my boss keeps bringing her sick child to work

A reader writes:

My boss keeps bringing her sick child to work because she can’t send them to school or daycare since they won’t accept sick children. While I understand that it’s hard to find someone to look after them, especially when both parents are working, I get sick every time I’m at work with the sick kid around. One day of being exposed to the kid results in me being sick for a week, and I don’t have paid sick leave. I admit that my immune system isn’t the best. I’ve tried wearing a mask, hand-washing, and sanitizing as much as I can, but it’s a small office. Is there anything else I can do?

She is the top person in the company. There is no HR department, and it’s a strictly in-person job so there’s no option for me to work from home.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked: “Have you or anyone else ever tried to speak to your boss about it? How approachable is your boss in general? Would you feel comfortable raising it or would you expect her to respond badly? And last, would anyone else be allowed to bring a child to work or is your sense that this is seen as a boss-only privilege?”

I haven’t spoken to my boss about it and, to my knowledge, no one else has either.

I’m honestly not sure how approachable she is. I haven’t been there for very long so I don’t know how she deals with situations. But when customers try to give her a hard time, she immediately shuts it down with, “I’m not going to argue with you.”

It’s definitely a boss-only privilege. She has said before that it is one of the perks of being the boss, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to do it.

Well, this is BS.

In a small office, your boss definitely should have noticed the patten that whenever she brings her sick kid to work, an employee is then sick for a week. A single instance of that should have been enough to shame her into stopping. Multiple instances of it? She sucks.

And of course, she shouldn’t need that to happen at all to realize the risk she’s forcing onto the rest of you — particularly given the education we’ve all received in the last few years about infectious diseases and people who are immunocompromised. Again, she sucks.

And of course she’s someone who doesn’t offer any paid sick leave.

In fact, the “no paid sick leave” is the more pressing issue here. That’s a crap policy and it’s usually the sign of a crap company.

You have a couple of options. You could say to your boss, “Each time you’ve brought Jane in when she’s sick, I’ve ended up catching what she’s had. I know you’re in a tough spot when she’s ill, but with no sick leave, I can’t afford to get sick.” Alternately — and probably more effective — you could get a group of coworkers to all say this together. I doubt you’re the only one who’s bothered by what your boss is doing and a group of you will be harder to ignore than one person. That doesn’t mean she won’t ignore you anyway — she sounds like she might — but it’s reasonable to try and if nothing else, it will put her on notice that people don’t like this.

If it were a larger company, you could go over her head or talk to HR, but you don’t have those options.

Really, though, no paid sick leave in a full-time job is a “get out as soon as you can” situation.

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. Petty_Boop*

    Honestly, as rude and petty and passive aggressive as it feels, I’d come in sick and announce, “I seem to have caught what little Ermintrude brought in a few days ago; hope nobody else catches it.” Over.and.Over. Every time you get sick, until she catches a clue.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      she never will. she considers it a perk of her job to bring in a sick kid and literally does not care the effect it has on others. Otherwise she would have noticed the pattern and at least said something like – sorry I know this is bad but I don’t have any other option.

      Ermintrude should be wearing a mask. But we all know that’s oppression, so i doubt the boss would even be considering it.

      The only option here is to get a new job.

      1. Laser99*

        Preach, pastor. Either this person doesn’t think she is doing anything wrong and therefore won’t stop, or she knows she is in the wrong and doesn’t care, and therefore won’t stop.

        1. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

          Or she knows what she’s doing and sees it as an opportunity to cut costs.

          (“Oh, good, Ermintrude is sick again. I’ll take her in and get OP sick. OP will then have to stay home unpaid and I can save on payroll.”)

    2. londonedit*

      I’d be surprised if the boss a) caught on or b) cared even if she did. I expect comments like that would either go straight over her head, or if she did think about it, it’d be no more than ‘well, that’s a shame, but I can’t help having to bring Ermintrude in when she’s ill’. This boss doesn’t sound like the sort of person who would sacrifice doing whatever she wants for the benefit of anyone else.

      1. Ellie*

        What about being direct. OP could sit down with her boss and explain that she keeps getting sick from when Ermintrude is in the office (while caveating that it is not her fault and so hard to find coverage for a sick child, etc. etc. because it is and because you want her to be reasonable), and is it possible for the business to offer some paid sick leave? Or possibly the option to work from home, or for OP to leave as soon as Ermintrude turns up, or any number of other, reasonable accommodations she could ask for. I mean, that’s the real issue, right? It’s possible her boss might be OK with OP taking measures to protect her own health, provided she gets to decide on them. Although if OP feels this conversation would not go well, then its probably best to just find another job.

        1. Jellyfish Catcher*

          Nah…it won’t go well, based on the boss’s poor treatment of Actual Customers and how she treats her staff – no sick leave, wtf.
          The best that the LW can do for herself is to be actively job searching. This boss sucks and won’t change.
          LW, do not mention any of that- no hints – to anyone in the office. Also, don’t feel any guilt either, as you deserve better.
          Good luck and send us an update when you’ve escaped to a better job – with sick leave!

    3. Helen Waite*

      The only way the boss will ever get a clue is if the entire office calls out sick at the same time.

      1. Bast*

        That would be absolutely golden if you could get everyone on board, but with no paid sick leave, I’m betting a good deal of the people will not participate simply because they can’t afford to take an unpaid day off.

        1. pally*


          This won’t have the same effect as everyone calling out sick, but what about a mass work slowdown because everyone is working while ill from exposure to the ill child? All those trips to the bathroom by all the sick employees have got to slow things down significantly.

        2. Industry Behemoth*

          If it makes anyone feel any better, I heard of an instance where a staffing agency got a frantic call for three temps before 9:00 am.

          The first person to arrive reported back that the client’s three admin assistants had staged a sickout against the office manager.

      2. CV*

        Perhaps the entire office could mask up immediately?

        It would be a clear sign of protest without going a day without pay to avoid exposure.

        (If workers are salaried, could they just leave that day at least, with no sick time at all, because of exempt employment laws?)

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          I think the LW would be well off to leave immediately when the boss brings her kid in because then she only misses a day instead of a week. She could claim that some ailment suddenly came on.

          1. Emily Dickinson*

            I like this plan. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and all that. 1 day off avoiding illness is a better deal then 1 week off sick, if you’re not being paid either way.

          2. e271828*

            This is a good strategy! LW doesn’t get paid for sick time, preventing the sick week with an unpaid day off instead!

            “Sorry, I see that you brought Ermintrude and her cold in, so in order not to lose a week, I’ll be off while she’s in the office.”

          3. My Useless 2 Cents*

            This is what popped into my head. I’d even be tempted to combine with Allison’s wording above (“Each time you’ve brought Jane in when she’s sick, I’ve ended up catching what she’s had. I know you’re in a tough spot when she’s ill, but with no sick leave, I can’t afford to get sick.”) rather than invent a sudden ailment.

            Even better lesson for owner, try to plan it out with co-workers to do the same. It won’t be a perk if owner is always alone in the office with sick child trying to keep everything afloat by herself! I’d guess owner has a lot more options (like doing some work from home) that OP doesn’t, she just prefers not to.

      3. AllyLila*

        Absolutely! Assuming nothing else worked, I’d be coordinating with the rest of the staff to all call out 2 days after the child was there (incubation period, etc.). Maybe after a few times, she’d get the memo.

        1. Kindred Spirit*

          Unfortunately, with no paid sick leave they may not be able to afford to do that.

      4. Lily*

        Sometimes with this sort of boss, you just have to accept that they don’t care about their people, only the bottom line. Maybe try putting it in terms she understands. “Boss lady, here’s the performance metrics for the week. You can see the big loss of productivity and profit here when that mysterious bug tore through the office. I think your Janey caught it too, remember? It really is a pity that germs are ruining your bottom line like this…”

    4. Polly Hedron*

      OP may be
      a) physically unable to commute or work while she’s sick;
      b) unwilling to expose the entire office a second time.

      1. LetterWriter*

        It’s a little bit of both. I try my best to make good choices when it comes to working while sick. My boss and I are usually the only ones in the office, but I do worry about the customers we interact with.

          1. Ellie*

            You are being too considerate. If you’re her main employee, you have a lot of leverage to tell her how you want this to be handled. Do you think she’d be OK with you leaving whenever her sick child is there, to avoid getting sick later? You could also just mask up and let her know that you can’t afford to take any more sick time. You shouldn’t be caring more about her business than she is.

        1. Rosemary*

          What type of business is this? Are customers exposed to the sick kid, or just you (after you get sick from the kid)? Depending on the type of business… maybe a few reviews from “customers” about how there’s often a sick kid hanging about, so patronize at your own risk…

        2. Tio*

          Since you interact with customers, I assume this isn’t the kind of job where you can WFH?

          Honestly, I’d start looking. You deserve somewhere that gives paid sick time regardless of whether there are kids exposing you or not.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            And frankly, her description of the boss’s interactions with the customers makes me wonder how long the place is going to stay open.

    5. JustAnotherCommenter*

      This was literally my first thought too. With a boss like that at a company so crappy it would 100% be worth it to come in and sneeze right in the bosses’ face haha.

      1. linger*

        Unfortunately, if Boss is not already catching Ermintrude’s illnesses directly from Ermintrude (or worse, is already coming in sick herself after doing so and therefore increasing OP’s risk of exposure), then (i) she must already have some degree of immunity by the time OP is sick, and so (ii) she’s at little extra risk of then catching the same illness from OP.

    6. Jaina Solo*

      I did this at my one office! One of the big bosses was a germaphobe so he wanted us to WFH when sick. This one coworker would always come in when sick though–she liked her desk setup at the office better than hers at home.

      Of course, I got whatever upper respiratory bug she’d been so thoughtful to share :/ I actually had to take time off despite working from home–that’s how sick I was. So when I came back, I made sure to say near boss’ office, “I caught what [coworker] was sick with a week ago.”

      I heard later that a manager pulled her aside and specifically asked her to follow the policy big boss had in place. After that, no more problems.

    7. bmorepm*

      causing other staff that presumably also don’t have paid sick leave to get sick-really punishing her coworkers more than her inconsiderate boss.

  2. Sloanicota*

    It’s crazy that we’ve had multiple letters on this exact issue. I suppose the ideal scenario is that the boss is able to stay home with the child when the child is sick, meaning the office needs to be flexible enough to allow that, and people have enough delegated authority to keep the business going without her present on-site. That’s not always feasible I guess, but I suspect it is more often than people want to believe; it involves training, trusting, and investing in your employees, which probably doesn’t happen in a place with no paid sick leave.

    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      If she’s the top person in the company, why can’t she just give herself (and everyone else) sick time?

        1. amoeba*

          I mean, in this situation it would still (sadly) be better for everybody if she literally gave only herself sick time…

    2. Mango Freak*

      We’ve had multiple letters on this issue because our country is horrid about both sick leave and child care.

  3. CzechMate*

    This is clearly someone who doesn’t understand that sickness = stay home on multiple fronts.

  4. ferrina*

    So this boss doesn’t give you any paid sick leave, then demands that you be in proximity to her sick kid? Ignoring every societal norm and ounce of common sense along the way?

    Nominating boss for Worst Boss of the Year, for pure callousness.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Not only that, but the poor kid should be at home where she can rest too.
      This boss is a piece of work and I hope OP gets out soon.

      1. Dek*

        Like, wouldn’t it make infinitely more sense for the boss to work from home if her kid’s sick and there are no other care options?

        1. mlem*

          It doesn’t sound like it’s a job that lends itself to remote work, quite possibly for the boss as well as for the LW. The LW does use the terminology “the office” rather than the shop, so I doubt my first thought of boutique retail is correct, but WFH might legitimately not be an option here.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Exactly this. The current setup serves no one but the boss’s ego. Little Ermentrude isn’t benefiting from this at all.

    2. Negative Nelly 4 a Reason*

      You must be new here. While both disgusting and egregious, this type of behavior is far too common, at least in the world of small-employers. Worst Boss of the year also requires at least one or two federal laws or regulations in addition to violating common sense and human decency. And unfortunately there will be more candidates than we can ever hope for. Sigh.

  5. Antilles*

    Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.

    The fact she considers getting you sick (with no paid sick leave!) as a ‘perk of being the boss’ tells you all you need to know.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Your boss has no empathy. You can’t change it. OP, please job search. It will help both your physical AND mental health.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      If the customers are in person too, this is so awful to them as well! What a terrible person all around.

  6. CherryBlossom*

    It really saddens me how little some people have learned from the pandemic. While I have sympathy for working parents that struggle to find childcare (another thing we should’ve learned to fix during the pandemic but didn’t’), subjecting your coworkers to a sick and contagious child is not the answer.

    I fully agree that you and your coworkers should team up to address this, since it seems like she may not listen to just you. But there’s a big chance your boss is a jerk and isn’t going to change,

    1. birb*

      There’s a literal whooping cough outbreak at the school where I teach, and its being massively downplayed. Kids are coughing non-stop but can’t miss more school, teachers can’t know which students are out for quarantine so we don’t know if we’ve been exposed. I’m SO tired of being disposable.

      1. Petty_Boop*

        I am so sorry to hear this. I used to be a teacher and feeling “disposable” or “replaceble” and unappreciated was one of the many reasons I left. I hope you don’t get sick, too!

        1. birb*

          The email that went out to all parents and staff didn’t mention it in the body or subject, just asked them to open the attachment to read important health information that might require action. The VAST majority of parents didn’t check their email or click through, and a lot of students had no idea either when I encouraged them to get their tDAP. I’m surprised the news hasn’t picked it up, but also don’t want to be tied to leaking that info and get fired.

          1. lina*

            tip off your local health department, anonymously if necessary. They’ll get it to the news.

      2. Pobody’s Nerfect*

        Whooping cough caught from someone else triggered a fatal heart condition in a family member of mine & it killed them. Have people lost all sense of public health and decency and morality? It’s insane.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Oh, this goes back way before the pandemic. My mom was a teacher’s aide way back in the 1980s and people were bringing their sick kids to work then, and probably for decades before that. Everyone thinks they’re the exception, especially if they’re the boss and it’s the kind of place that doesn’t give sick leave–you’re supposed to just suck it up.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I don’t know if it’s “feeling they’re the exception” so much as feeling that you have no choice. I am *so* glad that both me and my partner have the kind of jobs where it’s always OK for at least one of us to work from home if one of the kids are sick. Pre-pandemic, when working from home wasn’t possible for me, it meant either taking a day of annual leave or unpaid leave, neither of which was great but which were both manageable and affordable.

        But if you can’t work from home or take the day off work at short notice, and you don’t have handy local healthy grandparents who are happy to look after a sick child, what are you supposed to do? It is wild how there is absolutely no statutory protection or system for this kind of thing.

    3. fidget spinner*

      my coworkers always bring their kids when they’re sick. We have sick leave but it’s not unlimited, so I guess they don’t want to use it.

      I don’t say anything and I just try to avoid the child but it always bothers me.

    4. Pita Chips*

      It really saddens me how little some people have learned from the pandemic.

      Same. It still infuriates me how so many people, especially those in power, were more invested in “getting back to normal,” during the lockdown days than they were in fixing what was broken when they had the opportunity.

      From a purely cynical point of view, healthy workers are going to be more productive and leaders should invest in that.

      1. Jill Swinburne*

        Me too. The lockdowns were a dark time for me, but I kept telling myself that the silver lining was that it was an opportunity to reset things that weren’t right and make improvements to the world.

        Sweet summer child.

  7. Problem!*

    This reminds me of the time one of my coworkers announced they had to go pick up their kid from school because the school called and said their kid threw up in class. They then proceeded to bring said child back to work with them instead of going home. On top of the sheer audacity and rudeness of bringing a sick kid into a tightly packed cube farm, I felt terrible for the kid. If I was in that kid’s shoes the last place I’d want to be when sick is sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a cubicle for hours and hours because my parent’s ego wouldn’t let them admit the company won’t collapse if they’re gone for a half day.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Which is another point. the poor kid instead of being home in bed watching the Price is Right, they have to be in the office where they really can’t rest properly.

      1. wendelenn*

        Ah, the couch, Price is Right, tomato soup, and a grilled cheese sandwich. Childhood memories of being taken care of when ill.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          And a clean towel over your pillow until the smell of fresh laundry against your face makes you feel half-nauseous, half-comforted decades later.

        2. Emily Byrd Starr*

          And vinyl records! Listening to Disney and Sesame Street records- back when everyone listened to music on records, not just the retro hipsters.

        3. Gumby*

          For me it was CHiPs (and Charlie’s Angels, IIRC) which had reruns on weekday mornings for what seems like the whole of the 1980s. We had to turn the TV off when the soap operas started because we weren’t allowed to watch those.

          Also generally saltines and dead sprite because nausea / actually throwing up were the most common reason to be out sick from school. It was always great when you could hit the sweet spot within “too sick for school but not too sick to enjoy watching TV.”

    2. Jules*

      Boss was out of town. Boss’s wife, who also worked with us, brought kid with stomach virus to our tiny office because she “had to” finish a project that day. (It could have waited a day.) She did not tell anyone that the kid was sick; we all showed up and then immediately left when we realized what was going on. It was both a caring and totally dysfunctional place to work.

  8. DameB*

    I hate that we live in a world where there are workers with no paid sick leave. Late state capitalism is so exhausting.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I got the vibe that the boss was the owner, and the margins are too thin to actually stay in business.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, my immediate thought was “I think she really can’t afford to be in business and is thinking, ‘well, if I gave paid sick leave and paid for childcare when my child is sick, I wouldn’t make a profit/would lose money,'” and doesn’t realise that this means the business isn’t viable.

          And you can bet that if and when the LW and her colleagues get better jobs that give them paid sick leave, she’ll complain that “nobody wants to work any more,” because she thinks the solution to her situation is that people should accept low pay and no benefits in order to ensure her business survives.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Considering how that boss talked to customers per the letter, I don’t have to guess why.

          It amazes me how many people who are spectacularly ill-suited to public facing/customer service roles end up in them.

      2. Petty_Boop*

        “She is the top person in the company.” Sounds like she is the one who sets the rules for who gets what privileges, since there’s no HR, etc…

  9. Ms. Murchison*

    I wish there was another option for the LW, but if the workplace doesn’t give sick leave, then the boss knows exactly what she’s doing to LW and the other employees and doesn’t care. Getting out is the only fix.

    LW, when you write “I admit my immune system isn’t the best” it sounds like you’ve internalized how many societies shame people for being different and interpret ill health as a personality flaw that you’ve somehow chosen. Having a weaker immune system is not a character defect. Your boss is entirely in the wrong here.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is such an outstanding point! OP taking ANY responsibility for getting sick in this situation is obscene.
      If the boss kept the office at 55 degrees and OP said, “I’m admittedly a ‘cold’ person so I wear my coat and gloves, but sometimes…”
      We would all say that was bullshit and the situation is unsustainable.
      So, OP, this is unsustainable. Best of luck finding a new job. Better places are out there!

    2. Ama*

      My previous comment seems to have been eaten, but the tl;dr version: there’s an old episode of Mythbusters where they demonstrate that the only real way to keep a group of people in close proximity to a sick person from coming in contact with germs is for the sick person to be extra careful and proactive about avoiding contact not just directly with others, but with any materials others may need to touch. I’m sure the kid isn’t doing that and I bet the boss isn’t either (could almost bet she does things like wipe her kid’s nose with a tissue and then hands a piece of paper to an employee without washing her hands).

      1. An American(ish) Werewolf in London(ish)*

        I wouldn’t be shocked if she hands the TISSUE she used to wipe the kid’s nose to an employee, demanding they take it to the bin.

    3. LetterWriter*

      It’s unfortunate, because I got into hot water at my last job for “taking too many sick days” even though I always made sure to bring a sick note to explain my absence. I can understand that I was putting a lot of pressure onto my coworkers, but I wish they had been a bit more understanding.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        You were not putting pressure on your coworkers. Your employer was if they didn’t have enough staff to adequately cover for you. It is not your job to ensure there is enough staff when you are out; that’s your employer’s job.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly this. LW, you are a human being and your body is doing normal body things, like getting sick when exposed to pathogens. If your company leadership doesn’t plan for this, that’s on them, not on you.

      2. Ms. Murchison*

        Having a weak immune system is unfortunate and it’s frustrating as hell. But not winning the immune system lottery does not make you a bad person.

    4. Emily Byrd Starr*

      “it sounds like you’ve internalized how many societies shame people for being different and interpret ill health as a personality flaw”

      Not to mention, the inability to just “suck it up, push through, and go in to work anyway without it affecting the quality of your work” is also seen as a personality flaw. The reality is that very few people are able to do this, and even they ought to stay home if they’re contagious.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I worked for a company where the whole culture was ‘I finished month end with a sprained ankle and a temp of 103’ as a point of pride.

    5. Awkwardness*

      Agree on this.
      LW, maybe you have a completely normal immune system? Being in close proximity to a sick child for 8h a day will get a lot off people sick.
      Do not internalise this as your fault .

    6. goddessoftransitory*


      LW, you don’t “owe” your boss or anyone else some kind of supernaturally powerful immune system. You aren’t letting people down when you get sick, especially when it is ENTIRELY THEIR FAULT that you were exposed in the first damn place. You aren’t weak or bad for having to take a week to recover, especially since you are apparently not allowed any time off to actually do so.

  10. Lacey*

    I hope you’re able to find a new job soon.
    This boss does not care about anyone but herself and this situation is not going to improve.

  11. Miss Chanandler Bong*

    I feel bad for boss’s kids too. They need to be at home getting better. Being dragged to Mom’s office must suck.

    1. goofBall*

      Seriously. I suppose this is a job where WFH isn’t possible? If boss is pulling boss-only privileges, working from home seems like an obvious lever to pull in this situation.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It says it isn’t an option for LW, but I don’t think it’s clear whether it’s an option for LW’s Boss? Although since LW has no standing to tell her boss to work from home that’s probably moot.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Probably not if it’s the kind that doesn’t have sick leave and the boss is arguing with customers in person–it’s probably some kind of service or retail.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Given the boss’s treatment of customers, that business might fail soon anyway: another reason for OP to job-hunt.

      2. Liane*

        The OP writes in their question, “…it’s a strictly in-person job so there’s no option for me to work from home.”

      3. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I wonder how many customers are going to avoid that place because Germintrude might be there spreading her germs? Word gets around fast in some towns.

  12. Cookie Monster*

    If going the group route, I would actually focus on the ‘no paid sick leave’ part first, then maybe bring up the sick child issue as one of the consequences of said policy. She should have to face every single employee saying ‘this is not okay with us.’

    1. Ashley*

      If you are able to go the group route, how does the boss handle things when they are on vacation? If they are ever out and there is a second in command is there an option for utilizing that format for kid sickness? Someone with more capital would need to bring this up, but you might be able to bring it up to them.

      1. linger*

        OP comments above she’s the only worker other than Boss regularly in office.
        So organizing as a group may be of less help in this case.

  13. GiantPanda*

    You could try leaving as soon as the sick kid shows up.
    Calling out for the day and not getting sick yourself is the better deal for you than being sick and unpaid several days later, both health- and moneywise.

    (Unfortunately this comes with a risk of getting fired.)

    1. Devious Planner*

      This is what I would do, at least while trying to find a long-term solution. You could present as a pretty factual solution.

      “Hey, just so you know when your kid comes in I always end up sick for a week. I’m going to just take my sick day when she’s here sick in order to avoid 4 sick days later.”

      I know this isn’t actually a great solution, but it is a triage solution. Is this likely to piss off your boss? Maybe. But if presented as non-opinionated/non-judgemental, it could work.

      1. Emily Dickinson*

        Amazing. Easier to job hunt on a healthy day than if she waited until she got sick again.

    2. Emily Byrd Starr*

      But then she won’t get paid for the day, so unless she has a rich spouse and/or parents, she might not be able to do that.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        But LW is predictably having to take multiple unpaid sick days each time the child visits. One preventative day isolating from Typhoid Mary is less of a financial hit than up to a week actually sick.

  14. learnedthehardway*

    I think it would be worth mentioning that you are catching little Ermintrude’s illnesses, but whether your boss will do anything about it? My guess is that she’ll say she won’t.

    To be honest, I think that your chances of catching little Ermintrude’s illness are somewhat similar, whether she is in the office or if her mother is. Kids are vectors, and their adults get exposed to the germs. Adults are better at hand washing and nose wiping, but they still carry the diseases and spread them. I’ve always caught everything my kids brought home. My guess is that your manager is low grade fighting off the same illnesses, even if she doesn’t have symptoms.

    I would probably wear a mask while little Ermintrude is in the office, carry a bottle of hand sanitizer, and have bleach wipes handy. You might want a hepa air filter for the office as well.

  15. Gritter*

    Aside from it making everyone sick the “boss-only privilege” really angers me.

    Bosses should lead by example and if the option to bring in a sick child isn’t available for staff then it shouldn’t available for the boss either.

    1. Cmdrshprd*

      In this specific instance I agree boss should not be bringing the kid in.

      ““boss-only privilege” really angers me.”

      But a boss/owner having more privileges is not unreasonable that is one of the benefits of moving up taking on more responsibility.

      1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

        It’s a privilege to get your employees sick? I don’t follow your logic.

        See also Pizza’s comment above.

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          I specifically said in the previous comment.

          “In this specific instance I agree boss should not be bringing the kid in.”

          I was responding more to what seemed like a general dislike of boss only perks/privileges.

          I agree brining in a sick kid and getting other sick should not a boss perk. But in general boss only perks are legitimate.

    2. Pizza Rat*

      It angers me too. “Boss-only privilege,” IMO, should be for things like assigned parking spaces, company vehicles, and country club memberships, not for doing something harmful to employees like exposing them to illness.

      1. Hazelfizz*

        In my ideal world (the one where it’s impossible to be a billionaire, for example), those are fully unnecessary and tacky elitist perks.

        1. Pizza Rat*

          No argument from me about unnecessary and tacky. I used those examples. to differentiate perks from sick leave, which should be a standard part of compensation.

  16. CatMouse*

    I mean I would probably say I’m feeling ill and leave the second she showed up with the sick child. A loss of one day is better than a week!

  17. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think you have to find a new job, but since that’s not an immediate solution, I’d keep up with the masking / hand-washing / hand-sanitizing.

    Until you can find something new, can you look into getting an air purifier? My inclination would be to ask the boss to buy one (or more) for the office itself from a “cleaner air will help Junior pick up fewer bugs when she’s in the office” perspective, but your boss also seems unreasonable so it seems unlikely that she’d do this. Failing that, if it’s in your budget, they make personal sized ones that you can keep with you in your part of the office that would add an extra layer of protection until you can leave.

    1. RC*

      Yes, came here to say this. Obviously PPE isn’t a solution to public health issues, but I’d suggest (if you haven’t already) 1) upgrade to an N95 or at least a KN95 mask (there are different styles, whichever one you find that works for your face/fits without gaps/is comfortable; personally I like the 3M 8110S because my face is small; lots of people like the 3M Auras for the nose fit), and 2) a small (portable?) HEPA filter that can sit by your desk. Cleanaircrew dot org has a bunch of great resources for how to find a good filter, and for generally limiting the spread of airborne viruses (obviously handwashing is important too, depending on what is going around, but IMO that’s easier than the air issue). They were doing a lot of outreach into schools, but it’s depressing how few of them got the memo from a flipping global pandemic..

      Anyway, agree with all the other comments above (no sick leave??), but this might be a stopgap until you can get out of there (and/or something to bust out the next time a coworker shows up with “just a cold”).

  18. Bernice Clifton*

    Her privilege of being the boss should also mean that she can work from home when her kid is sick.

    1. anon_sighing*

      Her privilege as boss and “highest person in the company” is that she can still draw a paycheck when she’s at home taking care of the kid. As far as it sounds, her income isn’t as fragile as LW’s if she were to not come into work for the week.

  19. Jennifer Strange*

    I’m a parent to a 2-year-old germ factory so I get that it’s hard to navigate at times. Admittedly, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to work from home when my little one is out sick (not to mention, my job offers flexibility of being able work later in the day if needed rather than specific hours) and it may be that the boss here isn’t that fortunate, but if she really is the top boss at the company then she should have the ability to institute paid sick leave for all, including herself.* I agree with Alison that that is the main issue right now (though the bringing a sick child to work is an issue as well).

    *I’m assuming the fact that she comes to work with a sick child indicates that she isn’t even taking paid sick leave for herself. If that’s not the case (and she does take paid sick leave) she’s even worse.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Agreed. Even if she’s in a position where working from home isn’t an option and doesn’t have any other alternative childcare options, she could be doing things to make the consequences easier on the employees (sick leave, for instance). If she can’t afford to pay employees sick leave, then she can’t afford the business. SImple as that.

    2. Tiger Snake*

      “I’m assuming the fact that she comes to work with a sick child indicates that she isn’t even taking paid sick leave for herself”

      I made the same assumption. I actually did say to myself “that’s terribly thoughtless, but at least she’s consistent”. It made me wonder if with she’s the office boss we’re actually the offshoot of a larger company and so she doesn’t actually get to make the rules.

  20. Artemesia*

    Makes my blood boil. Years ago our AA brought in her daughter with chicken pox; the two other admin personnel were a pregnant woman and an elderly woman and they came to me literally in tears. I didn’t have authority over this AA, the boss was out of town but I was higher ranking in the organization. So I told her that she could not have a contagious child in the office especially with a pregnant co-worker and she would have to take her home. Which she did.

    But in the OP’s case, you have an inconsiderate boss and no sick leave? Monstrous. The OP needs to assert herself about her own need to WFH when having a sick child around results in exposure and illness. And if/when that doesn’t work, she needs to job search.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      CHICKENPOX?!?!?! Oh lord. Even without having pregnant or elderly folks in the office, this is wild.

      1. Pizza Rat*

        Right? It’s horrid no matter what, but with pregnant and older people it is especially egregious. Some of us didn’t get vaccinated for chicken pox as a kid because the vaccine didn’t exist at the time and nobody brought it up later–my doctor certainly didn’t, and I didn’t get my shingles shot until years later. That AA could have done a lot of damage!

    2. Greengirl*

      Bless you for doing that. I can’t believe someone would bring someone in with chicken pox around other people.

    3. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      WTactualF. Chickenpox?? You keep that crap at home. Especially if your kid got it in a post-chickenpox vaccine world, because you could’ve spared your child and you didn’t. At least let the poor kid stay home watching TV where they can rest and not infect anyone else.

      1. Ryne*

        “you could’ve spared your child and you didn’t”

        Not necessarily the case. One can still catch chickenpox after being vaccinated; it’s significantly less likely, but not at all impossible.

        1. WS*

          +1, it’s also very likely to be a mild case. But it still happens.

          On that note, if you are between 30-50 years old, please check your measles vaccination status. During that time (it varies from country to country) we were often only given a single dose of the vaccine which has turned out to not be enough for lifetime immunity. People older than 50 have mostly had measles, people younger than 30 got the two doses. I had zero immunity to measles and have now had the two-dose catchup.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      There was a column here in 2017 about a woman who brought her child who had NOROVIRUS into the office and let him get into contact with food being served. A bunch of coworkers got it, including someone whose child had cancer and ended up being hospitalized due to the virus! She could have literally killed someone else’s child because little Brantleighden had to be in the office poking food with his virus-y fingers.

    5. pally*

      Yeah we had a C-suite person who used to bring in the grand kids whenever they were ill. Kids would be stashed in the conference room with door closed. All were given instruction not to go into that room.

      No one liked when this happened. Complaining to the VP didn’t change things (“just stay away from the room and you won’t catch anything.”).

      That all changed when the grand kids were about to be brought into the building – with chickenpox. VP knew several of the employees had never had chicken pox for one reason or another.

      VP put his foot down. Do not bring those kids into this building. C-suite person argued that they’d be out of the way in the conference room – like other times- so that should be fine.

      VP would not budge. In fact, he told her go to her car and go home -immediately- as she had just come from her car where the kids were waiting to be brought into the building. That was exposure enough to infect employees.
      (his being a Ph.D. virologist didn’t hurt his argument)

      She complied, angrily.

    6. anon_sighing*

      > but I was higher ranking in the organization. So I told her that she could not have a contagious child in the office especially with a pregnant co-worker and she would have to take her home. Which she did

      Kudos to you for putting your foot down. Even knowing the situation is solved, I’m still heightened from the fact there were TWO PREGNANT WOMEN and they STILL decided to bring a child with chickenpox to the office. Especially when they COULD stay home!

    1. Dovasary Balitang*

      Same! Ermintrude is actually the name of my D&D character so this naming is delighting me.

  21. Andromeda*

    “I admit that my immune system isn’t the best. I’ve tried wearing a mask, hand-washing, and sanitizing as much as I can”

    LW please do not blame yourself for this! You getting ill isn’t somehow a personal fault of yours, and if your work tries to make you feel this way I promise it is their problem.

    1. Ama*

      There is an old episode of Mythbusters where they demonstrate that the only real way to avoid being exposed to the germs of someone with a cold in close proximity is for the actual sick person to be super proactive about not touching anyone or any materials that are going to be passed around to others, washing their hands immediately any time they blow their nose or even put their hands near their face, etc. Even the person who was modeling the “germaphobe” (Carrie) and being super careful to not touch where the “sick” person (Adam) had touched, wash their own hands, etc., got a little bit of the “germs” on them when Adam was not taking extra precautions — but when he was super careful almost no one directly touched any germs.

      There’s no way a child is going to be that careful, so there are probably germs everywhere in the office (and I can’t imagine the boss is being that careful either, given that she thinks bringing them in is okay).

      1. Emily Byrd Starr*

        I always wash my hands after blowing my nose, even if it’s just due to allergies and not a virus. Hello, my hands just touched snot!

    2. LetterWriter*

      Thank you, that means a lot. My previous job definitely treated getting sick like it was a personal failing and I have a lot of trauma from that job, so I’m working on re-writing my thought processes.

      1. Fives*

        That’s so hard to do. I had a job over 10 years ago like that and I still sometimes feel a little bad about calling out. It’s hard to break that mindset. I hope things go well for you!

        1. Bast*

          It is! I have also worked for a job like that (“Oh, he’s just a hypochondriac” or “You know her, she’s ALWAYS sick” followed by an eyeroll were common comments if someone so much as out for a single day. Forget about calling out on a Friday/Monday — the assumption was that you wanted a long weekend). I now work for a company that encourages you to take a sick day if you are sick, and I STILL feel guilty about calling out sick, particularly as WFH is an option.

            1. Bast*

              The only acceptable solution was clearly to hold in your illness until the weekend, because clearly management believed we could all pick and choose when/if we get sick. “Choosing” to get sick on a Monday/Friday and giving yourself a long weekend was unacceptable, statistics be damned!

              On another note, we had a senior attorney who was out for HEART SURGERY and was sending emails from her bed while in the recovery room immediately following her surgery. THAT is the type of culture that office had, and instead of being told to take it easy and relax, her behavior was lauded as the standard of what a dedicated employee should look like. Therefore, your flu is no excuse to call out. Ugh.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        The boss is being ridiculous and this is unacceptable. In the meantime, I’m curious whether you’re wearing a surgical mask or something like an N-95 respirator. Cloth masks and surgical masks (AKA baggy blues) are better than nothing, but still not great. Respirators, like N-95s, are much better. Unfortunately, they’re also much more expensive.

      3. Pointy's in the North Tower*

        Oh, LetterWrite, I have so much sympathy for you.

        I have several chronic conditions that cause me to miss work regularly. I’m now dealing with a possible autoimmune disorder, which kept me at home two days last week and one day this week due to nausea and crippling fatigue.

        Neither of us chose our specific DNA combinations, so being sick or having a weaker immune system isn’t a personal failing. (Some of my symptoms are the result of my immune system overreacting, because bodies are weird.)

  22. Fake Kirkland Coffee*

    Please, LW, do not feel like you have to excuse your boss’s bad behavior by talking about your own immune system and whether it is strong or not. You could have the Teflon-coated immune system of a veteran Kindergarten teacher and still catch illnesses, AND you deserve a safe and healthy workplace no matter how easily you catch illnesses, or whether or not you are immunocompromised. Her behavior is looney, period.

  23. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I had a bunch of things to say about this boss, but most of them would get me banned. EVIL

    1. Reality Check*

      I’m thinking unkind thoughts about the child’s father, myself. Where is he in all this?

      1. BubbleTea*

        Might not exist – my son doesn’t have one (though I don’t take him to work when he’s sick).

        1. Reality Check*

          Those possibilities have crossed my mind, but even in cases where Dad is very much present, I almost never see them doing anything like this. Burden typically falls on the mother. I’m sure there are exceptions but I rarely see it.

          1. Tiger Snake*

            You just gave me one of those record-scratch “what, REALLY” moments.

            When I was sick, it was always dad taking care of me. Most of my coworkers are men, and when their kids are sick they’re the primary parent who stays home to care for them. It’s such the norm in my life it didn’t occur to me that it was unusual.

            The reason for why that’s the case is because I’m in IT support, and my dad was also in specialised IT support. We had the ability to do weird work-from-home workarounds decades before anyone else out of necessity. It just never occurred to me that other people would pick mum as the primary carer over dad.

      2. anon_sighing*

        I hate what-if-isms, but it could be he’s very much in the picture but his workplace isn’t an office and not remotely suitable to bring a child (many trade professions, professions with traveling like trucking or ones where people are on-site, a job where they need to focus for a critical safety reason, etc). Could simply be mom’s work is the best option.

  24. Bad Wolf*

    As soon as sick kid walks in the door, I’d gather my things and tell boss I’M taking a sick day. If she objects, I’d point out, it’s either one day today to keep away from contagious kid, or five days next week when I’m actually sick.
    I know that’s pretty aggressive. But some people just can’t take a hint.

    1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      Yep. If LW can do this, this is the best option until they can find a new job.

  25. Hedgehug*

    Isn’t one of the perks of being the boss also staying home whenever you want with your sick kid?

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Right??? I’d much rather THAT perk than the “perk” of bringing your child to work (sick or not).

  26. AnonInCanada*

    Joining the chorus: Your boss sucks. She’s never going to change. Your only remedy is to get out ASAP, for your own good. Hopefully you and your colleagues all find new jobs in unison, and then permanently call in sick. With no notice. Because it serves her right to have her entitlement bite her right in the keister.

  27. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    There’s a whooping cough epidemic sweeping through an entire office block in our town because someone’s boss brought their sick (and unvaccinated) kid into work. The boss’ reaction was ‘it’s just a cough ffs’.

    Plenty of viruses are even nastier to adults than they are to kids!

    Sadly the last few years have taught us that a lot of people see vaccines, health measures, containment, safety as all things that somehow impinge upon ‘their rights’. If years of a deadly pandemic didn’t get it through their thick skulls then sadly nothing will.

    Try a ‘seriously, I cannot afford to get sick from your kid again’ but tbh I think you’ll have to look elsewhere for employment away from this plague rat.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      This is a good opportunity to remind the comment section that immunity wanes, so if you’re able and willing to get vaccinated check if you’re due for any boosters. I need to do that myself actually, the only one I know for sure I’m up on is TDAP.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*


        The standard booster-schedule for TDaP is every ten years, but immunity from the current whooping cough vaccine wanes sooner than that, seven years is probably a better interval if you’re going to be around infants or anyone else who is at higher risk if they catch whooping cough.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I’m salty that the chickenpox/shingles (same virus) vaccine isn’t available in the UK – that’s the only one I don’t have up to date.

        Check your boosters! My mother got whooping cough as a young adult and she’s permenantly damaged her lungs and ribs.

        And please please make sure your measles shots are up to date – that is the virus that no virologists I knew would work with because it’s SO contagious.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Just a cough???? Hope they enjoy my asthmatic ass coughing a lung into their lap.

      1. Problem!*

        People who call whooping cough “just a cough” have never actually had it.

        I got it in college and oh my god. I hauled my needlephobic butt to the health center to get a TDAP booster as soon as I was able because I never want to do that again.

      2. Artemesia*

        a number of years ago 10 infants in the LA area — with excellent medical care and mostly from middle class homes (i.e. access to good nourishment etc) DIED of whooping caught from adults who were unaware their immunity had waned. With all the care in the world, they could not save them.

  28. Dana Lynne*

    “No paid sick leave” is sadly common in many full time jobs, especially small employers and blue collar jobs like construction.

  29. A Simple Narwhal*

    Would it be possible to leave whenever the boss brings in a sick kid? It’s not ideal to lose a day of pay but it’s better to sacrifice one upfront than the 5+ you might lose if/when you get sick.

    And then spend the day job hunting because this place is full of bees and you deserve better.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’m not one for lying, that stuff comes back, but claiming an emergency is not a lie. (Hell, taking the time unpaid is sacrifice, why would you lie?)
      And the next, emergency. If she asks, tell her, it’s your health you need to protect.
      (In Not Tom’s perfect world!)

  30. CommanderBanana*

    Ugh. My former boss used to do this. We’d all get sick, starting with the person closest to her office and then the plague would advance down the hall. I spent more time on antibiotics than off of it at that job.

    Alison’s right, this coupled with the lack of paid sick leave coupled with your boss’s general intransigence points to a “get out when you can” situation.

  31. Grey Duck 74*

    I fully understand LW cannot WFH.. but can the boss?? Seriously, poor kid to be dragged into an office instead of sleeping in their own bed, reading their own books, or being able to be in their pj’s. Ugh.
    Boss, STAY HOME with your sick kid. Figure it out how to be remote, and take calls from your kitchen table. Don’t infect the whole office, let your sick kid rest and get over it.

  32. MuseumChick*

    Job hunt, job hunt, job hunt. The more I read AAM the more I truly believe trying to reason with people like the OP’s boss is useless. I see this as a “your boss sucks and its not going to change” situation.

  33. TG*

    Yeah his get out of there – bringing a sick kid into work is not a perk. Having sick time that you actually get paid for is a perk and it’s one that she should be offering to her employees. This company sounds horrible and like it’s run by a queen and not a nice one if that… I’d get out ASAP.
    On your initial question for now I would mask up and keep yourself healthy as much as you can and start looking.

  34. Belle87421346*

    OP, your boss definitely sucks.

    But may I ask what kind of mask you are wearing? If you are high risk of getting ill a L3 ASTM surgical mask or an N95 should be used. Using a lower grade mask is likely inadequate.

    It would also be reasonable to ask your boss that her child mask. If she is the one who is ill she is the most important one to be masked.


    1. LetterWriter*

      I wear a surgical mask, I’m not sure what kind, though. I’ll look into getting a better one.
      I’m hesitant to ask for the child to mask. I’m generally a very quiet person and avoid conflict whenever I can. I’m working on being more assertive, but it’s difficult.

      1. RC*

        I commented above, but definitely upgrade your own mask game! I’m partial to the 3M 8110S (a molded-style N95); lots of people love the 3M Aura N95, and if you’re more an ear loop person (I can’t, personally) they make some nice boat-shaped KN95s which often come in fun colors too. You’re looking for something that fits well enough that the air has to go *through* the mask instead of *around* the mask (which is the main problem with surgicals; the air just leaks around the edges). I wish it had been better communicated from the beginning of the pandemic (and wildfire season for that matter) that not all masks are created equal! And just like a good pair of pants or shoes, what fits best for my face might not fit best for your face.

        Anyway, sorry for the long post, I’ve just very much been following the covid is airborne aerosol scientist crew for years now and I wish everyone would have access to good info about How Air Works :) It’s definitely a stopgap but if it’ll save you a week or three of being sick until you can find something better, it’s a win.

        (And yeah I wouldn’t bother asking the child to mask, because children tend to be very bad at masks and well-fitting masks…)

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Excellent response! And I totally agree with you about this being a huge public health fail. I also am only aware of this stuff because of aerosol scientists on social media. Governments and public health have totally dropped the ball on telling people this information.

          LW, please don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. It’s not on you!

  35. LetterWriter*

    Hello everyone, it’s me, the LetterWriter! I am currently going on week two of being sick from my last exposure to “little Ermintrude”. It’s been…a lot. I wanted to say thank you to everyone that has commented and offering their solutions, and a thank you to Alison as well for answering my email.
    To make matters worse, I completely forgot to mention in my original letter that I’m not the one I’m worried about when it comes to getting sick. My father, who I live with, has a compromised immune system.
    If anyone has any questions or a need for more context, I’m more than happy to answer. Thanks again!

    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      How horrible! Is there a place where you can stay (a friend’s, a relative’s) until you get better? Is there a place where your father can stay?

      1. LetterWriter*

        There isn’t really another place for us to stay without paying for a hotel, unfortunately.

      2. Alice*

        Your boss is awful!
        Suggestion: can you improve ventilation at home so that it’s less likely that you will pass your sickness to your dad?
        If you have mechanical ventilation, turn it from “AUTOMATIC” to “ON” and use MERV 13 filters (or as close to it as your HVAC system can handle).
        If you have natural ventilation, crack multiple windows to create “rivers of air” through your house.
        Get an air filter – multiple small ones are quieter and more effective than one giant one. It’s not necessarily about HEPA but about total CADR, the clean air delivery rate.
        Good luck!

    2. MuseumChick*

      Hi LetterWriter,

      I am so sorry! That makes all of this so much worse. Is job hunting something you can put a lot of energy into right now? Or do you have reasons for staying at this particular job and trying to make it work?

      1. LetterWriter*

        I’ve been looking into a new job, but it seems like I’ve painted myself into a corner regarding work experience. I really want to get out of my current field, but it’s difficult to change paths without starting over from scratch.

        1. anon_sighing*

          People here give great advice and have lots of combined experience – it’s not guaranteed to bring results or the right answers for your context, but posting the open thread on Friday with your background and general quandary could be useful in helping you sort out where you can pivot to and how.

        2. Pita Chips*

          It may not come to completely from scratch. If you can swing a professional resume writer, the can be helpful at highlighting any transferrable skills you have that could apply to a new field.

          If not, Allison always has good resume advice as do several commenters here. Good luck!

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      LW, you mentioned that the work has to be done in the office, but is that also true for the boss? How does she otherwise handle vacations for the staff? Does she get mad when people take so much time off because they’re sick? Does she make any connection between her kid coming in sick and then other people getting sick?

      I’m sorry this keeps happening to you and I’m sorry you’re sick on top of trying to prevent someone else from getting sick.

      1. LetterWriter*

        Yes, it’s also true for the boss. Vacations are unpaid. It’s sort of generous but sort of at the expense of the other employees because they have to cover the employee that’s on vacation, even if that means working more than they usually do. I don’t think she’s made the connection that it’s her child causing the illnesses I’ve had.

        1. anon_sighing*

          > It’s sort of generous

          Gently, an unpaid vacation is NOT generally considered generous.

          1. Bast*

            This reminds me of working as a server. There was no PTO – don’t come in=don’t get paid. There was no true vacation time — you had to arrange for a co-worker to cover your shifts, and if you couldn’t, no vacation.

            1. anon_sighing*

              Such a health risk, ugh. I wish the federal government would just mandate something and take this away from being a state-based thing.

        2. Antigone Funn*

          Unpaid and they lay a guilt trip on you because they’re too cheap to staff properly? Ugh, that’s terrible.

        3. sparrow*

          Others have covered that unpaid vacations =/= generous, but I wanted to touch on your last sentence. If you really think that she’s made the connection, it might be worth it, the next time you’re calling out sick, to say very matter-of-factly, “I’ve come down with what Ermintrude had the other day and can’t come in.” However, I don’t want to encourage you to do this if being matter-of-fact with her is going to make her angry with you. You know her better than I would.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      Oh, my God, this gets worse and worse.

      Please know that you are in the right, LW. We’re all pulling for you.

    5. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      I suspect that your boss is doing this deliberately to cut costs.

      (“Oh, good, Ermintrude is sick again. I’ll take her in so that OP has to take an unpaid week off and I can save on payroll.”)

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Oh boy you definitely have my sympathy! I’m the one with the bad immune system and my husband gets the joy of going to his office and having to be very careful who he’s nearby.

      I’m guessing your boss wouldn’t give a toss about knowing you have a loved one with a comprimised immune system – met enough of those types. They won’t have the empathy to understand that their kid having sniffles = life threatening infection to an adult.

      Best I can suggest is from my old virologist days: anything you can reasonably do to protect yourself. Masks, frequent handwashing or gloves, don’t share communal food, wash yourself thoroughly when you get home, keep separate clothing for home/work use – heck if I had my old contacts I’d send you a Racal biosafety suit for you to rock up in next time she brings sick kid in. Basically, cosplay as a virology lab technician when the kid’s in.

      She *might* get the point then.

  36. ZSD*

    I’m guessing you’re not, but it’s worth checking whether you’re in one of the growing number of jurisdictions (states, counties, and cities) that guarantee paid sick days to workers.

  37. GrumpPenguin*

    Employees need to stop falling for employer’s presentation of paid sick days being a “perk” that the employer generously gfts them and see it as what it is: A matter of course that they need to do their jobs. If a company says they “can’t afford” to give paid sick days, they shouldn’t be running a business at all. (But maybe I’m just spoiled because my country has laws requiring employers to give paid sick leave.)

  38. GrumpPenguin*

    Clicked “submit” to early. Maybe frame it this way: Being sick constantly without being able to take paid sick leave leads to people missing time on the job meaning they fall behind on their work.
    May mentioning that people have family members who need to be protected from getting sick help? I doubt it giving the non-caring attitude of the boss, but it may be worth a try.

    1. Bast*

      My country is awful with PTO and sick time. I truly don’t understand how many companies don’t make the connection that when you don’t let employees take off sick/don’t provide sick time, you lose more production because before you know it, half of the office is sick, some worse than others. If places truly cared about production (because appealing to them about the well-being of their employees is not something they generally care about) they’d understand it’s better to have one person call out sick for a couple of days than go through a week or two of various people calling out sick for anywhere from a day to a week because of a single illness that could have been avoided by someone staying home when sick.

      1. GrumpPenguin*

        That has always struck me as weird and really short sighted. As you said, it’s better to have one sick person at home than ten at the office. Giving paid sick leave would mean “We pay you to not make your coworkers sick and slow down the productivity”. I guess that stems from the idea that being “visible” is a sign of commitment, same for some companies resenting WFH arangements. As times are hopefully changing now, employers will have to learn that younger emplyees are no longer willing to sacrifice their work-life-balance and health for their job. As Alison often says, speaking up as a group (to show it’s a serious issue) might help – or otherwise look elsewhere for better options.

        1. Bast*

          The ability to WFH when sick/during an emergency has become a non-negotiable for me, and for many office workers, as PTO tends to remain at eh levels. What was once a unicorn to find, post-pandemic, is thankfully becoming more normal. I can only hope expanded sick leaves and PTO follows suit.

  39. Emily Byrd Starr*

    Someone suggested that the entire staff should approach the boss about it. If that doesn’t work, they should all go on strike, form a picket line outside the work building, and call the local news outlets and have them report on it. That way, even if she fires all of them, people will know how awful she is and they won’t apply to work there, leaving her jobless.

    Why not? It’s worked in the past.

  40. anon_sighing*

    Be careful. Parents like this see a reasonable request as an attack – they go on a tangent about being a working parent to young kids, how hard it is, “what, do you hate kids?” and then when they’re really flailing “DON’T TALK ABOUT MY KID LIKE THAT!!” (no one was talking about their kid). And it somehow does not matter if you yourself are in the same circumstance: “I’m glad you have solutions, but I don’t” etc, etc. It’s exhausting and it’s not worth your time or job security (which doesn’t even offer paid sick leave…sheesh).

    You need the whole staff to get on board with a gentle request – begin with sympathy for both her and her child (because it is tough, I’m not diminishing that – also not fun for the little one to feel crummy and be in an uncomfortable office) and swiftly going into the health concerns & solutions. There is a reason why day cares don’t want sick kids there. Your boss needs to work from home herself and/or just stay home with the kid – it’s not worth the lost productivity from sick employees. She’s not doing her kid, herself, or her business any favors. Deal with one issue at a time. The place won’t fall apart without her and she is the business owner, it seems…so she’s gonna make money either way. No one will see her as lazy if she is taking care of her kid.

  41. L'étrangère*

    Apart from all the good long-term suggestions here, may I add a short-term one for you? Since you’re out a week of unpaid work every time this child is present, you might consider bouncing right out of the office every time you see them. Losing a day of pay is better than a week, and you can devote that unexpected time to job hunting

  42. DrSalty*

    I am curious what happens when the boss is out. Does she ever take vacation or PTO? I am wondering if the business is small enough she feels it cannot run without her, and thus she cannot stay home with her kid unless the whole office closes. Obviously does not excuse this situation.

    I suspect your best option here is to find a new job.

    1. anon_sighing*

      Good question.

      My read is that she is the type that likes working and being hands on in the office – it’s a good trait of a small business owner to put in the sweat, but some people get the impression the place will fall apart without them or they get so into being hands on, it’s hard to step back even when it’s very much needed. Since no one has told her this is an issue, she may not see the issue…if she’s that into her work, then cause-and-effect may not be clicking like others are suggesting. She may think “oh, kid’s sick and LW’s sick? Something must be going around…anyway, back to work.” I only get nervous because she said it’s a “boss-only privilege” and LW described the incident of them shutting down the customer, so they may not be open to feedback even if the cause-and-effect is brought up.

      Alison’s point about the lack of paid sick leave is the issue. If the boss had to pay each time LW was out, I feel a solution to this would be snappier.

  43. higheredadmin*

    Working from home today with my sick kid. This was not an option pre-pandemic and has been a game changer for me. My employer is getting a day of work out of me instead of me taking the day off, so I’m thinking it’s a win for them. I had a boss at a previous job that had a lot of temp staff – so if they missed work, they didn’t get paid. He would come into work so sick that all he did all day was sit in his office with his head on his desk, but thought he should get a prize for never taking a sick day. All the staff would then catch whatever and be out sick (unpaid) for days. I’m still fuming.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      I hope your former boss goes to an office in Hell when their time comes. Or, better, that in this world, his entire staff develops 100% turnover. Or maybe that he changes, but that might not occur until the previously-mentioned location freezes over.

  44. Zero Sugar Raspberry*

    If you are in the US make sure you really DON’T have paid sick time and you just aren’t aware. In NJ the state mandates a certain number of accrued sick hours for each employee, PT or FT, up to a limit. And the employer is required to post labor signs explaining this info. So, I’m sure boss isn’t going to do anything to let you know that you have sick time, but it may be worth looking in to.

    1. Pita Chips*

      Good point. I looked on and several states and municipalities have some kind of mandated sick leave.

      The rules vary from state to state, of course, but I did see that several have employees accrue an hour for every thirty work. Some of the laws will only allow three days a year, which sucks, but at least it’s something.

  45. Maybesocks*

    my understanding is that wearing a surgical mask protect other people from your germs but not you from their germs. So n95 or kn95 is the way to go. I think your boss should provide them so you don’t have to pay for them. but good luck with that

    1. RC*

      Mask evangelical here :) The main problem with surgical masks is they usually don’t have a good fit, so the air you breathe (in or out) just goes around the mask instead of through it, which is what you want so it’ll trap the particles. People came up with all kinds of mask fitters to improve surgicals, but yeah a (well-fitting) N95 or KN is exponentially better for both protecting you and others. Surgicals mostly protect from droplets (say it don’t spray it) but not the smaller aerosol particles that also are produced when we breathe or talk or cough.

      There was a pretty good infographic at the NYT a couple years ago explaining masks and how they filter air (from October 2020), which you can find by googling if you can get around the paywall.

      End of evangelism :) Boss SHOULD pay for good masks, but boss also should pay for flipping sick leave!

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’ve heard it said that the purpose of surgical masks is to keep the wearer from accidentally spitting in someone’s wounds.

      2. GrumpPenguin*

        I always wear the masks with an elastic holder and it still fits well, actually better as long as you adjust it correctly. Got the tip from my doctor. My head is just too big for the regular masks. When I’m wearing my glasses the mask keeps cutting my ears and I get migraines quickly.

  46. Analyst*

    As an immunocompromised person, I would be livid. This is inexcusable. As is the no sick leave. Maybe an anonymous complaint? or something? This is awful.

  47. Just Thinkin' Here*

    “She is the top person in the company.”

    So… she’s the owner? And/or the CEO? I assume this is a small business as you mention there is no HR. In case that, this is how this owner runs their company. The short-sightedness of exposing folks to a sick child – or sick employee for that matter – and the impact to absenteeism afterwards seems to have escaped her. You can try addressing it with her directly as Alison noted. After that, your other options are telling her to keep the child in a side room, telling her to go home with said sick child, or, sadly, finding a new place to work. Your health should not be repeatedly diminished, along with your paycheck, because of her choices.

  48. Elizabeth West*

    This boss sucks and is probably not going to change. I agree that the employees should push back as a group, but if it doesn’t have any effect, then OP needs to consider whether this is something they can continue to accept or if they should start looking.

    And dragging Ermintrude to the office when she’s sick isn’t doing her any favors, either. When a kid (or anyone!) is sick, they need to be home in bed resting. Poor kid.

  49. kiki*

    If I were to bring it in, I would try to make sure the focus is on scenarios where the daughter is likely contagious to make it clear your issue isn’t with children or jealousy that boss gets a perk you don’t. It should be obvious that the key issue here is that bringing in sick kids is likely to get other people sick, but people can be weird and defensive when somebody brings up their parenting.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yup. And I’ve heard of people getting mad because you think they (or, in case their children) are diseased / hazardous. One of the big ways that doctors pushed back against Semmelweis when he was trying to get doctors to wash their hands between doing autopsies and delivering babies was that “doctors are gentleman, and a gentleman’s hands are clean.” Some people take it as a personal affront if you wear a mask in their presence.

  50. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Unfortunately, it seems like COVID has led some people to be worse about basic public health than they were before. Like, the number of people coughing and sneezing without even trying to cover their mouths seems a lot higher. Or people hauling their sick, miserable children places, from the grocery store to Disneyland. This is what happens when public health messaging is that COVID isn’t a big deal and nobody needs to worry about it.

    Some of us have learned. Other people have regressed. So many people absolutely will not take anyone else’s well-being into account if it might mean that they don’t get to do whatever they want.

    1. GrumpPenguin*

      That’s probably the attitude “Don’t tell me what to do!”. People tend to push away the idea of being in danger by something as abstract as a virus. If you can’t see it, it’s not real (I guess).
      But I agree, it’s ridicoulous. I’ve been wearing masks since the beginning of the pandemic and still do and haven’t been sick with the flue or hay fever ever since.

  51. DJ*

    It would be interesting to know what the workers comp situation is. As LW is getting sick from being infected at work would she be able to claim?
    Also can boss WFH instead of bringing her sick child in?

  52. Jean (just Jean)*

    I hope your former boss goes to an office in Hell when their time comes. Or, better, that in this world, his entire staff develops 100% turnover. Or maybe that he changes, but that might be when a certain location freezes over.

  53. Office Plant Queen*

    I bet the kid hates it too. Who wants to hang out at a store with boring adults all day when you’re 5? And being half-ignored by your parent because they’re trying to work? Especially when you’re sick!

    1. GrumpPenguin*

      The kid probably just wants to stay home, watch cartoons and eat cookies, which would still be better for her recovery. I presume the office doesn’t have a place for her to rest.

  54. Doc McCracken*

    LW- You’ve gotten so much beautiful feedback about getting the heck out of that office asap. I’m going to offer a suggestion to help until you can get out. Get an air purifier for your space. I put them in my office when Rona started and specifically bought one that uses UV light and didn’t require constant filter changes. (Practical consideration during shortages and supply chain disruptions and more eco friendly).

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