my husband can’t work because of his boss’s chemo

A reader writes:

I have a professional-type job with all the protections that brings, such as health insurance, paid sick leave, etc. My husband is an hourly wage slave for a very small (like, five people) family-owned company and he is the only employee who works in his particular capacity. There are no benefits and no paid time off. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid, period, and his work doesn’t get done and deadlines aren’t met. It’s not entirely relevant but I’ll mention it anyway: he hasn’t had a raise in years and gets nothing in the way of appreciation or morale boosting from the boss.

The owner of the company is unfortunately going through some very extensive chemotherapy treatments. Everyone is sympathetic to the situation and has been accommodating of her mood changes, unpredictable behavior, emotional outbursts, and so forth, because they understand these are side effects of the chemo and she is, obviously, under a great deal of emotional stress too.

The problem is that she is not supposed to be exposed to anyone who is exposed to anyone else who may have a fever. A few months ago, I had a cold that started with a low fever, so I took a couple of days of paid leave and then went back to work when I felt better. But my husband called ahead to his job and informed everyone there of my situation as he was directed to do, and instead of the boss staying home, she implied that my husband should stay home and avoid contaminating the workspace. Except that if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid, as stated above. We also have two young children, and kids are prone to picking up viruses here and there, of course, and that has to be reported too. So even if he’s not sick personally, he’s still made to feel like he needs to take an unpaid day off to protect the boss.

This seems untenable — her situation is awful, and I am deeply sympathetic and respectful of that. But her presence isn’t really all that necessary to the day-to-day operations of the business whereas my husband is the only one doing his job and when he’s not there to do it, we take the financial hit and their schedule is derailed. The rest of the employees agree that she should be staying home anyway to rest, recuperate, and protect herself from further illness but she just won’t do it.

In spite of the difficulties, my husband likes what he does most of the time and this is a hard town to find a job in. He does look around from time to time but there are very few better opportunities right now, so for the moment, it’s a standoff between her chemo treatments and his hourly pay.

What to do?

Can he and his coworkers talk to their boss as a group? Approaching her together makes it less likely that it’ll come across as one person being self-interested, and it also makes the message harder to brush off.

They could say something like this: “We’re really sympathetic to what you’re going through and want to support you however we can. However, we want to change the way we’re handling it when one of us may have been exposed to a sick person. Financially, it’s really tough to stay home and not get paid when that happens. Could we change how we’re handling this so that when someone fears potential exposure, they alert you and you stay home and rest that day, or work from home?”

If she pushes back, they could try saying this: “Especially since we don’t have paid sick leave or any paid time off, this is putting us in a really difficult financial position. If you’d be willing to consider doing a paid leave package, that could make this workable. But if the business can’t afford that, this is really the only way to make it financially feasible for us.”

(Also, they can say this even if it doesn’t apply to all of them. The idea is they’re speaking as a group, for the group.)

And really, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to advocate — again, as a group — for some kind of paid time off, totally outside of this situation. I get that it’s a tiny company, but not offering benefits is going to make it hard to attract and retain good people, and even aside from that, it’s just a crappy practice. This may not be the time to make a big push for it, given what the owner is going through right now, but it’s something they should think about for the future.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 187 comments… read them below }

    1. KR*

      You beat me to it – it doesn’t have to be a permanent solution if boss is uncomfortable with it. Just something to keep business going while they’re sick.

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If nothing else, your husband’s boss is incentivizing other employees to lie about their health status and whether they’ve been exposed to something contagious. That risks not only the boss’s health but everyone else’s. I get that your husband is doing the ethical thing here, but given the few employment alternatives and no PTO, my hunch is multiple employees literally can’t afford to take time off so they don’t disclose such things.

    A PTO plan or the boss working from home would encourage more transparency. Hopefully.

    1. Caro in the UK*

      Yeah, she’s being naive if she thinks this policy isn’t going to end up jeopardising her own health :(

    2. Liet-Kynes*

      Absolutely this. If bills need paid, people are going to come to work even if they’ve been coughed on by their kid.

    3. Adam*

      Bingo. Hourly workers come in sick all. The. Time. Many really don’t have the option otherwise.

      1. Antilles*

        Yep. It also doesn’t help that in many (most?) cases, management strongly discourages calling out sick. On the lighter end of the scale, they try to guilt you into coming in sick by questioning whether you’re really ‘sick enough’. On the worst end, there’s managers with the unwritten policy of “if you call out, don’t ever bother showing up again”.

      2. Old Admin*

        Indeed. I came in sick on a regular basis in a salaried job where I was threatened with firing if I called in sick.
        *Everybody* had my diarrhea two days later. Sorry. :-(

        1. Justme*

          Same, but with flu. And my job was client-facing. Then fast forward to new job with new supervisor, where I was advised to take another day off so that I could fully recover.

          1. Bea*

            It’s also a side effect of many common illnesses you get from being in a contaminated space. If only it was ever so simple as “wash your hands, bro.”

            1. Venus Supreme*

              My boss has a bad habit of coughing without covering her mouth. It makes me dread one-on-one meetings…

          2. Tara*

            I don’t think that’s fair to speculate. You say “That” is spread, but what do you think “That” is, exactly? Lots of diseases have diarrhea as a symptom, some of which have a hand-to-hand transmission process, but others could just as easily be straight airborn.

          3. Annie Mouse*

            Some diarrhoea viruses can be spread even with fantastically washed hands. They don’t spread as well as if you’re not washing hands properly but they can still spread. I picked up norovirus from a patient once, I didn’t touch my mouth or face until I’d been able to wash my hands thoroughly but I still caught it. Sometimes these things spread despite anything you try.

            1. Moose and Squirrel*

              Yeah, noro is a beast. I’ve been on two cruises and have been lucky that neither ship had large noro outbreaks, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

              1. Anonymoose*

                Dude. This is precisely why I won’t go on a cruise. Way too many norovirus outbreaks for a contained ‘vacation’ location. If I wanted to spend a week stuck to my toilet, I could have just stayed home where at least I know I have all of my comfy stuff within reach. Way to ruin PTO, Noro!

                1. Turtledove*

                  I’ve been on three cruises so far and each time, the staff was *very* determined about making sure that people are doing proper hand-cleaning and not going around and getting everyone sick if they’ve got something. Lots of antibacterial hand-gel stations anywhere you might be interacting with food (and Very Strong Encouragement to scrub your hands with it before going in for dinner) and Very Strong Encouragement to self-report and self-quarantine if you’re not feeling well, plus “hey, if you want to check whether it’s just a cold or not, please come down to the clinic”.

                  Granted, it heavily depends on which cruise-line you pick, so that’s a factor too.

                2. Gaia*

                  It really depends on what line you go with. Some get it all the time. Some never do. There is a reason for this and it has little to do with the passengers.

              2. Kathie*

                I notice some people are touting all the hand sanitizer stations onboard as if that will help to prevent norovirus. It won’t–the gel doesn’t kill that virus. It’s very robust and contagious, that’s why it’s so difficult to prevent.

      3. Moose and Squirrel*

        Yep. My sick time was always used up by migraines, so if I had a cold I was at work. I can work while coughing, snotty, and being generally crummy feeling. I can’t when light is physically painful. It sucked for my coworkers though, and I hated spreading germs around, but the alternative was going off payroll/being fired/losing my desperately needed health insurance. Neuros aren’t cheap

    4. Government Worker*

      This reminds me of the “do I send my kid to daycare?” question that parents with young kids often face. How much do I have to do at work today, how much sick time do I have banked, what exactly are her symptoms, what’s the letter and the spirit of the daycare sick policy, how contagious is the illness or how serious would it be if she gave it to her classmates, etc.

      Kids get so many random little illnesses. Just this weekend my son had a fever and no other symptoms for 36 hours, and my daughter’s temperature was a little high this morning. She was as bouncy as ever and I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t been checking for it, so I sent her off to daycare anyway (her daycare’s policy is that fever only requires staying home if behavior is affected). I wouldn’t want to risk the health of someone going through chemo, but it would be agonizing to take an unpaid sick day because of something so minor.

      1. paul*

        Yep. I *can’t* stay home for 2 days every time one of the kids spikes a fever for a couple of hours. And we have pretty decent leave policies! I feel bad, pretty much every time, but there’s definitely time I’ve gone into work sick or sent a kid to daycare despite them having had a fever the night before because otherwise I’d blow through all our leave prettyquick.

    5. Detective Charles Boyle*

      Totally agree with this. The OP’s husband has a lot of integrity, but some people can’t afford integrity when it’s a question of feeding their families.

    6. Antilles*

      Unless this policy is brand new, I can 100% guarantee you this has already happened.
      Also, here’s an interesting way to look at it: The employees are just making the exact same calculation as the Boss/company. The Boss chose to save a few bucks rather than provide paid sick leave to her employees – My Money is more important than Your Health. Isn’t the employees coming in sick basically the same philosophy?

      1. Underemployed Erin*

        From what the letter writer said about the availability of jobs in the region, I wouldn’t be so certain that the business is particularly profitable.

    7. Artemesia*

      If this were me I’d be lying in a heartbeat. sure if one of the kids had the measles or I (not the kids) have a feverish illness, I might own up, but every fever and cold that passes through kindergarten versus making a living? I am not putting my livlihood in jeopardy on the off chance of second player contamination. I do so hope your husband can find a better job.

  2. Jamey*

    I think it’s also worth saying to her that it hurts the business if people cannot be allowed to work regularly. The financial strain to the employees is definitely part of it, but that’s part of it too, and unfortunately that might be the part that is more likely to make an impression on the boss.

    1. k.k*

      I think that point will be important. What if two people have been potentially exposed? With such a small office, this is putting them at big risk of frequently being severely understaffed.

    2. JGray*

      I think in addition to this you could also mention that it costs more to hire new employees than to retain them. It’s possible the other people in the office are also looking because of the strain that this situation puts on them. It’s hard enough when the owner ends up having to be MIA but then to have to decide between a pay check or nothing might push some people to find employment elsewhere.

    3. Competent Commenter*

      My thought exactly. As a former owner of a tiny business with only one employee, if I were receiving medical treatments like that, which is probably already costing me money and compromising my ability to work, I would absolutely not want to compromise my company’s profitability on top of it. Perhaps this person would be motivated by the employees saying that they think that the companies profits are going to be affected.

      1. Hedgehog*

        I agree that this is going to be more persuasive than focusing on the employees’ needs.

  3. Caledonia*

    Whilst I’m not advocating the boss is right, it may be that coming into work gives her life some sort of balance / normality at this difficult time in her life. Particularly since this is her own business and it’s grown from just an idea / herself.

    That said, in a large company there would be a checks and balance sort of system. She probably doesn’t realise how the mood swings and other behaviour is impacting on her employees, not to mention the lack of paid time off which is just unsustainable.

    Lastly and related to the above, the paid time off might not be possible if it’s her own business due to the cost and presumably the high cost of treatment(s) she is currently undergoing / will be undergoing.

    1. Liet-Kynes*

      “Whilst I’m not advocating the boss is right, it may be that coming into work gives her life some sort of balance / normality at this difficult time in her life. Particularly since this is her own business and it’s grown from just an idea / herself.”

      You’re probably not wrong, but expecting people to personally subsidize your balance by staying at home is not a reasonable expectation.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Some of your points imply that, but they don’t state it as clearly and unequivocally as you perhaps may think.

          Furthermore, I think that, on the whole, your comments can be read as being more sympathetic to the boss than I think a lot of others here probably feel right now, considering that her unrealistic expectations are jeopardizing the LW’s ability to pay his bills and put food on the table for his family.

          I’m not saying your points aren’t valid–they most definitely are–but there are a lot of possible interpretations of what you said, and I don’t think Caledonia’s comnent is completely off base at all.

    2. Antilles*

      Lastly and related to the above, the paid time off might not be possible if it’s her own business due to the cost and presumably the high cost of treatment(s) she is currently undergoing / will be undergoing.
      This is not true. OP said in her first sentence that the company doesn’t provide benefits and hasn’t given out raises for years – which predates the recent cancer diagnosis/treatments.

      1. Caledonia*

        Sorry, I didn’t read that part/didn’t take it in. Even still, the owner presumably doesn’t have a never end well of money….

            1. Anonymoose*

              Hey, we’re all friends here. No need to get upset. We’re all just trying to figure out the best course of action, and we all have our opinions. It’s all good. :)

        1. Antilles*

          True enough, but it’s worth noting that the employees can make the same exact argument:
          Boss: I can’t afford to lose money by paying you to take time off.
          Employee: I can’t afford to lose money by taking time off.
          If the boss truly can’t pay for employees to have PTO, then that’s a crappy situation…but the boss needs to realize that she’s putting her team in an awful position by expecting them to take time off for sickness – not just their own, but whenever any family member is sick.

        2. MW*

          It seems really weird to me that you’re treating the owner’s personal funds and the business’s funding as essentially the same thing. Maybe I’m naive, I’ve never worked for a small company like this in the US, but the idea that the boss is paying for her private medical treatment out of the company budget is, well, it’s appalling. The opposite- that she’d be subsidising raises/PTO out of her personal funds- also sounds really weird.

          Maybe the company can afford to offer PTO, maybe it can’t, but I think that what the company can afford and what the owner can afford should be completely separate issues.

          1. Mrs. Fenris*

            The owner absolutely should not put their employees in this position.

            That being said, for a different perspective, I have worked for small companies my whole adult life, each owned by 1-2 individuals. My husband owns a small company.


            The owner’s personal funds come directly from the company’s funds. The company doesn’t have a bunch of money sitting around in boxes any more than an individual does. The owner’s paycheck comes from, well, whatever is left over after everybody else is paid. That’s great if there’s enough to pay yourself a good salary. If there’s not…then it’s not. The end. My husband’s business was hit very hard and very early by the recession. He didn’t bring home a paycheck quite a few times, and we had to make payroll out of our home equity line a couple of times. So…yeah. Those “company funds” don’t just subsidize everything.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Or couldn’t wear a mask and lock herself up in her office? I mean her and all the employees are exposed to other people that are exposed to sick people every day, so this doesn’t seem like a practical solution at all, especially assuming this could go on for months. Admittedly I don’t know a whole lot about chemo treatment, so apologies if I’m oversimplifying.

      1. Anonymoose*

        I work in the health industry and our policy is that if we don’t get a flus hot, then we have to wear a mask so that we limit other folk’s exposure. I think your idea is a valid option!

  4. Havarti*

    There’s a very cynical part of my brain telling me that if the whole approaching her as a group thing fails spectacularly, it may not matter how much your husband likes his job or how hard it would be to find another. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that but the lack of incentives, raises, and praises doesn’t make this boss sound all that great. The chemo is the icing on the cake at this point honestly.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, unfortunately I came away with this impression as well. Hopefully the owner/employer will listen to reason, but this sounds like an opportunity to continue to actively job search. But I agree that OP’s husband and his coworkers should first try the group approach, then a request re: remote work, and if those fail, focus on transition.

    2. paul*

      That was my thought.

      You say he’s a wage slave; why not at least start looking while they’re working on this? I mean, it doesn’t sound like a great place to be anyhow, and it doesn’t sound like the compensation is awesome.

    3. Knit Pixie*

      Umm with all due respect to anyone with this advice, what group?

      OP say her husband is one of five in a family run business and the only one in his capacity.

      Even if the rest are not all family or are likewise wage slaves, I am not exactly seeing a “group” here.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The only one in his capacity can mean he’s the IT guy or that he’s the admin. It doesn’t mean he’s the only non-family employee.

        1. Knit Pixie*

          Still not sure anyone will bite.

          I have always had hard time getting people to ban together for things that they are entitled to -like being able to go home after clocking out, rather than being compelled to stay for a quick “5 minute meeting” (that inevitably winds up being 20 – 30) on the way out the door.

          Everyone agrees it is BS, has somewhere to be, and agrees we should be paid for this. They complain loudly amongst themselves and to me, but inevitably, I find myself abandoned on the march to HR (and singled out as a troublemaker because I persisted.)

          If it is something happening to only one of us, usually the consensus is that person needs to suck it up. Especially if it is anything to do about sick leave.

          I also live in a town where jobs are hard to come by – nobody ever wants to rock the boat regardless of how egregious the offense.

          Not saying it can’t happen, just saying buy – in can be difficult to come by, and cannot always be counted on even when everyone agrees.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, if they aren’t willing to, then the OP has the conversation himself. But the group option is better and so that’s where I’d start.

          2. Anonymoose*

            Nah, this is actually a good point and reminder that ultimately OP’s husband probably needs to dust off his resume and get networking.

          3. Specialk9*

            I learned that groups love to rile up the one with a spine, let them march in to advocate for all… and melt into the ground behind so they themselves don’t get in trouble. The hard way. I’m less inclined to scapegoat myself these days.

      2. Havarti*

        With all due respect, I haven’t a clue. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ And it wasn’t my advice – it was AAM’s. Personally I think he should get out of there sooner rather than later.

        1. Knit Pixie*

          Sorry Havarti! I wasn’t trying to single you or anyone out with my comment, I meant more to address the room and may have spoke in the wrong place. I also meant the “All Due Respect” in complete earnest, I am sorry if it read as chastisement or was brusque.

    4. Huntington*

      This is basically reality for almost all service workers in the United States. Just saying.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Loads of people in hourly jobs refer to themselves that way; I assume the OP’s husband does as well, not that she’s talking down to him.

      Regardless, I prefer to let people use their own words and not impose my opinions on the wording of their letters. (I also ask in the site rules that we not nitpick people’s wording.)

    2. Emi.*

      We’re asked not to nitpick people’s wording in the comments. It’s generally unhelpful and a high risk for derailing.

    3. Huntington*

      I think it’s actually really helpful because even within this thread there are those who seem to think this is a really bad boss, when in fact this is a really bad reality for a huge/massive swath of the U.S. working population.

      1. Ruthie*

        Hmm, I think that this is a unique situation if you’re referring to sick leave. Lots of Americans don’t get paid when they’re sick. I think it’s pretty rare to not get paid when your boss is sick.

        1. Emi.*

          This is kind of in between, though–because of their boss’s illness, they’re not getting paid when they’re sick or when they’re exposed to sickness.

  5. Another employer of 5*

    What about offering to wear a mask to avoid the spread of germs? If I (the employer) was the one getting chemo and coming to work I might be inclined to wear a mask myself, just in case.

    1. Bellatrix*

      Masks aren’t perfect. They need to be changed at least twice a day to be effective and can be a health hazard in themselves if not disposed of properly.

      And they pose their own issues when it comes to communicating, especially over the phone.

      1. Jessica*

        Still, I think the mask is a good idea. My brother is an ER doctor and he is around deathly ill people all the time, but he does not get sick very often himself. Masks and hand sanitizer and basic hygiene rules are very effective.

  6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I think the suggestion of approaching as a group is a fantastic one, and I would definitely make sure that your husband’s coworkers lean hard on the fact that when he is not there, it has a significant negative impact on the business. If he has to leave work every time a child coughs on him, the company isn’t just losing his productivity, it’s also losing the productivity of everyone who relies on his work.

    1. Jessica*

      But who are these other 3 employees? Alison keeps referring to them as “they” as though somehow “they” can memorize a speech to the boss and speak it in unison. Inevitably, someone has to be the actual speaker, and that person is going to get the brunt of the reaction, and because OP’s husband brought it up, he’s gonna be the one giving the speech and receiving the wrath. There’s no reason to think that the other 3 employees have the same feelings and the same “hourly wage slave”-type position. “Protection in numbers” only works if there are sufficient numbers. That probably isn’t the case here. OP says her hubby is ” is the only employee who works in his particular capacity.”

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I’m… not sure that you’re picturing speaking up as a group in a way that it actually happens. This doesn’t require people to speak as a chorus. This is a meeting where the message is, “look, we all have these concerns,” and each person shares a different facet. Different parts of the message are delivered by different people.

      2. Koko*

        OP writes: “The rest of the employees agree that she should be staying home anyway to rest, recuperate, and protect herself from further illness but she just won’t do it.”

        Their reasoning might be different from his – perhaps they are family members who are coming at it from the angle of thinking she needs the rest for her health – but for whatever reason we do know that they want the same thing as OP’s husband, which means they could all decide to advocate more forcefully for this thing they all want. It’s arguably even a stronger case if different employees have different concerns they can share, as it’s harder for the boss to dismiss 2 or 3 or 4 different concerns than make an excuse or hand-wave away just one.

  7. Bend & Snap*

    New job? there are lots of things here that sound less than desirable. Perhaps a job search is in order?

  8. Passing Through*

    If she’s not a great boss already, I think she is likely to react badly to this. I would make it entirely about the need to keep things moving forward at the business so there is less stress for her instead of making it about lost wages and lack of paid leave at this time. Come up with a plan for letting employees work from home on those days, even if it is only temporary while she is in treatments. With that, she can go to work when she feels up to it, business stays on track, and everyone gets paid. And, maybe reflecting on how the team helped keep her business going through her illness will make her re-think pay and benefits in the future.

    1. VioletEMT*

      Agree 100% that the boss does not care about her employees’ lost wages. The only way to sell this is going to be about demonstrating that the current policy of requiring such frequent outages is damaging the business. I also doubt that the boss will want to stay home when her staff are sick. Your best bet, if the type of work allows it, is to develop some sort of remote work policy.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. The approach should be ‘I know you are worried about the business and can’t afford for profits to slide at such a difficult time. To keep meeting deadlines we need to be here and if we are not here every time someone we know has a cold, the business is going to start losing money. We have been thinking about ways to make this work — protecting your chemotherapy situation and also delivering the work.

        Then list a few — including her working from home on many days. If she is exposed to clients or people on the way that is also a risk and of course anyone in the office can be exposed to illness without being aware of it.

        The whole focus is on ‘making your business work for you at this difficult time.’ She doesn’t care that they lose money. She runs a business where she doesn’t look out for her worker’s interests. Only self interest is going to appeal to her.

        1. VioletEMT*

          Agree that the ideal situation is probably her staying home.
          My dad owned a business with 7 employees. I think he gave them paid federal holidays when the office was closed, plus some PTO, but probably not a ton. Small business = small budget. But anyway, when he got cancer and was undergoing chemo, HE worked from home when he could to avoid getting sick. His employees were far more essential to the day-to-day operations of the business than he was, and he knew it. Most of his work was phone calls, reading/writing documents, etc. Nothing that required face-to-face communication or the equipment that was in the office.
          Besides, he was feeling crummy often, and needed frequent naps, and knew he was not pleasant to be around. He preferred to stay home.

  9. thevekuc*

    How long can viruses survive in an office either on surfaces or in the air? Just curious, but seems like that’s how long she’d need to be out. Maybe her doctor has suggestions on how to handle this. What do others in this situation do?

    1. Bend & Snap*

      If she’s actively undergoing chemo, I’m surprised she’d be out in public to the point of going to work. Cancer patients undergoing this type of treatment are severely immuno-compromised and even a cold can kill them.

      It may be that the boss is worried for her own business/financial livelihood at the expense of her health, which should also be a red flag for employees.

      1. Kary*

        I imagine her doctor told her to stay away from the fever exposure AND stay at home but she is probably justifying it to herself that she’ll be fine if her employees avoid exposure to the entire universe.

        1. the gold digger*

          And as long as nobody brings fresh fruit or live flowers to the office. And washes their hands (and whole body) every time they come back into the office from being out. And the cleaning crew doesn’t bring in any germs.

      2. Ange*

        I am actually undergoing chemo at the moment, and not only does my oncologist not object to me going to work/being out in public, he actually recommends it! They prefer you to be as active as you can.
        As I work in healthcare (directly with patients) I didn’t think he would want me to deal with patients but he is happy for me to do so – I just need to maintain good hand hygiene.
        This is UK rather than US, but I am certainly not expected to lock myself in a bubble.

        1. Sibley*

          Ange, it depends on the type of chemo, and a host of other factors. Hope yours is going well :)

      3. Genny*

        My dad’s wife just finished chemo for brain cancer. The only thing that kept her sane was going to work every day. So, yes, you can go out in public and go to work while on chemo. She works in a research hospital though, so maybe her environment is cleaner than most?

    2. hermit crab*

      Viruses can persist on hard surfaces for a long time — weeks or even months in some cases — but this depends a lot on what virus it is, the environmental conditions, if the surface is cleaned, etc. Add in the fact that, for some diseases, people can be contagious without any symptoms or any knowledge that they’ve even been exposed, and this would be a really tough calculation.

      1. Antilles*

        Add in the fact that, for some diseases, people can be contagious without any symptoms or any knowledge that they’ve even been exposed, and this would be a really tough calculation.
        Relatedly, for many diseases, the contagious period actually starts *before* you show any symptoms – the flu and cold are both contagious for a minimum of one day beforehand, strep throat is a minimum three full days, and so on.

    3. AnonSurvivor*

      I worked while undergoing chemo… and I worked from home. For one thing, it was far more comfortable for me that way and it was possible to work from home. I made the decision to work because it helped distract me from treatment, so I understand why the boss might choose to work…

      … But also, my oncologist made it pretty clear to me that it wasn’t a matter of just “staying away from sick people” so like others have said, I have a strong feeling that she is ignoring her oncologist’s direction, either deliberately or unintentionally. Not to mention, if she has any other complications, like low platelets, a false move by a coworker that knocks her over could put her in the hospital! You like to believe that you’re still steady on your feet while undergoing chemo but accidents can happen quite easily.

  10. Slow Gin Lizz*

    If he works for a small, family-owned company with five people, it may be difficult to garner up a team to speak to the boss. How many of the team members are also family members?

    1. K.*

      This is why working for a family business when I’m not a member of the family is a no-go for me.

    2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Yeah – I came to say the same thing. I worked for a small, family owned office and it was the worst experience of my life (and an absolute no-go ever again – I’m sure there are decent ones out there, but my experience was so traumatic I would never risk it). There were 8 people in our office – the owner’s two daughters, 3 accountants that all had been with the company for 20+ years (and were either distantly related, married in or close family friends), one manager (who had been with the company 10+ years) then myself and one other person in roles with high turnover and were generally treated like garbage. Even if I and the other person spoke up there was such an “us vs. them mentality” (between the family/family friends and non-family staff) that nothing we could say would matter.

      All this to say – I strongly suspect that a group talk would just not be doable, particularly if any of the other 3 or so workers are family members/close family friends.

  11. nonymous*

    As an alternative to remote working, would it be possible for OP’s husband to adjust his schedule as a compromise? A lot of employers still have the “butts in seat” mentality, so it may be perceived as a reasonable option if he is working an opposite shift from owner during periods of possible incubation? Depending on how pay periods are set up, he could work 4-10’s for two weeks and have a couple days off.

    Even if the employer can’t afford PTO, having a comp time bank could be a great low/no-cost option to introduce flexibility for staff.

    1. Koko*

      Employers are not legally permitted to offer comp time to non-exempt employees (I believe the government is the only exception to this). The rationale is that in a coercive environment, employees could feel pressured to work for comp time instead of for pay, and then never be given the opportunity to actually take their comp time, and thus they worked overtime for $0. Non-exempt employees have to be paid for every hour they work, within 2 weeks of the work being performed, no exceptions.

      (Exempt employees can be offered comp time for overtime, since the employer is not legally obligated to pay them for overtime at all, so it’s an optional, added benefit on top of their salary, rather than something being offered in lieu of pay.

      1. nonymous*

        that makes sense. although employer could offer flex time, which would allow for dealing with dr appts, and life. Many employers have limits regarding how the flex can be used: core hours, prior authorization, summer schedule, etc. that can be adapted for a variety of workplaces.

        Unless OP’s husband is retail customer-facing, the employer’s leave policy is very one-sided. I know small businesses survive on a shoestring, but there are definitely options that don’t cut into staff pay. And frankly, without even a cola raise in years? there better be something auh-mazing about the work environment that justifies this.

  12. AnotherAlison*

    As the silent-partner spouse of a small business owner, I can see it from both sides. My husband usually runs things with 1 employee. If we take a vacation, that guy is out money. If the guy takes a vacation or sick day, he is out money. You generally assume this isn’t going to work for everyone and will lead to turnover, and if someone is particularly valuable enough you figure out a way to pay them some PTO. As the owner, you know this sucks for employees. If the owner isn’t paying you, I think you may want to consider somewhere that values you more.

    1. nonymous*

      my husband works for a large company that has enforced vacation time. So yeah, he gets PTO, but he also has to budget to bank enough to cover the period where the company is closed (around xmas and independence day). Everyone just plans their vacations accordingly.

      I see a lot of mom-and-pop shops (mostly restaurants) that do this as well. They’ll post signs and on social media, taking a standard break each year. It’s not a big deal if people know to plan for it (e.g. @AnotherAlison’s employee knows that he gets paid X for 50 weeks of work, but always has xmas week off). If business owners are concerned with staff jumping ship at the breaks, quoting an hourly rate of $0.96 on the $1 for hours worked and paying for a couple weeks during company shutdown doesn’t cost anything over the course of a year, although it could be presented as a reward for service >1year.

      1. the gold digger*

        I had a cleaning lady when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. (I know. But it was cheaper than taking my clothes to the cleaning service in town and it took me only two times to realize I had no interest in washing my clothes by hand in the tub every weekend.)

        I paid her four times the market rate because I just couldn’t stomach paying someone only $5 a day to clean my house. And I paid her even when I was out of town, not because she still cleaned but because her expenses didn’t stop just because I left town. I also didn’t want her to find somewhere else to work on Fridays and quit working for me. I figured I could afford an extra $50-60 a year to ensure I never had to hand-wash a pair of jeans again.

        You don’t get to ask your employees to pick up the slack on something like this. I, too, am voting for looking for a new job where LW’s husband will be treated better.

        1. Damn it, Hardison!*

          That’s what I do with my cleaning person. If I have to cancel for some reason (sick or renovations, for example), I pay her anyway. I don’t think that’s typical for her clients but I was planning to pay her so it’s not like I’m out extra money.

        2. A Girl Has No Name*

          Yeah. This is what we do for our nanny. When we go on vacation or if the kids have somewhere else to be that week, we pay her anyway. BUT, we did build that into the total cost for the year (i.e., we figured out what we could afford to pay, and then backed into the hourly pay assuming a certain portion of that would be paid time off, then worked to find someone who felt the hourly + paid time off combo was the right fit for them). It just doesn’t seem right to make your employee take the financial hit (unless it is more of an independent contractor or consulting type situation in a fee for service model, but I’m pretty sure there are strict employment laws about when someone’s work and time fall in that bucket).

    2. superanon*

      Good for you & hubs! I have a cousin who owns a small business with her husband, and they wail about employee expenses as if having paid workers was a plague sent to bankrupt them instead of a normal part of doing business. I know times can be tough, but if your margins are that thin, close shop or don’t have employees, rather than make their lives hell.

    3. Bea*

      Yes, I see it both ways as well. All my former bosses were sole owners and small work force. They always offer some PTO though, some very limited. My last one would give personal loans and bail guys out of jail. The work was hard but given the personalities he’d put up with, it worked out for everyone.

      I can’t fathom working anywhere that I’m not elbow to elbow with the owner at this stage of my career after my crazy train of experiences, that’s for sure.

      1. Annony For This One*

        Glad to see we are not the only business owners out there that have used the home equity to make payroll, get employees out of trouble with the law and give personal loans. Don’t even get me started on the cost of health insurance for a small group. I know the 2 weeks of PTO after a full year isn’t much, but sometimes the other stuff helps…plus it really is the best our little business can do.
        My fellow business owner/friend and I dream of a 9-5 job with benefits. :)

        OP good luck and unfortunately, put up until your spouse can get out. BTW, don’t stay home for every sniffle either.

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      I hope this isn’t derailing, but how come you aren’t able to pay your employee for the time you choose to be away, or offer him paid sick/vacation days? I’m just curious about the behind-the-scenes aspect of this. I don’t see this as a no-win situation because there’s an obvious solution.

      1. Annony For This One*

        I can only answer PTO from my perspective. My spouse did not want to give out “sick” PTO. I went toe to toe to give the employees and “additional” 5 PTO days per year for sick (versus 5 vacation PTO days). My point was that people needed days off for doctor appointments, etc. Plus the 10 versus 5 days makes the company more marketable to employees. Furthermore, if the employees don’t use their sick days they can take them off the following year for vacation or we can pay it out as an extra check.
        He still grumbles 15 years later. I still think of it as a win for both the employee and us.
        The OPs situation is crazy. The chemo boss should be paying some kind of PTO or staying home…unless she thinks they are all independent contractors, which they are not.

  13. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Follow up question. LW’s husband interviews for a new job.
    “Why are you looking to leave your current position?”
    “Well, the pay is terrible. The benefits are nonexistent. But I enjoyed doing the work.”
    “What changed?”
    “They don’t let me work anymore.”

    1. Havarti*

      I can’t decide if this calls for a rimshot or sad trombone. Maybe both? But seriously, the guy should probably get more aggressive on the job-searching front beyond “look(ing) around from time to time…” because the ship could very well be both on fire and sinking.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Looks like employees will have random days off where they can job hunt, with their sudden extra time.

  14. PM Jesper Berg*

    I must partially disagree with the advice here. If the employees petition the boss as a group, it should be for the ability to work remotely, not for “more PTO.” Paid time off is meant to be used if the *employee* is sick, not if her boss is sick. All this request for more PTO is going to do is put the employee in the situation of having to use his time off for the *manager’s* benefit.

    1. Karen K*

      For those of us using a PTO system as opposed to separate sick and vacation pay, PTO is used for everything – Vacation, sickness of employee, caring for sickness in the family, holidays. PTO is not restricted just to being sick. It’s used for anytime the employee is not at work. Until it runs out, that is.

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        It’s still meant for the employee’s benefit, not the boss’ benefit. OP should not be putting himself in the position of a supplicant (“please give me PTO so I can use it when you, boss, are sick”).

        1. aebhel*

          I agree with this. This would just lead to him being forced to use PTO for his boss’s benefit. It’s less of a financial hit, sure, but it’s not a reasonable long-term solution.

    2. Artemesia*

      I am wondering if the OP’s husband might be able to go into business for himself? I’d sure rather work freelance or have my own small business than work under conditions like these.

  15. Yet Another Alison*

    I might get flamed for this – but if I were your husband, I would not worry about the sick owner and exposing her to anything. Even if his child is sick and he is taking care of the child, I would come into work. This company is putting him in a no win situation and he needs to take care of his children. The company, through lack of raises, no benefits and no sick leave has shown him how much they care about him. I would not hesitate in this situation to put my family first. And, as others have stated, step up his job search.

    1. A Canadian*

      I agree with you, in theory, but as people have mentioned upthread, when you’re undergoing chemo, a simple cold can put you in the hospital or even kill you. As much as I’d resent this boss, it would take a lot for me to gamble on their life. (Even if they should have been responsible about it on their end.)

      1. Yet Another Alison*

        I see your point, but frankly, I feel the owner is the one gambling with her life. He, the OP’s husband, does not need to take on that responsibility. She is the one with the compromised immune system who is exposing herself to environments that she does not control. And, as others have pointed out, if the owner is worried about exposure to sicknesses, she needs to stay home in an environment that she controls. Her actions are selfish and self-centered given the context of this situation. Given the other factors at play here in the employment situation, between her health, and my children eating, my children would win every single time.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Knowingly doing a thing that could kill another human being is not okay. Whatever you feel about the owner’s actions, what you are advocating is cruel.

          She may be “selfish and self-centered,” but she is trying not to die – her selfishness here is the result of how she is trying not to die. But she is not a monster. Arguing that an employee should knowingly put the owner’s life at risk – real, she could actually die because of what an employee chooses to do – is really not okay.

          There are several options the husband can try before moving to “Well, guess I’ll do something to kill her, then.”

          1. Statler von Waldorf*

            We’re all trying not to die. It’s the defining characteristic of the human race. It’s not a pass for selfishness that will directly lead to suffering on the part off her employee’s families.

          2. Natalie*

            “Knowingly doing a thing that could kill another human being is not okay.”

            So, no driving ever then?

            1. Roseberriesmaybe*

              Driving, no. Driving in the dark with no headlights because I Have Important Things To Do, maybe

              1. fposte*

                As usual, I’ll pull out driving while talking on the phone, then–demonstrably riskier, forbidden in many countries, and standard in the U.S.

                1. LBK*

                  There’s many states that ban you from using your hand-held device but from what I can find in a quick Google search, there’s none that ban cell phone use completely (ie including talking on a hands-free device). However, there’s decent evidence that hands-free devices aren’t actually much safer, if at all; the danger is the distraction of talking on the phone at all, not using one of your hands to hold the phone up.

                2. Anon for this*

                  It most certainly is not standard in the US. In fact, last year, I was on a business trip in Cyprus. The taxi driver from Larnaca to Lefkosia takes out his phone and starts yakking away. I asked him to stop. He grew very angry and said that it in Cyprus it was perfectly fine to talk on the phone while driving, and that I was only bringing it up because Americans were hypersensitive about such things.

          3. aebhel*

            The problem here is that the boss is completely offloading responsibility for her health and safety onto her employees, and expecting them to sacrifice for it while she isn’t willing to. That’s untenable. OP and her spouse may be in a position where they can afford to lose some of his pay, but if I had to make the calculation between being homeless next month or possibly exposing a person with a compromised immune system (who could and should be staying home anyway) to an illness… well, I’d like to think that I’d be charitable about it, but realistically, I’d probably go to work.

            Her health is her responsibility, not her employees’.

        2. Stop That Goat*

          If I have to choose between skipping a meal or taking the chance at killing someone, I’m going to skip the meal. There’s no real winners in this situation from either side.

          That being said, I agree that most of this needs to be her responsibility to manage.

          1. Statler von Waldorf*

            That’s so easy to say when you’re not hungry. I spent several months on the street. Go without any food for at least five days and learn what real hunger feels like, as your body starts to digest itself. You’ll take a chance that your actions will kill someone for a chance to eat, I guarantee it.

        3. Lehigh*

          As long as you say up front, “I will no longer be informing you when I’ve been exposed to illness,” that’s fair. But lying to someone in order to put their life at risk is in no way okay, regardless of your children or lack thereof. Being a parent is not a free pass.

          Her actions are self-centered, but they are honest. They give the OP’s husband the freedom to make decisions like leaving the company. For him to pretend he is respecting her wishes and willfully endanger her would be dishonest and wrong.

      2. PM Jesper Berg*

        Yet the boss is perfectly content to gamble with *OP’s* life. His family needs adequate nutrition, emotional stability, etc., and this policy undermines all of that. People respond to incentives. As noted above, boss has incentivized employees to come to work sick.

        1. krysb*

          OP’s husband can get another job. The boss can’t un-get cancer. Considering all of the other factors OP mentioned in the letter, he should have moved on long before now, anyway.

      3. Artemesia*

        If HE has the cold sure, but his kid? I would not jeopardize my livlihood for this attenuated risk when my boss shows no concern for my wellbeing.

      4. Mobuy*

        I’ve been on chemo. A simple cold would not have killed me. The only exception might be for leukemia, but then you’re in the hospital. As a former cancer patient myself, it is entirely possible that the boss is being a drama queen. (Of course, if you can’t be a drama queen when you have cancer, when CAN you be a drama queen? :) ) If I were her employee, I’d stay home if I had a fever, but I’d just stay quiet if I was exposed to a fever. She’s making it impossible for him to be honest for no good reason. (My oncologist mother concurs. )

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I think this is a pretty coldblooded response. Sure, this is not good treatment from a company, but there’s a huge gap between “they’re not valuing me as an employee” and “therefore I’m not going to worry about putting the owner’s life at risk.”

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        It could be seen as cold-blooded, yes, but I keep coming back to the fact that it’s the boss who is making the choice to come in., despite the risks to her health and the resulting financial hardships to her staff. As sone have pointed out, she’s taking a significant risk by stepping ouside her door at all, a risk that is, st best, only partially mitigated by expecting her employees to sacrifice their livelihoods to avoid exposing her to whatever they’ve (knowingly) been exposed to.

        That said, if someone wanted to make a case that she’s being both unfair to her empliyees AND unrealistic about the risks she’s chosen to take by continuing to come in, and therefore does not have the right to expect her staff to make the sacrifices she is demanding, I for one would not vbe hard to convince.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I don’t disagree that she’s being unreasonable, but I think there’s a whole lot of space between “I can’t manage this accommodation,” and “eh, screw it, if she dies she dies.”

      2. Megan Johnson*

        The boss has the ability to decide for herself, too, and she’s refusing to protect herself. I’m not willing to accommodate people who won’t help themselves.

    3. Regular Lurker*

      Also, to be even more cynical, if the owner dies, the husband will be permanently out of work.

    4. Electric Hedgehog*

      Honestly, I think this is a fair approach, but only if he asks for the ability to work remotely or for the owner to be off site and is rebuffed. You can’t manage someone else’s health, no can you take responsibility for it (with exceptions where you do in fact have legal responsibility, such as health care workers or parents). And, OP’s husband does have a legal responsibility to his family which he will have a hard time fulfilling if he can’t work and earn cash.

      But yeah, a job search is in order. This sounds like a crappy situation anyway.

    5. Statler von Waldorf*

      Yup, seconding this. If it was just me depending on my paycheck, I might be more understanding. However, I’ve got kids who depend on my check to eat, and that overrides any of my other moral concerns, including possibly killing my boss. I’d really prefer not to kill my boss, but if it is a choice between them and my kids, the boss loses every time.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah, I’m a parent too, and if pushed, I’m going to pick the lives of my helpless kids who depend on me for everything, over an adult making a raft of bad choices for her own safety. But another job would be my first choice, negotiating a better solution my second, and coming in sick/next to sick my third.

      2. Emi.*

        But it’s not just a choice between your kid’s life and your boss’s. That’s a false dichotomy–there are lots of other things OP can try, list Specialk9 says.

  16. calonkat*

    I agree with the commenters that looking for a new job is in order, but I also read the bit about being in a tough town (small?) to find a new job. I’ve been there. This means that it may not be possible to find another job that makes any sense at all to take (in the town I lived in, you couldn’t get over 30 hours/week for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant because they could easily replace you with someone who wouldn’t be looking for any benefits. Yes, I worked there until something “better” (working in a garment factory) came along.)

    All I can offer is for him to start using the networks he has (church/social groups) and looking at whatever employment agencies might be in town. Temp agencies can be looking for temp to perm people, and I promise you, those are harder to find than “people you can rely on to show up for a few days only”.

  17. Rebecca*

    Would the OP’s husband be able to sign up for unemployment, and treat the partial week not worked as a waiting period, and then the next time he has to stay home, could he get unemployment benefits? I’m just tossing this out there, and full disclosure, I haven’t had to claim unemployment benefits since the 1980’s. I just wonder about this, as he is clearly available to work yet the company is telling him to stay home.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, I do seem to recall from reading up on unemployment last year that there’s some qualification for benefits if you’re hourly and your hours take a significant cut. Don’t remember details, though, and I might be fudging something up in the general haze of “oh god layoffs” I was in.

    2. CAA*

      Yes, he could sign up for unemployment. However, in my state he would most likely not get anything. Unemployment will only make up the difference between what he actually earned and 55% of his full-time wage or $1173, whichever is less. If he earns $25/hr and has to stay home for 3 days in the same week, he would earn $400 and could get $150 in unemployment; but he’s still out $450 of income.

      Also, if he has to stay home on a Friday/Monday/Tuesday, he would not be eligible for any assistance, because he would earn more than 55% of his expected full-time wage in both weeks.

    3. Bea*

      You want to be careful using unemployment like this only because you have a limit. If you draw a little here and a little there, then you end up without a job suddenly, you’ve tapped into resources that are now depleted by x amount of weeks.

  18. Statler von Waldorf*

    I don’t know if this will apply to the American readers here, (I doubt it, but I could be very wrong) however in Canada I’m almost certain that this situation would qualify as constructive dismissal. In this situation I would have one sit-down meeting with my boss and inform them of this. If they were unable to make arrangements that would allow me to continue to work my regular hours, I would resign, obtain legal council and start an EI claim, all while looking for other work.

    1. Lizcat*

      Part of the issue is that a lot of our laws are based on company size, so I’m not sure how much legal protection he’d get at a place this small.

      1. Natalie*

        As far as I know, the requirements for unemployment are generally about the hours worked in the preceeding year, nothing to do with company size. Although there might be some oddball states out there.

  19. Bea*

    They need to approach her as “for your health and safety, you should rethink this.” This woman is not in her right mind and given the no PTO aspect, shes most likely unabashedly self centered. Stop trying to change that.

    I’m saying this as a person who had a boss with steadily developing Alzhiemers come to work every day and had to play both sides to the best of my abilities. It was a shop of 7 employees to keep from losing their cool because we couldn’t just send him home or change him.

    You cant reason with someone who is so drastically ill or on extensive treatments. My dad doesn’t even remember anything from when he was on chemo it was so intensive. That will vary person to person, he was mean as hell and I told him after he was back to being my dad again when his health recovered. He was heartbroken that he said some nasty things that aren’t unusual for him to think or say under his breath but without his normal filter, they tumbled out.

    Long rambling summary, chemo is hell and you can’t talk reason with someone that’s poisoning their entire body to get rid of the God awful cancer.

  20. Marisol*

    Here’s an approach that might be worth considering: since people area contagious before they even have symptoms, isn’t the boss taking a big risk just by coming in to work? Even if the employees are scrupulous about reporting their exposure to germs, they could still be spreading them unknowingly. Perhaps there is a way to convince the boss that it is in her best interest to work from home for that reason.

  21. Epsilon Delta*

    I think your husband’s best course of action is to double down on his job search, especially when he is not able to go in to work. He may want to consider jobs that would involve a longer commute or slight paycut or other jobs he wouldn’t normally prefer, if they can offer more stability. On the bright side, it will be very easy for him to get time away from work for an interview.

  22. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

    She is asking her employees to subsidize her working- they lose a day of pay so she can have the comfort of working.
    OP, I think husband should ignore any “strongly implied” statements from the owner and just let her know as a heads up. ‘My daughter had a cold, just FYI- you may want to keep your distance today.’
    If your husband gets sick that’s a different issue.
    And asking to work remotely is a good idea too.

  23. Mrs. Smith*

    Hello everyone – it’s the OP here. I really appreciate everyone’s thoughtful insights and commentary (and I would like to add that “wage slave” is a term I will henceforth discontinue using; I’m descended from people who may have been slaves once, and real slaves didn’t have the option to walk away from a job and also had no wages, so it’s probably best set aside.) He has absolutely been looking for other job options, but here’s the crux of the problem: he is very good at what he does, and has so many years of qualified experience doing it that he actually taught it at the college level, but he doesn’t have a degree. So small family-run companies will hire him, but he immediately gets kicked out of the pile when applying to large companies who demand a four-year degree as one box on a list that needs to be ticked. So there’s that. He’s always worked for small, family-run businesses and yes, as some commenters pointed out, these almost always are terrible situations.

    In this case, he is the only teapot designer at a very small independent teapot company. There is also Fergus, not a relative, who is the manager of the teapot company – he’s been there 20 years and understands the boss’ moods and lets it roll off of him. The boss bought the teapot company after having worked in other industries, despite not having any teapot experience. The other employees include the boss’ daughter and son, both of whom have other jobs and expect to take over the teapot business one day. So Fergus is exempt, and wouldn’t take a pay hit, and the other employees are otherwise employed/gainfully earning. That leaves my husband as the only hourly employee, without whom teapots do not get designed.

    The family has approached her more than once about retiring, taking it easy, and above all, not taking it out on my husband, because she berates him on the regular, sometimes in front of customers ordering teapots. I suspect that there is a kind of tacit acknowledgement that if things run their natural course, the kids will inherit the business and then the ship will right itself, but it’s a pretty horrible thing to wish for and nobody feels good about it, no matter how awful she is.

    1. Temperance*

      A few thoughts – does your husband have any college credits/can he go to night school to get that degree while working? It sounds like his career has been largely unpleasant, working for family businesses that don’t pay him what he’s worth. I wouldn’t ever, ever, ever want to work for someone else’s family business.

      Some colleges will give free tuition if you work there. I wonder if your husband might be able to pivot into a related industry at an educational institution so he can get back to doing whatever he loves.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I am looking at this and saying, “Who is your husband’s ally in this story? The manager? The kids?” Who could he talk with and perhaps gain some traction? He is good at what he does, they will not hire another teapot guy for what they are paying him. Can that point be leveraged with an ally?

      Another talking point is that if she continues to berate him in front of customers, customers might decide to just go else where. She could kill the biz before the kids have a chance to inherit it. (I am thinking of a boss from decades ago, whose habit was to yell at the help. I mean full blast yelling. The day I walked out, so did the only customer in the place. He said he would never go there again. I never heard anything further but within two years the owner was out of business. It does not take long for word to spread.)

      OTH, is there some way your husband could go to school and get the degree he needs? Is there a way he can take a test to prove he knows what he knows?
      Or, could the family and employees buy out the company instead of the family waiting to inherit?

      Last. And this one is a sad one. My aunt died from MDS which is a side effect of chemo. MDS kills by breaking down your immune system. My aunt was told a paper cut could kill her. She was diagnosed with the MDS a couple years after the chemo was over. Having seen this, I am shaking my head over your story here. Granted not everyone gets MDS, but for some that immune system issue never goes away.

    3. mb13*

      Your husband should really be trying to expand his network connections. If he is this good at what he does but is lacking a check box from the list, he should try and get to know people in his industry so when he needs to apply to a job at a larger organization then they’ll know who he is and wont be considered immediately disqualified. Or if he can ask people in his network to recommend him for a role in their company.
      He should also look into getting that degree. be it from an online school or night classes if he wants to have a better job pool thats not all small dysfunctional business he should get that done.

    4. Late reply*

      This is late, but OP, I wanted to let you know a few years ago I was in almost the exact same situation. It’s extremely stressful and there’s no good answer, because of course you have to look out for your own finances, but as a human you don’t want to hurt someone else. In our case we all really cared about the guy who was a good person but just had weird ideas as an owner. We tried approaching as a group with no result, as well as suggesting we could work from home, but the boss didn’t believe in working from home. It was constant anxiety, especially as he was severely immunocompromised because of a special intense treatment, and our workplace was one which had the public coming in a lot and wasn’t always the cleanest . I even went to his family to ask for help in getting him to stay home.

      Ultimately, the entire experience was a wake up call for me. First because I watched someone I cared about get very sick, and then because I considered what would happen to the rest of us if he didn’t beat it, which seemed sadly what would happen for some time. The experience brought home the fact that there were little backup plans (once our checks were late because he was in the hospital) and he wasn’t going to change. I stepped up my job hunt and left. And in a happy ending, my former boss beat it and recovered!

  24. Megan Johnson*

    What is the boss doing about being exposed to people outside of work that are at risk for contaminating her? People are at the grocery store, the gas station, hell even customers that come in to her business, that are either sick or been near people who are sick. I’m struggling to feel that this is the responsibility of everyone around her to deal with and more feeling that she needs to protect her own health.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This thought crossed my mind, also. Even if the employees do their absolute best, there are still no certainties.

    2. Boo*

      One would think that if she was that concerned she would find a way to work from home and leave what must be done at the workplace to her (hopefully) trusted employees.

  25. Mildred Lathbury*

    “mood changes, unpredictable behavior, emotional outbursts, and so forth, because they understand these are side effects of the chemo”
    No one should be deciding what the emotional side effects of a medical treatment or illness are. This veers dangerously close to many tropes about women and their periods, menopause, blah, blah.
    Those are NOT the side effects of chemo itself. I worked full time for the five months I was on chemo. I maintained professionalism and despite the crushing fatigue, did not indulge in emotional outbursts and unpredictable behavior.
    The OP’s problem doesn’t really have anything to do with chemo. The boss is clearly unreasonable on some other level and this is just a part of the same pattern.

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