Sick co-worker spreading germs
Is there a polite way to ask your cold-ridden colleagues to stay home and rest up?
I work in a busy office, and lately, a lot of my co-workers have been getting sick with colds and the flu. The person who sits next to me seems to have a terrible cold. He is blowing his nose all day, coughing, and touching everything, like the photocopier and door handles. I am disgusted at the thought of all his germs around. I want to tell him to go home, but I have no authority over him. Is there a polite way to deal with sick people at work? Germophobe
Dear Germophobe, Here’s a film you’d love: Vincent Ward’s 1988 film The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey,
in which healthy townsfolk see boats of plague victims approaching their shore and wade into the surf with long poles to push them away, then shoot flaming arrows at their sails so the afflicted men, women, and children burn to death at sea.
In real life, in France, during the plague of the 1300s to the 1500s, towns like Troyes
banished the sick and their families to the countryside for at least three months, and burned their homes to the ground. London authorities, during the Black Death of 1665-66, took the opposite approach: as soon as someone got sick, the whole family was sealed inside their home until everyone died, or miraculously survived.
As appealing as you might find all these scenarios, I cannot, as your etiquette expert,
recommend any one of them as they are all highly impolite and illegal.
What you can do is look at the situation realistically. Yes, it’s terribly rude of sick people to venture onto public transit and into the workplace, spraying their loathsome germs all over the rest of us. But consider that some of them are contagious before they realize it, some of them might be risking their jobs if they don’t show up for their shift, and some low-income workers might be unable to afford missing a day’s pay.
Practically speaking, you are perfectly justified in asking your co-worker to cough into his sleeve, wash his hands frequently, consider staying home till he’s better, or wear a face mask at work.
But let go of any fantasy that you can control anyone else’s behaviour, for the sick (like the poor) will always be with us.