can I tell sick coworkers to go home?

A reader writes:

For background: I am voluntarily working from the office (I really hate WFH) but could go home at any time — most of my coworkers are still fully remote. My company has a vaccine mandate and masks are required for anyone on-site.

My question is: have office/societal norms changed enough with the pandemic that I can ask a colleague who seems sick to go home?

The coworker who inspired this question has been at the company a little less time than me and is at the same level of seniority, but does the answer change if either of those aren’t the case?

Is the answer just to go home myself for the afternoon, since he’s unlikely to be in tomorrow? What if it were someone who comes in every day (there are a handful of us in that category)?

Pre-Covid, my answer would have been: If you’re the person’s manager, you should tell them to go home. If you’re not the person’s manager, you should tread more lightly since you need to be aware their manager might have pressured or even ordered them to come in despite their symptoms (a common theme in my mail), or they might not be able to afford to go home if they don’t have paid sick leave.

Covid changes that. It’s one thing to come into work because you need to get paid even if you might expose your coworkers to a cold (still not good but at least understandable); it’s totally different to risk exposing them to a serious disease.

In your situation, I’d do three things:

1. Nudge the coworker to go home. “I’m worried about the rest of us getting what you have — especially given Covid. Can you work from home today?” In many offices you could say this even if the person is more senior than you, but you’ve got to know the power dynamics of your particular culture.

2. Go home yourself. Since you can work from home, this is the most reliable bet for keeping yourself safe if someone in your office appears to be sick. If you weren’t already cleared to do that and needed your manager’s okay, it should be fine to say to your boss, “I’m not comfortable being here while Bob seems obviously sick. Okay for me to work the rest of the day from home?”

3. Join with other coworkers to press your company to enforce stricter rules about people staying home if they have symptoms of illness.

And because I know it will come up in the comment section: Yes, vaccination has changed the calculus somewhat — but not completely, especially since people may have immunocompromised loved ones or kids under 5 who still can’t be vaccinated and who they don’t want to infect.

{ 271 comments… read them below }

  1. Wendy*

    Where I work at we do not have sick days, and our jobs are not conducive for work from home

    So, if I do not go to work, I do not get paid

    Unless I have Covid symptoms or cannot physically work, I go to work

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’m sorry. I hate that your workplace doesn’t provide sick leave for you. That’s a really tough situation to be in.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah, I feel like COVID doesn’t actually change the answer to this question as much as we might assume. If your workplace does not offer generous sick leave and/or pressures staff to not take what little leave you do offer, then there’s not actually very much people can do about coworkers or even themselves coming to work sick. I don’t want people to come to work sick either, but if a literal plague hasn’t moved the dial terribly much on sick leave in a lot of workplaces, I’m not sure what will.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          Exactly, if LW is free to work from home whenever they want, and most of the company is still working from home as a rule (both things stated to be true in the letter), it stands to reason that sick coworker could work from home even if they don’t have or have used up their sick leave.

          I feel for people who can’t WFH, and/or don’t have sick leave, but that’s clearly not the situation here. Alison’s advice is fine under the circumstances.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Maybe the actual plague would do it. :P
        Nah, probably not. It would be like, “Fergus, stop scratching your buboes. Okay, next on our meeting agenda…”

        1. Salymander*

          This is hilarious!!

          I agree that a lot of workplaces are terrible about sick leave, plague or no plague. My boss at OldJob screamed at me over the phone when I called in sick (pre-covid) and threatened to fire me if I didn’t come in immediately. I was very young, and a whole hell of a lot less surly and cantankerous than I am now, so I went to work. I had some kind of terrible infection that led to pneumonia, and Mean Boss got sick, along with her husband, her 3 kids, most of my coworkers, and about half of the guys doing renovations on the building we worked in. I was like a plague rat infecting everyone. I felt terrible about it, but I also think that Mean Boss was a terrible employer and a huge jerk. I would have been living in my car and eating dandelions and air if I lost my job at short notice at that time in my life. I would love to say that we all learned a valuable lesson from that, but life is not a public service announcement. Pretty sure that Mean Boss is still making people sick and miserable now, decades later. Her children all moved very far away, and rarely visit, so I bet I wasn’t the only one she was awful to.

          1. Anonymous4*

            Once upon a time I had a terrible boss who was probably Mean Boss’s cousin. But there were a few times when reality came knocking and Terrible Boss actually opened the door. I’m thinking of the time I came down with an awful stomach bug and I called in to tell her I was sick; she got angry and told me that I HAD BETTER COME IN, did I hear her??

            I said, “All right, if I absolutely have to come in, I will — ” She said, “Good!” and I added, “and I’ll probably throw up on your desk, because I’m throwing up a lot. I think it might be food poisoning.”

            She did change her mind . . .

            1. FlyingAce*

              I had a boss from hell who tried to make me go to work with a nasty eye infection. It was a tiny, smoke-filled office (Boss From Hell was a chain smoker) and I had a customer facing role. I argued that I couldn’t see properly without my contacts, and her solution was “oh, we’ll just have you not use the computer.” *rolls eyes* I ended up telling her I’d see what I could do, then turned off my phone and went back to sleep.

      2. Tired social worker*

        Exactly. I’m not too happy with the idea that any illness that is not COVID is fair game to pass to your coworkers. Like, I had really been hoping that COVID would force us to change our ENTIRE approach to workplace safety, rather than just carving out a little bubble of decent policy for the Plague.

        1. Zephy*

          You would think. The university I work for developed remote-work and remote-class protocols in response to COVID and yanked them away the absolute first second the CDC said they could. The infrastructure is all still there, it was literally a butts-in-seats-mentality decision, and they will still allow people to work or attend class remotely if and only if they, specifically, have a positive COVID test, and only for five days at a time, at that. Somebody at home has COVID? Tough. Dealing with a non-COVID health situation? Sorry boutcha. Dealing with a non-health, non-COVID situation that could be ameliorated by being allowed to work remotely? GFY, get that butt in your seat or quit.

          1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

            Same here — also at a university, in the US.
            Individual supervisors/unit directors *may* be more generous/lenient, but it’s not university-wide policy, it depends on individual managers’ choosing to…selectively interpret… policy to advocate for their teams, and having the institutional capital to make that stick..

            My boss and grandboss are pretty decent and arranged for rotating wfh days at least for the people who work in shared office space (so that on any given day there would be at least some butts in chairs to appease the upper administration). But my friend in the next unit has a boss who comes to work obviously, obtrusively ill themself and insists their staff do likewise, unless they have a doctor’s note saying they can’t come in. And then they won’t be paid for working but must use leave, even if their work is capable of being done remotely; if they run out of sick leave or can’t get the doctor’s note/FMLA, they’ll be fired for absenteeism.

        2. JustAnotherKate*

          THANK YOU! I literally had a coworker come back from the holidays and text me: “a family member had the flu when I saw him over Christmas, but if my Covid test comes back negative I’ll be in the office tomorrow.” NOOOOOO! Please do not give us ANY nasty disease, thanks! “Not Covid” doesn’t mean “not serious” or “not gross to come in and germ the place up.”

        3. KT*

          Yes, I don’t like it either. I don’t care if it’s a cold, covid or Ebola, it sucks to come into work and infect others with an illness. I understand things are different and not all countries offer paid sick leave but this is something that people should be demanding because it’s an unacceptable practise.

          In December 2019, I was sat next to someone who came in with the flu. I ended up with flu and pneumonia, received hospital treatment, and it took 8 months to fully recover. And I was a fit and healthy triathlete! Nobody knows the health situations of their coworkers and their families so assuming everyone around them will be ok isn’t right. Companies really need to do better by their employees with paid sick leave and an understanding that nobody works if they’re sick.

    3. Duke of Mildew*

      Where you work, they literally do not care about the health of the employees (or customers, if the job is customer-facing)

    4. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Which is all the more reason for those of us who do have sick days and/or are able to work from home to do so if we’re feeling sick — not only does it protect those with children too young to be vaccinated and those with medical issues who can’t get the vaccine, it also helps reduce the likelihood of us spreading it to those who are in similar situations as you <3

      1. Darsynia*

        Not to mention, the ‘one time free tests per household’ thing doesn’t actually cover my whole household (5 people), and covid home tests are still $12 each. Are covid tests still free after an exposure at CVS? It’s thankfully been a while since I’ve needed to know that.

        Anyway, my material point here is, if someone goes to work sick and gives a cold to their coworkers, those coworkers either need to hope they can schedule a test at a pharmacy somewhere outside of work hours, use one of the four free tests, or pay $12 to find out it wasn’t covid after all. Which could be mitigated if people are able to stay home. I know it’s not fair, but people will absolutely resent their coworkers for costing them time and money and stress if it’s avoidable!

        1. Zephy*

          That’s if you’ve even gotten your four freebies yet. Mine haven’t even shipped, and also there are four people in my household so only one of those is even really mine.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              Yeah, at my job we tell people to disregard the rapid tests since they aren’t super accurate. PCR is the best way to tell. Which is still annoying!

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Your insurance should now reimburse you for at-home tests (up to $12 per test, up to 8 tests per person per month). Depending on your insurance situation this might or might not be helpful – and even if you have coverage it might be a pain in the neck to get that reimbursement – but it’s at least something.

          Which is not to say that it’s okay for people to come in sick and get their coworkers sick because now it’s free!

          1. (Not So) New Here*

            In addition, some local and/or state agencies provide free tests. In DC, for example, you can pick them up at many libraries and, until recently, it doesn’t seem like many residents were aware of the program. So, also check with your local officials – they may have additional options.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              I find this so interesting. The free-at-the-library tests were gone in my county (yes, the whole county, every library that had any) less than 2 hours after they were made available. Over a week later they still weren’t sure if/when there’d be more.

          2. Amethystmoon*

            Reimbursement means you still have to have the $12 up front to pay, which some people might not if they have lots of bills or it’s a rent week, or both.

            1. exlibrarianator*

              This won’t be true for everyone, but some insurance plans have “preferred” retailers for Covid tests where you can purchase the Covid test at the pharmacy using your health insurance card and it gets billed directly to them (you don’t have to pay up front and file for reimbursement). As with anything, I think the insurance companies are being coy about promoting this information in the hopes that people don’t realize it’s an option (counting on the fact that a good percentage of people will loose track of their receipts or forget to file for reimbursements) My insurance company had a “coming soon” page for this info until two weeks ago, and I expect some are still spinning their wheels hoping that folks will forget that it’s supposed to be an option. I’m among the people for whom regular “covid expenses” (good quality masks, home tests, etc) have taken a meaningful bite out of what used to be my monthly disposable income, so I definitely waited for this to be an option before I took advantage of my insurance’s home test coverage.

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        Post-Covid, we could also continue wearing masks if we have cold symptoms, to prevent passing it on. Probably people won’t, but we could.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I’m definitely already doing this. Our mask requirements have been entirely lifted and there are a few circumstances where I don’t wear a mask indoors any more (basically only when it matters for my baby to see my face) but if I have a cold, even when I’ve tested negative for covid I keep my mask on. I wish other people would too, then I might get fewer colds…

    5. Xena*

      I’d like to add that “seems sick” is not the same as “is sick”, and definitely not the same “is contagious”. Asking anyone who looks like they’re not feeling well to go home sounds like a path to some harassment lawsuits from people with chronic illnesses/disabilities.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        This is a good point.

        I have asthma and allergies. Even with my medications, some days I am sneezy and wheezy. It isn’t COVID and it isn’t contagious.

      2. UKgreen*


        I have a team member who is allergic to EVERYTHING. She constantly has runny eyes, a tickly nose and voice that makes her sound like she’s making sexy phone calls. She is not ill, nor is she contagious. I’d be pretty miffed if people tried to shame her into going home (or asked her to wear a mask in the office) because of her chronic allergies.

        Yes, Covid is terrible, but not every sniffle is Covid.

        1. Alice*

          I hope that your allergy sufferer doesn’t get an asymptomatic case of COVID, sneeze out her germs into the air that you and the rest of your team is breathing, and give it to everyone. Let’s hope there are no immunocompromised people or caretakers of small children in your workplace.
          Wearing a mask is not a scarlet letter and it is not a punishment. I am amazed at how many people are “miffed” at being asked to accept a minor inconvenience especially if they are running around sneezing all the time!

        2. Anne Elliot*

          True, but unfortunately every sniffle COULD BE Covid, and there’s no way for people to tell the difference. If you know that your coworker’s problem is allergies, that’s one thing, but if other people have to interact with her and DON’T know that, it’s reasonable for them to be displeased to find someone with cold/flu/covid symptoms in their environment. I realize this places the onus on the allergy sufferers to repeatedly announce their condition (“I have allergies!” “Pardon my allergies!” “Darn these allergies!”) and that’s not really fair either, but I for one am not going to give a person the benefit of the doubt on this.

          I had a coworker who had the option to work from home who came in with cold symptoms and I directly told him: “I don’t think you should be working from the office if you have cold symptoms. If you feel you need to do that, I need you to stay away from me. If we need to communicate, please contact me by email or by phone.” And then I went into my office and shut the door and didn’t come back out until it was time to go home. Our mutual manager was well-aware of how I felt (based on my behavior) but as far as I’m aware didn’t say a thing to either of us. I’m still mostly not talking to that guy because I consider coming in to be such an a-hole move.

        3. Peaks*

          My breakthrough Delta infection started with a clear runny nose, not at all dissimilar from allergies. Wearing a mask is reasonable if someone coughs or sneezes a lot no matter the reason, as those are delivery mechanisms for sharing germs. Allergy sufferers also do get colds, COVID, etc.

    6. new*

      But Covid symptoms can mimic other illnesses. Sorry about the lack of sick pay, that is horrible. Wearing masks helps.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        Yeah! What are people thinking, worrying about people sneezing all over when a million people in our country have died?!

        Definitely nothing to be concerned about at all.


    7. Ally McBeal*

      I remember those days, and I’m sorry you work for a company behaving in ways that truly should be illegal. Companies should be required to offer a minimum number of paid sick days.

    8. Jareth*

      +1 to this — covid may have changed the calculus for some people, but most of the labor force in the US still has laughably minimal sick day provisions

  2. Katherine Vigneras*

    Pre-Covid, one day a fellow employee – senior to me but on another team was unwell with audible symptoms. I went to his manager: “Harriet, Ozzie is throwing up in his office – do you think he might be more comfortable at home?” They had a talk that I didn’t hear and the end result was he went home. (We’re in an office and it was a pretty cut and dried Ozzie-is-unwell situation, but I sure hope I don’t ever work somewhere where this can’t be handled in that way.)

    1. Katherine Vigneras*

      “More comfortable” is of course a euphemism for “is grossing me out and needs to go TF home” lol

          1. allathian*

            Just imagining the sound made *me* have sympathy heaves. I don’t think I have emetophobia, exactly, but I’ve really disliked the idea of vomiting ever since I vomited and sneezed at the same time, and ended up spewing vomit through my nose as well. Stomach acids aren’t meant to go in the nose, so it burned like hell.

        1. Anonymous4*

          I was told that there are “cleaners” and there are “joiners.” I’m a “joiner.” You’re throwing up? I’ll be doing it too, because I have a weak stomach and the sound or the smell (or, God help me, both) will have me tossing my cookies in no time.

    2. Mother of Corgis*

      I had the opposite situation unfortunately (working in a Home Improvement store, not an office). I was throwing up, too sick to even stand, and my manager kept trying to persuade me to just tough it out for a couple hours until the next shift started. It took me, plus my entire department banding together, telling him I was too sick to work to finally be allowed to clock out and leave.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        I worked at a big-box home improvement store years ago. I was sick. Never-ending coughing, trouble-breathing, cold-sweats, shivering, weak-muscles *SICK*.

        My managers — it’s retail so there was a posse of them — all made noises about how my expected promotion to Team Lead wouldn’t go through if I went home on any of the five consecutive days that I toughed it out, or the next series of five after only one day off, and that I’d need to get a doctor’s note for every single day I was out [yes, they wanted me to go to a doctor’s office and pay money out of pocket every single day].

        I had pneumonia.

        The coughing led to pleurisy, and the amount of nose-blowing (and re-build-up of “gunk”) ate a hole in my septum. I’m now the person with the party trick of being able to bend a Q-tip into an arc, and then push it into one nostril and out the other.

        That promotion to Team Lead never came through, of course.

        It’s 15 years later and I have a physical deformity because my managers wouldn’t let me just go home and get better.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          The Q-tip trick isn’t normal? /*s (I can do that too…)

          I’m famous (infamous?) for doing the bronchitis plus pleurisy thing, so you definitely have my sympathy as I cannot imagine that pneumonia plus pleurisy is any less painful.

          Someone at work was “politely questioning” if I knew the building wide mask mandate had been lifted. I replied that I’m truly enjoying NOT having bronchitis and multiple courses of nasty antibiotics this winter. Historically by now I’d have had it at least three times since October.

      2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        The first summer I was home from college I was throwing up and decided to call out sick to my job cleaning hotel rooms, and my own mother told me I needed to go in or I would surely lose my job. I didn’t think (and still don’t) that my manager at that job was particularly hard-edged, I think it was mom’s anxiety talking, and the fact that it was a rough time economically for the whole family.

        At any rate she guilted me into going in. After that I never spent another summer at home. And changing the culture that makes that a reasonable thing for a person’s anxiety to latch onto has been a major theme in the rest of my life.

        At least hotel rooms have toilets.

    3. PurplePeopleEater*

      One of my worst days at work was when I was suddenly unwell and threw up. But as a public transit commuter, I just could not get on a bus right away afterwards. I hid out until my stomach settled enough and then began the precarious bus ride, train ride, and long walk home.

      1. Elenna*

        Ewww. I really appreciate that one time at a previous job when I was feeling nauseous and casually mentioned that I was taking public transit home and the company nurse, as well as my manager, were immediately like “Ha, no, we’re calling you a taxi” (which the company paid for). And that was only nausea, I hadn’t actually thrown up!

      2. Ally McBeal*

        I hated, HATED those days. I usually bit the bullet and paid for a cab/Lyft home so I wouldn’t have to suffer on public transit. I remember, once, dashing off the train and puking into a public trashcan, then getting back on the train to continue my journey home.

    4. Tegan*

      That’s a very diplomatic way of handling it, I’m glad his manager was receptive and reasonable. Side note – your username makes me happy! Those two books are my very favorite L’Engle books, and re-reading them always feels like coming back to old friends.

    5. FrenchCusser*

      I had the flu (this was a loooong time ago, fortunately) and my boss called me and told me I needed a doctor’s excuse to miss work. This was not the policy and no one else had ever been required to have one.

      I argued back, but she insisted. I pointed out I did not have a car, and she still insisted.

      So I WALKED to the doctor’s office, was told what I already knew, got the written excuse, then WALKED to my workplace (which was a hospital!) and gave her the written excuse.

      I’m not embarrassed to say that I spit on it first.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        What a jerk. Why do people act like doctor’s notes mean anything? You had the flu. You knew you had the flu. Your doctor knew you had the flu and couldn’t do anything about it. So you got to WALK to the office, breathe on people, get breathed on, and then walk to give her the note that confirmed “Hey this person is sick, gross.”

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            That too! Pay money to get told “Yup, you have this ailment that I cannot help you with. Rest and fluids.”

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          In the US military if you are sick you have to go to Sick Call. It’s usually the first hour the clinic is open (Air Force), or they open it early on Army posts for those feeling too lousy to exercise with everyone else. You have the docs confirm you’re sick, give you needed meds, put you on quarters (essentially quarantine – which is vital if you live in the barracks or dorms), etc. (We can get basic benadryl, Motrin, etc. from the pharmacy for free.) I had never thought of it in a Plague-bearing capacity until now, honestly. It’s just what we did. It’s how you knew we weren’t “malingering” or slacking. And honestly, if we were sick enough for the hassle of sick call we probably needed the medicines they provided or needed to know how long we were contagious so we didn’t spread it to the rest of the unit.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Good for you.
        I got swine flu back in the day. Here we need a note if you’re out more than three days. I couldn’t get a doctor’s appointment on time because mine was away on holiday, and finally persuaded an emergency doctor to stop by. She called at about 8pm saying please could she come the next day after all the pharmacies would all be closed. I explained about the sick note and she promised to back-date it to that day.
        Next day, the boss is on the phone demanding my sick note even though we have 48hours in which to send it, so I wasn’t yet late. I was trying to explain (getting interrupted all the time by the boss) when the doorbell rang, it was the doctor so I hung up.
        She agreed that I had the flu and wrote out the backdated sick note, giving me a full week off, then remarked that I looked very rough. She took my blood pressure and asked whether I was under stress, so I mentioned the boss’s phone call.
        She promptly ripped up the sick note and gave me two weeks off instead.

    1. Three Seagrass*

      Seconding this! I’ve had several coworkers continue to come into the office sick because they tested negative for covid. But covid isn’t the only thing to worry about!

      I then got a bad bad bad respiratory illness from one of those coworkers that knocked me down for 2 full weeks. And yes it wasn’t covid (confirmed by multiple tests) but it. Was. Awful. At least with covid, I would have had 3 vaccines to give me some protection.

      Stay home with any illness!

      1. Tired social worker*

        Seriously. I’m so disappointed with how stubbornly we have refused to apply the lessons from the COVID era to “normal” life in any lasting or meaningful way.

      2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        Not to pile on here, but yeah, the allergy comment is a little unfair. If my partner was to stay home every time she had an allergy attack, she *might* make it to work once a week.

      3. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, adenovirus ripped through my office one winter, and I was knocked out for about nine days total. It was rough. It caused a LOT of absences.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      That’s what I said pre-COVID! A bunch of coworkers would sneeze loudly and uncovered in their cubes near me but claim “oh it’s just allergies!”… like that should make me feel that there’s no chance they have something which I don’t.

      1. Jennifer*

        Caveat that they should be covering their noses, but as someone who used to constantly sneeze for over a month every spring when I lived somewhere else, I could not have stayed home until I stopped sneezing .

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I’ve been sneezing for weeks now, because cedar pollen is awful right now. I do this annually. I can’t stay home (well, NOW I can) due to that.

        2. Never Boring*

          I have non-seasonal allergies. I take Claritin every morning, among other precautions, and would still totally not be able to hold down a job if I had to go home every time I sneezed or had nasal congestion.

        1. Anonymous4*

          My building’s air-handling system circulates and re-circulates (and re-circulates and re-circulates) dust and pollen, and when it’s pollen season, I’m sneezing and coughing and there’s nothing effective I can do about it.

          I’m as sorry as I can be; I know it’s annoying, and I know it’s distasteful to have to listen to all that, but antihistamines and I don’t get along, and I just run out of options.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I hear you. For me, the big culprit is birch. There are some antihistamines I can take in true emergencies, but all of them either make me so sleepy that I have to take them about 30 minutes before I go to bed, because if I take them in the morning it’s like having acute fatigue syndrome. Another allergy medicine I tried made me really aggressive and I got enraged over the smallest thing. Like my husband dropped a knife on the kitchen floor by accident, and I was ready to start throwing plates at him when I’d normally just shrug it off. Then my reaction scared me so much that I started bawling like a baby. I’m glad my son wasn’t at home when I tried that medicine, because I wouldn’t have wanted him to see me like that. It felt like being a teenager again with the mood swings, only worse. My allergies aren’t very severe, just lots of sneezing and a runny nose. Ordinarily I’d put up with that rather than the side effects of my allergy medicines, but who knows this year…

            1. DJ Abbott*

              My allergist just prescribed a nasal spray I think is pretty new, that dries out the runny nose. It works really well. I don’t usually have much trouble with a runny nose, but this past year was horrible. It’s called Ibratropium Bromide.
              Caveats: I only take it in the morning because more than that dries my sinuses out too much and makes them hurt. About once a week I don’t take it for a day to let things clear out.

          2. Alice*

            Can you get the building management to fix the filters in the ventilation system? Honestly this sounds like a nightmare. If it’s recirculating dust and pollen without filtering, it’s also recirculating exhaled air without filtering. Ask your building manager to look at ASHRAE standards. Good luck.

      2. Unicorn Parade*

        I have severe allergies, year round. Any change in temp sets them off, including walking into a heated office from the cold outside. Every time I spend more than an hour in my office, the dust sets me off and I start sneezing. It’s even worse when the ventilation system is running. I also have the traditional seasonal allergies. I take meds, but they aren’t perfect. I wear a mask in the office on days I have to go in, and only take it off on my office (fun fact, breathing my own moist lung air also sets off my allergies!). I am still a living person, and I need to earn a living. What are people like me supposed to do, commit suicide? Live homeless on the streets? Please stop acting like allergies = COVID and stop demonizing people who also have legitimate health issues just because they make you uncomfortable. I already feel like crap from my allergies, now I feel like a criminal when I sneeze in public because the world is covered in dust.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          That’s a little bit of a leap, though? Nobody is asking you to kill yourself or become homeless.
          I also have allergies, and before I started allergy shots, I was also a frequent sneezer, so you have my sympathy (side note–it sounds like you might also have non-allergic rhinitis, which allergy meds don’t treat, so I have extra sympathy for you). But it’s also true that sometimes people with allergies will chalk up any sneezing or allergy symptoms to “just allergies.” I personally know 3 people who had Covid at work and were walking around unmasked and unworried, assuring everyone that it was “just allergies”–one person was infected twice and did it both times! It’s understandable and reasonable for people to feel apprehensive about people claiming their symptoms are only allergies without any kind of testing to back that up, especially given that most of us can tell story after story of being around people who had Covid or the flu and claimed they weren’t sick. It’s also understandable for people to want their coworkers who *can* work from home to do so when they are displaying symptoms of infectious respiratory illnesses unless they know for a fact that it’s actually just allergies.

          For people like you who have to go in, that’s a different story. But surely you can understand that if someone is choosing to go in to the office while displaying symptoms of an infectious disease, people are going to not feel super comfortable with that?

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Allergy shots are really expensive if your insurance a. does not cover them, b. only partially covers them and then c. the copay is huge, at least where I work and our policy sucks.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              ????? I wasn’t saying that anyone should be getting allergy shots? I said that because of them I’m no longer a constant sneezing mess all the time, but I used to be and thus I could sympathize with Unicorn Parade. I’m rally not sure where you’re getting me saying anything more than that, but if my comment reads that way, I’ll clarify here that that’s not what I was saying.

              I’m sorry about your insurance policy’s poor coverage. I’m very lucky that I pay a very small amount for mine. Without my insurance, I definitely couldn’t afford them.

          2. Peaks*

            Our very first COVID death in the workplace (national, in-person essential services) was someone who initially wrote it off as allergies. Yes there are lots of reasons allergy sufferers can’t stay home every time they sneeze and no reasonable person thinks that’s a solution. But masks make it less likely that that sneeze is a germ projectile. I wish we’d stop treating masks like a scarlet letter.

            1. BethDH*

              I’m in a workplace that still masks any time you are in a space that is shared with others. Appropriate masks (meaning you can’t do cloth-only) are required, and we test weekly paid for by the org. I’m masking without complaint, but it’s causing major outbreaks of my chronic pruritis (itching that leaves me with open sores) and I’ve been getting a lot more headaches, I’m assuming because I can’t sip liquids through the day. It also makes it really hard to have sensitive meetings with students because emoting care/empathy is that much harder.
              Are those less important than Covid? Absolutely, which is why I’m doing it. But there are reasons not to want to wear masks all the time, it’s not just the shaming, and it feels disingenuous that people keep saying this.

        2. Michelle*

          I also have allergies and most of them are not seasonal. I sniffle through every single day, 24/365. I don’t sneeze but my nose is constantly running, I really do sniffle non-stop and my throat is sore every single morning from all night nasal drippage.

          I also have the problem that certain foods make me cough. A nice wet yucky sounding cough. To be specific, certain foods cause my sinuses to go into overdrive, down from the nose into the back of my throat, and sniffling doesn’t stop the flood from reaching my bronchial tubes. Frustrating part is I can’t figure out the foods. Some restaurant meals are consistent, but most of the time it’s hacking one meal, fine the next and then next after that, and then coughing again. Best guess is maybe certain seasoning. But people around me simply hear me coughing with no context. It’s so hard to politely cough these days.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            I joke that I have seasonal allergies for every season (except that the unfunny part is….its not really a joke…I get no reprieves as what I’m allergic to in one season simply rolls into what I’m allergic to in the next season).

            I do show signs of oral allergy syndrome myself. Its nice to know I’m not actually allergic to those foods (because I do have a few food allergies for which I carry epi pens), but avoiding them in the forms that my immune system mistakes them for isn’t a bad solution. Mileage varies. Lots of sympathy for you!

          2. Aitch Arr*

            I have this too, turns out I have a ‘reactive airway’ that’s not related to allergies or a specific food. It’s great. /s

          3. it's-a-me*

            Hello, me! Same, especially the coughing after meals.

            And drinking water exacerbates it too, I have to drink something with flavour in it, even if it’s just lemon juice or something like that, idk what it is about plain water but I’ll be hacking up phlegm in no time.

            I’ve also developed an entirely different cough as a result of blood pressure medication, so that’s also fun. Especially since it seems to invariably happen on the bus…

      3. quill*

        On the other hand, people who have seasonal allergies usually can’t afford to take weeks or months off because the pollen hates them.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Exactly. And it’s not just allergies either… there are an awful lot of conditions that can make someone visibly ill, but which are not contagious. There are also plenty of diseases with symptoms that can last far beyond the point where someone is infectious.

          There’s a delicate balance between getting people who have communicable diseases to stay home while they’re contagious vs unfairly penalizing people who have chronic health problems.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      This. I always used to wonder why we didn’t wear masks when we were sick like they do in many Asian countries. Until COVID happened, and I realized the US is one of the most discourteous societies on earth.

      When I go back to work, I’m keeping masks handy and will wear one if I must work with even the sniffles. I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me. I’ll also encourage any coworkers to do the same and give them a mask if they need one.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yep. Colds, flu, and allergies for me. If I’m, out driving and the pollen starts to get to me, I’ll mask up even if I’m alone in the car. It’s not some “virtue signaling” thing like some anti-mask people claim, it’s literally keeping pollen out of my nose so I can drive safely. Also, sometimes I can’t tell the difference between the start of a cold and a brutal allergy day. A good mask makes that difference unimportant for others.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yuuuup. Once covid is dealt with, I’ll still be masking during cold and flu season!

      2. Salymander*

        I have had very little trouble with illness since people started making and distancing. I have asthma, and I used to get really sick every winter, to the point of being bedridden and unable to really function. I don’t like the way a mask fogs my glasses up, but who cares about that when it means that I don’t have to spend 3-4 months of every year coughing uncontrollably? The benefits of masking far outweigh any minor irritation.

        1. Michelle*

          Someone told me that if you wash your glasses with dish soap and then let them air dry, they won’t fog.

          I wear bandanna style masks. With those my glasses never fog up.

          1. Ally McBeal*

            I imagine the lens protectant sold at diving/scuba shops would also be helpful. I don’t think the bandanna style masks are CDC-recommended – I distinctly remember them coming out against the gaiter-style masks in the early weeks of the pandemic.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          I have s cold now for the first time in teo years – longest I’ve ever gone without one.
          Rain-x for plastic helped some with my glasses last winter.

      3. starsaphire*

        My take on it: I’ve spent nearly two years now, making all these cool nerdy masks, with all these gorgeous fabrics, and sewing in all the doohickeys like nose wires and pockets for higher-grade filters and so on and so on… finding thematic fabrics for every possible holiday season… why should I just toss them in a drawer and forget about them?

        I am going out happily and proudly in my Star Whatever masks and my Favorite Book Series masks at the least possible excuse for as long as I can. (And saving some $$$ on upper lip waxing.)

        1. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

          Glad I’m not the only one! I spent time and money making these masks, I’m using them until they fall apart ;)

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Me too! Plus, the ones I’ve made are better made than the commercial stuff. Mine have nose wires, filter pockets, adjustable elastic, and a non-woven inner layer. Plus, I get to enjoy all the cool fabrics, including custom ones ( rocks)

      4. MissBaudelaire*

        The masks did help a bit during the height of allergy season for me.

        Also I like muttering snarky things under my breath, and the mask ensures no one can see my mouth move.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say this. If you have something that’s probably contagious and can easily work from home, *for the love of all that is holy,* please do so. Whatever is making you feel crappy, I DON’T WANT IT. In the type of circumstances where WFH is super common, there’s not many good reasons to come in while sick.

    5. Claire W*

      Exactly this! I had a manager in an old job tell me how she’d much rather be in the office when she had the flu than be at home having to look after the kids… like maybe that’s true but I have a crappy immune system and I don’t want your flu!! And you sit opposite me!

      It should never have been acceptable to knowingly go into the office unwell unless (as others have mentioned) you can’t afford not to due to poor sick leave policies.

  3. Nynaeve*

    Unfortunately, every where I have ever worked, Supervisors, Managers, and above have never been allowed to even suggest to a report that they need to go home if they are unwell pre-COVID. Even now, in my office, if you are vaccinated, you get a pass on any and all cold-like symptoms that may be COVID related. If you are not vaccinated, even the mildest of cough, fever, or nausea is enough for you to fail to clear the app that tells you if you are allowed on site that day, provided employees are being truthful. But, if the app let you in, unless something changes mid-day, supervisors still cannot bar someone from working their regular schedule.

    1. doreen*

      At my last job, pre-Covid , supervisors and managers weren’t able to suggest that a report go home sick either. But that was no doubt due to my “special” coworkers* who would have insisted that since they were told to go home they shouldn’t have had to use any of their generous sick leave.

      * And no, it wasn’t a few bad apples – probably half the staff would have tried this.

    2. quill*

      Those questionnaires are always tricky. If I have managed to anger my joints and let the questionnaire know, I end up having a ten minute talk with my boss, if I don’t let the questionnaire know and it gets worse, I have a ten minute talk with my boss about no, I look terrible because everytime I move my foot I can feel it in my skull, it is definitely not covid related because I’ve had this problem for over a decade.

  4. Jessica*

    Another aspect of this is that sometimes people have symptoms that aren’t due to a contagious illness, which is super awkward and I sympathize with all parties. I don’t want to have to explain to everyone in the office what’s really wrong with me and reassure them about it, and I don’t want to have to wonder if you’re lying about your “allergies” or if your noncontagious symptoms might be masking other symptoms.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      It is definitely awkward. The cold makes my nose run like crazy, so I’m always coming inside blowing my nose and explaining that I’m not sick. On the other hand, I’ve definitely had the person sitting next to me at work tell me “It’s just allergies” and then turn out to be quite ill. It’s just another way in which covid has made me want to spend time only with those I trust to tell me the truth about these things, and sadly that doesn’t always include coworkers.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        It’s not always lying. They really think it’s allergies. I’ve had times when I thought I had allergies and it turned out to be illness.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          See, when it’s allergies, a mask helps you. If it’s a cold/flu? A mask helps others.

          Years ago (pre-covid) I was sure I was having a massive allergy attack. I wore an N95 mask to reduce the dust and pollen I was breathing in. It seemed to help. It turned out that it was also a massive cold, but the mask I wore helped keep it from spreading to others.

    2. Smithy*

      Thank you for bringing this up. As someone with allergies and asthma, COVID has been a real “is it/isn’t it” for a while. However, regular sneezing and coughing up phlegm really are symptoms of my allergies even when controlled relatively well.

      Putting aside the pressures faced by those without sick leave and with managers who do not accommodate it, I think it’s also worth balancing if the request is for those with allergies to be fulltime remote if there’s any sneezing or coughing. Not to say the OP is referencing coworkers with symptoms like that, but it’s important to be mindful of it.

      1. Misslucy21*

        Oh, yes, this. I have allergies, asthma, and chronic sinusitis. I play the “is it Covid, or just my malfunctioning body?” game every third day. Fortunately, I am working at home most of the time, so it’s less of a concern with coworkers. And I am about the strictest about wearing my mask of anyone in the office, so that tends to help.

    3. Dutchie*

      I caught COVID almost two years ago. Since then I will regularly have a horrible cough. I do self tests twice a week, but I cannot always explain to everyone I meet (in passing, when working in a large space) that my cough is just a symptom of long haul covid and NOT a sign I have just been infected and I will now pass it on to you.

      It is the worst.

      1. Eliza*

        Yeah, I’ve got a permanent cough due to damage from a childhood bout of pneumonia. It sucked a lot even before Covid, and it’s obviously worse for me and everybody around me now. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, but if I had to go out in public regularly I’m not sure what I’d do.

    4. dresscode*

      I was coming to say exactly this. I have Cystic Fibrosis. Well before the pandemic (all my life, really) I have been coughing frequently all day long. When I worked at my small office, I told my coworkers so they knew I wasn’t contagious and because I take my health seriously, they began to monitor themselves better about coming in sick. I now work in a new office in a department of one but in a more open area. I have told my boss but I’m leery of oversharing/undersharing about my health with other coworkers.

      I don’t want people to think I’m coming in sick (when I’m actually sick I definitely stay home!) but I’ve already fielded several passing, “man, that’s some cough!” and “Still got that cough, huh?” I’ve never really figured out how much to share, when, and with whom.

      1. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

        It does suck for people who have chronic or recurring non-contagious health issues. I’d like to think that if we ever did manage to normalise staying home if you’re contagious, that would help – if it was the norm for people not to go to work sick, hopefully people wouldn’t think, “ew, take your germs home,” they’d think, “oh, I guess they know they’re not contagious.” But we have a hell of a long way to go before that happens.

    5. PT*

      I have bad allergies, in particular, a dust allergy. The number of times I’ve picked up a clean mask, put it on, and five minutes later realize the mask got full of dust since I last cleaned it, and now I will be coughing and sneezing and wheezing until I can swap it out with a different mask…

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Ouch. Maybe get nice “mask bags” to put them in when you pull them out of the wash? (We literally store ours in a closed drawer because our house gets dusty when the trains go by and it’s an old Victorian.

    6. Xena*

      Oh gosh. I have a pattern where I will catch a relatively mild cough/cold and then continue hacking from post-nasal drip for months. It’s been a while since it happened (knock on wood) but when it does happen I legit sound like I’m dying for weeks and months at a time. I’m not contagious when it happens (my siblings/family never caught anything from me while I was in the coughing stage).

      I have no idea how I’d handle it if it happened now, when I’m expected to be in the office. “No, not actually dying, not contagious, sorry?”

  5. Momma Bear*

    Our WFH/Sick policy was reiterated by HR – if you are showing signs of illness, go home/stay home. I think it helped that it came down from on high vs each manager making their own comments. Unfortunately this is also spring pollen season for a lot of people. We are required to wear masks (and the office provides good ones) outside of a private office. That helps mitigate spread of a lot of things, but again the policy should be clear. If it was stated once but is being ignored, ask HR (or your boss) to state it again.

    I have yet to have a coworker so sick they were throwing up in the office, but we did used to have a senior manager who would bring in things like bronchitis pre-covid. Upside of a good “please stay home” policy is that fewer people do that.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I remember once at Toxic OldExjob when I had a trip planned for Turkey Day and my manager showed up sick as a dog. Coughing, feverish, etc. It was month-end and other people could have helped. I volunteered to help also with what I could, but no one took me up on it.

      I felt bad for him but also was like, Go home, dumb-ass; I can’t afford to cancel my flight!

  6. Lea*

    Even pre Covid we could get away with asking an obviously sick person to stay far away or encouraging them to go home, but it really depends on office dynamics. If they don’t feel comfortable (and you don’t always know someone’s situation !) Op should just go home to work imo.

  7. Alexis Rosay*

    Definitely companies need to provide adequate paid medical leave, but that’s not always the issue, quite frankly.

    I’ve worked in both situations. When I was a teacher, we got 3 sick days per year but I was usually sick about 3-5 times between November and April due to kids coming to school sick, so of course I and everyone else worked sick all the time. I’m definitely sympathetic to how crappy that is.

    On the other hand, I later worked at a company where most jobs could be done remotely, we got plenty of paid medical leave, our boss always approved WFH requests due to mild illness, or medical leave due to more severe illness…and people still came to work sick all the time, for reasons I really still can’t understand.

    I tried to get my boss to address it in the second case, but she wouldn’t. I ended up just telling her I’d be working from home until everyone was healthy. That’s what I’d advise OP to do too. If a manager was willing to address this, they already would have, unless they genuinely aren’t aware it’s happening.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Your comment about teachers got me thinking. It’s taken me ten years out of the Petri dish that was k-12 schooling and a plague to even start registering a minor cough or sniffles as “being sick.” Not sure what this actually says about the realities of illness calculus, but it’s definitely a data point of some sort.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Dated a college professor for two years, and it was the same there (pre-Covid, at least). No sick days allowed unless you are at death’s door. If even one student or faculty member had a contagious illness, they’d come in and spread it to the rest of the school, who’d then all gift it to their loved ones. I only saw the guy on weekends, and I used to get regularly sick with colds during our two years together (and worked from home each time it happened, so at least the germ stopped with me). I hardly ever get sick normally. It was worse than when I used to have kids in daycare, I swear.

      2. WomEngineer*

        Speaking as a former student, there was always this unspoken pressure to “tough it out” if you had the sniffles. I never had perfect attendance, but I would bring tissues and cough drops on some days. Now I think millenials/zoomers will let their future kids stay home or send them with a mask if it’s one of those borderline days.

        1. Alexis Rosay*

          And yes to masking when sick, especially a very good mask / double mask. I can understand that there are times when students staying home is not feasible for light sniffles, but wearing a mask and distancing from classmates would still be a reasonable precaution (depending on how crowded the room is of course).

          That definitely goes for me too. In retrospect, it would have been better to show a movie when I was sick as a teacher so I could distance in the corner rather than stand at the front of the class and talk loudly, probably spraying students with germs.

        2. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          There’s “my kid is clearly feeling like crap, I’ll keep him home” sick (and we did); and there’s “my kid is still clearly phlemgy and sneezy but otherwise in a decent mood and manageable” sick. The latter one was when it was hard to decide to keep them home or send them in.

          We usually erred on keeping them home, even if it meant I had a kid who was sick but also in good spirits and very bored. Short of fighting a terminal disease, there’s nothing that your child can’t eventually catch up on for the most part if they miss school due to colds. There was a bad year where my asthmatic cold-prone son missed 10% of class days. He graduated just fine.

          3 sick days for a teacher makes no sense whatsoever and it doesn’t reflect the reality that K-6 is absolutely a breeding ground for all manner of germs and your child WILL be sick, often, during those years, and so can the teachers. Where’s the union?

          I find that small number even more baffling as I know in my province, there is an army of people hoping to be substitute teachers so they can get the teaching hours they need to apply for permanent teaching spots. It would be easy to replace a sick teacher. (in theory – reality might be a very different thing!)

          1. Former Teacher*

            I’m guessing with the use of province you might not be in the US, but currently in the US there is a massive substitute teacher shortage. Really an all-staff shortage which is why there are stories daily of principals driving buses, parents subbing in classes, etc. But yeah, 3 days is completely unrealistic.

        3. Esmeralda*

          Not just toughing it out, but also — attendance policies that can harm your grade in the course, such as losing points for being out, X number of excused absences allowed and after that your overall grade is docked, not being allowed to make up in-class work, not being given extensions for out of class work, etc.

          Even during the pandemic, our provost has had to regularly remind instructors to excuse covid-related absences and to work with students to make up work. Last year my office assisted quite a few students in dropping courses late in the semester because instructors would not reschedule exams or would not allow students to take exams online. Every time it happened I thought to myself, “I hope YOU get covid you f***er with no one home to take care of you.” (I did keep that thought to myself, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in my office who was thinking it.)

      3. quill*

        Children are germ sponges. Guess how many times there was pinkeye in the house when I was in school and my mom taught? On average, we managed to avoid it every third year.

    2. Sara without an H*

      “…and people still came to work sick all the time, for reasons I really still can’t understand.”

      But…it shows GUMPTION to come to work sick! It means you’re dedicated! Industrious! They should promote you now!

      Short of federal regulations mandating that all employers offer paid sick leave (an eminently sensible policy I don’t expect to see in my lifetime), my sincere hope is that most firms will review their policies and culture on this issue. I still recall the letter to AAM from somebody whose coworker brought her kid (who she knew had norovirus) to the office and wiped out most of the department.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        We had a guy at an OldJob who came to work with pinkeye in both eyes, then walked into our boss’s office to *brag* about his exceptional work ethics that made him come to work with pinkeye. Boss was horrified, and told him to go home right away. Thankfully both of them came to work much earlier than the rest of us, and by the time I got to work, Pinkeye Mary was long gone. The workplace encouraged everyone to work from home when sick, and provided the equipment allowing us to do so, and that guy still thought he was being some kind of hero.

      2. Qwerty*

        I think there’s also a lot of people who don’t take being sick seriously, don’t think a cold counts as really being sick. or just prefer being at work to being bored on the couch at home. I’ve been a company with a decent number of sick days that were use-it-or-lose-it and still had coworkers show up with a bad cold in mid-december while talking about how they had X sick days left. (that job also allowed us to wfh easily 1-2days per week officially but if you were sick they didn’t care how long you worked remotely)

        1. Alexis Rosay*

          Yeah, that might be part of it. I suppose some people may bounce back more quickly than others…I may seem like a youngish, healthy person at first glance, but it actually takes me a long time to completely recover from each cold. Overall, the effect of multiple colds per winter was really hard on my health. I suppose it’s just another example of people who think “This doesn’t affect me, therefore it doesn’t affect anyone.”

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed – I’m in the U.K. and sick leave isn’t so much of a fraught issue, and my company in particular is pretty good about not expecting/pressuring people to work sick, and we STILL have people who insist on coming in sick.

      I will never forget sharing a desk with a colleague who was not just sick but in the “actively disgusting” stage of some kind of super-cold – could barely talk, nose and eyes streaming, constant hacking coughs and sneezes, the works. She was getting through most of a roll of kitchen roll in a few hours just on blowing her nose, and she was doing precisely zero useful work, but by god she was At Work! And wouldn’t be going home over a little cold, oh no! I sat maybe two feet from her and by the end of day 2 was literally begging her to stay at home because she was so clearly infectious, but no. Guess who ended up being knocked out for three days by the super-cold?

      It’s not just leave policies etc, there are just some people that a) don’t take illness seriously or understand/care that they can infect others, or b) are one massive walking martyr complex. They can’t possibly stay home or the whole company will fall apart without them! We’ll be fine, Janet.

  8. Susie*

    I think you should be able to suggest they go home so they don’t spread whatever they may have around. Personally, I don’t want your stomach bug, flu or COVID.

    I know it’s still very hard on people who can’t WFH or those whose sucky employers don’t give them sick time/PTO like Wendy (first comment). Considering everything that has happened in our world, looks like employers could give people some sick time as an incentive/benefit. If you think someone is “abusing” the system, you deal with that one person.

    1. Antilles*

      I suspect the employer concerns are often less about people “abusing the system” and more about managers/executives who still believe in butts-in-seats as a relevant measure of productivity/effort/enthusiasm.

      1. Pam Adams*

        Yes, if managers can’t walk around counting the butts-in-seats, what is there even for them to do?/s

    2. Tired social worker*

      But if they do that, they might have to adequately staff each shift so someone can be out without the whole operation falling apart! The horror.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Covid may have changed the scenario for many of us, but please do remember that many people had the same concerns about getting a severe cold or even a mild flu. I’m not immune compromised, but people I love are.
      Please remember them when you are going “back to normal” because that old normal didn’t work for everyone.
      So yes, OP…Please suggest your sick co-worker go home if their work can be done offsit.

    4. MissBaudelaire*

      They’d have to give adequate sick leave/PTO (“But then people might USE it!”). They’d also have to do things like… not give out points when someone is out sick. (“But then people might not come in even if they’re not really sick.”) And they’d have to, as had been pointed out, adequately staff. And last but not least, they’d either need to give darn good insurance or eliminate the need for a doctor’s note for any of this to be excused.

  9. Don*

    Even aside from immunocompromised family members and children under 5 (hey I have both, yay me), breakthrough infections make a lot of the “but you can be vaxed!” weaker. Being sick sucks regardless of what it is. And folks may have kids or other family members in situations with quarantine rules. So maybe nobody feels all that bad but if they get a mandatory test they can find themselves stuck at home with kiddo for a week.

    I did eighteen months with the kids at home. It. Was. Not. Great.

    I am kinda gobsmacked that we have done two years of this and it seems to have barely moved the needle on paid sick time and de-normalizing the ridiculous macho “go to work no matter what!” nonsense.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This, and despite the vaccine, you can still get a breakthrough infection that knocks you on your ass.

      I’d also add the uninsured to the list of people who need to avoid COVID if at all possible. Not everyone who works has coverage.

    2. abbynormal*

      This 100%. My husband, my 7yo and myself are all vaxxed. My 16month old brought Covid home from daycare, and it in turn hit my 4yo, my husband, my 7yo, and me. We’ve been out 2 weeks due to school, daycare and office rules about testing and return. Honestly, even vaxxed the breakthrough Covid has taken a toll on me. I have never been so exhausted but am heading back to work as soon as I can because between these actual infections and other exposures I’ve been out almost a month since late December.

  10. sofar*

    One complication is that you may not know if the person is contagiously sick or has allergies. Here in TX, we’ve got Cedar Fever, which manifests as a LOT of sniffling, sneezing, throat-clearing (it itches!), congestion and sounding like you have a head cold (I’ve gotten severe laryngitis from it). It lasts 2 months. Luckily, my job is flexible enough, so I stayed home for most of cedar season because the symptoms are EXACTLY like the omicron variant of COVID (I used at-home tests every week and did regular PCRs and, eventually I DID test positive for COVID with no change in symptoms beyond the ones I’d had for a month d/t cedar — so glad I was staying home!).

    But if my job required me to be onsite, it’s not like I could take 2 months off. So, like, I’d have to go to work and be given constant stink-eye and have people telling me to take a sick day. Or try to find a way to stay home for two months (which would unfortunately be up to management). At the end of the day, at some companies, there’s a disconnect between making the “right” decision for public health and continuing to earn a livelihood.

    1. Sara without an H*

      When I lived in Colorado, it was pine pollen. I was teary and sniffly for a month. People at work would come up to me and ask softly if there was anything they could do. I said, “Make it snow.”

      This is hard. Employers could make it easier by providing regular onsite testing, so that those of us who are sniffling because of seasonal pollen allergies could be quickly distinguished from people who actually have COVID.

      1. Alice*

        This is such a good point about accessible testing. I am really upset with some colleagues who decline to wear masks in our shared office, even though I have asked them to. I would be a lot happier with them if they said, “Hey, I realize that you are uncomfortable with me not wearing a mask. To put your mind at ease, I want you to know that I wouldn’t come in if I was feeling potential COVID symptoms, and that I am testing weekly so that I would find out about a hypothetical asymptomatic infection.”
        (Our employer has PCR testing on demand, super convenient, free, fast turnaround time.)

    2. RussianInTexas*

      My cedar allergies flared up badly last week. I ended up taking the PCT test but luckily it was negative. But it’s cough + sneezing + terrible congestion. I was told I sounded like I was on the death door.
      At least I work from home now, I only get 4 sick days in general, so staying home with allergies was not a thing before this.

      1. pbnj*

        Thanks for getting tested. I’ve been burned by coworkers that are just like “oh all this pollen is making my allergies crazy” or “this weather change is giving me sinus congestion” and turns out it’s not their allergies. Literally one time someone had strep throat. I just don’t know what the right answer on how to handle things. I know some people have allergies that don’t respond to medication.

    3. pancakes*

      It doesn’t seem likely that you would indeed “have to go to work and be given constant stink-eye and have people telling me to take a sick day” if you’re in a region where it’s widely known that cedar pollen has this effect? I know there are lots of people who are really ignorant about allergies and about health in general, but the level of ignorance you’re imagining seems over the top. If people would rather give one another dirty looks than have a conversation about sick leave that’s a separate problem in itself as well.

      1. sofar*

        I mean, the LW is literally expressing frustration with people who appear sick and asking for AAM’s blessing to say something directly. So, yeah.

        I’ve seen people express disgust and anger at people coughing in public the entire pandemic (saw it happen last week). Heck, pre-COVID the guy who used to sit in the cube next to me told me, “Great, thanks in advance for giving me whatever you have” when I had a cedar coughing fit.

        1. Calliope*

          Right, but what happens when you say “oh, I have cedar pollen allergies”? Because if the coworkers you see every day don’t accept that, that’s rude. But if they just need that one sentence of reassurance that doesn’t seem that unreasonable. Yes it involves disclosure of personal medical information but that doesn’t seem like a huge thing in this case to reassure coworkers who are worried about being exposed to a serious disease.

          1. A Wall*

            I’ve lived in Texas my entire life and everyone complains about cedar fever. Every single cedar season people all around you will cough and sniffle and whatever and then go “sorry, cedar” and everyone goes “ah yes, of course.” It comes up so much it’s like commenting on the weather.

          2. sofar*

            There are plenty of commenters on here saying essentially, “Even if they say it’s allergies or a residual cough from previous illness, you never know…”

            My coworker rolled his eyes as his response. An hour later our office manager checked in with me because she’d heard “from others that I had been coughing up a lung.”

            Things could change as the pandemic subsides, but right now, people are hinky about COVID. The very question about asking a coworker to “leave” gets at the sentiment that they are judging their coworkers’ symptoms and choices. Things are weird right now. It’s an awkward dynamic.

        2. pancakes*

          Right, the question and the advice are about what to say and do – the advice is not to give people who are coughing or sneezing dirty looks, nor is it to make snarky comments like your coworker did. He sounds quite unpleasant, but what was his reaction when you told him you had seasonal allergies and not anything contagious? If his response was unreasonable the problem is not that you went to work with seasonal allergies; the problem is that some of your coworkers are unreasonable, unpleasant or both.

    4. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, as someone with allergies, I would never be able to be in an office 9 months out of the year if that was a policy. Yes, meds exist and I take them. However as anyone who takes meds for anything knows, they are not always 100% effective. Also many come with side effects like drowsiness. So I worry that if we do go back, it will be witch hunts for anyone with allergies. Heaven forbid also someone wears perfume or comes in with cat dander. Good thing we are currently working from home.

  11. Evelyn Carnahan*

    Sometimes I’m really terrible at knowing when I’m sick. There have been multiple times at different jobs when I’m sure I feel fine and I am actually really sick. It’s not a thing where I’m afraid to take sick time, I just sometimes genuinely don’t realize I’m sick. I have had a colleague suggest that I go home rather than sick up our shared spaces. Personally, I find that helpful. I think phrasing it as a suggestion rather than a question can help.

  12. Katie*

    Say something to your manager and have them talk to that person’s manager.
    Even pre COVID I had no problem telling people to go home if they were sick.

    1. Chris*

      Agree. To me COVID doesn’t change anything. People should not be at work when they are sick and spreading it to other people. COVID has just put a finer point on it.

      And, yes, this brings up a truckload of societal problems about benefits, how we pay people, who has the luxury of staying home when sick, etc.

    2. WomEngineer*

      Post- (Intra-?) Covid, I think more people understand not wanting to be around someone who’s sick, and more people have the ability to work from home.

  13. Why*

    Why would anyone prefer going in vs. working from home?

    At any rate OP, you should be able to at least ask the person to keep away from you physically while they are sick or showing symptoms of it.

    1. Littorally*

      Astounding to know people have different comfort levels, priorities, and preferences than you do, I know :)

    2. lilsheba*

      I will never understand hating to work from home, it makes no sense to me at all. One of the huge benefits is I’m not exposed to anyone elses’ sickness!! I used to get sick all the damn time and now I’ve been sick once with Covid in over 2 years, and that was mild thankfully.

      1. Rolly*

        “I will never understand hating to work from home, it makes no sense to me at all.”

        You can’t even *understand* why some other people would prefer to work in the office? You can’t even recognize any possible reasons that some people would rather not be working at home?

        Wow. That’s quite an admission.

        1. lilsheba*

          nope. The benefits are numerous. No sharing of other people germs. No lunches being stolen. No multi use bathrooms. No commute time…the time and energy saved there alone is worth it! NO loud people hanging around my desk yapping. The freedom is so worth it!! I will never be in an office again, and I am NOT social so that works well.

      2. quill*

        I presume that many people who have uncomfortable setups, or households not conducive to getting any work done are the bulk of the “back to the office” people.

        1. Loulou*

          Why would you presume this? I would assume one of the most common reasons for hating to work from home is, in fact, not having a comfortable setup.

      3. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*


        I share my work space with my kids and have to set up and take apart my tech every day. Our place is not big enough to set up a dedicated workspace.

        I don’t have a proper office chair. I keep postponing buying one because surely, this will be over soon.

        I don’t have a mammoth printer at home. That said, I have embraced a paperless environment but man, there were times….

        My husband wants to share everything he’s read online every time I take a break. It’s incredibly distracting.

        So many office dramas that have cropped up would have been easily solved with a trip down the hall to their office for a quick face to face chat…so many.

        And I miss people. I’m a social person.

      4. Amethystmoon*

        So I guess you’re never lonely at home? I am
        single with no one to talk to except people in computer land. Also allergic to pretty much any pet with fur or feathers, so I can’t get that either.

    3. Professional Cat Lady*

      Hmmm, let’s see:
      I have to sit at my dining room table, bc I live in a small apartment.
      My cats have actually closed my laptop mid-Zoom meeting.
      My husband is home; running the vaccuum, playing music, talking on the phone, talking to the aformentioned cats, etc.
      Coworker relations! Yes, I can ask them questions via text, wait for our daily Zoom, or try to call them. But what I can’t do is make little jokes together, or notice their hair looks nice and chat, or collaborate organically in real time. That might not be important in your particular job, but not all WFH jobs are purely independant spreadsheet production.

    4. Paris Geller*

      Because not all of us have houses or apartments with more than one bedroom. I share 500 square feet with another human and two cats. When I WFH, I literally work in the bedroom closet. No thank you.

    5. Parakeet*

      Personally I love and generally prefer working from home, but (aside from what others have said) some people find that physical separation between work space and home space is psychologically helpful for them. Or they like the physical space of their workplace better than that of their home (better climate control, better sound control, better equipment, not having to deal with a bad roommate, etc).

      Even back in grad school when I could have chosen to nearly always work from home on days when I wasn’t teaching, I made a point of going in at least three days a week, because my commute back then was how I got my exercise (it was a bike commute). I actually have a stronger preference for WFH now than I did then, too, that corresponds with other changes in my life.

      The increased opportunity to work from home in many jobs is a huge and long-overdue boon, in my opinion, but people have different life circumstances and different preferences.

      1. Loulou*

        Yup. I don’t understand why someone with the option to WFH would come to work *when sick*, but in general? Absolutely. OP’s comment makes about as much sense as saying “I don’t understand why any student would go work in the library when they could do it in their dorm.”

    6. Antilles*

      There are plenty of potential reasons.
      -Some people have living situations where it’s difficult to work from home because it’s just too cramped.
      -Other people have plenty of space but simply have better working setups at the office due internet speed, monitor size, desk space, etc.
      -Still others appreciate working from the office in the way that it provides a clear break between home and work.
      -There are certain tasks which are just more efficient or effective being face-to-face.
      -Some people really are more productive at the office than at home – this number might be smaller than old-school managers/companies think, but it’s certainly not zero.

    7. Koala dreams*

      What I don’t understand is that when hot desking comes up here, people complain about having to set up the work station twice a day, being interrupted by other people, having to overhear confidential discussions and so on, but as soon as the topic of working from home comes up, that’s suddenly the best thing since sliced bread. And that’s before we come to things like the landlord doing renovations or shutting off water/electricity during the day, lack of reliable internet, no money for heating/AC, or the fact that some people doesn’t even have a home to work from. It’s weird.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Not to mention the maintenance guy using power tools next door or somebody burning their lunch and opening their hallway door instead of the window, which set off the whole building fire alarm while I was in a work meeting. Our fire alarms are very loud and irritating.

    8. Katie*

      Prior to COVID, I had the option to occasionally work from home but never did (though was a huge advocate that people should be able to). I had a nanny and my kids and her kid was there. I was too cheap to buy internet (all my money went to a nanny!). I didn’t have a desk at home. I had a big monitor at work!
      I have rectified most those issues working from home but there are times I would like to be in the office still. We have great tools to collaborate but some issues would have resolved better if we there in person to discuss.

    9. Kyrielle*

      I am working from home still. I was back in the office a little, but for a variety of reasons did return to working from home. I do not like it. I do not like work in my personal space, but even more than that, I do not like kids cats and my husband’s business calls in my work space.

    10. BritChickaaa*

      I despise WFH!

      I struggle to be productive at home because there’s nothing imposing any structure or discipline, and I’m extremely social and gregarious and am deeply miserable when I’m alone (I was home schooled and grew up extremely isolated – literally didn’t speak to a single person except my parents and maybe the occasional doctor for the majority of my teen years, and have lived alone since age 16, so being entirely alone with the social contact of work is very triggering and traumatic.)

      I’m aware I’m very much in the minority on this site in not being an extreme introvert/social phobic, but it’s not actually wrong to enjoy or need human contact. Hell that’s why people visit AAM a million times a day, because many people find online social contact easier than in-person social contact, or because they lack social contact in their real lives.

      I also don’t work an office job; my job really requires a communal atmosphere at least for some parts.

    11. Broadway Duchess*

      Because people like it just as much as those of us who love working from home like our setup. I will never understand why WFH people (of which I am one and you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hand) express shock that others like the office.

    12. Come On Eileen*

      Tons of people want to work from the office — me included. I’m alone by myself at home all day and it’s incredibly lonely and isolating. I need the energy of other people and I really hope to get that when I can go back into the office again. It’s really weird to assume that working from home is amazing for everyone.

  14. Chairman of the Bored*

    I like working from home.

    However, even if I did not like working from home I would still opt to work from home before I would attempt to evaluate a colleague’s state of health and then make requests of them accordingly. Until somebody loses consciousness or suffers an obvious traumatic injury their medical stuff is 100% their own business and I’m not going to touch it.

    I am not a doctor and am not qualified to discern the difference between Covid, the flu, a cold, and the many non-communicable things that can cause symptoms broadly consistent with these various illnesses.

    I definitely do not want to put a co-worker in the position of having to explain to me (a rando who doesn’t even have to be on-site) that their visible symptoms are a side effect of medication or some other medical issue they would have preferred to keep private.

    1. Dasher Hadwick*

      This! Even if they are sick, OP doesn’t know their living situation. It could be impossible for them to WFH or they could have no sick time left or whatever. I think I’d cry if someone came up and asked me to go home if I was sick cause I KNOW I can’t afford it and if I’m feeling bad I already don’t wanna be at work.

    2. Daisy Gamgee*

      This. I would far rather work from home than demand a coworker explain their health situation for my judgement. And someone dear to me is allergic to many things, and also responsible for some things at their work that can’t be done from home (like mail), so I’ve seen this from the other side too.

  15. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oh man, I haven’t had to bring this story out in years, but it sadly fits.

    I had a coworker years ago come to work feeling and sounding like death because he didn’t want to “waste” a sick day. (Multiple people commented and suggested he go home and he refused.) I understand that OldJob was awful when it came to PTO, but I caught a worse version of whatever he had and was out for a week and a half, sicker than I had been in years. I had to go to the hospital and get fluids I was so dehydrated, and I was so sick they had to wheel me in in a wheelchair, I literally couldn’t sit up or walk on my own. When I came back to the office he laughed it off and said he’d make it up to me by buying me lunch. To say I was pissed was an understatement. Not only did I have to use all of the PTO I had saved to actually go on a vacation for once because he didn’t want to use one sick day, he never actually bought me lunch!

    Between being in a better workplace, growing a shiner spine, and covid times, I would 1000% either insist he GTFO or just instantly take myself home if this happened again. Man that guy sucked, may he stay far away from me forever.

    1. Chris*

      Ugh! I’m so sorry that happened to you. About a decade ago, I woke up kind of sick, but decided to go to work because we had an important board meeting I needed to present at. I ended up getting sicker throughout the day and had a massive, gasping-for-air coughing fit in the board meeting. Every one was really understanding about it, but in a few days, I would find out that I had whooping cough. I was so embarrassed. I was worried silly for weeks that I had passed it along to someone in the board meeting who had a baby or an elderly person living with them. It all turned out fine, but I felt terrible about it. I’m still embarrassed when I tell this story, but I do because it was such a lesson for me.

  16. Anonymous the Third*

    Please be reasonably sure that a coworker is actually sick before suggesting they shouldn’t be in the workplace. I have a (non-contagious) disability that shares a symptom with a mild illness, and it’s a 50/50 chance that any new person I meet will interrupt introductions to loudly announce that I should be home in bed, and I can’t tell you how discouraging that is. Mine is an edge case for sure, but my profession is full of AAM readers and I’d like to head off the more enthusiastic, if possible.
    If it’s a coworker that you interact with frequently enough to know that constant sneezing (for example) is unusual, then by all means say something.

    1. lilsheba*

      In todays pandemic climate, if you have something that has those kinds of symptoms you should say so. You don’t have to reveal what it is, just say you have a condition that has these symptoms and no you’re not sick. I can’t blame anyone for being paranoid, I would be in that situation.

      1. Daisy Gamgee*

        The thing is, though, then the person one is talking to 1) has to decide if they believe one and 2) can demand to know what condition it is.

      2. Anonymous4*

        “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Anonymous4. I have allergies.”
        “I beg your pardon?”
        “I have allergies, and so, when you hear me coughing or sniffling, that’s why.”

        It works okay. I sometimes have to remind coworkers that I’m coughing and sniffling because I have allergies, but at least the introduction puts it up front.

      3. anonymous73*

        It’s none of anyone’s business that Anonymous the Third has a medical condition that mimics sickness, and they shouldn’t have to disclose it.

        1. pancakes*

          Really, it isn’t anyone’s business whether they’re being exposed to a deadly virus at work? Sorry but there is such a thing as society, and wanting to think of yourself as having no effect whatsoever on other people’s lives or well-being doesn’t in fact mean that you have no effect on them. We are all interconnected. Being uncomfortable with that fact or resentful of the idea that there is such a thing as public health doesn’t change that.

    2. Huh*

      This is my thought too. While I wholeheartedly agree that we need more mandated paid sick time in the US, I don’t think it’s an issue that will be solved by infringing on your co-workers right to privacy.

      Talking to the manager is a much better option when you could be treading into private territory by confronting a co-worker.

      1. pancakes*

        I don’t believe anyone has suggested that asking coworkers about persistent sneezing or coughing is a form of advocating for paid sick leave. The idea of asking is simple harm reduction, not a weirdly furtive form of advocacy.

        Also, the advice to the letter writer is that the most reliable way to keep themself safe is to to work from home if they can. Confronting a sneezing or coughing coworker about whether they might home is a distant second best.

  17. Lifelong student*

    I take a medication with a documented side effect of a runny nose. My nose has been running for over a year. I haven’t had even one cold in three years- thanks social distancing! and staying home a lot. Oh- and guess how awkward having a mask on- which I usually do if I am out- is with a runny nose. I am triple vaxxed.

    Not everything is a sign of contagious disease.

  18. GingerBread*

    I have emphysema even though I quit smoking many years ago. Pre-Covid I would get a cough around November that lasted well into February – pretty much any little cold that was going around, I would get it and it would linger, and it was a very bad, scary sounding cough. I would go to the doctor and be released to go back to work long before the cough went away. No fever. My doctor always said eventually I would get the cough and it would never go away. I ate cough drops constantly, washed my hands constantly, tried to stay away from people – but we were not allowed to WFH and no one has enough sick days to cover 3 months. I’m not sure what else I could have done. I have been working remotely since the pandemic, and have not had the cough this whole time. Nor have I contracted covid. So I’m really dreading going back to work and getting exposed to everyone’s germs again. I quite enjoyed not being sick for 3 months the last two years.

    1. new*

      I once had a terrible cough, the kind where people ask if you are ok. Upon mentioning it to my doctor, I was told that it was a likely side effect of a high blood pressure medication and was switched to something else. Cough disappeared. Coughing, sneezing, all of that happened before Covid, and it is possible to have Covid and something else. So, don’t rudely treat people like lepers when they do normal things like this, but if you know it isn’t Covid, go ahead and reassure folks when you cough or sneeze. It’s hard to have any health problem nowadays.

  19. lazuli*

    Some of us are immunocompromised WORKERS. I think it’s important to push back on the assumption that everyone who’s immunocompromised is too sick to work (or go to the grocery store, or do anything other than stay home in bubble wrap). For many of us, you would have no idea that our immune systems don’t work well. We’re nurses, we’re doctors, we’re full-time high-level employees; we don’t always “look sick.”

    1. Honest Bellionaire*

      I was coming here to say the same thing. I’m not immunocompromised but I know several people who are and who aren’t permitted and/or able to telework. And personally I’m high risk for a bad case even though I’m triple vaxxed and ready to go get jabbed again as soon as I’m told to. If I have to go into the office – and I have to if my home internet cuts out – I don’t want to end up hospitalized or dead because of it.

      I do also have a chronic cough because one of my medications causes throat dryness, but my coworkers and I had an understanding pre-COVID that if I even suspected I was contagious I would say something, and if not they could assume I was suffering through chronic illness and/or side effects.

    2. Gracely*


      My spouse is immunocompromised. His employer yanked WFH last year, and he’s been going in, among unmasked students/coworkers (no mask mandate). He wears an N95 mask at work for hours every day, and stays away from students when he’s not teaching or holding office hours. Most of his students and coworkers who know his situation have the decency to wear a mask around him–but not all.

      You cannot tell that he’s immunocompromised by looking at him. Plenty of immunocompromised people are young and look perfectly healthy. We have this idea that health = optics, and that if you look healthy, you are. That’s not true. You never know who’s had a transplant or is getting infusions or any of the other things that compromise their immune system.

  20. Jen*

    Sadly I had coworkers who would sleep under their desks while sick.

    Me: Why don’t you go home?
    CW: There are small children there.


  21. Sam*

    Longtime lurker, first time commenter

    This came up not too long ago in my office. A coworker was sick over the weekend and came to work still sick. She’s been very vocal about being unvaccinated so the office was worried. She also didn’t test before coming back in. I wasn’t there thankfully. Our boss was away and gave her some options: leave and test, work from home, work in his office etc. She went around asking all of us what she should do with everyone telling her to go home. She decided to pick *none* of them and then after most of the day was over she finally went home saying she was feeling worse.

    Fast forward a week or so. Two coworkers tested positive for Covid. She admits she probably had it but doesn’t see how she gave it to the other two. She thinks they got it from somewhere else.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I particularly love how she *went around to everyone* exposing them to her germs. What a gem of a person /s

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Non-work anecdote but it reminds me of how shortly before covid hit we had two friends and their baby over for dinner. Partway through the evening one of them mentioned offhand how they had all had an awful stomach bug earlier that week. My husband and I were shocked (probably wouldn’t have had them over if we had known), but they insisted that they felt fine now and it was no big deal. Well, less than 36 hours later my husband and I are both hit by a horrendous stomach bug. And when we mentioned it to our friends later they were like “nah that wasn’t from us.” Excuse me? You were sick, came to our house, we see no one else, and then get the exact same thing you had, but it wasn’t from you??

      Some people will really do mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their actions didn’t directly hurt other people.

      1. Loulou*

        That situation sounds awful, but I don’t think most people would have thought twice about socializing a few days after recovering from a stomach bug. I’m sure many people here, myself included, have caught an illness or passed it along to others despite nobody thinking they were contagious anymore.

      2. sub rosa for this*

        Oh, ugh. BTDT.

        I had a friend a few decades back who used to come over to visit in the afternoons. One time she brought her small daughter, put her down for a nap ON MY BED and then proceeded to tell me (like an hour later) that her daughter had been home from school all week because the whole class had headlice.

        What the hell are these people even thinking???

        (So much bleach and hot-water washing. So. Much.)

    3. HigherEdAdminista*

      People are wild with this stuff! I recently had a colleague who works with us part-time talk about how she had been exposed, maskless, at her other job two days before. This made me nervous, but we are both vaccinated and were wearing masks, so I felt a little better… until she informed me she was going to go eat lunch in the worst ventilated spot in our office. When I suggested she go in an empty private space with an open window, she waved it off because she said she didn’t feel uncomfortable taking her (cloth) mask off.

      I just kept thinking… so… the rest of us should be cool with it too then?

  22. John*

    I’m an office manager and I’m fortunate to in an office where the policy has always been “If your sick you stay home or get sent home.” About two weeks ago I heard our CFO (also one of the owners) say “I know it’s not COVID but this sore throat is annoying.”

    I took way too much pleasure in sending her home, I think she got a kick out of it too because as she was getting her stuff together she kept saying things like “Well, the boss is sending me home, he doesn’t want me getting his team sick.”

  23. The organized one*

    Once had a student tell me she had strep. I sent her to nurse because she shouldn’t be in school contagious. Mom had a fit! Evidently I should gladly expose myself and all my students to strep. I worked one year in person in the pandemic and quit in May.

  24. Ginger*

    I feel like it needs to be said that vaccinated does not equal an impenetrable shield from C19. You can still get and spread it if you are vaccinated.

    So if they are sick, just because they are vaccinated doesn’t mean they should still come in.

    That all being said – allergies and other symptoms are very real. Somehow we need to find the balance between “RED ALERT C19!” and “oh look, a person isn’t at 100%”.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I have made a stock phrase out of, “I have allergies that have some overlap with covid symptoms, but there is nothing new or unusual in my symptoms since my most recent negative covid test.”

      I’ll spend a rapid test if I’m more likely to be exposing people if I’m wrong (dentist visits, for example), but if I’m going to keep my mask on and especially be there briefly, I mostly assume “unchanged symptoms = not covid”. Which is not strictly accurate, but neither is “no symptoms = not covid” so at some point I just have to hope. And keep my freaking mask on in case I’m wrong.

      1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

        Same, Kyrielle.

        I have both allergies and other non-infectious chronic conditions that give me “could it be Covid? symptoms on more days than not, AND an increased risk of getting Covid-19 or complications (or flu or some other more ordinary infectious illnesses) despite being vaccinated.

        Wearing my high-filtration mask any time I have to share airspace with people of unknown health status is what lets me get on with living, without much less worry about whether that person over there who’s coughing has allergies or something contagious that’s mild to them but may be bad for me; or whether the coughing I’m doing is my allergies or the early stages of something infectious that I don’t want to spread.

  25. RJ*

    At my old job, it was generally accepted that it was OK to come in sick if you kept your distance (we had booths that people could sign out for) in the pre-COVID days. However, a former co-worker was unfortunately infected between the Delta and Omnicron surges and despite being vaccinated, he got a breakthrough case and died after suffering in the hospital. It was a horrible situation that changed and traumatized many people. It also completely changed the direction of the company and it is now remote first.

    Knowing your co-workers and understanding that some of them have allergies or other conditions is a good thing, but that doesn’t happen often enough. If I see a coworker who is visibly sick, either I’m going to make the suggestion that he/she/they go home or I will be the one going home.

  26. Michelle Smith*

    Also, COVID-19 is not the only illness. You don’t really want someone else’s cold, flu, bronchitis, etc. either! You can’t control other people though, only yourself. If they won’t go home, you should.

  27. T.*

    Be kind. Some people do have chronic allergies and other illnesses that normally just get a little side eye (hello 8 weeks of a non contagious bronchitis cough) but with Covid they treat people like we have the plague. By all means, ask if I’m ok but after 6 weeks, have a little understanding that I can’t stay home for ever.

  28. Nikki*

    Thanks for remembering those of us who are immunocompromised / chronically ill!

    I have a condition that makes me high risk for COVID. I could easily be part of the 10-20% of vaxxed and boosted folks who end up in the hospital anyway.

    I look young and healthy, so I hear a lot of comments about how the vulnerable should just stay home so all of “us” can get on with our lives. It’s hurtful and awkward.

    Thankfully I WFH, so sick coworkers are not an issue for me. But I appreciate you recognizing that not all of us are dealing with the same risk calculus!

    1. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

      Yeah, it’s been fun hearing people accidentally tell me they think me dying is an acceptable trade-off for being able to go to the pub. I know you didn’t exactly realise that’s what you just said, but you did. Again.

      1. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

        Sorry, not *you*, Nikki! I just realised how that looked! I meant you, as in the person who’s just sounded off to me about “needing to get on with our lives,” or whatever.

  29. Chirpy*

    My job is entirely in-person, customer facing, with no possibility for working from home. We get NO paid sick leave, and aren’t paid a living wage, so many of us simply can’t afford to stay home sick for any length of time. One of my coworkers has already used her entire two weeks of vacation already on previous sick days with a different ongoing health issue, and now has to come to work in horrible pain no matter what. Multiple people in the last two years have come in with Covid up until the point they were physically too sick to work or a manager noticed and sent them home.

    Company policy makes it clear we’re supposed to stay home when sick, but they don’t give us the means to actually do so without causing serious hardship. None of us can afford to lose a whole week’s paycheck.

    1. Chairman of the Bored*

      Companies often make policies saying “do the right thing” while creating actual circumstances where it is impossible for employees to comply with this.

      From their perspective this is a feature rather than a bug.

      The worker bees have to skirt the rules to get stuff done and get paid, but if a serious issue arises as a result management can say “not our fault, we *told* them to do the right thing!”

      1. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

        My wife’s office has actually told someone with a positive Covid test to come in to the office. And this is an office job that can easily be done from home, and *was* for most of 2020. All this while sending self-congratulatory emails about how safe they’re being because they do a temperature check, which is of course meaningless.

    2. GythaOgden*

      I get very generous sick leave here in the UK (given my length of employment, I only go down to half pay after six months), but as a part time office receptionist (and in the absurd position of keeping an empty office running for people working from home for two years), I dodged a major bullet.

      Basically I had a long weekend to use up my last three days of annual leave (vacation) — Thursday, Friday and Monday. I got a call on Sunday night from my colleague who sounded very sick saying she needed our line manager’s PA’s number. She told me she and our mutual supervisor both had C19.

      I was totally fine, tested negative and covered for both of them all week starting on Tuesday. Granted, my colleague has more face to face contact with my supervisor, so I might not have picked it up had I been there over that weekend, but I picked the right time to use up my leave, plus earned a bit more cash in terms of extra hours I worked in order to cover reception from 9 rather than 11.

  30. Ann Onymous*

    Alison made the point about people potentially having unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones at home, but you may also have vulnerable coworkers in the office. There are still some fully vaccinated people getting seriously ill, and it’s mostly people with underlying conditions. Keep in mind that you won’t necessarily know if you have coworkers with underlying conditions since many of us don’t “look sick”.

    1. Gnome*

      Sometimes people don’t even know they HAVE underlying conditions. I know lots of folks have put off some medical stuff due to covid, so it’s very possible somebody has developed something that hasn’t even been detected yet (heck, remember when you used to see things like “X% of people with condition Y don’t know they have it”?). Lots of stuff like heart conditions, hypertension, diabetes doesn’t necessarily jump out at you the way, say, the flu does.

  31. Arctic tern*

    I am in the UK and the norm in my industry (physically impossible to WFH) is if you have respiratory symptoms, you do lateral flow test. If it is negative, you go to work. So maybe the easiest thing in OP’s situation is to ask coworkers whether they did a covid test? Idk if it feasible, and how easy is it to get lateral flow tests in the US. Yes, I know about false negatives and all, but vaccination+masks+negative flow test combined makes the risk very small, imo.

  32. Betty*

    This also speaks to the “what can you do for your coworkers with kids” question. SO many places right now, kid with sniffles/cough can’t go to daycare/school without a negative test result (sometimes multiple!)– so you coming to work with just-a-cold = your coworker bringing home something to a kid = a whole week+ situation for childcare & subjecting kiddo to a test.

  33. raida7*

    I would say that it depends on what these symptoms are.
    You should always ask, not immediately assume it’s contagious.

    For example: Hay Fever. If staff are empowered to tell/suggest others to go home because ‘you’re sick’ and they are telling someone with a medical condition that is not contagious to do so, the person doesn’t go home, more people pressure them, make complaints, etc – that’s now a person with a non-contagious medical condition being subjected to a hostile work environment.

    And for anyone who’s thinking “if you have hay fever just stay home” – NO. Pandering to anxieties of co-workers is not the way to manage people learning to work in and out of the office. Directing staff who are, after being informed that the condition is non-contagious, concerned by it to an EAP is the correct response.

    So, you can suggest people go home, but only if the symptoms are not identified as part of a non-contagious condition. And be careful you aren’t leaning towards policing how ‘sick’ people are ‘allowed to appear’ in the office, that just reinforces the aforementioned anxieties and teaches staff they can and should be concerned by mild symptoms and just looking or listening to someone is enough to make a diagnosis, and tells staff that even if they’d work better in the office they should put other’s discomfort ahead of their own ability to work.

    Do not encourage harassing staff over others’ perceptions of illness, Do encourage staff to be honest about symptoms, Do support staff in managing their anxieties.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      In a healthy workplace, yes. At my last job, there was a lot of trust and I wouldn’t have questioned anyone who was coughing and said they weren’t sick.

      In a previous, mildly toxic and divided workplace, I was told “it’s only allergies” by the coworker sitting right next to me all day, only to find out later she was actually really sick. It was just one symptom of everything that was wrong in that office, but unfortunately I was right not to believe her and to feel very anxious about sitting next to her.

    2. Alice*

      Are you aware that people can have COVID, and pass it on to others, without symptoms?
      You seem to believe that everyone with COVID has symptoms and can somehow tell that *this sniffle* is my hay fever but *that sniffle* is COVID.
      I hope that your office has improved ventilation and air filtration — that would assuage “anxieties” a lot more than EAP referrals.

  34. I Ship It*

    Frankly if I have to share space with someone, and they are sick, I am telling them they need to go home. My employer sort of supports “go home/stay home” for any sickness, and I have both an autoimmune disorder AND a job that no one else wants to have to do, so I can tell people they need to go home when they are sick, and then sanitize the immediate area, and have the leeway to do so. No one wants a sick employee operating heavy machinery, no one wants a massive run of everyone in a department getting sick, and no one wants the majority of our office out sick for an extended period (I am able to do 90% of my job from home, but it’s easier to do in office). Depending on workplace culture though, YMMV.

  35. quill*

    OP, you have to have a reasonable suspicion that the “sickness” is actually contagious before you set out telling people to go home. Sneezing and coughing, while covid symptoms, can have a completely noncontagious origin.

    You should, however, INSIST on anyone in office who is coughing or sneezing wearing a mask. Even if it’s just allergies, it’s cleaner.

  36. Anon attorney*

    In my country/industry one of the positives of the pandemic has been that there is much less of an expectation that people with minor non-COVID illnesses will tough it out in the office.
    I had a respiratory virus in February-March 2020 (not that one, as far as I know) and I was noisily and disgustingly unwell and clearly contagious but I felt I had to come to work. I could tell my coworkers weren’t happy to see me, and I don’t blame them, but there was no support from the management for me to WFH even though I could have. Nowadays I would not even consider working in the office in that condition. This is a good thing.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      Oh lord this was me too, the couple of weeks before the very first covid lockdown. It ended up being RSV. I shudder at the thought now and would definitely WFH. But I also see that I’ve got serious white-collar cool-office privilege here and until strong sick leave laws are in place for ALL workers, I can’t fault people who come in sick so as to not affect their income stream.

  37. I'm just here for the cats*

    Please be kind if you ask the person to go home. You never know when they have something that is not contagious. For example my mom has Fibromyalgia, COPD, and really bad allergies. In June the company had everyone come back into the offices. It was a high allergy day and just felt like crap because of her fibro. Well, apparently people had complained that she was coughing and sneezing and such and people were afraid she was sick (understandable) and the boss talked to her. The boss wasn’t unkind but it could have been handled better. Her tone was not good. I don’t know what she said exactly. Majority of the staff are WFH now.

    So if you want to say something be kind. Dont accuse them of coming in sick or having covid.

  38. Gnome*

    The only concern I have is non-contiguous stuff. Like an allergy induced sinus infection that causes coughing.

    I have a weird thing where I swallow the wrong way a LOT, so it’s pretty common fore to go “just a drinking problem!” In a fit of coughing so people know it’s not that Im contagious… But I’m sure there’s other stuff (pregnancy can look a lot like the flu, side effects not some medicines, etc.)

    So tread lightly.

  39. Koala dreams*

    If you can work from home, then that seems like the best solution.

    I’m mixed about suggesting people go home if they seem sick. On one hand, I remember the adjustment from being a student and not being able to stay home if there was an exam, a seminar or an important lecture, and then starting work in an office where it was both possible and encouraged to stay home for illness. On the other hand, a policy that all people with symptoms should work from home would discriminate against people with chronic illnesses, people with lingering covid symptoms after the contagious period ended, pregnant people and so on. It has been bad enough to have to explain your symptoms at the entrance to the doctor’s office, and there at least the other patients are in a similar situation.

    And you have no idea which group your co-workers fall into. Not everybody wants to share personal health information with their co-workers.

  40. raincoaster*

    It’s important to remember that even if you’re fully vaxed and have a great immune system, you’re still something like eleven square feet of surface area which can have germs on it. So you can convey a virus not just by being infected, but also by having the virus on you and touching something that another person then touches.

    1. Chairman of the Bored*

      1) The analyses I’ve seen indicate that Covid doesn’t really transmit via surfaces. It’s theoretically remotely possible, but as far as I know nobody credible is saying it’s a real risk.

      2) This thinking doesn’t uniquely apply to sick colleagues, but any human in a shared space.

      I’m not sure how this is helpful beyond justifying never going into the office regardless of whether I’m symptomatic or not. I’m onboard with never going to the office, though, so maybe will use this to bolster my case in the future.

  41. Rara Avis*

    Not only do I have allergies, but I have increasingly strong reactions to scents, so I get to have lovely conversations that go, “I promise you it’s not COVID — it’s just your perfume.” (Or laundry detergent — I’ve discovered this is a real issue at the gym where even in outside classes, warm sweaty people start to release the odor of the detergent their clothes were washed in.). At least with the scent reaction it’s very easy to connect the trigger to the hour of coughing that follows. With allergy symptoms there’s always the fear that they might mask COVID symptoms. But in the month of January you couldn’t get a testing appointment or a kit in our area for live or money.

  42. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    We are given a written warning if we have more than 8 days or 4 spells of sick absence in a rolling 12 month period. (Officially, managers have the discretion to decide not to give a warning but….) For that reason, managers won’t tell anyone to go home if they are sick, because it would open up a can of worms.

  43. WulfInTheForest*

    If I went home every time I had the sniffles, I would literally never be in the office. Remember people, chronic illnesses exist. Allergies, Emphysema, Smoker’s Lung…

  44. anonymous73*

    Yes to what Alison said, but with one caveat. Don’t assume everyone who appears to be sick is sick or contagious. Since the dawn of COVID, one small cough can send some people into a tailspin. People are still getting colds, the flu, strep, etc. They could also be at the end of a cold – I often get a cough that lasts a bit after a cold – I’m not contagious but I sound sick. Some people have allergies, even in the winter – my kid has them 24/7/365 and is always blowing his nose.. And yes I know, even if it’s not COVID, I wouldn’t want someone giving me their cold/flu/whatever sickness they have so they should stay home. Just keep in mind that the person may not actually be sick before you mention it.

  45. theletter*

    Assuming the company has a generous sick leave policy ~

    I’ve definitely caught the flu of confusion – headache/stress/pain – and then had a coworker/manager/teacher look at me and instantly say ‘You are green in the face and sweaty. You are not well. Go home’.

    A lot of this might be built into the midwestern upbringing – as children born in the ’80’s, some of us were watched closely in school for ‘faking it’ and had to device strategies for explaining why we needed to stay home from school for things which I now realize were mental health needs.

    I think a lot of this carried into adulthood where, especially pre-covid, a lot of us would ignore our symptoms for the sake of the grind, probably even gaslighting ourselves into believing we weren’t sick because of these ingrained systems that had us looking for chicken pox before even thinking of asking to be sent home.

    So all in all, some of us will sometimes wait for external observations before acknowledging that something is wrong. If you can look at someone and recognize that flu (and maybe it’s just something that goes around Chicago) it may be a kindness to mention it once and offer to cover for them.

  46. ali1*

    I will also point out that sometimes people appear sick but have something you can’t catch. I was VERY sick for the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy, and had what appeared to be a very bad cold for even longer, but it was a pregnancy thing (confirmed by my doctor, had it with the last baby too). Because it was peak COVID surge I worked from home to avoid disclosing to my colleagues but there are people who could have something that isn’t contagious and you don’t want to make them out themselves. Similar to this is allergy season. I think Alison’s script is good – I would have responded thanking someone for caring about my wellbeing and explaining that my symptoms are actually a chronic condition, not contagious, and of course I wouldn’t come in if I had any inkling that they could be.

  47. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

    “Yes, vaccination has changed the calculus somewhat — but not completely, especially since people may have immunocompromised loved ones or kids under 5 who still can’t be vaccinated and who they don’t want to infect.”

    Or, we might BE an immuno-compromised person (or chronically ill but able to work in-office and not infectious) who doesn’t want to get OURSELF infected with someone else’s germs on top of what we’re already dealing with. Even if Covid were out of the picture entirely.

    All the Covid-risk mitigation measures like ventilation, separation (either by distance or by air barriers like private offices), personal hygeine and surface sanitation, high-filtration masking when proximity with people of unknown health status is unavoidable, generous sick leave and WFH policies where feasible for the nature of the work, and a culture of being considerate of the health and safety of the people one shares space with (employees/coworkers or customers/clients)
    … all mitigate non-Covid infectious illness risks too! And many non-infectious illness considerations as well.

  48. Curmudgeon in California*

    It really, really, really depends on your office culture.

    I have literally been let go or had to quit when I complained about coworkers who came in obviously sick and sat right across from me or near me. People called it an “attitude problem”. I called it a health and safety problem. At the time, my health already wasn’t good, but “showing up” was apparently more important than me staying out of the hospital.

    Now, if a workplace has that toxic “Be a hero, come to work and spread your germs so you look loyal!” culture I will immediately start looking for another job. Life’s too short to waste it being infected by the germs of others needlessly.

  49. sometimeswhy*

    I work somewhere that has a really good (for the US) sick leave allotment but work with people who took pride in never taking a sick day or “only calling out when [they] cannot physically work.”

    A bunch of years ago, pre-COVID but during flu season all of my colleagues were visibly, audibly ill. I walked into my managers office and said, “if they’re coming to work sick, I’m going to go home well.” He thought he was humoring me but it was less funny and more ohsh!t when i was the only one who was able to go in the following week.

    I’ve also worked places where I had to schedule a surgery to get time off (and I did, twice) and the supervisors were skeptical about letting someone take time off because she’d BEEN BITTEN BY A RACCOON and had to undergo rabies treatment. My cute stunt about going home well wouldn’t have flown there.

  50. Worker bee*

    I once had a job that insisted on a doctor’s note if you were calling in due to sickness, but then said that if you were feeling well enough to make it to the doctor’s office, you were well enough to come to work.

    At another job, I had a manager who simply didn’t believe in being late or calling in, for any reason. It was a bookstore in a mall and even though I only lived two blocks away, I always drove, because I didn’t feel comfortable walking around the outside of the mall, through the deserted parking lot, and then the two deserted blocks (that had no sidewalks) to my apartment alone at 10 pm at night.

    One day, a couple of days before Christmas, we had this freak snowstorm and the entire city lost its mind. I was supposed to be at work at noon or something, but I left earlier than normal, so around 11:30. I didn’t get to work until something like 1:30, because people were just abandoning their cars in the middle of the streets, either because of impatience or because they ran out of gas. Rather than being able to do a straight shot to the mall, I had to drive 5 miles out of my way to find a route in and was screamed at when I finally showed up (this was before cell phones were common).

    At that same job, I tried to call in because I had spent my entire morning in the bathroom. I was told that adults know how to control their bodily functions and, if I didn’t come in, I’d be fired. So I came in, but had to bolt to the bathroom every 15 minutes or so and more than once had to throw up in a trash can. That manager kept insisting that I sanitize the bathroom (and the trash can) every time (off the clock) and was annoyed I kept leaving the floor. She left halfway through my shift and the closing manager started to scold me for coming in, until he heard what happened. I was immediately sent home, was told to not come in the next day, and my time was adjusted so I was paid for every minute I was there.

    At my current company, they are pretty understanding about calling in sick, but we didn’t offer any kind of PTO to part time employees and that’s most of our staff. One of my coworkers came in sick and we all were pushing for her to go home, but she couldn’t afford to lose the money and we were short staffed. We ended up quarantining her the best we could (and this was a retail position that dealt with the public constantly), but she got everyone sick. We all fell like dominoes and the company had to pull staff from other stores, the owner’s worked, and some of our corporate staff. All because they wouldn’t give part time staff PTO.

    Along those lines, I think it’s shameful that people in the USA either don’t have access to affordable health care and don’t have jobs that offer PTO/Sick Time. I was in my mid-30s before I had a job that offered affordable insurance.
    Most didn’t offer it at all for my classification or it was so insanely expensive that my choice was rent or insurance.

    When I was in my early 20’s, I got very sick. The lymph nodes in my neck were swollen so badly that my neck was nearly twice its normal size and I had to sleep sitting up because my tonsils were so big they would block my throat. I couldn’t swallow, so the only things I could consume were things that I could toss back like you would a shot and let it hopefully go down the right pipe. When my fever hit 103+, I called an urgent care nurse hotline thing to ask if I should maybe go to the ER (this was 3 days into the swollenness and fever) and I was told to suck on a popsicle.

    The next day, I finally called my old doctor’s office. He was out of town, but his partner agreed to see me, only because I had been a patient for decades. It had snowed the day before, so I had to clear my car off in order to go to the doctor. It was bitter cold and windy and I cleared off my car in a t-shirt and I remember laying down on my snowy hood, because it felt nice.

    My diagnosis? Nothing. The doctor said nothing was wrong with me, even though my neck looked like I was about to sprout those wing things like that dinosaur from Jurassic Park and my tonsils were the size of golf balls. He tested me for strep, shrugged his shoulders, and was going to send me home. I asked for antibiotics, he said no. I asked for painkillers and he said to take ibuprofen, which I told him I’d been taking 4 every 4 hours for days. He gave me this disgusted look, shook his head, and wrote me a prescription. I didn’t realize until I was at the pharmacy that he had written me a prescription for Vicodin and that he assumed I was a drug seeker.

    I have insurance now, but I’m honestly not sure why. Everyone takes my insurance, but there’s not a GP within 40 miles that is accepting new patients and it’s been that way for 5 years. So my options seem to be to self-diagnose and suffer or pay hundreds of dollars at Urgent Care.

    A couple of years ago, I had bronchitis. I knew I had it (I’ve had it before) and needed antibiotics. I was the only patient in the waiting room at my local Urgent Care clinic and had to wait an hour, because the entire staff of 4 had went out to dinner as a group. They came back, I waited another 30 minutes and as they came out to get me, a kid having an asthma attack came in. I waited another two hours for the person to look at my throat for 10 seconds, then ask me what my “worst nightmare diagnosis” would be. I said cancer, she did a long pause, then said it was bronchitis. $150 for the inhaler and antibiotics, $300 for the urgent care visit, not including the $75 I paid upfront to be seen, all out of pocket and with me showing them my insurance card and them submitting it to my insurance.

    I realize all that sounds like a rant/complaint, but it’s to illustrate that sometimes it’s a privilege to be able to stay home, work from home, or otherwise and that not everyone has that advantage. And frankly, it’s beyond stupid that accruing sick leave isn’t universal for every job. I don’t want the guy making or serving my food to be sick. I don’t want the person touching everything in my cart at Target to be sick. Partly because that’s a terrible business practice and partly because they could get me sick.

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