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

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 1,458 comments… read them below }

  1. 42*

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

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

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

      1. Cat*

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

        1. Covered in bees*

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

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

            1. 42*

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

              1. Annonymouse*

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

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

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

                The points that get me most are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                1. MuseumChick*

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

                2. Allypopx*

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

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

                3. Renna*

                  Here here!

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

          1. Lemon*

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

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

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

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

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

          1. AMG*

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

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

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

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

              1. Artemesia*

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

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

                1. Zombeyonce*

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

                2. Workin on my night cheese*

                  !!!

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

            2. Fortitude Jones*

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

            3. Jadelyn*

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

              1. Sara M*

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

              2. Nancy Drew*

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

                1. LeRainDrop*

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

            4. Jessesgirl72*

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

              1. Sharon*

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

              2. Ren*

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

              3. Engineer Girl*

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

                1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

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

                2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

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

                3. ZenJen*

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

                4. blushingflower*

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

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

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

                5. Susan*

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

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

                6. Stranger than fiction*

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

                7. college employee*

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

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

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

              4. pnw*

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

                1. Artemesia*

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

            5. Elizabeth H.*

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

            6. boop the first*

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

              1. Artemesia*

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

            7. Bonky*

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

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

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

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

              1. Britt*

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

              2. VroomVroom*

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

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

                1. Honeybee*

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

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

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

                2. VroomVroom*

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

                3. VroomVroom*

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

                  So, my money’s on noro.

            8. eplawyer*

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

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

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

              1. FOH Manager*

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

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

              2. Kimberlee, Esq*

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

                1. EmmaLou*

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

                2. Koko*

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

                3. Lovemyjob...truly!!!*

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

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

                4. TootsNYC*

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

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

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

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

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

                5. kb*

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

              3. ali*

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

                1. Jeanne*

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

              4. Jessesgirl72*

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

                1. Jeanne*

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

              5. Clumsy Clara*

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

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

              6. Observer*

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

              7. Kat*

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

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

                1. VroomVroom*

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

              8. Honeybee*

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

            9. Tequila Mockingbird*

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

              1. Cat*

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

                1. Tequila Mockingbird*

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

                2. Honeybee*

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

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

              2. paul*

                There’s a difference between stupidity and criminality. This is 99.9999% likely to *not* be criminal.

            10. Lauren*

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

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

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

                1. Siberian*

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

                2. aebhel*

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

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

                3. paul*

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

                4. Callie*

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

                5. Temperance*

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

                6. fposte*

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

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

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

              1. Teclatrans*

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

            11. Dust Bunny*

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

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

              1. Jeanne*

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

            12. Ellen N.*

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

            13. Ray*

              I agree, AMG.

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

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

            14. DMD*

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

            15. turquoisecow*

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

            16. lokilaufeysanon*

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

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

              1. lokilaufeysanon*

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

                My iPad is on its lady legs, sorry.

            17. Annonymouse*

              I’m sorry Alison but I have to disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

              5) allowed sick child to touch potluck food.

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

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

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

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

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

          2. Christy*

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

            1. AMG*

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

            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

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

            3. Kate*

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

              1. Bwooster*

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

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

            4. Tuxedo Cat*

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

            5. LoiraSafada*

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

            6. chomps*

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

              1. Marcela*

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

                1. VroomVroom*

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

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

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

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

            7. Jesmlet*

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

            8. Rusty Shackelford*

              You can’t control kids every second.

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

            9. ali*

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

            10. Elizabeth West*

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

            11. Lovemyjob...truly!!!*

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

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

            12. ABizzle*

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

        2. Dan*

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

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

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

          1. Leatherwings*

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

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

            1. New Bee*

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

            2. MWKate*

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

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

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

          2. Jessesgirl72*

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

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

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

              1. FOH Manager*

                +100000!

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

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

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

                1. SignalLost*

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

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

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

                2. Catalin*

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

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

                3. FOH Manager*

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

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

                4. TootsNYC*

                  The OP said this:

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

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

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

              2. Lissa*

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

                The woman’s attitude here is so important.

                1. Amy the Rev*

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

              3. Mike C.*

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

                1. Kate*

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

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

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

                2. Mike C.*

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

              4. EAB*

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

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

                1. AMG*

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

                2. Artemesia*

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

                3. Chicken*

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

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

                4. TL -*

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

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

                5. Artemesia*

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

                6. fposte*

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

                7. Dot Warner*

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

              5. Critter*

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

              6. PlainJane*

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

              7. pnw*

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

              8. ABizzle*

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

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

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

              1. KR*

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

                1. paul*

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

                2. The Strand*

                  KR,

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

              2. Jesmlet*

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

                1. Kimberlee, Esq*

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

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

              3. PlainJane*

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

            3. Leatherwings*

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

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

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

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

              1. lokilaufeysanon*

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

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

              2. The Strand*

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

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

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

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

          3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

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

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

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

                1. Artemesia*

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

                2. fposte*

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

            1. Leatherwings*

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

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

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

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

                1. Leatherwings*

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

                2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

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

                3. fposte*

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

            2. PK*

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

              1. many bells down*

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

                1. SignalLost*

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

                2. Observer*

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

                3. many bells down*

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

                4. Observer*

                  Scarlet Fever is just one of the possible issues.

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

              2. PlainJane*

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

            3. edgwin*

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

              1. Temperance*

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

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

                1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

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

                2. Ann Cognito*

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

            4. AnotherAlison*

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

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

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

              1. LoiraSafada*

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

                1. AnotherAlison*

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

                2. Observer*

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

                3. LoiraSafada*

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

              2. FileAllThings*

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

                1. Elizabeth West*

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

                2. Karin*

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

                3. Observer*

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

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

                4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

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

                5. Jean*

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

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

                6. TootsNYC*

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

                  It doesn’t, to me.

                7. TootsNYC*

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

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

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

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

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

            5. Anna*

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

          4. AD*

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

          5. paul*

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

          6. turquoisecow*

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

          7. Annonymouse*

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

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

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

        3. Mike C.*

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

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

          1. Cat*

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

            1. Kate*

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

              1. PK*

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

                1. Mallory Janis Ian*

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

            2. Mike C.*

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

            3. Temperance*

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

          2. KR*

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

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

            1. Leatherwings*

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

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

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

              1. Mike C.*

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

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

                1. Leatherwings*

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

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

                2. Mike C.*

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

                3. Cat*

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

                4. Leatherwings*

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

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

                5. Mike C.*

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

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

                6. Amy the Rev*

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

                7. Creag an Tuire*

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

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

                8. TL -*

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

                9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

              2. Koko*

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

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

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

                1. Amy the Rev*

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

                1. AMG*

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

              3. Artemesia*

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

                1. fposte*

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

          3. edgwin*

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

            1. Artemesia*

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

        4. kimberly*

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

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

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

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

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

          1. Natalie*

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

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

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

          2. Observer*

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

          3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

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

          4. aebhel*

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

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

            1. Anna*

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

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

              1. Emi.*

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

            2. Jeanne*

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

              1. Anna*

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

              2. Rater Z*

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

          5. Artemesia*

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

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

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

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

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

          7. Old Biddy*

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

    2. Emotionally Neutral Grad*

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

      1. Bee Eye LL*

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

        1. boop the first*

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

          1. Amber T*

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

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

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

            1. Observer*

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

        2. Sprinkled with Snark*

          This is absolutely true. I once worked for a public children’s garden, where customers PAID to tour the grounds. It had the worst time-off policy ever. You had to work there one full year before you could get any vacation what-so-ever, then you would earn one week for every year you were there, meaning you might have to work from 12-24 months before you could get a week off. There was NO sick time at all, so if you were sick, you had to take a vacation day