having a coworker walk my dog, interviewer asked what I’ve handled poorly in my personal life, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Was I wrong to hire a student to walk my dog for me?

I am a research coordinator in a lab, and we hire unpaid undergraduate research assistants who report directly to me. I got the job after being an undergrad RA at the same lab two years ago, so the students and I are very close in age so we get along very nicely. Recently, one of them (the best one in terms of performance; she’s become my right hand at work and my go-to RA for more complicated tasks) had to quit her job as a barista and was very tight for money. I suggested looking into Uber or babysitting to make extra cash. She was telling me how she had thought about signing up for a dog-walking and pet-sitting service, but she had very limited experience with pets besides her roommate’s dog. We had talked in the past about how she loves animals and wished she had pets. I have a dog, who’s my baby, and I trust this student very much, so I offered her to let her walk my dog once or twice a week on her days off so she can gain some experience, and I was willing to pay her.

I didn’t think much of it because of the relaxed environment in our office and because she is leaving our lab in less than a month. However, when I casually brought it up to some coworkers, they said it was inappropriate and that I needed boundaries with the students. One of these coworkers actually has a slight supervisory role over me (she’s a postdoctoral fellow and I’m the coordinator) and she has asked me to dog-sit for her twice. I didn’t get paid and I just did it as a favor. Another coworker babysits for one of the doctors on the floor and gets paid. How is what I did any different from what they’ve done?

The student has only come twice, and she’s done a great job walking my doggie. She told me she appreciates the experience to learn so she can soon start doing it for others to get more cash. I feel great knowing I was able to help her, while also getting some peace of mind that my dog is able to go outside while I have long days at work. These comments from colleagues are concerning me though!

I wouldn’t say it’s unethical, and it’s certainly the kind of thing that happens a lot. It’s not necessarily wise, though, because there’s the potential for problems to arise. (For example, if there’s a disagreement over money or, god forbid, a terrible dog tragedy on her watch, will it affect your working relationship?) But people do it all the time. As long as you’re sure that she doesn’t feel obligated to say yes when she’d rather not do it (and that doesn’t sound like the case), and as long as she’d feel comfortable telling you she wants to stop at some point, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

That said, it might be smart to talk to the coworkers who told you it was inappropriate and find out more about why they think that (perhaps pointing out the other examples of it in your office). It’s possible they’re seeing something you’re not seeing, like that you already have overly-relaxed boundaries with students and this is adding to it, or something like that.

2. My officemate keeps coming in sick and infecting me

I work for a nine-person marketing firm with excellent sick leave (truly excellent) and the option to work from home as needed. However, there is a real culture of coming to work sick and my officemate is the worst example of this. We now have a routine where he comes in every month or two and announces at the end of the day that he probably should have stayed home because he has [insert symptom]. Without fail, two to three days later I have developed his cold/whatever, because I have a terrible immune system — something I have been quite vocal about.

I have brought it up multiple times, pointed out the pattern, talked about the impacts of his coming in sick on me and my less-than-robust immune system. Nothing I say seems to make a difference. He promises he’s not contagious, says he’s not touching shared items, and/or says he’s going home soon. (None of which seem to be true.) When I point out the larger pattern, he just sort of shrugs it off. 

This is my first job out of school, and Bob is about a decade older than me. What can I do here? I am at my wit’s end and very frustrated. (I’m in New Mexico, if that matters.)

I kind of hate your coworker. This is a crappy thing to do to other people. If you didn’t have good sick leave, I’d be more sympathetic, but you do.

Since he’s resisted your direct requests, at this point the best thing you can do is to talk to your boss, explain the problem, and say that you want to work from home on days when your officemate comes in sick. You could say, “There’s a pattern where every couple of months, Bob comes in sick, while saying he should have stayed home, and then I get sick a few days later like clockwork. I’ve asked him to stay home when he’s sick, but he won’t. Since I can’t keep getting sick like this, I’m going to start working from home on days when he comes in sick. Okay with you?”

Best case scenario, this prompts your boss to talk to Bob and tell him to cut this out. But if not, getting the hell out of that space whenever you spot likely germs is your next best option (and, since it sounds like you can work from home, will hopefully work).

And free to also make it clear to Bob that you’re really displeased with his behavior. I suspect that on some level he thinks he’s doing something good by coming in, so it might help to make it really clear to him that people are not impressed and in fact are angry.

3. Interviewer asked about what I’ve handled poorly in my personal life

I recently had an interview and was asked a behavioral question I wasn’t sure how to answer. It was, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake outside of work and handled it poorly.”

I had practiced a number of behavioral questions, and for all the negative/mistake-focused ones I had prepared examples of how I fixed it or was working on it, etc., but this one didn’t give me that option. It completely threw me off and I couldn’t really think of an answer at all. I think it’s because I couldn’t think of something appropriate to share. What sort of answer might they be looking for here? Specifically because it’s outside of work, if it was at work I think I would have handled it better.

If it helps, it was an interview at a funeral home.

Ick, that’s a terrible question! There are very few instances where it’s appropriate for an interviewer to pry into someone’s life outside of work, and this isn’t one of them. Frankly, a funeral home is a place where it could be appropriate to ask about more personal things than you normally might in an interview, like asking about personal experiences with death in order to make sure you have a comfort level with it, but this question isn’t about that.

They’re also setting people up to have no idea what to say, because things people handled poorly in their personal lives are likely to be about topics that would be inappropriate to discuss in an interview, like dating and relationships, family conflict, and other highly personal areas. (After reading your question, I entertained myself for way too long by imagining inappropriate answers to this question. It’s fun.)

So I don’t know what kind of answer they were looking for because it’s such a bad question. Probably something that demonstrated some degree of self-awareness, maturity, ability to spot learn from mistakes, conflict resolution skills, etc. — but they were out of line to ask it in the first place.

4. Job candidate has asked for update, but I’m not sure of my answer yet

I have a question regarding how to respond to a job candidate who would like an update on their status. So for the position that I am hiring for, I did a first round of interviews with nine potential candidates. From there, I narrowed it down to five, who I asked to complete a short sample work project. I asked that the candidates return the work samples by May 18. It took me a week and a half (but Memorial Weekend was in there) to review the projects. Yesterday I invited the top two candidates back for a final interview with my boss and me. My boss is very busy and does not have time in his schedule until late this week to do those interviews. I am hoping that one of these two people will end up being the right fit for our team, but just in case, I have not yet sent rejection emails to the other three. It’s possible I may still go back to look at them again if these top two people don’t work out.

Today my third ranked person emailed asking for an update on the timeline of the job search. I’m not sure if I should just let her know now that she did not make it to the final interview stage? Should I just say we are still reviewing projects and will get back to her in a week or so, which would be three weeks from the time she turned in her project? Just not respond at all right now so I can wait and see how things play out with these top two? I really want to be respectful of her time and the energy she’s put into this process, but I also don’t want to let her know she’s my third pick if I do end up coming back to her. Any thoughts?

Don’t leave her hanging with no response! Say something like, “Thanks for checking in. Because of schedules here, things are taking a little longer than I would have liked, but I’m hoping to be back in touch with you by X. I appreciate your patience!” That will give her a sense of when she can expect to hear something but without sharing internal details that you don’t really want to share.

And it’s totally okay not to explain she’s your third choice. Some candidates would like to hear that kind of thing in order to have a better understanding of where things stand, but you’re not obligated to get into that level of detail. You’re going to get back to her pretty soon with what matters, which is a yes or no.

5. Receptionist keeps buying me coffee and won’t let me pay

I have a minor etiquette question. We have a small office with five employees, including the owner. Only two of us are there at any given time, a technician and a receptionist/support staff. The technicians are paid significantly more than our support staff, and the support staff are supervised by the technician on duty. When it’s slow, one of our receptionists will sometimes offer to run across the street and get coffee for the two of us. I, as the technician, can’t go because there are customers waiting on repairs. She always pays for both coffees, even when I offer to give her cash (personal, the company doesn’t pay ever) for both.

Now the common wisdom, as I have learned from your site and my professional life, is that the more senior person typically pays for small treats like coffee and such, especially if there is a pay differential. My question is how out of the norm is this, and is this something I should worry about? I never initiate these excursions, and usually will offer to pay for both coffees. Last time our receptionist actually said, “No, I insist it’s my treat.” My thinking is to not worry about this, keep offering to pay, and graciously accept and say thank you when she offers to go get coffee. Is that reasonable, fair, and kind or do I need to do something else?

It’s true that as the more senior person, you shouldn’t let her pay all the time — but it’s also true that when the more junior person is really pushing to pay, it would be ungracious to refuse every time. But I do think you should pay at least half the time so that she’s not regularly buying you coffee.

Try saying something like, “It’s so nice of you to get these for us since I can’t leave, but I can’t accept if you don’t let me pitch in. So I insist on this time being my treat, and maybe we can switch off in the future.” If she pushes back, try just dropping cash on her desk with “Don’t refuse this money, Cordelia!”

{ 544 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I don’t think what you did was inappropriate. Particularly when it comes to university settings, it is so common to hire students for odd jobs. Where it becomes problematic is when it’s abusive or exploitative, which doesn’t sound like it applies in this context. Certainly be aware of the power dynamic and allow the student to bow out of the deal if she wants to in the future, but I don’t think you’re crossing boundaries in the same way that you might in another workplace context.

    1. Julia*

      I agree, although most jobs I’ve had were for people who weren’t my direct supervisor, because that just seems… weird.

      That said, I don’t think hiring a student so they can make some cash is more unethical than having unpaid student employees. It’s not an internship if the students actually work so much they’re someone’s right hand.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Usually in an academic lab undergrads are working for course credit, or are required to do undergraduate research for medical/graduate school. IME, on average undergrads net zero extra productivity for the lab, so often they get more out of it than the lab does.

        1. Julia*

          I see. I’m in a field where labs are rare, and when I worked as a TA, I got paid a little (but only for the time I was in class, not for homework corrections etc…)
          In this case, it seems like the students aren’t learning there as much as they’re working, though.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            There’s no indication that the students aren’t learning as much as they’re contributing, just that they’re contributing at a very high level.

          2. Josh*

            I haven’t been in this situation but know of people who have. Many times, even though they aren’t getting paid, they are getting course credit and financial aid reimbursement in some way. I know of one person who got a lump sum at the beginning of each year as an aid package to cover all her expenses. She didn’t get paid hourly, but in effect was getting paid.

            It’s sort of like how teachers sometimes get the option of getting 10 months of pay during the time they’re working, or have the same amount of pay spread over 12 months to smooth our their finances.

            Finances in academics are all kinds of weird to people in other settings, including me.

            1. Anonymoose*

              They also (usually) get glowing letters of recommendation, which those students would agree is worth it for them as grad school requires 2-4 letters/honors.

              As for having students do odd jobs, I know at least in my university, the culture is to do whatever it takes to make the student successful. If that means finding a way to feed them, get more sleep, hook them up with a mentor – we do whatever we can (within reason, of course). I would see offering to walk a dog/make some easy cash along the same lines, doing what you could to ensure that they were able to pay their rent/feed themselves, etc., so we wouldn’t balk here at my school, but other schools might be more conservative in their approach to ‘student care’.

              1. Academic Addie*

                ” I would see offering to walk a dog/make some easy cash along the same lines, doing what you could to ensure that they were able to pay their rent/feed themselves, etc., so we wouldn’t balk here at my school, but other schools might be more conservative in their approach to ‘student care’.”

                I would posit that you should raise their wages, rather than offer sporadic side work!

                1. Natasha*

                  At all universities I’ve worked at, undergrads are either researching as part of their degree (in which case they can’t be paid) or their wages are set by the university and/or funding body. I’d love to raise my undergrad RAs’ wages — but I legitimately can’t. I can send any and all side-hustles & extra snacks their way, though, if I know that they’re struggling to pay rent.

          3. LabTech*

            IME, on average undergrads net zero extra productivity for the lab, so often they get more out of it than the lab does.

            You’re really underestimating the level work that these types of jobs can entail, and just how much lab work in academia is performed by undergrads.

            1. Natasha*

              This depends on the field. I love working with undergrads, because I love teaching & mentoring, and even if I didn’t, taking on undergrads is part of my job…but, yeah, they’re more often than not net negative on the lab’s research output.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          At my daughter’s school, students could opt for money or credit with some research jobs–whichever they needed more.

          I wonder if that’s the line the coworkers are drawing–that it’s okay to hire your coworkers but not your unpaid interns.

          1. Academic Addie*

            I wonder about this, too. I don’t hire my direct reports to pet sit, for the reasons Allison outlines. But I do sometimes email a couple of the grad students who aren’t my students to ask if they want to dog sit. I would feel uncomfortable asking one of my unpaid undergraduates, since, if they are unpaid, it means they’re taking course credit, and could I give someone an A in research credit hours if I came home to find my dogs had pooped everywhere because they forgot to let them out the last day?

            The issue of unpaid researchers is getting thornier, as people are more aware that not paying undergraduates can be a serious barrier to poor students getting this sort of experience. It’s possible the coworkers are reacting more in that context – that students might be forgoing opportunities for paid work to do unpaid work in this lab, sort of backing them into a corner or causing them to feel that they *need* to take this petsitting job. I don’t have students in my lab who are receiving zero compensation for lots of reasons, and sticky feelings of obligation or exploitation are one of them.

            1. oldbiddy*

              I think you hit the nail on the head with the direct reports caveat. I’m a staff member in a large research group at a university, and would never hire the students in my group to do petsitting, but if I happened to know that other students in my department would pet-sit I might hire them. Admittedly, the coworkers muddied the waters by doing similar things.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                To your last sentence, I found that strange- like the postdoc who had gotten *free* pet-sitting from the OP? Unless there’s some other context here like an explicit quid-pro-quo from the postdoc, that seems if anything more fraught than what the OP did.

            2. Anonymoose*

              Thank you for bringing up disadvantaged students. It really is a problem. I’m happy that there is a lot more research right now in how to find/create programs to help address this barrier to their success!

      2. Specialk9*

        One thing to think through is how an issue will impact your working relationship.

        I’m thinking of the extreme example that happened to my neighbor – the leash slipped out of the dogwalker’s hand and the dog dashed into traffic and was killed! A more everyday example could be forgetting to lock up, or – I dunno, it’s early and I’m not thinking of other examples.

        It’s kind of like dating a co-worker, you might want to consider how an issue found in that external context could impact work.

        But I don’t see it as abusive, or anything bad.

        1. myswtghst*

          Agreed. I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing, and it sounds like the student really appreciates the opportunity, but it’s worth being prepared for how you’d handle it if things do go wrong, just in case. If you’re responsible for a grade or assessment, can you remain objective and assign that based on their work in the lab only? It’s easy to think so, especially when the student is doing great work and things are going well with the dog, but accidents happen, and it’s good to be prepared just in case.

        2. Specialk9*

          Oh yeah, and I’ve consistently paid $20 – 25 per visit for 2 dogs (I think 1 dog is $15?). A kennel is $40-50/day. Make sure you’re paying enough.

      3. LadyL*

        “That said, I don’t think hiring a student so they can make some cash is more unethical than having unpaid student employees. It’s not an internship if the students actually work so much they’re someone’s right hand.”

        Thank you for saying this. As someone currently in school, with required unpaid fieldwork done on behalf of the school and fieldwork hours that make holding down a second, paying job incredibly difficult, thank you. It gets me really riled up when people try to claim that “credit hours” are a reasonable payment for work done. Funny enough, my landlord doesn’t accept “credit hours” as payment, nor does the grocery store. I think any place of employment, business or school, that relies on unpaid labor is an unethical institution.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          In theory, the “credit hours” (which you are paying for, btw), free up 3-4 extra hours a week (plus, in theory*, homework time) to do other things. In reality, this is not the case. You typically work more hours than you would spend in a classroom, and the scheduling can often make it difficult to hold a “real” job.

          *Depending on whether they require research/work outside of class in addition to this for the credits, which many schools do

        2. Julia*

          I’m from Europe, and I did an unpaid internship as part of my graduation requirements, and because no employer hires anyone even entry-level without two years of work experience, which means working for free somewhere for two years (they even have a thing called “Volontariat”, which I’m sure you can guess the meaning of), so people work a side job with their internship.

          Even the fricking United Nations don’t pay their interns, and since they’re in Geneva, which is extremely expensive to live in, only rich kids can do it, or people willing to go into debt or to work and save for years before doing it. This system really only helps those who already have money.

    2. Beth*

      Agreed! When I was a student we really appreciated these kinds of things because they were usually near campus, paid a bit, and didn’t require a huge time commitment (so we could work them around classes, another part-time job, internships, clubs, etc.). Of course you should stay mindful of the power dynamic–given you’re higher up in the lab than them, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re not pressuring them in any way–but as long as you do that, it sounds like a good deal for both sides.

    3. KTB*

      I don’t think you did anything wrong either. At my last job, the junior staff were always eager to dogsit for me, since none of them have their own dog, I paid them, and they had my house all to themselves, free from roommates for a few days. As long as they are always allowed to decline with no weirdness, it seems like a non-issue.

      1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

        Yes! One of my profs always had a list of students willing to pet sit for the weekend etc because it meant they got to stay in a quiet lovely house. Great for studying.

      2. Ophelia*

        Yep – I actually did this for more senior co-workers a few times when I was just out of college. Typically not my direct boss (though I did cat-sit/water plants for her a couple of times), but I appreciated both the peace and quiet and the extra cash.

    4. Antilles*

      Where it becomes problematic is when it’s abusive or exploitative, which doesn’t sound like it applies in this context.
      Agreed 100%. Been there, done that as an undergrad.
      That said, it’s still worth asking why they thought this – If people were already getting a “hm, you seem oddly close to one of your undergrads” vibe (justified or not), THEN it might be worth worrying about it.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah, hard to know if they’re being Nosy Nellie’s, or picking up on something. Fortunately, asking will help figure out which it is.

      2. HannahS*

        Yeah, I 100% was taken advantage of and saw others (including graduate students) be as well, and I think being in academia (with all it’s associated “it’s different in academia!” discourse) can blind you to it. This situation sounds ok, especially since the student is leaving, but what concerns me is that the letter writer sounds really convinced that she did this student a huge favour–she allowed the student to walk her dog, she was able to help the student–well, no, you hired the student to do a job for you, and you paid her, which should be the default when you hire people do to things for you. It gave the student experience that she wanted, it benefitted you, all’s well and good. But this wasn’t an act of altruism, and it’s easy–and I saw it happen in academia a LOT–to go from “I can offer this student an experience that’s helpful to them and it’s not something I NEED to do so I’m really doing it for them” to “Ugh, why aren’t they more grateful for all of the amazing opportunities to help me that I’m offering them?” where some of those opportunities are things like house-sitting for free and doing grunt work with no educational value for free. Again, I think this situation is ok, but you really have to be aware of power dynamics in academia, because they can get gross.

      3. mediumofballpoint*

        I’d proceed very cautiously with this. Even if an arrangement works out early on, a lot of students feel like they can’t say no or negotiate with people in positions of authority. And a lot of profs seem to have a hard time recognizing when they’re asking for too much or for something inappropriate. I’ve seen a fair number of prof/student relationships go sideways and it almost always started out like this, where it seemed reasonable in the beginning and then things just…devolved somehow.

    5. dear liza dear liza*

      Yep. I did a lot of house sitting and dog sitting for professors (and once for the Provost!) when I was in college/grad school. It gave me the opportunity to earn some money- not easy when I lived on campus and had no car- and actually garnered some great, more personalized recommendation letters down the road…

      1. BeenThere*

        This. I would have taken any job I could get while at university, bonus points if it was a cash job for someone who could give me a reference. Quip pro quo is valuable so long as it’s okay to refuse the work.

    6. Clorinda*

      We always hired undergrads to babysit when our kids were little. It’s a bit different because these were my husband’s students, but not interns/employees in any way–but it was great to have a steady supply of reliable young people when we needed them, and I don’t think we’d have done any different if they had been interns or work-study students or something like that. Students need these extra bits of work.

    7. Traveling Teacher*

      That was my initial thought, too, but then I realized that she only gave this opportunity to this student in particular–understandably! But, I think that might be what’s prompting colleagues to speak up because of optics/perceived favoritism.

      I did plenty of odd jobs for professors (see downthread in reply to Epi), but the difference is that they would make an announcement, send out an email to multiple students, and/or put up a flyer to theoretically open up the opportunity.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah but I wouldn’t trust my house keys, dog, and/or kid to any random person. Those are positions of trust so a flyer – no, I’d just rather not hire anyone.

        1. Traveling Teacher*

          No, I didn’t mean to hire the first person who applied, but depending on the job, you could email multiple selected students instead of just one, or alternatively: after students contact you, eliminate ones you don’t know or that you don’t find trustworthy.

          (And, as a former uni lecturer, I always knew at least half a dozen students from former classes I’d taught at any given time whom I would have trusted to do similar jobs at my place)

    8. EddieSherbert*

      Hiring students for odd jobs was common at my university as well.

      I actually babysat some professors’ and staffs’ children fairly regularly, both on campus while mom or dad was working or at their home – including for my adviser, someone whose class I was taking, and someone I technically worked for at my on-campus job (not my direct boss but in the chain).

      (Disclaimer: I also worked at a local daycare on the side, and a few of the children were in my class there, which is how it started – but then others were just word of mouth)

    9. Aleja*

      I’m a professor, and I’ve frequently hired students for babysitting and petsitting. However, I’ve never hired a student currently in my class or under my supervision. If I’m in a position to give a student a grade, I don’t want that student to have the sense that they are obligated to help me or that I might be evaluating them based on their “job” performance, rather than their academic performance. Plus there’s a level of intimacy with petsitting and babysitting that I just don’t want to develop with my current students. That said, I’m not in a field with labs and don’t supervise students outside of classes and theses, so I’m just not sure about that different context! I’d probably play it safe and stick to offering work opportunities to students who don’t report to me.

    10. Sleepy Librarian*

      I don’t hire my student employees for pet/house sitting, because I’m their direct supervisor, but others in my unit do it all the time and it’s no big deal. They’re senior to the students, but aren’t the ones who decide if they have a job or get a raise, so nobody is concerned.

    11. Healthnerd*

      I babysat for my direct supervisors when I was a research assistant as a grad student. I was paid as an RA but it was minimal so I was always appreciative of flexible babysitting options to earn a little extra money. I did get burned by a professor who I dogsat for a few times. I didn’t like her as an instructor but thought, maybe she wasn’t that bad as a human (sorely mistaken on that one). Luckily I knew I wouldn’t have a class with her again so I could avoid her for the remainder of my program. I would definitely check with your university’s policies as some do say you are not allowed a “dual relationship” with your direct reports. And always pay the market rate for your area no matter the service. It will help keep the relationship steady as well as keep you with a steady supply of dogsitters/babysitters/etc.

  2. Sami*

    OP#5- What if you bought a gift card to the coffee place? The receptionist could use it herself and/or use it for both of you.
    Just be explicit that she can absolutely save it for herself.

    1. Eric*

      Another option is if the coffee place has a phone app, you might be able to pay for the coffee directly.

      1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

        Yup. That’s changed the game for doing coffee runs in my life. I have no problem asking anyone who’s stopping by a Starbucks to grab my drink, as long as I know when and where they’re going and I can order my drink directly, and my co-workers and I pick up each other’s drinks all the time without ever exchanging money.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Wait you can do WHAT now?

          Like, I kind of theoretically am aware that Starbucks has an app and you can order via it to pick up when you get there, but it never occurred to me that you could do that and have someone else pick up your drink. Can they do that with drive-thru – if my coworkers are stopping at Sbux on the way back from lunch and text to ask if I want something, can I order on the app and they’d be able to pick it up when they hit the drive-thru to get their drinks?

          Dang, that *is* a game-changer.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            It’s wonderful (except for the part where my coffee budget had to grow -it’s just SO EASY to swing by now!). And you (or someone else) can absolutely pick it up in the drive thru :)

          2. Chinook*

            McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s have apps for that too. I am almost positive that any coffee place that wants to be a destination for group coffee runs will have one (or is working on one) for the reasons that Polyhymnia O’Keefe mentions (plus then the cups are all labelled with people’s names!)

      2. Teapot Technician #5 (OP#5)*

        I will have to see. It’s a local chain (multiple locations but none outside our city). They directly compete with that other one that has the mobile app so they might have one as well.

        1. I Herd the Cats*

          I came here to suggest a gift card as well. I bet they have a gift card if not the app; you could do a rough calculation of what she’s spending on you per month and round up. And it might be one you can reload.

        2. Mischa*

          Even if they don’t have an app like their competitors, they might use UberEats or a similar service.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      This is what I was going to suggest too. She can keep it at her desk and it can be reloaded as needed.

    3. Cafe au Lait*

      If a gift card isn’t available, an opaque envelope with five 10’s would work too. You could label it “coffee money.”

      If she’s the type to display decorations, a decorative coffee pot with a lid. Every so often “feed” the coffee pot.

    4. Teapot Technician #5 (OP#5)*

      That’s great idea. Or possibly just give her the gift card, so that even if she uses her own money she gets the equivalent in gift card; similar to Alison’s suggestion at the end of her response.

    5. Oilpress*

      There is a decent chance that she would refuse or return a gift card. That said, the OP might have better luck if he provides the cash (or card) at the time of the offer and make acceptance of the offer conditional on the receptionist accepting his cash/card. “Okay, but you have to use this card or I won’t drink it!”

      1. Chinook*

        There is one possibility for her offer to do this that would explain why she is refusing the money – she knows/wants to know the person serving the coffee and is seeing the price of OP’s coffee as a small one to pay for the chance to chat/flirt. Or she knows the owner and is getting it for free. Or is enjoying racking up the free coffees you can get when you take advantage of things like Starbucks star deals.

        Even with that, I would reccomend that OP get her a gift card to the coffee shop because then she has done her due diligence on paying for her coffee even if she can’t control whether or not the receptionist uses it.

        1. Luna*

          I think a more likely explanation than her having some secret crush on a barista is that she’s just being nice. Even though the LW says that she makes more than the receptionist, that doesn’t mean the receptionist can’t afford to pick up a coffee for someone.

          It sounds as though the LW as done her due diligence in offering to pay for her own coffee. And should keep offering! But if her coworker says she doesn’t want the money, then she doesn’t want the money. It can potentially be really patronizing to demand someone take money because they make less than you do. It risks coming across as “You are TOO POOR to buy me a cup of coffee!!!”

    6. SophieK*

      Better option. The only option in my opinion.

      Don’t participate in this type of situation. She spends her money and you spend your money. Don’t commingle funds as if you were dating or very close friends. Especially don’t do this with someone who us trying to create a certain generous, martyrlike image for herself. This is a very specific type of dramatic personality and you need to keep a professional distance.

      1. Robin Sparkles*

        I hope this is not a serious comment?! What a way to take a nice gesture into something so negative. Yikes..

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, offer to pick up coffee for your receptionist (or pick it up on your way in). If that’s not feasible, and if you aren’t able to get her to ever accept your money, be very generous in other ways. For example, the norm in my current office is that we each give a cash gift to our support staff on their work anniversary and around the holidays, in addition to other non-monetary forms of support/appreciation throughout the year [I know this should be a company expense, but we’re all comfortable paying it]. In your case, you could do something similar to help equalize the generosity.

    1. MF*

      Yes, a generous gift for the holidays can go a long way. So can a nice lunch to say thank you.

    2. Teapot Technician #5 (OP#5)*

      She actually started at the company (again small company) before I did so I don’t know her “work anniversary” but I could find out. That’s a great idea, actually!

      For holidays my boss, the senior teapot technician and business owner, usually gets everyone a gift (gift card, nice travel coffee thing, something she knows we will like), Perhaps I could do gifts for our support staff as well, that could work actually.

      1. Chinook*

        Gifts for support staff always go over well. I never expected them as an admin assistant but always appreciated when someone who I helped did that type of thing for me at Christmas.

  4. Forrest Rhodes*

    OP #5 Pretty much every office I’ve ever known, the unspoken rule was “You fly, I buy”—i.e., you do the walking, I fund the purchase. Could you introduce that here?

    1. Teapot Technician #5 (OP#5)*

      I am definitely familiar with the “You fly; I buy” rule. I’ve had places where it was spoken (though not as a rule). As in a coworker will say “Hey want to take out from X, you fly I buy?” In practice, IME, this has been between coworkers of the same level.

  5. Anonicat*


    “Well my mom was stealing from me to fund her gambling problem and I didn’t say anything for weeks because I couldn’t bear to deal with the shitstorm that drawing a boundary would cause.”

    “Well I really fancied this girl and she wouldn’t date me so I turned up at her work with a band to seranade her and she got fired because of it and now she has a restraining order.”

    “Well I didn’t test my blood sugar daily because the strips are expensive and no-one had explained the consequences of long-term uncontrolled blood sugar and I got an ulcer the size of a baseball on my foot.”

    Wtf kind of answer are they looking for?

    1. Lillie Lane*

      “I was a self-centered immature a-hole and disappeared while my live-in girlfriend was away, left the country and years later she returned as my boss. I lost my job and couldn’t find anything else, so I thought the funeral business was the next best step, as I have “ghosting” experience.”

      1. Emily Spinach*

        Unfortunately, that’s a work-related story and we’re going to have to ask you to answer the question again. ;)

    2. Julia*

      I’d be tempted to describe a terrible plot from a sitcom or teen drama like Glee and see if they notice.

      “I believed my purity-hypocrite girlfriend that I had gotten her pregnant from sitting in the hot tub together (thank you, US sex ed!), when in fact she had slept with my best friend and lied to me about it, and then yelled at another girl who was the only one who didn’t hide the truth from me.”

      “I married a woman I had been dating for six weeks, only to say the name of my ex-girlfriend at the altar.”

      “I got hired as a nanny, but didn’t like working, so I wore super revealing clothes and waited until my employer finally asked me to marry him.” (Although I guess that could be counted as a success story…)

        1. Julia*

          No, they’re not. I mean, I could see Will do the second (ugh), but that one’s from Friends and the third is from The Nanny.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            I know the second one from Anonicat isn’t exactly what Ross Geller did, but my mind did go to him and the barbershop quartet reading that!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “I insisted my high school friends go on a pub crawl with me, eventually maneuvering the AA member into it by claiming my mom had just died. I refused to give up the crawl just because the other patrons turned out to be homicidal robots.”

        1. Specialk9*

          Is that the Simon Pegg movie? It was terrible so I’ve blocked it from my mind, since I love Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so much.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            It was in that series, yes.

            I watched it with the college student last month, and it was fun. I liked how it was an absolutely straight school-friends-reconnect-in-midlife movie for the first 45 minutes, then took a hard left.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I love The Nanny! I just got the full series on DVD. :)
        She knows how to be supportive towards children. I wish someone like her had been around when I was growing up (Except for the makeup.)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I loved Yetta. The actress playing her was so great.
          I also love the sassy grandmother on the new One Day at a Time. She’s played by Rita Moreno, which is a huge plus.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Don’t you love the scene where she tells C.C.: “it’s all body language. Watch the walk.” :d

        2. Julia*

          I love it, too, although some parts seem really dated and sexist now. And suuuuuper unprofessional. I worked as a part-time nanny and would have gotten into so much trouble had I behaved like that, so I’m glad I somehow understood that even when I was younger.
          When I think about the thread from the other day with the co-worker who suddenly started speaking British English, I’m also glad I didn’t pick up her accent…

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I think some of it is exaggerated for comedy, and that she and her boss are falling in love changes the dynamic.
            I saw an interview with Fran where she said she was inspired by I Love Lucy, and I can see that in her work. I love Lucy too, and Dick Van Dyke. Some of the very best! :)

    3. Gen*

      “I once got asked an inappropriate question about my private life in an interview and couldn’t think of any non-distressing answers so I just say in silence until the interviewer took the hint. [silence]”

      1. wb*

        hehe, yeah, i was thinking maybe brightly say, “oh, no thank you!” and then wait expectantly for an appropriate question.

    4. This Daydreamer*

      Well, I probably shouldn’t have been dating your wife. In my defense, she’s the one who came on to me one that website (and I totally didn’t realize that site was illegal) and I’ll probably break up with her if you hire me.

    5. snuck*

      Serious response here, although I’m loving the others :P

      I assume they were badly trying to address the reality that people often act badly at funerals… and trying to work out how you would handle that, or what you thought was bad behaviour. Let’s face it… funeral work is full of the highs and very deep lows of human experience I assume, and the number of stories about things going very badly wrong on the interpersonal front abound… They were probably trying to get a feel of you in that space, but what a poorly designed way to ask.

      1. Smithy*

        That was my take on this. I once interviewed for a research assistant position where the study participants were very ill children, some of who would pass during the course of the study. One of the questions during the interview was “how do you react to dying children?”

        While an answer like “Has zero impact on me!” likely wasn’t what he wanted to hear, it was clearly part of his way to tease out someone who could work empathetically with that reality.

        I get that it’s not a great question, but I also suspect that funeral homes require a set of customer service skills that are quite flexible to a range of emotional reactions. And should that funeral home be a privately owned business, the chance for a small business to see value in a question like that doesn’t surprise me.

      2. Genny*

        Agreed. A better way to get that information though would be to ask about a time you had to deliver upsetting news to someone (in a work context), deal with difficult/emotional clients, or anything else that would directly elicit information on interpersonal skills, not ask about someone’s personal life.

      3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I could also imagine that they are seeing if someone gives an example of behaving poorly in public (yelling at a customer service person or similar). It may not matter so much in larger areas, but I’m in a small town so the funeral directors (all two of them) are always “on”. Everyone knows who they are and no one wants to have Jane organize their loved ones funeral if they are still thinking about how she ripped the wait staff a new one for accidentally spilling her coffee last week.

      4. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

        I agree with this take, I think with the added possibility that they wanted OP to have to think up an answer on the spot. Since you can prepare for behavioral interviews and prepare answers in advance (which is Good) they might have been thinking like “we should throw in a question that they won’t have prepared in advance” and decided to go with this instead of, say, what kind of animal would you be. Still a bad question to be sure, but I could see them thinking that they can still get actually useful info out of this answer while it still being something the candidate has to think up on the spot.

    6. Media Monkey*

      i wonder if OP could have said “sorry i can’t think of anything from my personal life to share but i have a couple of work related situations which might be relevant if we can talk about those?” and then use the prepared answers for a work situation.

    7. irene adler*

      ” Well, let’s see. I guess I can talk about this, but I’m not sure if the statute of limitations has run out yet. So I won’t tell you where to find the bodies-okay?”

      “It was a dark and stormy night…”

    8. Video Game Lurker*

      “I was a small town kid, who wound up accidently in possession of some sort-of stolen property, so I had to track down this old hermit who owned said property. While I was out, by aunt and uncle I had been raised by were murdered by a band of sympathizers and members of a fascism-fan organization. So I went with the old hermit guy, and it turned out my sister (who I didn’t know was my sister) was being held hostage by this organization, and we got this kinda hotshot-ish guy and his giant friend to give us a ride.

      The organization’s building blew up, and the hermit died.”


      “My father tried to kill me before he learned I’m his kid, and ever since he’s been a bit of a creepy stalker, trying to get me to join his organization. Of course, this organization is also one that I’ve been trying to dismantle for years now. See this hand? Prosthetic.”


      “There was this time I got high on some mushrooms, though in my defense, my friend cooked them like they were the normal kind, and I just … ate them on a pizza. Then I was apparently running around jumping on things, and people, screaming about saving the princess…”

    9. Chatterby*

      These are hilarious.
      I think a mild story of invitation confusion/ miscommunication would be a safe default that isn’t too personal, and could easily be applied to a business situation.
      Something like you didn’t know who was hosting, or paying, or you forgot to RSVP, so now you’ve learned your lesson and are now very clear about details upfront.

    10. a1*

      Just because it’s not work related doesn’t mean it has to be some deep moral or ethical dilemma or a traumatizing experience. It could be something like how you handled getting a flat tire, or not getting into the college of your choice, or couldn’t make it to a volunteer gig, etc. That said, I do agree it’s not a great question, but the answer really doesn’t have to be that hard, either.

      1. Observer*

        That’s really not true. A lot of people don’t have good examples that would be appropriate to share at work. Keep in mind that for most people the small and fairly mundane events don’t stick.

        I know that I’ve done stupid and inappropriate stuff tons of times, and I can even give you GENERAL categories (eg snapping at people when I shouldn’t have), but I’d have a really really hard time giving you specific incidents because they don’t happen THAT often and I’m not going to remember the specifics because they aren’t major.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        I get where you’re coming from, but I still think this is a bad question. “I was in a drive thru and I forgot that I wanted to order the cheese curds instead of the fries and then I had a disappointing afternoon” doesn’t really feel like an impressive way to answer a question at a job interview.

        If they had left out the “in your personal life” and just asked about a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it, it would be fine. It’s making the question specifically about the applicant’s personal life that makes it bad.

        1. Observer*

          And even if you thought that was sufficient, would you even remember that if it happened more than a few days ago?

    11. SophieK*

      They are signaling that they are FAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMILLLLY and there will be no boundaries. OP should run like the wind.

      I’d answer this question by saying that in the past I haven’t set strong enough boundaries in my personal life and the workplace but I’ve corrected that now.

      *grinchy smile*

    12. Skippy*

      I thought “outside work” could refer to a volunteer thing or choir or basketball league. That’s how I’d answer it…

    13. Double A*

      “Hmm… that’s an interesting question. A memory from my teen years is coming back to me. This choice changed my life a lot, actually. I’m originally from Philadelphia, you know– west Philadelphia, specifically, and I grew up in kind of a rough neighborhood. Still, I tried to be a good kid, kept my nose clean, studied, stayed away from gangs and things like that. But I love basketball, so I would spend most of my days on the playground, shooting some b-balls and chilling. But one day, a couple of guys came up to me and started messing with me, trying to get me to fight. I ignored them for as long as I could, but, in the end my temper got the best of me and… I got in one little fight. And my mom got scared! And said ‘You’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel-air!’ I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said “fresh” and had a dice in the mirror if anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought nah, forget it, yo homes to Bel-air! I pulled up to a house about seven or eight and I yelled to the cabby ‘Yo, homes smell you later!’ Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there! To sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-air.”

  6. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

    LW 1:My parents both taught at a small private university, and my mom’s students would babysit me in the dorms while she taught (she was part time once kids came along) I’ve never known her to regret the decision. Just my two cents, fwiw.

    1. [insert witty username here]*

      Similar experience here. It wasn’t a small university, but I was an RA (resident assistant, not research advisor though) and I used to babysit occasionally for one of my bosses. I was never pressured into it and I think even had to turn him down once or twice when I truly couldn’t, and it wasn’t a big deal. On the flip side, they were very professional about it and always paid me decently, treated me kindly, and there were no problems with me and the kids. Probably 90% of the time, this is how these interactions will go, but you do have to be prepared for the times that things might go sour, and that’s probably what they were advising against/about.

    2. Specialk9*

      I think the concern might be that the one with all the power – the Prof with the job – might not realize they’re putting the ones without power – the students – in a problematic situation.

      I don’t think OP is doing that, or your mom, but just pointing out that students might have more insight into whether a request is sticky.

  7. Aphrodite*

    OP #2, I hate this tendency on the part of some martyrs … er, coworkers.

    It’s not for that reason I do what I do but this may help you. Disposable gloves. I get boxes of 500 and keep them at work, in the car and at home. They are used for various things but at work it’s to open and close doors, use the copy machine and basically touch anywhere others do. (I also use a folded piece of paper from my recycle bin if the gloves are not nearby.) In a drawer I keep paper towels and a spray bottle of undiluted vinegar. And I bring my own bar of soap and keep it on my desk.

    I haven’t been sick at all for many years. I’m not a germaphobe but many people are not clean. Even if, for example, they carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom, the minutes they open the door or touch otherwise common places it all goes for naught. I tend to be conscious of these things (as is my boss) so I am used to taking precautions in public places and around common items.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      In some workplaces that level of fastidiousness would get you a reputation for being a germophobe, though you say you’re not one.

      (That is, if I’m correct in understanding that you wear gloves every day and use paper to open doors routinely, not just if someone is known to be sick in the office.)

      1. Sam.*

        Seconding this. On my way out of a public bathroom, I use paper towels to open the door, and that’s enough to get me weird looks some times. I can’t even imagine how people would react to disposable gloves.

          1. SoSo*

            Almost everyone does this at my work! It’s so common that they have an additional trash can right beside the door for that very reason.

            I’m also the person that will use a paper towel on the communal fridge door, the water faucet, and microwaves.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Exjob didn’t have bins there, but the bathroom doors opened outward and it was easy to exit by pushing the door open with your shoulder or elbow.

              1. stump*

                I have to say, I can’t personally recommend opening doors with your elbow. The one time I tried doing that for a week or so to avoid getting germy hands, I ended up with a skin infection on that elbow. :/

        1. Millennial Lawyer*

          I never heard of people doing this, and then I started in my office and EVERYONE does it. One particularly rude coworker actually pointed out that I didn’t do it.

      2. Clorinda*

        In this case, that’s a feature not a bug. OP should by all means ring the leper bell when the coworker comes in sneezing or whatever. Make a big deal of it every time. Spritz the Clorox till your office smells like a swimming pool. (Okay, use some discretion there as chlorine is so toxic, but you know what I mean.)
        Stop suffering in silence and start suffering with a lot of noise!

      3. Kathleen_A*

        Most of the public restrooms I go into these days, and that includes those here at work, have a trashcan positioned right by the door – and I assume it’s there because I’m not the only one who uses a paper towel when I open the door. That’s certainly what I use it for, and based on the paper towels I see in it, that’s what other people use it for, too. So I don’t think this is really considered all that odd any more.

      4. Specialk9*

        Aphrodite, I’m so curious, what WOULD your definition of a germaphobe be?

        My definition would definitely include someone who uses gloves or a piece of paper to touch all common surfaces and brings their own bar of soap.

        (It’s not as debilitating as Monk’s germaphobia, but that’s fiction, and much of his behavior is PTSD from his wife’s murder, and not germaphobia anyway. Not that I’ve watched and read too much Monk.)

        1. Rosemary*

          I mean, ‘germophobe’ implies there is a phobia going on, that someone has an irrational fear of germs. OP has already stated that they have a low immune system – their fear of germs sounds perfectly rational to me.

          I myself have a super healthy immune system, but understand that not everyone is as lucky – I don’t mind touching shared surfaces, but if other people want to use gloves and paper towels, you do whatever you gotta do to stay healthy. I won’t do the same (too much effort for me), but I’ll help by, y’know, staying home when I’m sick :)

      1. WannaAlp*

        Maybe it’s because of severe allergies! Let’s not be rude and jump on folks; being a germaphobe in denial is not the only option and we should take folks at their word.

    2. On a pale mouse*

      I’m not going to comment on germophobia – do what you need to do – but if you spray a lot of vinegar around, I’m surprised if you haven’t gotten complaints. I use it at home to soak something and the smell can be pretty strong. I don’t mind it that much but many people are more sensitive to smells than I am.

      1. Allison*

        Same here! I always try to get the smell out after soaking something in vinegar because I don’t want the smell to put people off. I mean, it’s probably better than the lingering BO that was there before, but not that much better.

      2. TootsNYC*

        try vodka. It’s got a high alcohol content to kill germs, but it’s nearly odorless (unlike rubbing alcohol).

        Theaters use it to spray costumes so they can wear them at the next performance without washing them. So my assistant stage manager daughter tells me.

        Some of them dilute it, some don’t.

        There’s a link to a friendly explanation in my user name (from historical sewing .com)

      3. Iris Eyes*

        I’d rather smell vinegar than bleach, and more than most versions of Lysol type products. I guess it would depend on how much is being used and how often and the office set up.

        But to me vinegar is a food smell that I like.

        1. Specialk9*

          Vinegar is polarizing. I adore the smell and taste of vinegar. I would drink it if it wouldn’t upset my stomach! My partner hates the smell of vinegar. Hates it so much.

        2. Oxford Coma*

          I use vinegar to clean litter boxes, so my brain association became vinegar smell = cat fudge. Definitely not a food smell to me!

          1. Canarian*

            I have this with baking soda. Sometimes out and about I get a strong whiff and think “ugh, is there a litter box around here?” and I realize it’s just someone’s arm & hammer deodorizer.

      4. Michaela Westen*

        I make my own disinfectant with this recipe:
        1/2 cup white vinegar
        1/4 cup isopropyl alcohol
        Fill the rest of the spray bottle with water.
        It doesn’t have any odor I’ve noticed – maybe if you put your face right down in it you notice a little alcohol scent.
        Non-toxic and inexpensive! Everything should be like this!

    3. Media Monkey*

      that would definitely get you odd looks here (unless you had a serious immune deficiency). my boss opens doors with his elbow often and i thought he might have been avoiding germs, but i since realised he gets a lot of electric shocks from the door handles!

      1. Canarian*

        I’m a highly static-y person and over time I’ve formed a second-nature habit of touching door handles, security number pads, and other metal surfaces with a knuckle first, to discharge the shock. The thicker/tougher skin on my knuckles hurts less to shock than a fingertip. I have definitely gotten some confused looks for that, someone once asked if I accidentally tried to knock on the doorknob instead of opening it!

    4. Temperance*

      You may want to reconsider whether you are a germaphobe. FWIW, I openly am one, and I don’t carry plastic gloves around with me. It’s nothing shameful. People can be disgusting, and I have a pretty beat immune system.

    5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Yeah, I think you are a germaphobe :)

      Don’t worry though there are a lot of us out there! I call myself a functioning germaphobe. I personally think people are gross and disgusting as a general rule (I don’t exclude myself from that rule either… the human body can do some disgusting things).

      The one thing that keeps me from losing all sense of proportion when it comes to germs, is that I know that an otherwise healthy immune system needs a workout to remain strong. Just like I wouldn’t expect to sit on the couch for a year and suddenly decide to run a full marathon the next day, I need my immune system to get constant workouts to remain strong.

      That being said, you couldn’t pay me enough to use a dish that’s cleaned using the petri dish of a sponge in the office kitchen and I have mastered the skill of not actually touching anything on a plane with bare skin no matter the length of the flight.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’m whatever the opposite of a germaphobe is – I let my kid eat things that fell on the floor (though not the street) or were licked by the dog, and occasionally will do the 3 second rule for hard foods that fall on the floor for myself – but even the thought of cleaning with sponges makes me want to hurl. (Literally, I’m swallowing hard right now.)

        1. Nita*

          Yeah, sponges, ick. I use scraps of old shirts, and change them often. Or paper towels, but they’re not very “green” of course.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I have to ask, then – if you don’t use the sponge in the kitchen to wash your dishes (assuming you have dishes to wash), what would you use?

            1. Jadelyn*

              So would you take the dish cloth home to wash every day? That’s what I’m getting at – this is in the office, so while you could do that, it seems an unwieldy way of handling the situation vs how you might handle things in your own home.

        1. Magee*

          I use paper towels. They aren’t as good with any stuck on food but if you scrub with your fingernails (placing the paper towel between your finger and the dish), it can get the job done. It’s probably not as clean as dishes from my dishwasher, but it works well enough.

        2. Specialk9*

          A brush, or a green scrubby. I’ve never noticed either getting that awful sponge smell, and neither traps water like it’s its job (oh wait, that is a sponge’s job, lol).

          I put both in the dishwasher,
          and dry them well between uses.

          I’ve read the 2017 study on cleaning sponges. (Which was focused on sponges only, and even then the germs were lower level, risk group 2, germs)

          So I’m not sure the dishwasher and drying is the best option, but it’s clearly better then trying to sanitize a sponge!

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’d never seen that study. Interesting! I do put my scrubby in the dishwasher from time to time, I figure how hot that thing gets, it’ll kill anything.

        3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I use paper towels at work, but we also have a dishwasher.

    6. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      I’m a chemist, and this comment made me cringe a bit, though obviously people in non-science fields won’t play by our rules! We’re trained to never ever ever touch communal things/doorknobs with gloves on, as gloves are always supposed to be treated as if they’re contaminated with harmful substances- therefore, it freaks people out if ever someone forgets to take off a glove for opening doors when going from room to room.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        This! Gloves are to be worn when handling bad things, and then immediately disposed of. I would flinch from someone wearing gloves in public, not because i thought they were a germaphobe but because I’d be worried the gloves were a biohazard.
        OP – If he’s not breathing on your stuff directly, and not willing to stay home, I think your best bet is to carry around hand sanitizer and just wipe down your hands after any situation you touch shared items. I don’t think it’d read as odd to make sure to rub down your hands after breaks away from the desk, just fastidious. (but then I used to work for a PublicHealth college, so we had foot plates to open doors and half of folks would use papertowels to turn off the water after drying their hands)

        1. SoSo*

          Yes, wash your hands often, keep hand sanitizer close by, and monitor your own cleanliness as much as possible. During the flu outbreak (epidemic? pandemic?) this past winter, I kept sanitizer at my desk, in my purse, and in my car. I routinely sanitized the office kitchenette and copier with lysol wipes. I would also wipe down the door handles every so often, but it seemed to help. I will admit that part of my cleanliness was driven by the fact that my husband is on immuno-suppressants and I didn’t want to risk taking any germs home. While the flu and a few other infections made it’s way through the building, I didn’t get sick at all.

      2. seewhatimean*

        YES! Gloves aren’t for wearing around, and even microbiologists often work barehanded, because they know that unless what they are handling absorbs through the skin or they have another reason to protect their hands (a cut or allergy), they can simply wash well with soap and water, and carry on.

        Also, the average person won’t remove the gloves properly, meaning they have contaminated themselves, but believe they are “clean” and will perhaps skip handwashing (which would have been enough on its own).

        Our students are often reminded that only the inside of the glove is clean, so if they are using their phone, touching their faces or handling pens, etc, those items are being contaminated by the outside of the gloves, and then things like the pen and phone are being used sans gloves as well.

        1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

          Same when I was working in fast food! I am forever wary of food places where staff wear gloves all the time, or even all the time when touching food, because it is *very* easy to contaminate gloves but feel invincible. At one chain I worked for, we were only to use gloves when cracking eggs, and the protocol was that you wash and sanitize your hands before *and* after to avoid cross-contamination. The managers told us that some stores require gloves all the time, but that this chain had specifically chosen not to because it tends to lead to more contamination, not less.

          Also, the thing that drives me nuts is that we all just ignore the fact that our belts are covered in germs. Like, you use the bathroom, and if it’s a stall bathroom, you have to pull up your pants and, if you’re wearing a belt, do that up too, before washing your hands. We wash pants (hopefully…) but like nobody is lysoling their belts. Those things are gross.

          1. Specialk9*

            Whoa. You’re right! I never think about sanitizing my belt! (Heading straight to hand sanitizer.)

              1. seewhatimean*

                I think phones are probably much much worse than belts or neckties.
                And pants are just as gross coming out of the washroom, as either of those. They get washed, sure, but before that they get worn around the office/bus/house.

                The message is the same as for your hands. Don’t put your belt or your necktie on your face/in your mouth before you wash it.

          2. On a pale mouse*

            I’m pretty sure there’s magical thinking going on for a lot of glove wearers. Like, ‘I am wearing gloves, therefore my hands are clean, even though I’ve touched a pen, my face, the touchscreen cash register…’ I mostly try not to think about it. Come on, immune system, get to work!

            1. seewhatimean*

              That ends fast if you’re wearing gloves in a situation where you are being protected from whatever you’re handling, instead of the reverse…if you’re wearing them to make a sandwich the idea is to protect the food..but if you’re in a lab, it’s totally different stakes.

              But yeah…a large number of people don’t really “get” glove wearing. Teaching sterile technique or even aseptic technique takes much much longer than it should.

              And..your hands ARE clean. But the gloves are not. They are only protective on the inside.

          3. Someone*

            Yeah, I’m totally aware of that. Same things goes for EVERYTHING you carry into the stall, like bags, or phones, or keys.
            I do wonder how many people are aware about the amount of stuff that they carry (and touch) EVERYWHERE including public bathrooms.
            What about shoes? People are surprised to hear that fecal bacteria are quite omnipresent – well, I’m not, there’s plenty of dog owners who don’t clean up after their loved ones (and people who spit or throw up on the ground…), and how many people get icked out by their shoes? And all the germs that get carried into your room by the soles of your shoes get distributed around the house whenever you walk by the entrance…

            I’m not too bothered by that, though. I do basic hygiene, figuring that basically the point is to try to keep the overall amount of germs around me low. I reckon that thorough hygiene that’s completely and absolutely consistent and realistic, without leaving any loopholes for germs, is rather rare.

    7. LilySparrow*

      I used to keep a box of alcohol wipes (like the kind used for injections) in my desk drawer. You can pick them up cheaply in any pharmacy, they aren’t messy and last forever.

      I got in the habit of wiping down my keyboard, phone, desktop, etc nearly every day. It really helped!

      If you do the doorknob, lightswitch, etc, it might help and you get bonus points for sending a message.

      I think you should talk to your boss also, but protect yourself in the meantime.

    8. Turquoisecow*

      1. Yeah, if you’re doing this all the time, you’re kind of a germaphobe, despite how you label yourself.

      2. If you’re not doing this all the time, you should know that often people are more contagious when they exhibit no symptoms, and less contagious when they do. Your sneezing coworker may just have allergies, but even if he doesn’t, he also may not be contagious. Meanwhile the ones who seem fine may be a festering pile of germs.

      3. Also, hiding from all germs is virtually impossible, so all you’re really doing is weakening your immune system by giving it fewer germs to attack*. If your immune system can’t fight off Bob’s simple cold (because it hasn’t been exposed to it), what’s going to happen when Jane inevitably passes around a stronger illness which you didn’t know she had because she exhibited no symptoms when she was most contagious?

      I do agree that people should stay home when they’re sick and feeling awfully, but as a person who suffered from nasal allergy symptoms for many years but felt otherwise fine and obviously was not contagious, (and also didn’t have a wfh option anyway), that’s not always possible.

      *Of course, if you are immune compromised, by all means take whatever precautions seem necessary- but contagiousness isn’t always obvious and broadcasted by outer symptoms, so take those precautions all the time, not just when Bob has the sniffles!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I was thinking this too.
        Also if Bob doesn’t cover his coughs and sneezes (ick, how rude!) you could wear a mask. CVS has boxes of 50 surgical masks. I use them for allergies and they’re very comfortable!

      2. Nita*

        That’s all true, but still, coming into the office when you’re coughing and have a runny nose and are actively shedding body fluids… that’s probably a lot more contagious for the common cold than someone who’s not showing symptoms yet. That’s totally preventable and it’s very understandable why OP has a problem with it.

        Also, depending on the source of the germs, OP could have very little immunity to them despite never having been a germaphobe. A few years ago, I found out the hard way that the cold germs the kids bring home are brand new to us adults, and it took my family nearly a year to build up immunity. I wouldn’t want to subject a co-worker to that stuff unless there was no way around it. Sadly, one time I did come to work sick – and that’s all it took for a cubicle neighbor to end up with a sinus infection :(

        1. seewhatimean*

          Short of staying home and never having contact with anyone, being exposed to new viruses and bacteria is part of life. And the only way to develop immunity. And literally how your immune system functions. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask people to stay home if they have an ordinary cold. I do think it’s reasonable to ask them to be mindful of their behaviours.

          1. Nita*

            I feel like the split here is that people are thinking of different things. Is Bob coming in with the sniffles? Or is he coming in with his nose streaming and going through a big box of tissues by lunch? (Sorry, gross!) Of course no one’s going to stay home with a little cold, but sometimes it’s nasty enough that nothing short of staying home will keep one from spreading the germs on every surface in the office. I’ve seen this often enough – this winter it’s been a couple nasty colds, a stomach bug and the flu, and everyone would have thanked patient zero for those outbreaks for staying home.

            1. LilySparrow*

              I assumed it was things like stomach flu, since OP would obviously see the symptoms if Bob were snorting and coughing everywhere.

              If you’re knowingly shedding norovirus or anything like it, you do not belong around unsuspecting people.

    9. seewhatimean*

      So…you can wash your hands. At that point all the things you have touched don’t matter, as long as you keep your hands off your face. That will do just as much to protect you from the transfer, and leave you just as open to the droplet and airborne as what you are doing now, with much less waste and fuss.

      Vinegar? Why not a good hard surface disinfectant, if you must? Or even just ethanol.

      You are no cleaner than anyone else who uses decent hand hygiene, because you and your gloves are touching all the same surfaces, and moving all the same germs around. Labeling others as “not clean” isn’t fair or accurate, and puts a lie to “I am not a germaphobe”.

  8. Espeon*

    OP2: What’s making me doubly pissed at Bob is that he announces he’s been feeling unwell AT THE END OF THE DAY. It’s like he’s TRYING to get people sick on the sly. Who does that?? It kinda stops Alison’s advice being implemented too.

    You’ve explained to Bob how this impacts you and he just doesn’t care. Bob is an arsehole. An arsehole who doesn’t understand how viruses are spread either, so he’s a dumb arsehole. It’s time for your manager/s to sort this out for you.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Yeah, was thinking the same thing about #2… it’s hard for the OP to go home when he’s sick, if he announces it at the end of the day. (Well and also that he’s a huge jerk)

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But it is not all Bobs fault, OP admitted that the company has a culture of people coming into work when they are sick. I am lucky that my company does encourage us to stay home when we are sick for a few days and I have often stayed home for a day just because I had a slight cold/fever. But if I was in a company with a culture of people coming in sick and I thought it might look bad if I used sick days for a slight cold or fever I would go to work sick. Alison has said it before many companies offer great benefits but then you are looked down upon when you use them.

        1. Uranus wars*

          But it sounds like he doesn’t even have to take a sick day – he can work from home if I am reading right. Which I will do if I am not feeling well, because the culture in my particular department is that you come in unless you are running a fever.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Yes Bob is “allowed” to work from home while he is sick, but similarly to using a sick day it doesn’t mean that isn’t looked down on. I think we have seen plenty of letters here where some people see “working from home” as taking a day off while doing a small amount of work. OP mentioned a real culture of coming to work sick and that might mean actually being in the office even if you could work from home.

            If Bob truly can take a sick day or work from home without any repercussions then he should do it. But it is also very plausible that Bob could be negatively impacted by taking a sick day or working from home every time he has a slight cold or fever.

            1. myswtghst*

              Totally agreed on your last paragraph. It’s possible that Bob is just being selfish, but it’s also possible that he’s tried taking sick days or WFH days in the past when mildly sick and dealt with consequences. If nothing else, it’s worth it for OP to take a look around at the culture, to see if that’s worth mentioning to the boss as a contributing factor to Bob’s refusal to stay home.

              (Sidenote: Sometimes I get the kind of sick where it’s worst in the morning, and I stay home. Other days I’m feeling eh in the morning and suck it up, but by the afternoon the fluorescent lights and staring at a monitor have made me regret coming in after all. It’s still not cool for Bob to announce his illness at the end of the day, but it may not be a purposeful thing – he may just honestly feel worse later in the day.)

            2. LW2*

              LW2 here, working from home is very common and totally acceptable at my job. It’s regularly done by both the boss and the rest of us.

        2. Gotham Bus Company*

          I would say that it IS Bob’s fault. He knows that he is sick AND he deliberately exposes others to his illnesses.

    2. Sami*

      +1 I would be furious at Bob, especially for announcing this at the end of the day. My immune system isn’t 100% either and I know I’d get sick like the OP. Bob is an arse.

      1. Tardigrade*

        With this happening every month or two as an ongoing pattern, it makes me wonder about Bob’s immune system/general health as well. Not that I’m suggesting OP pry, just that seems like an awful lot of sickness and may be a result of his lackadaisical attitude about health.

        1. Nanani*

          Maybe, or maybe Bob is exposed to a lot of germs at home. Young children, for example, are quite the vector. Young kid at home (daycare or early school age especially), or an adult at home who works in a school/daycare, means a lot of bugs get brought in.

          My family has a LOT of teachers in it.

          1. L*

            This! When the last of my co-workers’ children moved on to college, lo and behold, there were FAR fewer cold/flu/miscellaneous viral sicknesses at work.

    3. Beth*

      Yeah, that’s such a jerk thing to do. Coming in with a cold is one thing–I’ve worked at a lot of places where there was a strong culture of working through things like that, even when the official sick leave policy would’ve allowed for going home, and the cultural pressure is real. But you at least say something when you see people! A simple “I’m going to stay back a bit today, I don’t want to pass this thing to you” is just plain considerate if you feel cruddy but can’t quite justify staying home.

      1. ElspethGC*

        The concept of staying at home with a cold is foreign to me personally, because I always went into school/college/university with a cold. I only got to stay home if I had a temperature, a migraine, or if I vomited (or that one memorable occasion when my cramps were so bad that I apparently looked grey) and so far I’m carrying that into adult life. If all I’m doing is working at a desk, there’s not much point staying at home as long as I can have tissues, hand sanitiser and a bin at my desk. Of course, it’s a different story if you’re working with food or have immunocompromised colleagues.

        1. Myrin*

          I’ve always been surprised people are able to do that! I have a pretty strong immune system and am rarely sick but when I am (and it’s never anything worse than a cold), I can’t concentrate at all because my brain feels like mush! I’d much rather stay in bed for one whole day and be fine the next than fight through a whole week at 30% capacity. Do others not experience that temporal loss of all but basic brain functions?
          (That said, I’m also from a culture where you’re generally expected to not work when you’re ill, so I might be starting from a different base point already.)

          1. Blue*

            I’m with you, Myrin, but I do feel like I’m in the minority in my (US) office on this. Most of my colleagues wouldn’t take a day when they get a cold and try to sleep it off, but I prefer to do so. And since my boss doesn’t police my sick time, I don’t abuse it, and I drag myself in even when I shouldn’t if there’s a critical meeting or something happening, so I’m going to continue doing this when I feel I need to.

          2. TheNotoriousMCG*

            I work in very events-based industries and always have the situation where in the process of running ourselves ragged during the lead-up to a big event, someone gets sick. Sometimes everyone holds off until it’s over and then just the wrap-up is affected, but this year my boss got a cold and completely lost her voice midway through our week-long largest event of the year and the following week I got it from her. I did go home early a couple of times that week, but as I had a lot of time sensitive things on my plate for wrap-up and the next huge event, I couldn’t stay away a significant amount.

            During normal times of the year I’ll stay home on the worst day of a cold, especially if I don’t have meetings and can work from home, but if I’ve just got lingering symptoms then I will go in.

          3. SarahTheEntwife*

            Yes, I’m the same way! If it’s a super busy time of year I might try to power through it, but otherwise I stay home and keep my cold germs away from my coworkers.

            1. stump*

              I have a couple chronic illnesses, so I’m basically “sick” all the time. After a while, you just get used to constantly feeling like crap and that’s just your new normal. I only call off if I reach a certain “feeling like crap” threshold and absolutely cannot focus on work (or if I get infectious sick). Even if I’m infectious sick, I probably could work and focus on tasks if I wanted to be a jerk and come into the office since I’m used to feeling like crap all the time.

            2. seewhatimean*

              If it is a common cold, you just get on with life, and don’t take to your bed. Feel a bit bleary, sure. and spend more time than normal blowing your nose, washing your hands and checking your work, but it’s a cold.

          4. Birch*

            It’s important to remember that everyone experiences illness differently. All through high school and college I was always that person who never stayed home sick. I played a concert in high school with a sinus infection, laryngitis and a 104 degree fever. Since I hit 25 (and steadily increasing with every year….) I can’t function with the smallest of colds! Having experienced both ends of this I think it just varies a ton between individuals and I can totally understand how someone can be bedridden for a week with a cold and someone else can be working through a much more serious illness. It should really just be up to the individual whether they feel capable of working or not, but then the contagiousness of it (and other distracting factors, like the woman who kept vomiting in the office trash can and refused to go home) should determine whether that work is in the office or at home.

          5. Oxford Coma*

            I’m like you, but my husband just ignores discomfort until it snowballs into a health disaster. A simple sinus infection will knock me down, whereas he thought he had a mild cold until he ended up collapsing with walking pneumonia. He didn’t feel that bad until his legs just gave out.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I had pneumonia and didn’t know it until I had a routine chest scan. I didn’t know if I should go to work or not because I felt fine for a while, then I would wheeze.
              I ended up going to work for 3 hours on my way to the doctor, and she told me to stay in bed for a few more days.
              It was easier to work than with a cold because I didn’t have a headache or sinus congestion.

          6. Michaela Westen*

            I’m lucky to have a boss now who supports me staying home to get rid of a cold, but the way I was raised and treated in my first few jobs gave the impression I had to come in if I was dying.
            Unfortunately staying home for a day sometimes doesn’t work and then I end up taking several days… such fun…

          7. smoke tree*

            I am able to function (more or less) when I have a cold, but I also find that if I just take one or two days off at the beginning, I’ll usually feel a lot better. But if I struggle through, then it will just keep getting worse and eventually I’ll be laid up for a week. (I work from home so contamination isn’t an issue.)

        2. Adorbradoodle*

          Same for me on the parameters for staying home! Growing up, if there wasn’t a temperature 99 or higher on the thermometer, I was going to school, no questions asked.
          This carried on through college, when I started getting cramps that made me have to run out of class to vomit. Stupid me would go to the bathroom, vomit, and then return to class and grit my teeth for the rest of the time because I bought into the whole “you can’t justify missing class because you’re not sick you just have cramps” BS.
          I’ve gotten this under control (yayyy birth control for period symptoms!) but have added it to my list of things I’ll miss work for. If you feel that bad, even if you don’t think you’re contagious (i.e., cramps are not contagious), don’t go to work if at all possible!

          1. Allison*

            Yep, this was me when I was new to the workplace. Doesn’t help that through that first year after college, I was living with my parents and they would often second guess my decision to stay home. “Are you sure you’re that sick?” They didn’t want me getting a bad reputation. It’s definitely one of those things no one tells you when you transition to adulthood, but people expect you to somehow “just know” when you hit a certain age.

          2. Pollygrammer*

            I once got off a subway train to throw up in a trash can (super filthy subway station trash can, in full view of lots of commuters), got back on the next train and went to work.

            1. Uranus wars*

              I did something similar in my first job out of college. Only I was driving, pulled over on the side of the interstate threw up with cars flying by at 70 mph and then got back in my car and drove to work. Idiot is how I refer to myself during that time.

              1. Pollygrammer*

                I was in the same situation but fortunately I had a reusable grocery bag under the front seat. It…did not remain reusable.

              2. Totally Minnie*

                I did the pull off to the side of the road part, but actually throwing up made me realize “Oh. You are sick today. You should go home now.” I feel like it helps that my parents’ policy when I was a kid was that you had to be vomit-free for 24 hours before you could leave the house for anything other than a doctor’s appointment.

        3. MamaGanoush*

          You don’t know which colleagues have a compromised immune system. You don’t know which colleagues have family members with a compromised immune system.

          Working at a desk doesn’t keep your germs at the desk with you. I’m guessing you get up to use the restroom now and then — you’re breathing out germs as you walk there and back. You’re touching things in your office (which the housekeeping staff, if no one else, has to come in contact with). You walked into the building, maybe took an elevator, perhaps walked through a reception area or down a hallway — you are indeed sharing your germs.

          It’s hard to break habits like this, but please stay home when you are ill. It’s better for you and it’s better for your colleagues.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            It is but if the company has a culture where people come in when they are sick, and your reputation might be impacted negatively you can’t put all the blame on that particular coworker. That kind of change needs to come from the top.

        4. Hope*

          Thing is, you don’t necessarily know if your colleagues are immuno-compromised. It’s not just cancer and HIV/AIDS (and a lot of people with the latter aren’t exactly going around announcing it). There are lots of conditions that compromise immune systems, or that require meds that suppress immune systems. People shouldn’t have to disclose their health problems just so a coworker doesn’t come in sick.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Totally agreed. I have a compromised immune system because of a chronic condition that’s pretty uncommon and not well understood. When I get sick, it can take months to recover from something as simple as a cold, and it often requires hospital trips for more serious infections like the flu. But otherwise I look and behave pretty hale and hearty. I would be mortified if I had to disclose my condition or the fact that I’m immuno-compromised before my coworker decided to behave sensibly to limit the risk of infection.

            It can be hard to break bad habits (I would call going to work with symptoms of a communicable disease a bad habit), but it’s really important to be thoughtful about how your decision not to stay home may affect others… especially if you have the luxury of sick leave coverage that you can take without jeopardizing your employment.

          2. Gotham Bus Company*

            In this case, Bob DOES know (because OP has told him multiple times). He goes to work sick for the specific purpose of exposing others to his illnesses.

            1. LW2*

              LW2 here. I don’t think Bob goes to work sick TO expose other people to his illnesses. He’s not malicious and we generally get along well, except for this issue. I don’t know what’s at the root of it for him and I’m not really comfortable speculating, but I am confident it’s not to purposely infect people.

        5. Specialk9*

          I got hugely sick (hospitalized for weeks) at the beginning of my working career, so I tend to approach my 5 annual sick days as something to hoard, in case. I’m fortunate that I can now work from home, but I definitely default to powering through sickness if I can.

          I am side-eyeing Bob for waiting till the end of the day to mention he knew he was sick all day, and for not working from home when sick.

          I hope OP’s manager can help reset the dept culture by encouraging people stay home when sick (either working or off).

        6. Beth*

          I’m similar, possibly because I’ve never worked anywhere with particularly excellent sick leave–if I stayed home whenever I had a mild cold or lingering symptoms, I’d barely be able to cover 1 mild cold per year, and I’d have no wiggle room left for in case of a more severe illness. That’s just not realistic.

          But I do make sure to wash my hands regularly, keep my distance from coworkers where possible, and let my coworkers know I’m sick so they can avoid me if they want to. If I had the option to work from home, I’d gladly do that instead of coming in when I’m under the weather. That’s just common sense to minimize spreading bugs around as much as possible. Plus, you never know who might have a compromised immune system, or who might live with an immunocompromised family member–it’s just courteous to let people manage their risk where possible.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I try to be super patient, but Bob would be on my first and last nerve, particularly as a person who has disclosed their weak immune system (!). I agree that speaking to a manager is the best option, but here are all the other things I’d be tempted to do (but probably wouldn’t actually do, because although I have a petty imagination, I try to tamp down my extra):
      – Move physically as far from him as possible;
      – Buy a box of N95 respirator masks, and wear them;
      – Wear latex gloves, and make a big deal of wearing them;
      – Keep hand sanitizer or sani-wipes on my person;
      – Pull out a tub of antibacterial surface-cleaning wipes and leave them on your desk;
      – Or my personal favorite, come to work in a HAZMAT suit.

      But definitely try your manager, first.

      1. Susan Sto Helit*

        I’ve joked in the office before that sick coworkers should be made to work inside a clear HAZMAT tent suspended from the ceiling over their desk area. If you must come into the office, into the tent you go ;-)

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Maybe the blue nitrile gloves. They’re very comfortable! A lot of people are allergic to latex.

    5. WS*

      Yes! After I had cancer, my immune system was terrible for about two years. Fortunately, my co-workers (one of whom had two small germ-factory children) were very considerate and, if they couldn’t stay home, they’d warn me they were unwell and try to stay away from me as much as possible, while taking extra hand-washing precautions. Obviously it didn’t work entirely because some viruses have long incubation periods, but it was certainly very cheering to know they took it seriously. Bob is the complete opposite.

    6. Rachel*

      Yeah… I don’t really get this one. Bob has to work. Bob has bills to pay. If Bob feels well enough to work at 8 AM, but then slowly realizes that he doesn’t feel well as the day goes on and by 4 PM realizes that he’s sick, what’s wrong with him working that day, then taking the next day off? Bob is not responsible for his coworker’s health. OP doesn’t know his situation either so it’s not fair IMO to tell him to stay home on her behalf.

      1. Lance*

        Maybe… but in the first place, that’s if the symptoms he’s mentioning only came along later in the day. And even then, it’s not considerate to his coworker, who’s been very clear about the impact on them, to subject them to said symptoms, even if he’s ‘not contagious’ (an assertion that has very much been proven false on multiple occasions). No, he’s not directly responsible for his coworker’s health, but he is responsible for making sure his health doesn’t affect others.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yeah, I wondered if at least some of the times something like that had been going on. Sounds like maybe a move so these two people aren’t sharing office space might be the best solution if it’s possible.

      3. Sam.*

        If Bob is salaried and has paid sick leave (which it sounds like he does) and/or can work from home (ditto), this doesn’t hold water. Bob has options that allow him to deal with his illness without having a significant negative impact on him or on those around him, and he’s deliberately choosing not to utilize them, seemingly out of personal preference? Lack of care about others in his office community? Who knows. But unless you work completely alone, you do have to think about how your behavior impacts those with whom you share space. That’s just basic courtesy.

        1. Kate 2*

          OP SPECIFICALLY stated that the work culture is to come in when you are sick. Bob also has 10 years on OP. He certainly knows better than her whether he will get punished for working from home.

          1. mediumofballpoint*

            And we don’t know if maybe Bob needs those days for something else: saving up for parental leave, or upcoming appointments, or chronic allergies/frequent illnesses in another season that he does take time off for. It’s all well and good to say folks should use the sick leave they’re given, but it’s usually a combination of what the culture will allow and how the individual person does the math on how ill they are and how they can most effectively use their sick time.

      4. Antilles*

        Bob has to work. Bob has bills to pay.
        Wrong. OP explicitly says that (a) the company has ‘excellent sick leave’ and (b) allows people to work from home. So Bob wouldn’t be sacrificing money by doing it, he could very easily take the paid day off or just work from home.
        If Bob feels well enough to work at 8 AM, but then slowly realizes that he doesn’t feel well as the day goes on and by 4 PM realizes that he’s sick,
        The issue here is that he has a co-worker with a weak immune system and doesn’t even say anything. I completely get the feeling of getting sicker over the course of the day…but with OP having a weak immune system, he could easily be polite and just give an earlier heads-up that “I’m starting feeling a little iffy today; I’m going to stick around, but just wanted to warn you”.

        1. Rachel*

          It’s a little invasive to tell Bob how to use his sick days, no? And again, if Bob feels fine at 8, he wouldn’t know if he’s feeling “iffy” until he feels iffy, later in the day, after he’s been in contact with others. Suggesting that Bob disclose his personal health status to his coworkers seems way too invasive to me.

          1. Luna*

            Not if he is making his coworker sick on a regular basis, it isn’t invasive at all. And sure, there are some days when a person doesn’t realize how sick they are until later in the day, but every time? Seems very unlikely.

      5. MamaGanoush*

        Bob’s not losing any money by staying home. OP pointed out that they have good sick leave and a generous work from home policy. If Bob doesn’t feel sick til the end of the day, that’s one thing, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s happening here.

      6. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Agreed. Here’s the other thing, barring a norovirus-like illness (Comes on strong and takes you out quick) chances are by the time Bob verbalizes he’s sick he’s likely been contagious for awhile. That’s even if Bob is the office patient zero.

        I have a really good immune system, my husband’s is even better than mine (He is in direct contact with sick people for work). What I find now is that I rarely get the full blown version of whatever crud is making the rounds, but I will feel run down for a day or two. I have no illusions that the Mister is bringing home the crud from his patients and is a carrier, I then pick it up and become a carrier, but then neither of us get the full blown version of it so will probably spread it to others while neither of seem like we’re the sick ones.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Bob waiting to verbalize that he’s sick is part of the problem. If he’s feeling iffy or on the verge of a cold, he should disclose that sooner than later. I get that people are asymptomatic and contagious for a good number of infections, but Bob knows OP is immune compromised and is not taking any care to limit his effect on OP (or other coworkers) and he’s not disclosing to them that he may be getting sick so that they can take precautionary steps. That’s really different than having a strong immune system and not realizing you’re sick for days and days.

      7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Bob owes his coworkers the decency to limit his infection/illness and its spread, particularly if one of his coworkers is immune compromised. Bob has a generous sick leave and work from home policy, which means Bob is not going to be penalized (financially) if he is unable to work that day, and he’ll still be able to pay his bills. It sounds like Bob comes to work knowing he’s sick, symptomatic, and infectious, which is problematic regardless of how “worn down” he may feel by his illness.

      8. LBK*

        Bob is not responsible for his coworker’s health.

        I mean, he kind of is? This is part of the social contract.

        1. tusky*

          This is a part of the social contract with which I’m not familiar. That seems like a rather high bar to meet.

          1. Luna*

            Is it really though? Are you also unfamiliar with the concept of sick days? Companies give those out for a reason, they are meant to be used!

            1. tusky*

              LBK said that /Bob/ should be responsible for his coworker’s health, which I find to be an unreasonable expectation. I mean, Bob is responsible to the extent that he should do his best not to harm his coworker, but he that’s a rather limited kind of responsibility in the context of a (semi) public space. Your question about sick days seems to be a bit of a non sequitur–but, yes, employees should have and be able to use sick leave!

      9. Jadelyn*

        Bob also has sick leave and the ability to work from home. My sympathy for Bob is limited, even though he has bills to pay, because he has other options for paying those bills than to come share his germs with the OP.

      10. LW2*

        LW2 here. Bob will often be visibly under the weather and I or others will ask him how he’s feeling and if he should be at home. Bob is also able to work from home. His ability to do his work or pay his bills will not be impacted.

    7. Oilpress*

      Bob does it because Bob wants a medal for heroism for working through sickness. In Bob’s mind, this is his version of the Michael Jordan flu game.

      1. MattKnifeNinja*

        Our Michael Jordan flu game award winner worked with the flu last winter for two days before it really ramped up.

        What was the outcome for being a martyr for the cause?

        Six coworkers sick, two wound up in ICU and one of the two on a ventilator.

        By the grace of God I didn’t get sick.

        Disease Vector Bob’s response was, “Well everyone was going to get sick sooner or later. Better to get it done and over with.” WTF?

        I’m surprised he wasn’t murdered. People took an average of 10 days off. The flu was really bad last year.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OMG, I would want to ring his neck. I guess he really was behaving like Michael Jordan.

        2. smoke tree*

          I used to work in an office where basically every illness would make the round of the whole office. Bad combination: very limited sick time, industry with a strong martyr complex, project-based work. People sometimes came in with norovirus. I have a weak immune system so I was that weirdo who washed my hands obsessively and avoided common areas.

        3. JLo*

          In my Dad’s office they had someone in their mid-40’s die from the flu. My boss got the flu twice this year (two different strains) and that was after getting a flu shot and was out for weeks. You don’t joke with the flu.

    8. JamieH*

      Can you ask Bob to let you know when he isn’t feeling well? He may be more willing to do that. If the office culture is truly one where people come in mildly sick (colds) and Bob is mostly only coming in mildly sick, then asking him to stay home might not be reasonable.

      You could then either work from home, or take a lot of extra precautions (similar to a nurse with hand washing, cleaning surfaces frequently, never touching your face, etc).

      1. myswtghst*

        If OP hasn’t tried this, I think it’s a good option. Bob may be making his own calculation about what is “sick enough” to stay home for him, and coming in when he’s contagious but feeling well enough to be moderately productive. If the culture is one where people are encouraged to come in sick, it might be asking a lot for Bob to stay home every month or so with an illness that feels really minor to him, but it shouldn’t be a major imposition for him to give OP a heads up (in the morning!) that he’s not feeling well so OP can decide how to react.

    9. Rachel01*

      When I work for a CRO we had a good PTO system. One of my co-workers used all of it up visiting family one summer off an on, didn’t leave anything in the bank in case she got sick. Came back from Puerto Rico sick with bronchitis, we all ended up sick as dogs. It was an office of about 12 people in the cubicle farm, the managers had offices, a couple of them got sick. We were averaging 4 – 5 people out per day, for a week after that. A couple ended up with sick children.

      They got real strict about coming in sick after that. We had another co-workers that would do the same. Some in half dead because she wanted to use her PTO for vacation and not for illnesses. They got so they would ask for medical notes stating that you were noncontagious & able to return to work.

      When I worked somewhere else a co-worker in one of the labs came in with strep throat, gave it to her co-worker & her husband right before they were supposed to leave for China. They had saved for 10 years for that trip and had to cancel it.

      You could bring in disinfection & if he looks sick and/or sounds sick starts spraying everything.

      1. Sigrid*

        That’s the big drawback to pooled PTO pots. There will always be people who try not to use it on sick leave because they want to save it for vacation.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yep. This is why I will always, always, ALWAYS champion separate sick and vacation buckets over single-bucket PTO.

        2. tangerineRose*

          Yeah, but the drawback of the separate sick/PTO days is that you will have some people who will use every single sick day even when they are feeling fine those days.

          1. Pudgy Patty*

            I have never seen this to be true and I’ve worked in both environments. IME, the single-bucket PTO encourages more people to come into work sick than the separate buckets cause “fake” sick days. I can only speak for me and my workplaces, of course, but I think I have something like 250 hours of sick time. I can’t recall anyone who has abused the policy so much that I remember.

      2. Lynn*

        My stepsister brought a sick kid to Christmas three years in a row without a heads up, even though she knew my ex was immuno-compromised. That was three early January vacations ruined for us because she just didn’t care. And she’s an ICU nurse!

    10. Mike C.*

      I think folks really need to take the advice of directly confronting him. I know that sounds scary to a lot of folks, but come on.

      No games, no long drawn out scripts, just tell him what’s what and that it needs to stop now. And keep going at him until he does.

      1. Lora*

        I gotta say, one of the things I love about my field is that you do NOT work while sick. If there is the slightest doubt, you get sent to the nurse who has zero sense of humor about these things, and then the nurse sends you home. You may work from home, but you may not come to work with your germs – it would contaminate the experiments and / or products. Even the most ignorant cowboy is sent home to sleep it off.

      2. fposte*

        I think it’s fine to tell him it’s a problem, but “keep going at him until he does” has a high problem component. Even if your cause is just and noble, getting a group of people together to badger an individual into compliance with their wishes is a problem in its own right.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          His manager should handle it. If mgr isn’t willing to, get them to move you away from him. If they won’t do that, get a better job.
          Be sure to tell them why in the exit interview!

      3. bonkerballs*

        And then I’d be complaining to my boss that I’m being badgered and harassed by my crazy coworker who’s thinks I’m going to stay home every time I have the sniffles.

    11. AnonymousInfinity*

      Whoa. What? I have coworkers and have been the coworker who woke up feeling slightly off, maybe suspected a cold coming on, took Mucinex/Dayquil/whatever, felt okay until about 3-5pm when the meds are wearing off and a work day has taken its toll (you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re probably dehydrated, etc), and then complained to work friends, “Ugh, I feel like crap. I should’ve stayed home today. I’m going to finish out the day but might be out tomorrow, just so you know.” That’s not maliciously trying to infect coworkers. I’ve worked at four different places in 15 years, and, at the pique cold season, that phrase almost verbatim is heard about once a week from various people.

      As it is, I have an autoimmune disorder. My coworkers know. I don’t expect them to change normal business practice for me, and I would never demand for my coworkers to go work from home or go use sick leave because of my condition. If I did that and only got a shrug in return, I’d be lucky. Especially if I’m fresh out of school in my first job and talking to someone who has potentially worked at my company for several years. OP might’ve considered going to his/her manager first with this; I suspect Bob got there first.

    12. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Has anyone stopped to think that maybe … just maybe… it’s all the other people in the office that are getting both Bob and the LW sick? And he’s not an asshole just someone that realizes that he can’t be gone from work for a couple of days at a time every month?

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think it’s important to remember that Bob isn’t patient zero, and that there’s a reasonable chance whoever he caught it from is also in the office.

        But I also think right now our culture is struggling with cultural narratives of illness and health, and how things work epidemiologically doesn’t necessarily track with how we prioritize things culturally. Which isn’t always a bad thing–I’m okay with policies forbidding shirtlessness even though the health justification is pretty spurious–and it might be useful for Bob to understand that even if he isn’t medically a problem (because the OP doesn’t for certain know he’s the source) what he’s doing is considered a cultural problem.

        1. Luna*

          but Bob does seem to be the source for the LW getting sick, even if someone else of course got Bob sick before that. The LW and Bob share an office space so the LW is much more likely to get sick if her office mate comes in sick versus some other random coworker on the other side of the office coming in sick.

    13. a1*

      Considering that with most colds/flus you are most contagious the day before you feel symptoms, I’m not sure how much help it is to go home earlier in the day that you do feel symptoms. Yes, I agree, work from home or take the day off when you’re sick – I do, but I’m just saying you never really know where or when you picked up the virus.

    14. SophieK*


      OP knows this is a pattern of Bob’s, so the fact that they are surprised Every Single Time is a bit disingenuous. Kind of like having a dog you KNOW poops on the carpet and being upset every time they do it. OP should therefore operate on the assumption that Bob is sick (and that they are coming home to poop on the carpet.)

      I get the feeling OP doesn’t have kids. My former stepson was immunocompromised and caught everything which he brought home to me, as my immune system isn’t the best either. Stressing over the whole situation is a guaranteed way to lower your immune system to rock bottom non functionality. Bob and OP are just both people who get sick easily, and while OP can’t control Bob they can control their own attitude towards the situation.

      Also, people, by the time symptoms appear everybody has been exposed. That’s how germs work. Bob going home early rather than finishing out the day wouldn’t make a lick of difference.

      1. Luna*

        What does having kids have to do with the LW’s situation? That is such a random thing to criticize her for. I’m pretty sure it’s not the LW’s attitude that is making her sick…

      2. LW2*

        LW2 here. You seem to be saying that I should assume that Bob is sick 24/7? That is impractical and there is no useful way to operationalize that assumption.

        I’m also not “surprised,” I am frustrated because I and others have pointed out this pattern to Bob but he continues to come in while sick. Often visibly sick and when asked if he should work from home or needs to go and rest he will wave it off.

    15. seewhatimean*

      I will say that for most colds, the incubation time is about 5-10 days, so if the OP2 is getting sick within a day or two, it’s not Bob that is transmitting it OR it was already transmitted prior to his announcement. I’m not sure that taking work days at home at that point will make much difference, since the virus is already installed.

      Again I advocate for good hand hygiene, avoiding touching the face unless hands are freshly washed, use of hand sanitiser with at least 66% alcohol content, and social distancing. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown via reliable studies to have very good effects on cold and flu, on par with flu vaccine.

      even if a work from home allowance is granted, following the suggestions above will add to the protection and are good practice regardless of office mates.

    16. Adlib*

      This happened last week at my office. Most of this lady’s team is remote so the office she works in is not even really somewhere she’s “required” to be. She came in hacking up a storm, and I asked her direct report if she was sick. “Yeah, she sounded awful yesterday so I’m surprised she’s here.” All of this lady’s meetings are conference calls. Stay home!!! I kept my door shut all day and used paper towels to touch anything outside my own office. Seriously, no reason at all for her to come in like that. (I’m still super irritated about it, plus my Monday hasn’t been awesome.)

    1. LovecraftInDC*

      It’s entirely possible, but given the company’s policies and the fact that there are only nine people there, I’d be willing to bet they are in support of the policy. If they were fine with it though, it’d be worth reframing it as a lost productivity for the entire office thing. Since they have great sick leave, OP may be taking leave on the days they’re sick as a result of Bob. If that’s leading to nonzero productivity losses for the group (which is likely), that’s the thing to focus on.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        There are many companies and I believe Alison has said it before that offer great benefits but then people are looked down upon or it hurts your reputation if you actually use those great benefits. OP said the company has a culture of people coming in to work sick. While it seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal violating office culture/norms can have a negative impact on your standing in the office.

      2. Kate 2*

        OP specifically stated that the office culture is to come in when you are sick. Let’s trust that they know their office.

    2. Snowglobe*

      I’d advise the OP to use the phrase “compromised immune system” to her boss. It’s one thing for a manager to think it’s no big deal if people come to work with a cold, but a reasonable manager is going to understand that some people can have serious problems with that.

      1. Looper*

        I don’t think she has a “compromised immune system” from what it sounds like she gets sick easily, or think she does.
        Even in places with generous sick leave, there can be a culture where it’s looked down on to call in sick.
        Also, if he’s sick one day, it’s not like he isn’t going to be infectious all week. And if he’s sick on Wednesday then he likely was infectious on Monday and Tuesday and didn’t know. Most people aren’t going to take a whole week off with a cold or leave work with the first sign of sniffles.
        You can’t know when someone is shedding germs and most of the time they don’t know either.
        This is something you need to mitigate yourself.

        1. Specialk9*

          They said they have a “terrible immune system… less than robust immune system”. Compromised immune system sounds like it could be applicable. I have a compromised immune system due to a chronic health issue, not HIV or cancer, which is what most people think of with that term.

      2. Rachel01*

        Doesn’t compromised immune system call under ADA.? They should just separate the two. If it falls under ADA, and if the employer has extra office space, OP might be able to have an office alone.

        If there isn’t enough space they should switch Bob out, into another office. Making the OP move could be perceived as retaliation. OP should talk to the manager and see how it’s handled, but be prepared to present ADA paperwork if applicable. I would go ahead and make the appointment with your physician and get the forms from HR.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not sure “compromised immune system” constitutes a disability in its own right, but if it’s a component of a disability where it’s a known factor, such as AIDS, that seems like a plausible path. It’s a little less clear in a situation where it’s the result of the treatment rather than the disease, but given that at least one court ruled that side effects of medication may be covered under the ADA, it would be worth a try.

    3. Mike C.*

      Then yell at them too. It’s not difficult to point out that productivity wanes when everyone is sick.

  9. Scotty_Smalls*

    #1 I think your co-workers might have concerns about how friendly you are with undergrads? I’m assuming all of your co-workers are no longer students. Otherwise they have justified their situations by saying they have boundaries. I think it wouldn’t hurt to check the employee handbook. (If you haven’t done so already)

  10. Lynn*

    OP2: Bob is an a**.

    He’s waiting until the end of the day to tell you he’s been spreading germs, and he doesn’t care that he’s repeatedly making you sick. I’m not sure what the actual response is, but I’d be pretty teed off by now and tempted to really play it up next time.

    Bob announces he’s Typhoid Mary yet again.
    OP looks shocked and startled. “I don’t understand. I told you I have a delicate immune system and you try to hurt me and get me sick all the time!” *lip quiver* “Are you trying to get me to quit? Do you hate me? Do you want to put me in the hospital? What have I done to you?!” *sniffle* “Everyone always says you’re so nice and hard working, but you’re really just a bully who wants to keep me home sick so I can’t do my own work!”

    1. neverjaunty*

      I suspect that would just encourage Bob. He sounds like he thinks it’s a hilarious power play to pass in his germs.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        Yeah, I would guess this is a guy who isn’t particularly conscientious about washing his hands or wiping down surfaces or covering his mouth when he coughs.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          @neverjaunty and @pollygrammer
          I think those two statements are huge leaps from what little we know about Bob. There are many offices where coworkers come in when they are slightly sick such as a cold/fever. Some people might just have it ingrained in the way they were raised that you don’t call in sick to school/job unless you are on your deathbed, or like OP said this company has a culture of people going to work sick. Yes the company does have a good sick policy but that doesn’t mean that employees are not penalized for using it or looked upon negatively by other coworkers and supervisors.

          1. Pollygrammer*

            LW says she doesn’t observe him trying not to touch shared items even though he claims to, I don’t think it’s a huge leap to think he’s not making much of an effort.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Taking that statement from OP as true working in a shared office it might be impossible for Bob to completely avoid touching all shared items. I understand OP’s frustration it sucks being in that position. When I get sick my partner makes me do everything short of getting a hotel room, I often end up sleeping in our guest room.

              Going a step further there have been many times where I have been asked to be more aware about doing or not doing certain actions (both in professional and personal life). When asked I would testify under oath that I was being completely aware of those actions, but other people would equally testify that I was not aware enough of those actions.

      2. MattKnifeNinja*

        My Disease Vector Bob would joke he was “culling the weak” when he came into work sick.

        He had the hygiene habits of a toddler. He’d wipe his runny nose with his bare hand, when wipe his hand ON HIS DESK.

        Gross doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    2. Mike C.*

      Please, stop it with the fake emotions. We’re adults here, you don’t have to insult everyone’s intelligence with scripts like this.

        1. King Friday XIII*

          Yeah, it wouldn’t occur to me that any script that includes a lip quiver was intended to be serious.

      1. AnonymousInfinity*

        Yeah, that script wouldn’t make me think poorly of Bob. I would have serious concerns and reservations about the OP or anyone else who said it. And a lot of second hand mortification.

    3. myswtghst*

      Even if Bob told OP#2 as soon as he started experiencing symptoms, he’d most likely already be too late. Using the common cold as an example, you’re typically contagious at least 1 day before you start showing symptoms, and you’re often contagious for another 5-7 days after that. Even if Bob were to announce it as soon as he gets the sniffles, it’s unlikely it’s going to do OP#2 much good.

      So while it would be nice if Bob would let OP#2 know earlier, it might be more worthwhile for OP#2 to inquire about a different office set up or seating arrangement, and to focus on preventative steps in the meantime.

  11. Chocolate Teapot*

    2. Once I attended a meeting for the whole division and somebody from another office had a bad cold and refused to go home. (“Oh I’ll be fine. But I want to stay and listen to the presentation.”)

    It took a large part of the following week, and plenty of medicine before I was even vaguely feeling better.

    1. Artemesia*

      We had some yutz come in with a fever, glazed eyes, snorting and sneezing and shivering and insisting on needing to be at the meeting. So aggravating and bosses never seem to have the guts to step up.

      1. Windchime*

        I’m glad my boss isn’t this way. She encourages work from home when anyone is sick; I believe that she would probably send someone home if they came in feverish or super snotty.

  12. Drew*

    OP2: Echoing everyone else here; Bob is a jerk. He doesn’t even give you the courtesy of a start-of-day warning, just waits until the end of the day. IMO, you must take this to your manager: “Bob’s coming in when he’s sick and doesn’t tell me until we’ve spent all day together, and I end up burning my sick days because of it. Please emphasize to him that if he doesn’t feel well, even if he thinks he’s not contagious, that he needs to STAY HOME.”

    The really dark part of me wonders if this isn’t Bob’s way of trying to get an office to himself. “If I keep making Alice sick, she’ll ask Ted to move her out of my office and then I can have the space to myself [again].” I hate to reward behavior that jerkish, but I would be suggesting pairing up with someone else at this point because Bob clearly doesn’t care about the effect he’s having on you (or anyone else, I would wager).

  13. E.*

    OP #1 – I think your co-workers are overreacting. This is so common in university settings, and hiring an undergrad RA (presumably not a full-time position and one that will end at the end of the year or when she graduates) isn’t the same as hiring a full-time employee.

    1. dragonzflame*

      Right. I don’t know how academic staff would ever move house, for instance, were it not for casually hiring students.

      1. Red Reader*

        … offer their friends pizza and beer or hire pros just like the rest of us?

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, I don’t think that’s a thing at my university.

          Or maybe it is and I’m just out of the student-labor loop?

      2. Charlotte Gray*

        Yup. Did this twice in college for the faculty advisors of my student organization. They made a donation to our org for our time.

      3. neverjaunty*

        If they were paid a decent salary so they didn’t have to rely on equally-poor students a step down the ladder? I know, I know, I’m living in an imaginary world.

      4. oldbiddy*

        I’d hire students to help me with moving, petsitting, etc, but I wouldn’t ask my own students to do jobs for me outside work. It puts them in a situation of possibly feeling obligated. If I hired through the student movers group and some of my students showed up, I’d be ok with it.
        It’s a subtle line and OP1’s coworkers muddied it a lot.

  14. H.C.*

    No. 3 that is an icky question indeed, though my reply would’ve been “I aim to keep my personal and professional lives separate, and I try to keep my private life out of work whenever possible.” And even though it would probably jeopardize my candidacy, I would throw the awkward back at them w something like “how is my personal affairs relevant for this interview?”

    1. Emily Spinach*

      I think a variation on that question would be completely appropriate, more like, “can you tell me about what you’re looking for with this question?” Less confrontational (though my impulse would be like yours!) and you could potentially salvage the answer based on their response. Maybe. But it’s a shot I think worth taking since most people wouldn’t answer that interview question well (or “well”) off the cuff anyway.

      1. LovecraftInDC*

        That’s what strikes me most about it. I don’t have any idea how you get honest or insightful answers to that question. Most people will be prepped for the ‘describe a time when you were bad at your job’ questions, and will have had time to reflect upon them, allowing them to provide a truthful yet insightful answer. Nobody will have prepped for the personal life question, and I’m willing to bet that you’re going to get a bunch of crappy answers which skirt anything that would be useful. Plus, the fact that it’s a personal question and most people don’t feel comfortable discussing that with their coworkers likely means you’ll get a lot of dishonesty.

        1. Artemesia*

          It’s like ‘can you tell me the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you.’ Yeah — I could, but I won’t because it was embarrassing; why would I want to relive that?

          1. Annie Moose*

            I’m so appalled when people ask that. No, I’m not going to tell you my most embarrassing moment! It was horrible and I wish it had never happened.

            1. Pollygrammer*

              I would actually go with “I called my teacher ‘mommy’ in 1st grade.”

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Heh. We met my daughter’s first grade teacher in the grocery store. About halfway through first grade, and she absolutely adored this teacher. (As did I.) After the teacher and I chatted for a few minutes and moved on, my daughter hissed “Who WAS that?” Teachers cannot take corporeal form outside the classroom.

          2. Jadelyn*

            In similar vein, my “worst mistake in my personal life that I handled badly” was extremely traumatic – my partner and I separated for a year and basically I nearly ruined the best relationship I’ve ever had with someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. There is no way in hell I want to relive that in a job interview, talking through it with a stranger.

      2. CM*

        This is a great response to any question that throws you off. “I’m not sure how to respond to that – can you tell me what you’re looking for with this question?” And I would also suggest the approach of answering your own variant of the question: “The times I can think of outside of work that come immediately to mind are a little too personal for an interview, but I can think of a time in my last job when…”

    2. Wintermute*

      Unless I really badly needed the job I’d be tempted to flame out the interview the other way, by telling something so horrific, painted in the worst possible light, that they decide never to ask that question of anyone, ever again.

    3. Lora*

      I *hope* they are trying to find out if OP would be sympathetic to people’s generally awful behavior at funerals through personal experience, but it would be much better to phrase it as, “customers are often at their worst during funerals, can you tell me about how you would handle, for example, a funeral for a family who lost their loved one to addiction / died face-down in a pile of blow while banging a $20 hooker, or a family having a fistfight at the funeral over the inheritance, or (whatever).”

      I mean, even child molesters who jump off a cliff rather than face justice can end up at a funeral home. And you gotta treat them all professionally even if that’s really really really really hard.

      1. Smithy*

        This was my thinking.

        I recently had a friend interview to volunteer at a suicide hotline, and they asked loads of personal questions about family mental health and her reactions to that, etc. This is for a volunteer post and not a job, but I do think that there are jobs where those questions will come up.

        And honestly, this might also be one of those personal/professional tests. So by looking for the ability to choose a personal story that would help in a professional setting. I.e. someone’s reacting badly around a relative’s funeral and being able to connect by saying “when my dad was fighting cancer and therefore unable to make my graduation, I threw a fit about how no one cared about me. I was really just stressed and scared about my dad, but at the time didn’t have the capacity or maturity to respond differently.” As opposed to “when my first boyfriend dumped me, I stalked his house for weeks and left creepy messages in his locker.”

      2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

        That’s exactly what I was thinking – that the question was a misguided attempt to suss out how the OP would react to/deal with sensitive personal (to the friends/families involved) situations that are bound to happen at a funeral home. Admittedly, I don’t have a ton of funeral experience, but just from the several family funerals that I’ve attended – I know weird/sensitive sh!t happens (unless my family is just particularly dramatic – but I don’t think they are).

        1. Myrin*

          Wouldn’t they be asking about a situation that she handled well, then, though? It’s the “tell me about something you handled poorly” that has me scratching my head a little here.

    4. smoke tree*

      I would probably just say something like, “I can’t think of any good answers from my personal life, but here’s a work example.” Just redirect to a more reasonable question. And I would also keep an eye out for other signs of weirdness.

  15. Cheshire Cat*

    OP#2, can you move to a different space so you’re not breathing in Bob’s germs all day?

    As someone else with a poor immune system, I really feel for you. I had a colleague come in with pinkeye once and refused to go home. These people are jerks.

    1. Anon this time*

      In a previous job, I had two coworkers: one with an immunosuppressed neonate and one with shingles. The one with shingles WOULD NOT stay away from the one with the preemie, even going so far as to touch the other person’s arm (meaning that worker couldn’t even go see their child until the docs were sure the infection hadn’t transferred).

      I have had no respect for shingles-bearing coworker since.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Oh, I would want to run that person out of town. Even if it was “just” forgetfulness, that’s pretty inexcusable.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        I have three separate immune system disorders. I am basically “the boy (err…girl) in the bubble” without an actual bubble. If someone were to do this to me more than once either a manager would change things Right Now, or I would have no problem quitting on the spot. I know not everyone is willing/able to do that. I get it. Most of my time being a worker bee I was less than able(financially) to do it either, however not dying because Bob is an ass is my first choice.

        The business is mine. I am the “the buck stops here” person at this point in my life, so yay for me. Even still I do have a few employees so I can’t seal everything up hermetically. Ergo like Aphrodite above I buy gloves in bulk. I get the nitrile ones that fit my hand (smalls) just right so that they don’t slip off and less stuff has the ability to enter through the cuff. Lots of soap, clean paper towels, Lysol/Clorox wipes, Purell, etc., etc., etc. I also open doors and such with a paper towel whenever possible and sanitize anything that would be used in common.

        Germaphobe? Probably but I don’t care. What is the most innocuous cold in someone else will morph into pneumonia for me and have me back in the hospital wondering if this time will be the time it finally does me in. I’d rather have an “irrational fear” (not really irrational IMO…more like prudent, but whatever) of germs than die from suffocation.

        1. Specialk9*

          No part of that sounds irrational! Seems very commonsense given your situation.

          I’m not germaphobic at all normally, but someone has Ebola? Get me the N95, eye shield, gloves, gown, and booties stat!!

          I’m glad you have the financial freedom not to have to choose between your health/life and being able to pay bills.

      3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        To be fair shingles is no longer contagious once the blisters have scabbed over. Your post doesn’t indicate at what stage the shingles coworker was in.

        1. fposte*

          I’m usually a stickler for this kind of detail myself, but I think shingles co-worker needs to keep her hands off of preemie parent no matter what stage she’s at–it’s too big a psychological burden for the other person with no gain for either of them. Ol’ Shingles can still be in the office and attend meetings–just no petting anybody.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            I don’t disagree with you (I have an overly developed sense of personal space myself) but it’s worth pointing out that someone with shingles isn’t necessarily contagious. There’s a lot of bad information out there and mostly I was taking an opportunity to add some education to the mix.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          That’s fair but what is even more fair is not touching other people uninvited, ever. Problem solved.

  16. Close Bracket*


    Assuming the question is verbatim, it doesn’t have to be answered with a very personal relationship type situation. “Outside of work” can mean volunteering or clubs. Rather than talk about your last messy break up, you could talk about a situation at a volunteer event that you wish had gone better.

      1. Millennial Lawyer*

        Close Bracket was making a helpful suggestion on a way to spin the question while still remaining professional.

        1. bonkerballs*

          And Liane was helpfully pointing out that volunteer work is still work and talking about your volunteer work doesn’t so much spin the question as not answer it.

    1. mrs_helm*

      Exactly. I was coming here to say school projects, volunteer work, etc. Even home improvement projects or vacation planning have potential to discuss how you learned to plan better, pay attention to detail, deal with things logistically or diplomatically, without being about your personal relationships.

      I can see an interviewer wording it this way if they are talking to someone who doesn’t have much job experience listed on their resume, and they are flubbing trying to make the question work.

      1. Fuzzyfuzz*

        This is how I interpreted it as well. They don’t say ‘your personal life’ they say ‘outside of work.’ It could be how you dealt with a difficult neighbor, navigated a fender bender, approached hiring a roofing company, etc. It doesn’t have to be from the deepest depths of your soul.

  17. Dan*


    I see a few things going on here, and I don’t think Bob is quite the ass that he is being painted out to be.

    Early on in the letter, OP states, “There is a real culture of coming to work sick”. That’s problem #1. While Bob may be a decade senior to the OP, Bob is a decade senior to someone just out of school, which probably puts Bob in his mid 30’s. Bob is by no means all that experienced at that age, despite how it may appear to someone very junior. Which means Bob is probably hungry for a promotion. Throw that in with #1, and I am pretty sure that Bob is thinking face time is important.

    Really, though, i think the solution is for the OP to talk to her manager, and discuss switching office mates. If that’s a no-go, the only way Bob is going to stay home is if the “real culture of coming to work sick” is changed. Bob won’t change until that changes, and that’s on the office and perhaps management as much as it is on Bob.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      The other thought that occurred to me was, what if Bob started out the day not feeling that bad and thought he was okay to work, but gradually started feeling worse throughout the day, and it’s only at the end of the day that he’s feeling ill enough to complain about it?

      I know this seems to be happening quite a lot so it might not account for all the instances, but it could have happened at least once. I know that’s happened to me and others before.

        1. Kelly L.*

          What is First Defense? Google is bringing up a whole range of products called that, from nasal screens to essential oils. I’m not sure which one you’re recommending.

            1. Lora*

              I was imagining the meme of the spray bottle and NO, like you use for misbehaving cats, but this is also an effective solution.

      1. Liane*

        “What if Bob started out the day not feeling that bad and thought he was okay to work…”
        1–Decent coworkers still issue warnings: “I’m feeling a bit sick.Hoping headache goes away/it’s just allergies/was something I ate. But I’m keeping my distance and hand washing like crazy just in case.”
        2–Decent coworkers have enough brains to figure out their symptoms may not get better and which ones almost always worsen and act accordingly. They warn people right away and maybe take a few minutes to plan in case they have to leave early or call out the next day.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        If I were Bob, I would keep these thoughts of “hmm, in hindsight I should have stayed home” to myself.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Yeah, I feel for Bob a little bit on this one. It doesn’t matter if the official sick leave policy is generous if your manager will look at you as a slacker if you stay home when you’re ill. If that’s what OP and Bob are dealing with, OP might want to look for another job.

      1. Dan*

        Part of me wonders if Bob’s martyr declarations are meant to draw attention to how much of a trooper he is.

      2. AnonymousInfinity*

        Also, calling in sick every time you have minor, might-be-a-cold symptoms is a great way to lose a generous sick time policy. A fever and nonstop symptoms (coughing, sneezing) is one thing. A scratchy throat and a mild headache is not a reason to call in ANYWHERE I’ve worked.

        Imagine the letter Bob would be writing about this hire fresh out of college constantly telling him that he’s too sick to be working near her/him and needs to go home.

    3. Overeducated*

      Yeah, I agree. Bob may not be the most considerate but the problem doesn’t originate with him.

      1. Dan*

        I didn’t say Bob was fresh out of school or anywhere near it.

        What I said was that he wasn’t all that experienced. At my company, in your mid thirties, you are likely one level above the lowest rung and hungry for a promotion. One level from the bottom is FAR from wise and experienced.

        Fresh out of school, I thought ten years was a lot of experience. Now that I have ten years? It’s really not that much. If someone were to say to me, “wow you have lots of experience”, I’d just laugh.

        So why does Bob come to work sick? Because he wants a promotion and thinks face time is important.

        1. LBK*

          Sorry, a decade of experience is way too long to be attributing this kind of naivete to him. It may not be “a lot” of experience in whatever vague way you’d define that but it’s enough to know better than to childishly get your coworkers sick and blow it off when they ask you to stop doing it.

          If your company has people with 10 years of experience who are still this immature, your company is staffed by babies.

          1. Dan*

            I’m not asserting naivete, I’m asserting a “I wanna get promoted and nothing’s getting in my way.”

            1. LBK*

              If he still thinks the way to get promoted is to work while being sick, that’s pretty naive, assuming this is not an old school office that puts value on that kind of thing. I see OP notes that there is a “culture of coming in sick” but that doesn’t necessarily equate to facetime being a critical performance metric.

              I just struggle to have any sympathy for the poor, sad adult man who thinks getting his coworkers sick is a reasonable cost of his Machiavellian ascent to the top.

              1. Dan*

                No, but I’d put money on it. Most people aren’t in the habit of being a martyr/going the extra mile if they don’t think there’s something in it for them one way or the other. If Bob is experienced enough to read between the lines, and he still comes in sick, he’s either clueless/naive, or face time an important metric. I’m not seeing too many other options that make sense in this context.

                At my company, despite the promotion landscape being a very slow train up a very steep hill, the only person who would actually know what days I didn’t come in would be my office mate. Even my bosses would be oblivious if I didn’t tell them — I’d probably have to be out for a week before they figured out I was working from home.

                But there are enough companies out there were face time is an important metric.

        2. Bea*

          Omg the idea of being so low on the ladder at this age made me shiver. I’m glad your office has longevity but that’s depressing the heck out of me.

          1. Dan*

            The worst thing about my company is that the promotion landscape just sucks. I have ten years of experience, and also work with people who have dates of hire before I was born. So when I say ten years doesn’t mean all that much, I’m comparing it against 30-40 years.

            We have six “levels”. The bottom level is for the real junior people who just have a BS, anybody with half a brain doesn’t stay there for more than a few years. Getting to the next level is uncompetitive.

            Level 2 is a parking lot for people on the next step of the experience level — graduate degrees with no to some experience, and BS with a bit of experience. Moving from level two onwards is really competitive — some people will retire at level 2, most will retire at level 3. Getting to level 4 and above is a crapshoot and many people who want it will never see it.

            Now being stuck at level 2 or 3 for an extended period isn’t the worst thing. The midpoint for level 2 is just above the six figure mark, level 3 is probably $20k-$30k above it.

            I’m not defending this system, but I’ve worked for a couple of employers in my industry, and the promotion landscape just sucks no matter where you go. I would venture to say it’s an industry wide problem.

          2. Jadelyn*

            …some of us are low on the ladder at this age because we got a late start in life. I have mental health problems and didn’t really manage to get that under control and reach the point of starting a career proper until I was in my late 20s. I’m functionally running 6-8 years behind most people my age. Be glad you have the leeway to shiver and be depressed at the mere idea of being low on the ladder in your mid-thirties – some of us don’t get a choice, through no fault of our own.

            1. Luna*

              Especially since many of us in our mid-thirties now were hit badly by the recession in 2008, so we didn’t exactly get off to a great start.

        3. Specialk9*

          Interesting that in your company mid-30s in still fairly junior. In my career field, one hits senior in mid-to-late 20s, and manager/SME anytime from mid-20s to late 30s (depending on the person and available processes/jobs).

          I would expect someone in their 30s to be fully professional. (Though this problem didn’t originate with Bob.)

          1. Dan*

            The people that are actually designated SMEs at my company have retired from a 20-25 year in the field for which we’ve hired their expertise. People here get service awards for 20 and 25 years, that’s a regular thing. I go to retirement celebrations for people with 30+ years of service.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      Even still Bon needs to give people a heads up at the beginning of the day not at the end after he’s spent the entire day touching stuff, talking to people in close quarters, etc. Give others a chance to at least try to mitigate their own exposure.

    5. FD*

      +1 I have to be honest, I’m struggling with this one a bit. I turned 30 this year and I have never, ever worked somewhere it would be considered appropriate to call in over a cold unless I was also running a fever or throwing up. I don’t get that much sick time, and I tend to hang on to it carefully because who knows if you’re going to need it later in the year.

      I understand that the LW says that there’s a good sick time policy but they also say that there’s a culture of coming in sick, so irrespective of the policy, that likely means that there are going to be consequences if you try to take advantage of it.

      But I also understand the LW’s feelings, because it’s frustrating to get sick because of what someone else is doing.

      1. AnonymousInfinity*

        One person’s idea of a culture of coming in sick is…perhaps not another person’s idea of that.

        I have worked in cultures of coming in sick. It meant you never called in for ANYTHING. At one job in one industry, the Market HR Manager walked in on me literally vomiting in a trash can in the office; the feedback I received was, “I’m so pleased to see your effort by being here today! Good for you! Keep it up!” At this same company, at a different location, other coworkers were refused a day off to be with their spouse during labor; they were on the schedule, and they would be at work; if they called in, they were going to be blacklisted from promoting. Salaried employees bragged about how many years it’d been since they’d taken a sick day, in the same breath they bragged about how many days straight they’d worked without a day off (someone had hit seven months). I worked in another culture of coming in sick, in a completely separate industry, and that translated as the company’s private owner taking a couple hours to decide if my coworker, who had literally JUST HAD an emergency appendectomy, should be excused from work the next day – since there was such an important meeting! The culture of coming in sick is brutal, and it is harsh, and it is unforgiving. It is not people with sniffles going to work instead of working from home.

        Most jobs are not supportive of the “don’t come in if you don’t feel good” philosophy. Other jobs are…just not supportive. As a fresh grad in his/her first job, I suspect OP has a long road ahead in learning the unfortunate realities of the typical U.S. workplace. I know I did.

      2. bonkerballs*

        I feel much the same way. I actually *am* working somewhere with an incredibly generous sick policy and support to use it, but it feels so foreign to me. I’ve been at my current organization for almost a year, but I’m still flabbergasted when I get emails from coworkers saying they won’t be coming to work today because they didn’t sleep well last night.

  18. Amanda Ramsey*

    OP2: I agree with suggestions to talk to your manager and try to change Bob’s behavior or change offices, but in case those don’t work, here’s something you can try. I, too, have a weak immune system, and try to stay away from sick people. Because of that, I’m rarely ill. I once dated a man who made no attempt to protect himself from catching colds. He got sick often, but would fight it off easily since he had a strong immune system. Then a few days later, I would come down with it, and be miserable for a week. I solved this problem by taking echinacea as soon as my boyfriend got sick. I didn’t wait until I felt symptoms, which was too late. Once I implemented this strategy, I stopped catching his colds.

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      I might have to do this. My husband is something of a ‘carrier’ for his office’s various ailments – he’ll come back from work and say ‘oh so-and-so has a cold’, and within days I’ll normally have the cold (even if no-one else in my office or immediate environment is sick) whilst husband is fine. So definitely going to stock up on echinacea ahead of cold season this year!

      (I also recommend the nasal sprays – Vicks makes one but there are other generic pharmacy ones too, at least here in the UK. I used those in the run-up to my November wedding because I didn’t want to risk having a runny nose in the photos, and it was the one winter I didn’t get a cold.)

    2. Susan Sto Helit*

      Have you tried using First Defense as well (assuming that’s even available where you live)? I have a shitty immune system but it does work for me even when my partner is sick.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Actually your immune system probably started getting stronger because of the repeated exposure.

  19. Lou*

    Letter #4 really aggravates me – with all these candidates have done for you, you should know by now. It’s not fun to be on the other side, in fact, it’s really awful. Why do people forget what it’s like to be job seeking?

    1. Myrin*

      I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying – with “you should know by now”, do you mean she should already know who’ll be getting the position? Because in that case: OP isn’t idly twiddling her thumbs and going back and forth in her mind on which candidates she liked the most. She’s already narrowed it down to two but her boss only has time to meet up with those at the end of this week and it’s possible that after that, candidate 3 will be bumped up; this has more to do with the boss’s schedule than with her own efficiency or decision-making ability.

      Or do you mean that by now, after having some experience with hiring already, she should know what to do by herself already? Becase in that case, well, we can know a lot and still be unsure about some things – that’s what Alison is here for, after all!

    2. TheNotoriousMCG*

      The OP is actually being very considerate. Their timeline has moved steadily, they want to communicate to this candidate clearly because they obviously want to be considerate. And even if they do make an offer to one or both of the final candidates that doesn’t mean it will be accepted and in that case the person who asked about status would be up to bat. And if the offer does get accepted by another candidate, OP is planning to send rejections to the runners-up which is far better than other places that ghost people.

      OP sounds like a very considerate hiring manager.

    3. lulu*

      People don’t forget what it’s like to be job seeking, but their priorities is to make the right hire for their company. In this case it means to wait until the top 2 candidates can be interviewed. But I did think that the project they asked of the top 5 candidates must have been extensive, if it took OP 10 days to review them. It’s particularly important not to ghost the candidates and to be responsive when you have asked them to invest time in the hiring process. Fortunately it sounds like OP is doing just that.

      1. Specialk9*

        It’s more like 6 days than 10, excluding 2 weekends and a holiday. (May 18 – 30) May 18 is a Friday, May 28 is a holiday, and lots of people take Friday off too.

  20. M*

    OP, Bob stinks. However as a public service announcement, if you feel like you get sick whenever you’re around sick people, especially if your symptoms seem severe each time, visit an allergist for a blood test to check your immune system and vaccine titers. It’s relatively painless and may give you valuable information.

    To learn more, visit primaryimmune.org

    1. Femme D'Afrique*

      OP says, ” I have a terrible immune system — something I have been quite vocal about.” Sounds like she’s had her immune system checked.

      1. Yorick*

        I don’t think it sounds that way. That’s something someone might say if they get sick a lot.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          I get sick a lot and can confirm 100% that’s something I totally say without meaning it in a medical way.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          They might also say it if they have actual diagnosed immunological conditions. They just may not want to particularly share all of the relevant medical info with everyone.

          Someone like for instance…me. I have three separate, long since diagnosed, periodically followed up on, chronic immune system disorders. There is nothing that will ever “cure” them. If someone has a cold, it could kill me (that is not exaggeration/drama) for real. I don’t think I need to tell all and sundry more than “I have a compromised immune system.”

          There is no need to check titers (been there, done that) no need for echinacea, First Defense, Airborne, this or that vitamin(s), etc. I am already taking/doing every possible thing and do new stuff when/if my doctors think I should give them a try.

          Likewise OP is likely doing all she can/should do. The only thing she isn’t able to control for is Bob’s choice to expose everyone for 8+ hours without letting them know they are being exposed. Bob needs to tell his office mates at the beginning of the day not the end…even if he is only feeling “a bit under the weather” and not full on sick yet.

          I get the sick leave culture thing, I do, but that doesn’t preclude him from beign considerate and giving people a heads up. Not telling them, or waiting for hours is an dick thing to do.

          1. Yorick*

            I didn’t mean to imply that people with illnesses need to disclose them, just that we shouldn’t assume OP meant anything more medical than she gets sick a lot

    2. Fuzzyfuzz*

      We also don’t know her medical background. I have a terrible immune system because of repeated chemo blasting for leukemia and my immunity has never quite recovered even though I’ve been in remission for 10 years. I get blood tests every 6 months, so I know I’m fine.

    3. LW2*

      I am on a waitlist to see an immunologist, thanks. This has been a life-long issue that my GPs have just shrugged over so it never occurred to me that I could see a specialist until recently, when my health got significantly worse.

  21. Glitterycake*

    Bob is the anti-“Be like Bob” meme.

    Bob comes to work sick, where he shares an office with an immunocompromised co-worker.

    Bob is an inconsiderate prick.

    Don’t be like Bob.

    1. Wintermute*

      He’s Goofus, or Dilbert (the original Dilbert from the WWII pilot training cartoons “don’t be a dilbert” not the corporate office comic guy).

    2. Self employed*

      It doesn’t sound like OP is immunocomprimised, just that she tends to pick up stuff.

    3. Ursula*

      If she is actually immune compromised, though, she can probably request an ADA accommodation to get her own office, or at least an office mate who won’t get her sick all the time.

  22. Annie Mouse*

    #3, I’d be so tempted to come up with something like “Well, there was that time I was lead climbing a difficult route and I back clipped a couple of times. Thought I’d be fine and just carried on. Then I fell off… let’s just say I can still hear the carabiners pinging as the rope came out.” And just leave it like that.

  23. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    OP2 – I’m going to be a bit controversial – I actually have some sympathy with the co-worker.

    I hate being off sick, I feel like I’m taking time off when I should be at work – it takes a very serious condition for me to take time off work.

    I mean, if one of my co-workers had a low immune system, I’d do my best to stay out of their way as far as possible, but I’d still feel obliged to come into work.

    1. This Daydreamer*

      Part of the problem is that you have no idea if one of your coworkers is immunocompromised, or has another issue. Maybe someone has kept his cancer diagnosis a secret and is doing chemo. Maybe someone has an autoimmune disease and then medicine she takes makes her more vulnerable. Maybe someone has an infant at home. Or a sick parent.

      Or maybe your coworkers don’t want to get sick!

      1. Alton*

        Yep. When I caught the flu at work last year, it didn’t hit me too hard. But I accidentally gave it to my mother, who has a serious health condition that makes her more susceptible to major symptoms, and she ended up in the ER. She’s better now, but I still feel guilty. I was scared she was going to die because I caught the flu at work.

      2. Looper*

        On the other hand if you actually have a problem getting sick all the time, then you need to take precautions yourself because you never know when someone is infectious (and a lot of the time they don’t know either).

      3. Specialk9*

        Right, but individuals are not responsible for a broken culture. This office definitely has one, and in the US broadly we have one.

        Ironically given that we don’t have universal healthcare – but actually I think those are linked. (‘Just lift yourself by the bootstraps’ is nonsensical advice that pretends determination can overcome germs, or poverty, or childhood lead exposure, etc. And generally the ones advising bootstraps are not affected by any of those things.)

    2. On a pale mouse*

      I get it – I currently work at a grocery store, and if I stay home I don’t get paid AND I leave my co-workers scrambling for coverage – but maybe you missed that in this case Bob has the option to work from home?

      1. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

        Good point – I didn’t take that into consideration. It’s not an option we have so I tend to forget that it seems to be quite common.

      2. Naptime Enthusiast*

        I’ve WFH for almost a week straight because I had a nasty cold complete with coughing, sneezing, and sniffling. My coworkers looked at me funny when I came back in because it was so long to be WFH for “just a cold”, but they were appreciative that I didn’t subject them all to my grossness.

        1. BadWolf*

          As someone who now works in an open workspace, thank you!!! The sounds of the after effects of snuffling/snorting/other awful post-contagious point of cold sounds drives me crazy.

      3. Yorick*

        Maybe on paper he has the ability to WFH while sick, but we don’t know that the office culture actually goes with that, and we don’t know that Bob’s job is something that can be done from home very well.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          OP # 2 actually stated the company has a strong culture of coming into work when people are sick.

        2. Earthwalker*

          This. Our office provides PTO but whenever someone takes it for illness they return to jeers of “You weren’t THAT sick, were you?” and “Heh! Day off! Must be nice!” Unplanned time off is treated as skipping work, as going AWOL. The official rule is “There is no such thing as WFH ” but if the boss offers it anyway to keep the sickie out, then when the sickie returns they’ll get lectured about how they must never do such a thing again. So I have some sympathy for Bob. If he was sick he probably wished he could stay home. An office culture that discourages unplanned time off can work against the good of both sick and healthy.

        3. LW2*

          Working from home is normal and accepted, when sick and otherwise. Bob’s job can be done just as well at home as at work.

      4. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I’ve come in sick when I worked hourly because I didn’t have paid sick time; it cost me money to stay home. (I don’t get sick often, and if it was something like pinkeye I’d never have come in. I’m talking colds.) But it doesn’t sound like Bob has that excuse.

      5. Alton*

        Yeah, it can be a difficult situation when someone can’t stay home without penalty, or don’t feel like they can. I used to have an hourly job where hours were already limited and calling in sick created major coverage issues, and I never felt as comfortable calling in sick as I would have liked.

    3. Bagpuss*

      In this case, Bob has the option to work from home. It also seems that he is not saying anything to his co-worker until the end of the day, so she can’t take extra precautions, and he is not taking any extra precautions himself to avoid spreading infection.

      If he felt he had to come in, then telling his coworker at the start of the day, then making sure he is washing his hands more frequently, using hand sanitiser, staying away from her etc would all reduce the risk of his passing on the bug, and would allow her to take extra precautions too.

      1. DArcy*

        This. Not telling a coworker you’re sick until the *end* of the day — especially in the context of this being a coworker who has repeatedly complained that you’ve gotten her sick before — kinda comes off as maliciously going out of your way to be *intentionally* rude.

    4. RedstateMotherJones*

      See my post below – I wonder if the coworker really DOES have the option to use his sick leave or WFH. IME, “really small company” often means “founder sits 3 feet away and expects you to lay down your life for The Job.

    5. MLB*

      I don’t have sympathy for Bob, he’s being a jerk after being told that she has a crap immune system and waiting until the end of the day to mention he should have stayed home. BUT, it’s really up to LW to protect herself because it’s clear he doesn’t care. I would mention it to the boss only because it’s affecting your ability to work, but ultimately it’s her responsibility to take precautions. I have a pretty good immune system because I tend to only get sick when I’m stressed out (which is rare), but I have sinus issues. Sometimes my sinuses drain so badly down the back of my throat that it gets sore, and a sore throat for me precipitates a cold/bronchitis/strep. But 9 times out of time it’s due to mild allergies and I’m unsure for a day or 2. So if I stayed home every time that happened, I’d never be in the office. Not saying that’s the case for him, but it’s possible.

    6. RUKiddingMe*

      Yeah but he waits 8+ hours to even inform them he is ill. They (all his coworkers, immunocompromised and otherwise) don’t even get the option of trying to mitigate their own exposure because he is a thoughtless prick.

    7. Elena*

      I agree with you. I’m guessing Bob isn’t sinisterly cackling very morning he wakes up with a sniffle; more likely he feels fine and the nasal stuffiness (or whatever symptom) worsens by day’s end.

      He can establish a reasonable threshold (e.g. not come in if he’s aneezing profusely). You can ask him to hand sanitize and offer the supplies to him. But forcing him into quarantine for really mild symptoms (such as a mild sore throat in the morning, random headache) is unreasonable.

      1. LW2*

        LW2 here. I am a reasonable person who long ago accepted that I get sick more often than other people due to a chronic illness and a poor immune system. I have worked in the types of jobs where you either come in sick or don’t get paid and understand the calculations that occur there and never begrudged my coworkers. That is not this situation. Bob comes in seriously ill with visible symptoms and waves it off when I or someone else asks if he should be working from home (or when someone senior to him TELLS him he should be working from home or home resting).

        1. Michaela Westen*

          He’s a jerk. Try to get moved away from him and if you can’t, get another job. :p

    8. Vauxhall Prefect*

      I just wanted to say that somebody coming in ill should do their best to stay out of the way of other people regardless of whether they know those people to have a weak immune system or not. I get that sometimes it’s a reality that ill people need to go to work, but anybody feeling ill or getting over being ill should be doing their best to avoid passing on any germs whatever the health state of people they’re dealing with. I’m sure you didn’t mean that you go around coughing and sneezing everywhere, but the focus really should be on people trying to avoid getting their colleagues sick. Not only making a point of doing that when they know somebody is compromised in some way.

      In this case maybe Bob has real options for not coming into the office and maybe he doesn’t. But he certainly has options to look after his colleagues beyond saying at the end of the day that he thinks he was too ill to be in the office.

  24. The Sociopath's Ex*

    LW1, it sounds like you’ve just learned a life lesson. Most people are harder on others than they are on themselves (a notable exception is depressed people who tend to be harder on themselves than others). It’s part of a body of research known as Attribution Theory which is fascinating to learn about. The result is that people will criticize you for doing exactly what they’re okay with doing themselves. This is so common that there’s a popular idiom that’s hundreds of years old describing this behavior: “That’s the pot calling the kettle black!”

  25. Tau*

    OP3 – wow, that is a terrible question. In practice, I’d probably stare blankly if asked this an interview. With the benefit of reading it from home with a cup of tea, I think the way I’d handle this would be to just give a work-related answer anyway. Something like “You know, I can’t think of a time outside of work that would be relevant here.” (Gentle subtext: why are you asking about my personal life in a work interview?) “However, a mistake I made at work where in retrospect I could have initially handled it better was…”

    And, you know, make note of this question as a red flag and keep an eye out for further signs of overreach/lack of boundaries/lack of work-life balance because what on earth are they even trying to achieve with that question, honestly.

  26. Hosta*

    #3 sounds like a sneaky way of getting information an interviewer shouldn’t be asking about, like marital status, children, sexuality, religion, politics….

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Oooh that could be it. That’s more malicious than I thought originally but it would make sense.

      “I never asked if Fergus was married! He mentioned it in his interview!

    2. Oxford Coma*

      Interesting take, hadn’t thought of that! Interviewing in funeral services, where you’re very up in everyone’s business, could be a field in which “culture fit” is treated as “homogenous lifestyle”. Particularly if it’s a small town.

  27. RedstateMotherJones*

    Op#2, one of my fondest memories of working at a small agency with generous personal leave was that due to the “highly collaborative” work environment I spent two months trying to take a sick day to recover from a sinus infection. I’d call in, be told to do it another day/I was needed for X meeting; the next day I’d be home for an hour, get a phone call with “just a quick question…. oh can’t you just come in so we can talk…” On and on. I wound up hospitalized and with one of the Directors blaming me for a coworker’s (on another team’s) wife’s miscarriage. It was probably my germs but… not my fault he was exposed to them. I still feel horrible anyway.
    The point is start ups tend to demand live-for-this-place devotion. And I’m sorry for your situation but I wonder how much sick leave your coworker REALLY has.

    1. Temperance*

      Holy shit. You absolutely did not cause someone else to have a miscarriage, and only a real ass would spread rumors like that.

      1. RedstateMotherJones*

        If he brought my germs home to his wife and it affected her pregnancy, then yes there’s a good chance my infection did cause the miscarriage.
        However it was extremely frustrating to spend so much time and capital trying to get a damn sick day, only to be told I MUST come in, only to have everyone else angry with me for not staying home. I got SO many angry emails about that.
        It was a no-win situation; (I myself have a crap immune system) while it was years ago I still get flack for it. I don’t know what I could’ve done differently though.

        1. KellyK*

          While it’s totally possible that your illness spread from you to your coworker to his wife, and that was what caused the miscarriage, even if that was what happened, that doesn’t mean you caused it. Your agency required you to come in with a sinus infection. That’s all on them.

        2. Canarian*

          Even if your illness was part of a chain of events that led up to the miscarriage (which honestly can’t be proven either way. Maybe the wife got ill from someone or somewhere else.) , that doesn’t mean you caused it. There’s no reason for the buck to stop at you, and not at the husband, or at the person who gave you the bacteria that caused the infection. That’s poppycock and you should put any blame out of your mind.

          This whole thing reminds me of the legal theory of “proximate cause” and the Palsgraf case. Even though we’re not determining legal liability, there just has to be a point where a rational person doesn’t consider your illness to be the cause of an injury that’s so unforeseeably removed from the potential effects of coming to work ill.

        3. Michaela Westen*

          Wow, how toxic and unfair! I could not stay in an environment like that longer than a day. You’re not still there, are you?
          That company and the people who made you come in are monsters.

    2. Oh Heck No*

      There is no damn way you “caused” someone’s miscarriage. Whoever said that to you needs a slap.

  28. eanfaer*

    Re: OP#2: I’m not a doctor, but aren’t people contagious before showing symptoms for a lot of cold/flu type illnesses? Bob could infect OP before he even knows he’s sick – and he can spread the virus even after his symptoms clear. OP would be better served figuring out how to reduce exposure to germs in general than trying to change Bob’s behavior.

    1. misspiggy*

      Depends on the illness, often you’re only infectious after showing symptoms.

      Either way, Bob is definitely being a jerk and so his boss should be called in to influence his behaviour.

  29. Orfeo*

    #1 – I think not unethical but perhaps unwise seems about right. I can see how it might be a problem — not a major problem, but something to keep an eye on, in the larger context of learning how to supervise students when you feel more like their peer. You supervise several unpaid students, one of whom has been selected as your ‘right hand’, who gets assigned the most interesting tasks, who you’ve had detailed conversations with about her life and finances, and for whom you’re doing a favour for that involves money and access to your home and a degree of emotional involvement. That can easily cause problems within a group. Even if all those decisions are reasonable and justifiable individually, other students might reasonably wonder whether opportunities are determined by how much they have in common with you. Even if it works great for the student concerned, with no conflicts or sense of obligations, there can be wider implications for the group dynamic.

    1. Cassie the First*

      I agree with this. Optics are important in academia, and to other students, it may look like favoritism that the RA gets an opportunity to make money, that was not available to the other students. Maybe other students also need money, they just didn’t talk to the OP about it.

      In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for university employees to personally hire students for odd jobs, babysitting, dog-walking, etc, but things can get messy if you are in a position of power or authority (even if the OP doesn’t supervise the RA). The OP dog-sitting for the postdoc is slightly different, I think – the way I’m reading it, the OP is not a student but a staff member? The postdoc asked the OP to dog-sit, the OP had the choice to say yes or no, and agreed to do it as a favor. If the OP is still a student, then it would be somewhat problematic if they felt they could not decline.

      I remember one time where a staff member tried to recruit her professor’s students to help a visiting prof. move some furniture into his apartment. The professor (the advisor to the students as well as the visiting prof) put a stop to that by gently pointing out the liability issues if a student got injured and recommending instead that the visitor hire a moving company. I don’t doubt that most students would probably help out (since the staffer asked and all), but the advisor thought it was a bad idea and stepped in.

  30. Not Today Satan*

    OP4–I’m on the board of a nonprofit and we recently were hiring for a role. We had narrowed it down to two finalists, and with the intention of not stringing along the others, we told them that we were moving forward with other candidates. Then we had the final interviews, and both finalists ended up rejecting the job. For various reasons now none of the other candidates are available either, so we have to start all over again.

    I totally get wanting to be transparent, but if you’d consider this candidate if something went wrong with the others, I would keep her in the running.

    1. bonkerballs*

      Yeah, I’ve usually seen that the top two or so runners up in a hiring phase aren’t told they’re going with someone else until that someone else has accepted the job. And more than once that’s been a good thing seeing as negotiations with the top choice fell through for whatever reason.

  31. New Job So Much Better*

    OP 2– Try increasing your Vitamin D-3. It works as an anti-viral and really keeps me from catching everyone’s colds. Read up on it.

  32. Sarah*

    OP #3: Just stopping by to say “beware.” If these people are asking about your personal life in the interview, this may be symptomatic of a workplace with poor professional boundaries.

  33. Audiophile*

    OP #2 says there’s a culture of working when sick. That caught my eye, especially when you look at Bob’s habit of working sick. Is Bob still being a jerk? Yes. However, I’ve worked several places that offer paid time off or actual sick time, and there was still a culture of working when sick if you were on death’s door.
    I try to stay home when I don’t feel well, but that is difficult when there is no back up support for my role.

    1. Dan*

      I had a job that offered paid sick time (one week) but managers were supposed to dock you on your review for using it. Dock as in decrease the raise that you earned.

      Never mind that this was a job paying $10-$12/hr, and your review was done on a scale of 1-5, and that number became your raise. Fine, but most of the time, raises were capped at 3%. So 33 cent raise and you want to dock me for using sick time? Glass bowls.

  34. Delta Delta*

    #2 – The problem isn’t 100% Bob, the problem is partly the management and the culture allowing/promoting/requiring this kind of behavior. If Bob can work from home on days he isn’t feeling well (but possibly well enough to be productive), Bob should feel like he’s able to do that. If management side-eyes employees’ requests to use their benefits, they aren’t really benefits at all. It’s not clear if the management also doesn’t ever take sick days or occasionally work from home. If they’re also all showing up sick, it’s sending a clear message to the rest of the team that everyone powers through illness and shows up. Not helpful for Bob or anyone else who might really need a sick day but somehow gets the message that isn’t allowed.

    I worked with a “I never take days off” martyr once. It was unnecessary and irritating, and created a weirdness around other people feeling like they could take time off as needed, or even for vacation.

  35. ExceptionToTheRule*

    OP #1 – I had a couple of professors who would do this type of thing with undergrads – dog sitting/house sitting/baby sitting… It can easily read as favoritism by other students (fairly or not); especially those who aren’t available for those types of gigs because they’re working outside jobs. It colored our opinions of both the professors and the students.

    I’m not saying what you’re doing is wrong or bad, just providing the possible perspective of other students. The way you’ve explained it seems extremely above board.

  36. S Stout*

    LW2’s problem is that Bob doesn’t say anything until he’s been there all day. Is there any way LW2 can ask for a meeting with her manager and Bob? “If Bob tells me he’s coming down with something (don’t get into whether or not he thinks he’s contagious!) I would like to work from home.”

  37. Oh Heck No*

    OP#2: Sick Guy

    There may be something going on that you don’t know about. You say that this is your first job out of college and that you have “excellent” sick leave. It may not actually be “excellent” for someone who has been in the workforce for a decade…and he may have burned his sick days through an FMLA stint, since some companies require you to unload all sick/personal before FMLA (unpaid) kicks in.

    1. AnonymousInfinity*

      I was thinking the same thing. The Junior Coordinator of Teapot Handles fresh out of school might have great sick time and can work from home. The Director of Teapot Relations who’s been working for ten years might actually not be able to work from home. (Also, I thought my first few jobs after college had GREAT benefits… Until I actually got a job with great benefits.)

      My lower rung coworkers can take all the sick time they need and work from home. I can’t. My job is doable only from the office, and too many sick days count against my annual evaluation (because that means I’ve cancelled on paying clients). No calling in for a scratchy throat and a headache.

    2. LW2*

      It is truly excellent. 20 days of sick leave. And not to get into Bob’s personal life, but I know for a fact that he has not had an FMLA stint.

      1. AnonymousInfinity*

        Well, two things. You said “sick leave” in your letter and you just said “sick leave” again here. Sick leave is when you need to take a lot of days off work at once, for, say, a broken pelvis or having a baby (at my work, we use sick leave for having a baby – fun). It’s not the same as FMLA, and you don’t use sick leave for a “cold/whatever.” “Sick time” is when you need a day or two off for a migraine or a fever or sinus infection. If you’re actually referring to 20 days of sick time, then are those 20 days of sick time ON TOP OF vacation time, or is it 20 days of PTO no matter if you’re sick or on a plane to Aruba? If it’s the latter, unfortunately, that’s not great, especially if you’re 10 years into a professional career. If it’s 20 days of sick time plus #-weeks vacation, wow, cool, sign me up.

        1. Aisling*

          Different companies use different terms. In my company, sick leave is indeed what you use when you have a cold/whatever, need to go home because of a migraine, have a doctor’s appointment, or break a leg. FMLA comes in to play when you’re going to be out for multiple weeks/months. And yes, I have separate vacation time that I use for vacations, not sickness.

          1. AnonymousInfinity*

            Huh. Maybe it’s my state. Everywhere I’ve worked in the last 15 years, we’ve had dedicated sick leave for 3+ days off for illness (with a medical certification required) that MUST be used before FMLA leave will be approved, and sick time for 1-2 days for routine colds/whatevers. Completely different. I would love to have vacation and sick time be a separate pot – lucky you! I hope the OP has the same set up.

  38. Imaginary Number*

    OP #2: I’m not sure I agree with AAM here. The only reason is that you said he comes in every one to two MONTHS with an illness where you think he should have stayed home. If we’re legitimately talking about a new illness every time (i.e. he’s getting sick 6-12 times a year) then there might be something else going on. Saying “I should have stayed home” could refer to staying home for their own health, not because they’re contagious. I’m by no means a medical expert but every 1-2 months seems like a ridiculous amount. It’s possible he has a different medical condition that gives him the symptoms of a cold when it’s something else.

    1. LilySparrow*

      But if it’s not a cold/stomach bug, why does OP catch it?

      If it’s a serious medical condition that *is contagious*, all the more reason to keep away from co-workers. Indeed, I’d say Bob would have a moral obligation to inform OP of whatever he’d transmitted to her so she could get properly treated.

      1. fposte*

        To be rigorous, we don’t actually know for sure that OP catches it from Bob, and neither does the OP. Incubation periods vary, and Bob may well have caught it from somebody else in the office.

      2. Imaginary Number*

        It’s almost impossible to tell who got you sick unless it’s something relatively rare. We’re not talking about hantavirus here. There’s no way to tell for sure who gave you a cold. Bob might sit near OP and have the loudest sneezes, but if it is actually a cold there has to be other people around who also has it.

        1. LouiseM*

          Exactly. Everyone becomes an armchair epidemiologist when it comes to catching colds. It’s ridiculous.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      But it seems to actually be contagious, since OP catches it.

      (When my son was in middle school I knew he wasn’t faking the frequent Friday illnesses, because a couple of days later I’d get the exact same symptoms. Over the course of a week he’d get more tired, succumb to the latest virus, and be ill on Friday.)

    3. SpaceNovice*

      It’s also possible he has young kids or is around someone who has contact with young kids or other populations at higher risk of illness. My brother and SIL rarely got sick until they had kids, and now they catch everything from them. Even older kids can pass stuff around pretty easily. Schools are great for disease transmission.

  39. Adjunct Gal*

    OP#1 – I was hired by my professor/supervisor I was a GA for to watch over her cats when she was traveling. It was a nice bit of extra cash when we were broke, as I was not allowed contractually to find outside work. I see no real issues here, but I do agree with Alison to see if it looks symptomatic of a larger issue.

  40. Glomarization, Esq.*

    OP#1 should look at their employee handbook, institutional policies, the rules & regs that govern the research assistants, and any other documents that determine the terms of empoloyment/assistantship at the lab.

    If the letter writer isn’t doing something that goes against the rules, it could be that the research assistant may be going afoul of some rule. I wouldn’t want to see an unpaid research assistant lose their place over something like this.

  41. LQ*

    I feel like I can understand where the interviewer in #3 might be coming from. They may have previously asked that as a work question and gotten a lot of answers that were I’ve always handled mistakes, that I barely make, at work with perfect professionalism! (A variant of the “I’m a perfectionist.” as a bs answer to a biggest flaw kind of question.) So instead of going, ok these people aren’t really reflective enough to give a good answer, they changed the question to be not about work so they’d get more useful answers. It seems like a good idea gone awry. They should have stuck to the work version and weeded out the people who claim to have no flaws.

    (I really like the work version of this question, it shows a lot about someone, and as an interviewee tells me a lot about the company culture based on the interviewers response to what I have to say. People are generally fine when things go their way, but what do they look like when things don’t?)

  42. epi*

    Re. Letter 1, former undergrad RA and coordinator, current grad RA here.

    It’s generally not unethical to hire students for students for odd jobs, and is pretty common. IMO it’s especially ok in your case because the goal here is to help her gain experience for other paid with she wants to do– pretty appropriate for a supervisor to do.

    There are two caveats here. One, it would be even better if you could help this student find paid work as an RA, which is better for her career than setting her up in dog walking which she may only want to do for a couple of years. Keep an eye out for who is hiring hourly RAs and make a point to aim students at those opportunities first if possible. You’ll also be doing your colleagues a huge favor by helping them find reliable undergrads. Also check your assumptions about whether undergrads can be paid for their work with you. If the students get class credit, the study may or may not be paying anything for their involvement, and it’s possible they could pay if they made it a priority. Some grant mechanisms are supposed to lead to training and mentorship for students, so it can even look good. Or what about paying for hourly extra help, and giving your unpaid undergrads first refusal?

    Second, it can look like favoritism to other RAs. When people are this new to professional workplaces, it can be hard to perceive what makes another employee such a star, so even if you are being fair, it all appears random to a total newbie. Make sure you are being really explicit about your expectations, and if appropriate, check in with other RAs about how they are doing and what they want this research experience to lead to. You may find easy ways to make them feel valued too, such as referring them to paid research opportunities you hear about.

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      Your point about favoritism is the same thing I was going to say, Epi. I babysat and did a few odd jobs for professors (ranging from: “please organize these files on my computer from this semester into folders by class and month” to “please, someone, rake the mountain of leaves in my lawn, I will pay you anything!” to housesitting for weeks at a time rent-free during professors’ extended research trips.)

      The difference I’m seeing between that and this is: the professor made the opportunity “available” to all students by either announcing it in class or putting up a flyer. Even if the professor probably wouldn’t have hired just anyone for housesitting, for example, they still opened up the opportunity to a wider pool of candidates than their favorite student.

      It still happens all the time, but it at least makes the optics better if you open up the opportunity to all the RAs. Maybe someone else is just as strapped for cash but doesn’t feel comfortable talking about it.

      Plus, as Epi said, since she is such a star, what she really merits is more paid RA opportunities!

  43. McWhadden*

    What the heck is going on with Bob that he has infectious illness once a month or every other month?!?! That’s a lot of colds/flus/stomach bugs.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      It sounds like Bob and OP2 both have crappy immune systems and are probably passing germs back and forth to each other.

    2. Overeducated*

      For me, the small child in day care brings some kind of virus home just about monthly, and I get a milder version of it more than half the time. I tend to stay home from work to take care of the kid when she’s really miserable, and then wind up having to take my runny nose and cough into work later in the week. Sucks for everyone but what can you do….

      1. Mom MD*

        This whole outrage over a coworker coming to work with mild cold symptoms is ridiculous. As long as they cover their cough and wash their hands. People are exposed to these viruses every single day and tend to blame coworkers if they pick one up. It could have easily have been at the grocery store. Complaining to manager and meddling with another coworker’s sick time is bizarre and vindictive. A minor cold is not the plague.

        1. LouiseM*

          Thank you. I’m amazed at the lack of compassion and hysteria in some of these comments. I don’t usually like the phrase “first world problems,” but these comments read like the work of bored people who want something to be upset about.

      2. McWhadden*

        I considered that he could have young kids but you’d think that would be mentioned. At least in my office we give a break to parents. They have to save their sick time (even if it’s generous.)

      1. McWhadden*

        That’s true. He may not even know he has allergies and just feels a general “sickness.” I sit in a small wing with four offices. And all of us are sneezing, sniffling, wheezing, aching messes right about now. You’d think it was the tuberculosis wing.

        But it’s just allergies and coincidence that we’re all grouped together.

      2. Kate 2*

        Agree. I have a few different NONCONTAGIOUS sinus/ear/throat conditions that present like a cold or allergies. Even though I have worked with the same 12 people for years and tell them over and over again, they still give me dirty looks when I come in “sick” and treat me like I have the plague.

        1. AnonymousInfinity Goes Down the Rabbit Hole*

          I wake up nearly every morning with a scratchy throat, red eyes, a running nose, sneezing, and body aches. 95% of the time, it’s not a cold. There are days I feel like crud all day long at work – just a general malaise that never materializes into anything contagious. On really bad mornings, I take Dayquil or Mucinex. I call it sinusitis and so does my doctor, but we’re starting to think it’s an allergy to my dog (I’ll leave the house before he does). By the standards set by a lot of the responses to OP’s letter, I’m going to have to start reporting to each of my coworkers about my symptoms and general health and asking if they’d like me to go home, lest I be a mustache-twirling, power-tripping, jerkbag villain seeking to infect all who dare infringe thine promotion and office space. I just… What happened here?

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I used to get that too! I’ve learned some things that help:
            Taking an antihistamine before bed I wake up feeling much better!
            An air purifier (or at this time of year, air conditioner) to clear the allergens, especially in the bedroom.
            Close windows 1-2 hours before bed and let the air be cleaned. Use exhaust fans too if you have them.
            See an allergist – shots help a lot!
            I thought it was my lot in life, but learning these things and moving to a well-maintained building with air conditioning has made a big improvement! I hope these work for you too!

            1. AnonymousInfinity*

              Thanks!! This is great advice! (I really hope it’s not a dog thing. The dog ain’t going anywhere. :))

      3. Imaginary Number*

        Back when I was in college there was a grad student who frequented the same computer lab as me. He was constantly sniffing, coughing, and blowing his nose. I was grossed out and complained to my friend … who told me he had a medical condition that made that a constant state of being for him (and he was definitely not contagious.) I felt so awful for giving him the stink-eye about it.

        1. LouiseM*

          Seriously? You should have felt awful for giving him the stink eye even if it WAS a cold. That’s a shamefully rude way to treat someone whose only sin is having a minor cold and going out in public. Wow.

  44. Speaking of inappropriately personal interview questions...*

    I’ve mentioned this before in comments threads here, but it was so bad it’s worth bringing up again:

    I once sat on an interview panel for student scholarships where one of the interviewers told a long story about a guy who fought in Vietnam and woke up in a body bag during the Tet Offensive. He went on to ask, “If you were drafted, would you serve your country?”

    Keep in mind, this was an academic scholarship, and there was nothing military or service-based about it…

  45. Case of the Mondays*

    #3, I’d go with a boring bland answer. I say that with the benefit of thinking about my answer in a low pressure environment. In an interview, I’m sure I’d draw a blank. I think I could honestly answer that I am not good about keeping up my personal network after moving away and that I should have made more of an effort to retain my friendships from prior jobs/states.

    Or, I wasted too much of my life on Facebook so I quit it.

    1. Overeducated*

      Oh, this is a good one. It’s true for me too, that is one of my major personal regrets, but it’s also not dramatic or related to anything that would reveal too much about your private life. Filing that away….

    2. Traveling Teacher*

      Yup, the Facebook one is accurate for me (wasting too much time and even happiness, then giving up).

      That example even has the added benefit of showing personal restraint by giving it up!

    3. smoke tree*

      I would go with something semi-work related, if necessary. I’d probably discuss some of the lessons learned from selling at a craft fair for the first time (eg. do not provide free food–it causes people to lose their minds). But I’d rather try to just redirect to a work answer.

  46. LilySparrow*

    Wow. The only thing I could think of that would be appropriate for #3 might be something general, like:

    “I’ve always enjoyed joking around with my friends and making snappy comebacks. I learned the hard way that not everyone appreciates that kind of humor. (Insert anecdote of unintentionally hurting a friend’s feelings). I was really awkward and kind of defensive when they told me how they felt about it, and I wish I’d been a better listener. I’m glad they spoke up, though, because it taught me to slow down and be careful about putting people first.”

  47. GoggleEyes*

    #3…. That’s an odd way of going about it, but maybe the interviewer was driving at something my boss (also a funeral director) was trying to suss out at mine. The work is really variable and can be like customer service on steroids, but with the added twist that even when things all go right (spoiler alert: they don’t), the dead are still dead and you can’t fix that. That can wear at someone. My boss also emphasized that the ability to roll with things, to calmly smooth it over without a look of “Oh shit,” was necessary, because people don’t really know what to expect and usually won’t notice if you don’t call their attention to a flub.

    It wasn’t a good question, but the intent was probably to find out your ability to cope with one of those two things. But funeral home interviews aren’t like any others I’ve had. Especially if it’s a small place (like mine) where you won’t “specialize,” but will be a listener, a medical professional, a public speaker, a kind of first responder coming to a home in the middle of the night to pick up a body, etc.

  48. Mom MD*

    If you go outside in society, to a grocery store, gas station, bank, hair salon, you are exposed to cold viruses. He may not be infecting you. Most people go to work with minor cold symptoms. Hand washing and covering your mouth are enough precautions. It’s his decision whether or not to stay home. If everyone with a minor cold stayed home for the course, society would shut down.

    1. Yorick*

      I agree with this so much. You simply cannot take off work every time you have the sniffles, or your job wouldn’t get done and your boss would start to care that you’re missing so much work. Or maybe you can, but if all your coworkers did the same the business wouldn’t function. If you’re taking a sick day whenever you have mild cold symptoms, you may be doing it at the expense of your coworkers.

      1. LBK*

        The OP makes it very clear that working from home is an option so this whole argument is moot.

        1. a1*

          And the OP also makes it clear that “there is a real culture of coming to work sick” so actually it’s not.

        2. Yorick*

          OP makes it clear that the company offers generous sick leave and WFH, but also gives us information that means people probably can’t really use much of it without looking bad.

    2. Lora*

      He is, however, the one person she shares the most airborne droplets with over the course of the day, therefore the most likely to have generated the Minimal Infectious Dose in her presence. Yes, you might pick up a few viruses on a 15-minute subway ride, but that’s nothing compared to being showered in someone’s sneezing and coughing in close quarters for eight hours a day. The saving grace of many of the short exposures to antigens we encounter in our environments is that they’re typically far below the minimal infectious dose, but nevertheless sufficient to keep our immune systems on point.

      There are numerous modern, developed countries where people do in fact take days off when they merely have a sniffle, and many even get to go to a doctor to see how sick they actually are. Some of them have economies more productive per worker than the United States. In Germany, they can use sick days for Stressvermeiden – if you’re feeling too stressed out at work, your doctor can give you a note to go stay at a health spa and play tennis or whatever for a week. I assure you that France, Iceland, Sweden, the UK, Denmark and Austria are not desolate wastelands with nobody to staff the cash registers or make the donuts.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Since you brought up Sweden, I feel compelled to comment that in Sweden you typically don’t get a doctor’s note if you are well enough to work from home. For certain jobs and illnesses, you can get a doctor’s note if there’s a risk to infect others, but it’s not common for office work.

  49. Radical Edward*

    OP #2: Hi! Immunocompromised person here. Your coworker is the actual worst. Bronchial asthma plus severe plant/animal/environmental allergies which trigger said asthma mean that even a regular cold knocks me out flat for days and necessitates the regular use of inhalers for two weeks. No echinacea or plant-based anything for me! I get my flu shot like my life depends on it, because it does. The last time I caught ‘the crud that was going around’, I was working a zero hour contract. I had to go in to work after just four days off. It became a full-blown upper respiratory infection that lingered for a month and required a course of antibiotics. I had no choice but to work through half of it, which made recovering even harder, and I definitely passed the crud on to another colleague. I felt so frustrated, ashamed, and furious about having to choose earning my rent over protecting my health and everyone else’s.

    I have zero empathy for someone who has a sick leave policy and flexible work arrangement but still chooses to put you in this position, workplace culture be damned. That’s exactly why in Japan some companies and schools have done a 180 and enacted policies requiring people to get tested for flu if they get sick, and not allow them into the office until the test comes back negative. They know people can’t be trusted to decide for themselves!

    I used to let people make me feel weak or lazy for not being able to ‘work through it’. Now that I am older and still just one sinus infection away from pneumonia or worse, with nobody else looking out for me at home, I take no chances and make no apologies. I am, however, very up front about it in job interviews. It’s the only way for me to be taken seriously, and get leverage that I can use if I need it later. This definitely sounds like a conversation for your boss. This affects your work /and/ your quality of life.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Just because sick leave policy and/or a flexible work arrangement is offered at work does not mean people are penalized for using it. OP said the company has a real culture of people coming to work when they are slightly sick. Bob is older and may have seen people in the past be negatively impacted when they use a sick day or work from home when they get a fever/cold/flu. Many places offer certain benefits but then penalize people for using those benefits. It is not so simple as saying the company offers xyz benefits so use them because it could end up hurting your career and promotion/raise chances.

      1. LW2*

        Working from home is common and accepted at our job, whether for illness or other reasons. Most people work from home at least one day a week, some more than that.

    2. Kate 2*

      And as Risha pointed out below, if he is getting sick so frequently, his immune system is probably as crappy as OP’s.

  50. Risha*

    #2 – I have some sympathy for Bob, based on the work culture comment. (Not that it makes it okay! Especially without even warning you!) If he’s getting sick with something communicable every couple of months, he almost certainly has a crappy immune system like both the OP and myself. At a lot of places, getting sick a lot jeopardizes your career, even when you stay well within your company’s sick time policies and your available time off, and often working from home on those days won’t negate that since it’s at heart a perception problem.

    I had a particularly bad year for migraines last year, and by the end of it I was both working through the pain half the day and still getting negative comments from many of the higher ups every time I worked from home, regardless of reason, no matter how justified. And I never got anywhere close to running out of PTO at any point.

    1. Gotham Bus Company*

      Bob KNOWINGLY goes to work while sick as a DELIBERATE EFFORT to infect others.

      He gets no “sympathy” for using his germs as a weapon.

  51. Sciencer*

    Just want to chime in about the dog-walking letter. I personally feel that it’s okay to offer one-off money-making opportunities to students, like pet-sitting, house-sitting, dog-walking, etc., as long as the pay is at market rate & there is lots of advance notice & a clear message of “it’s okay to say no.” Last-minute requests are super not okay, and adding pressure/asking again if the students seem uninterested is super not okay. I’ve come to this feeling after various experiences on both sides of the table:

    – as an undergrad who got paid $20/night plus a generous gift card to dog & house sit for a prof a few times. Dog was fun, prof had HBO, I got to live without roommates for a while, and I was closer to campus. Awesome!!

    – as a post doc who felt pressured to watch/feed my supervisor’s cats for a week (how can I say no when he’s leaving the next morning and has no one else lined up?). I don’t like cats and had to work the visits around taking care of my dog, who couldn’t come with me because cats. Also I didn’t get paid, just had a blanket offer to help myself to beer in the fridge/hang out and enjoy the house, which I didn’t want to do because I needed to get home and walk my dog. Not awesome, and I said no to every request/offer after that until he stopped asking.

    – as an outside observer seeing grad students feel pressured to say yes to pet-sitting their advisors’ pets for shitty pay, like $20/week (multiple advisors have done this), and/or when the pets are difficult or unpleasant, and/or when the advisor’s house is far from campus.

    Basically, if you’re in the position to offer these kinds of gigs to students, you should treat it as “I have a great market of trustworthy people and won’t have to look as hard to find someone” rather than “I have a great market of people I can underpay because they don’t do this for a living.” Consider the added complications if your house is far from campus & students would have to drive (and may not have a campus parking permit). As far as boundaries between students and profs/advisors/supervisors, I don’t feel that this type of thing necessarily blurs that in a bad way, as long as it’s done respectfully and ethically. But if you’re on the fence it’s probably better to just hop on NextDoor or ask around for a non-student sitter.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a good example of how “a pet to cuddle!” and “a house nicer than my apartment!” can be great benefits or not remotely tempting at different times.

  52. MF*

    #5: If you have the time, reciprocate by buying the receptionist coffee or lunch now and then. If that’s not possible (say, because, you’re often too busy to run out for food/coffee), then considering giving her a generous “thank you” gift once in a while, like a giftcard to her favorite place for lunch.

  53. Alex the Alchemist*

    OP #1- I’m a seminary student who actually just started dog walking for one of my professors last week as a summer gig, and I really love it! Here are the things that helped make me feel comfortable with it:
    1. She pays me market rate for an average dog-walker.
    2. We did a trial week with the dog to make sure that it fits into my schedule and to give the dog and me time to bond.
    3. She was up-front about the fact that her dog is old (13), he has arthritis, and can be kind of stubborn and it’s okay to nudge him along when we need to get back and he’s sniffing everything.
    To me, so long as you’re up-front and make it clear that there’s no hard feelings if things don’t work out, I think you should be fine.

  54. Kate 2*

    One thing I’d like to point out. OP in the sick coworker letter mentioned a culture of coming in sick. It might be that Coworker knows, with his decade of experience, that you won’t get promoted, might even get fired, for not “being dedicated” and coming in sick.

    We’ve seen it in many other offices, they say they have a policy, like lunchtime gym classes, but when you try to use it you get in a lot of trouble. Even if it is only 1 supervisor, that’s enough to make someone’s life difficult.

  55. Greg*

    OP #4: I think what Alison recommends is fine, but my former boss taught me a very important lesson about hiring: Evaluate each candidate as a “hire/no-hire” on their own merits before you start comparing them to other candidates. So saying the candidate who followed up is your No. 3 choice is irrelevant. The real question is, if the other two candidates dropped out, would you be OK moving forward with No. 3? If so, then you absolutely want to keep her in a holding pattern until you know what’s going on with your top two. But if not — and your letter indicates you haven’t really considered the question — the nice thing to do would be to let her know now. And then, if your top two do fall through, repost the job and start over.

    Some of this is about being nice, but honestly, the more important issue is that you don’t want to fall into the trap of “default hiring”. Hiring is important, and you want to take the time to get it right so that you’re enthusiastic about your new employee.

    1. Yorick*

      But right now they’re at the interview stage, so candidate 3 likely passed the “interview/no interview” test.

      1. Greg*

        Fair enough. And it may be that the OP isn’t sure yet what she thinks of No. 3. My point is, if there was a reason she lost out to the top two, OP should at least give a thought as to what that reason was, and whether that would give her pause about hiring her if it came down to it. I think too often hiring managers jump to the comparison stage, without first answering the question, “Would I want to hire this person in a vacuum?”

  56. Oliver Twist*


    If Bob was sick today, he was almost certainly contagious yesterday. And asking folks to be out the entire time they are contagious is not reasonable.
    People don’t know when they are going to be sick. And don’t know until symptoms hit. I don’t take the day off whenever I wake up with sniffles or have an upset stomach, although things certainly could get worse during the day. And I also don’t feel obligated to announce whatever ailments I have to my co-workers before I determine whether it’s serious or not.
    If you are so prone to illness that you can’t be in the office with someone sick, then you need to take charge and take precautions for your own health. Because you never know when someone is actually spreading germs.
    Especially if as you yourself say, there is a culture in your office of coming in sick.

  57. Shinobi*

    re: Paying for Coffee

    You certainly don’t want to insist overmuch, but you could keep track of days when it might be appropriate to show her some appreciation, like Christmas, admin professionals day, etc and get her a gift card to the coffee shop?

    Some chains also let you order and pay by app, or you could even get a refillable gift card for the two of you to share throughout the year.

    I would also not be comfortable with other people buying me coffee all the time, but when it’s just a dollar or two it seems like such a hassle to keep track of the money, so I understand her impulse. A gift card would keep you from having to exchange annoyingly tiny amounts of cash on a regular basis.

  58. Tinlizi*

    OP 3: “I used to over share about my personal life at work, but have learned to keep work and private life separate and not answer personal questions in the workplace.”

  59. MRK*

    1. Possibly look into how you are phrasing things. “Oh I have Sansa (one of the unpaid assistants) walk my dog on her days off/when she’s not at the lab. It’s been great!” sounds like you may not understand professional lines/may be taking advantage of what you could direct a student to do. “Sansa decided she wants to start a side business doing dog walking and pet care, so I agreed to be her first customer. It’s been great!” helps clear up a few things, plus it’s a good little shill for Sansa.

    5. I’m gonna echo gift card to the shop/see if it’s a coffee chain with a preorder app

  60. A*

    #2 – I can’t help but wonder if Bob is like me and if some folks are a little harsh? I have a lot of allergies and I often can’t tell if the sniffle/mildly sore throat I wake up with is just some combo of allergies + dry throat or a genuine illness until the end of the day, when it gets worse, not better. This happens like, almost every day in the winter, but I’m actually sick less than once a month.

  61. LW2*

    LW2 here. Reading the comments has been a real trip. It’s fascinating what people are reading that isn’t there.

    Thank you to the people who have been kind and empathetic and to those who have made suggestions.

    I’ll try to hit the major points I remember from the comments:
    -Working from home is normal and acceptable at our job and neither my nor Bob’s job requires being in office. Most people in our office work from home at least one day a week.
    -I am not complaining about mild colds, I am talking about visibly symptomatic, sometimes highly contagious illnesses.
    -I do all of the very many things doctors recommend to prevent colds. I accept that I have a chronic illness and a poor immune system and it is my lot in life to get sick more than the average bear. I do everything in my power to avoid it, including some things that are a real imposition but I do anyway.
    -Yes, the culture is partly to blame, but that only explains not taking a sick day. There is no penalty for working from home when sick or otherwise.
    -We get 20 sick days. Truly excellent.
    -I truly don’t believe Bob is being malicious. He is not a mean person and we generally get on well. I don’t know or want to speculate what’s behind this pattern, but I do not think he is trying to get me or others sick.

    1. Vauxhall Prefect*

      Bob sounds a bit like my mum. She’s always gotten me and my sister and my dad to rest when sick, but almost always refuses to follow any of the same good advice when sick herself. She isn’t malicious about it or anything, just can’t seem to view herself as the person who is ill.

      I don’t have a lot of advice to offer beyond Alison’s scripts above and hope those work out for you! I’m somebody else who catches almost every bug out on offer and having spent most of my career working at large companies it’s a constant battle to try to stay reasonably healthy. I’m on a break between jobs at the moment and it’s been eye opening how much healthier I am without being exposed to the office environment (and specifically ill people within it all day).

    2. blink14*

      LW#2 – see if you can talk to your boss about this. I also have a chronic illness and chronic sinus infections, both of which make any kind of respiratory infection much worse for me than the average person. My boss is very aware of my health issues, and is always encouraging me to take sick time if I need it (our university has extremely generous sick time). We had a new person join our team about a year ago who has had 3-4 serious infections/stomach bugs since they started, and would come in very obviously sick, and my boss flat out told them to go home every time. The last time this happened, I was getting over pneumonia, and my boss was couldn’t believe this person came in sick, and finally hammered home the idea that coming into work that sick was not necessary or appreciated by myself or my boss, who also has a young child. It’s really helped that my boss has set very definitive guidelines for the use of sick time, or working from home while sick.

      1. blink14*

        And to reiterate, we have extremely generous sick time. You begin with 20+ days as a new hire, and at the 2 year mark are up to 40+ days, and then it raises again (I think at 10 years) to 60+ days. Unless there’s something that absolutely cannot be missed, all of the department heads that I know highly encourage using sick time if needed, and the university promotes the sick time as a huge benefit. So to be very clearly ill, it’s frowned upon to come in to the office unless there’s a crisis.

    3. Michaela Westen*

      Ok, I’ll stop saying he’s a jerk, but I think you should get moved away from him. He should have his own space with a door so he spreads fewer germs.
      As a person with bad parents who has had some therapy and a lot of thought about such things, there may be something in Bob’s background that taught him he has to be a martyr, or doesn’t deserve care when he’s sick. Maybe therapy could help him get past this. Maybe his boss could suggest it.
      Good luck! :)

    4. myswtghst*

      Thanks for coming back and filling in some of the details. Based on the context you’ve given, I definitely think it makes sense for you to talk to your boss (or HR) about the situation, because it seems pretty clear that you (and your coworkers) aren’t getting through to Bob about what an issue this is, and it seems unlikely he’s going to change a habit that seems to be pretty ingrained.

      It might be worthwhile to think about some possible solutions you could suggest to your boss, and to frame this as minimizing disruptions to the team based on a pattern you’re seeing. So, saying something like “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but it’s become a bit of a pattern for Bob to come in when he’s visibly ill, even though he has the option to work from home. Unfortunately, when this happens, I almost always get sick and have to take time off as a result. I’ve tried talking to Bob about this, since we’re in such close quarters, but he continues to come in while sick. I’m hoping that I can work with you to come up with another way to tackle this, whether that means you encouraging Bob to WFH when he’s ill, or potentially finding a way to rearrange our seating so I’m less likely to be exposed to his germs.”

      Sorry you’re dealing with this, and sorry if some of my comments came off as less than empathetic – I think it’s easy to view letters here through the lens of our own experiences, and as someone who works in an environment where we get a decent amount of PTO and have the option to WFH, but also can be subtly punished for taking advantage of those benefits, I probably got too hung up on the “culture of coming to work sick”. Best of luck with finding a solution!

  62. Lily*

    Per coffee:

    I often buy my boss coffee. He is gracious and grateful. He isn’t always in his office so I text him “coffee on your desk.” he did, one day, drop a very generous gift card on my desk to the local coffee joint, and left a note: “I got coffee. It’s on your desk.”

  63. Agent Blue*

    I feel like the judgement on Bob the-constantly-sick-coworker is too strong. First, he’s either sick nuch more often than usual (once a month!) ir he is actually not very sick. Either way, even a flexible policy may not allow for 12 or more sick days a year.
    Second, I think many people overestimate others’ ability to use work from home. Even where working from home is allowed by a workplace, it isn’t an arrangement that works well for every employee. For employees with small children at home, no internet, or those who have a hard time staying focused by themselves, it may not be a good or viable option. Bob has explained that he is making an effort to keep his germs to himself and the LW may need to talk to her manager if more accomodation is needed.

  64. Amber Duncan*

    #4: Just from reading this site, I can say that as a job applicant, I’m MUCH happier to hear that the hiring process is taking longer than to hear nothing back at all.

    Of course, also from reading this site, I don’t ever expect to hear back in general, AND I’ve started adding an automatic three extra weeks to any timeline I am given, and that seems to be working pretty well for me.

Comments are closed.