and put the trash can between herself and her co-worker, she became an inconsiderate pig. Just go home. Just…go…home!

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