What can I do about a sick person who insists on coming to work?
January 15, 2013 7:32 PM   Subscribe

My clearly ill coworker refuses to go home.

My coworker is very clearly ill and has been all week. She coughs - no exaggeration - almost constantly. She is obviously congested, she said she was "really bad" this weekend with fever and fatigue. She finally left early (but only an hour early!) yesterday after infecting the office with her coughing all day. I told her not to come back today if she still feels ill because I really don't want to get the flu. She said she didn't want to make me sick. She was there today, same thing. I asked her if she at least had antibacterial hand sanitizer at her desk and she said no.

Multiple people have told her to go home and says she has stuff to do, she's not contagious, etc. As she is on my team, I know there is nothing she has to do that either we couldn't do ourselves or that could wait. However, I am not her manager so I can't force her to leave. People have asked our manager to have her leave and he said he's been telling her and she won't go. So he would have to force her to go, which I think he's reluctant to do because she can be difficult about some things (whole different story). I thought about calling HR, but I like my manager (as well as my coworker, who is otherwise excellent) and as I can't report it anonymously, I don't want to be the one stirring the pot.

I'm relatively certain she will be in tomorrow. If she still seems unwell, I am going to point blank ask her to please go home. She will likely refuse again. What can I do at that point? I am already washing my hands a lot and I may tell her not to come near my desk or give me any of the paperwork she normally does because I have never had the flu and I really, really do not want to get it. Or maybe I'm overreacting and if so, please let me know. It would be one thing if it were just a cold, which I wouldn't really care about, but I am a little aggravated that someone who is obviously sick would knowingly spread their germs around when it's something that could be potentially bad like the flu.

Fwiw, I got a flu shot, but the doctor says it can take two weeks to become effective. Also, she is hourly but I know she has PTO.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (58 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is totally what HR is for. Turn her in! Who cares if she knows it was you? She'll get over it while she recovers at home.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 PM on January 15, 2013 [20 favorites]

There is nothing you can do, if she insists on coming in. Tell her you'd rather not interact with someone who may be contagious, buy a bottle of Purell and use it and stay to yourself as much as you can.
posted by xingcat at 7:37 PM on January 15, 2013

This is also a pet peeve of mine but I don't know how I'd take it if I felt well enough to work and my coworker tried to get me sent home. A tricky one!

Maybe you could share this information with her? If you don't want a confrontation, maybe just leave it on her desk with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
posted by dottiechang at 7:38 PM on January 15, 2013

Fuck that, take it up with HR.
posted by elizardbits at 7:40 PM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

I was just going to ask if this person is salaried or hourly when I read the last line. And I kind of knew it would be "hourly."

You'd be asking her to take a financial hit. And it might be a big one for her. You might know she has PTO, but may not know what she needs to save it for.

I'm sympathetic, but this is a structural issue with the American workplace, not really an interpersonal issue with one individual. The workplace is demanding you either be there or sacrifice your pay - pay which she might desperately need to stay in her home, take care of her bills, etc. If she was paid for her sick time, she might well be home.

A lot of people around me have had the flu. The contagious period ends long before the coughing. You're exposed to germs all day, every day, including maybe the ones she picked this up from. You touch door handles and you probably frequent public places. You've got a potential vector here, but she's probably not the only one (any more) - and you should focus on taking care of yourself and mitigating risk however you can.

You could certainly raise it with HR as an issue with not covering sick time for hourly people and thus putting others at risk and impacting productivity. One suggestion might be allowing the whole staff to "bank" sick time and self-fund sick time for people who need to be out but who aren't RFT. Many people never use all their sick time, and it can be accumulated and donated to cover people who need to be out. BRing it up as a workplace innovation that might help improve health and reduce total absenteeism.

But dollars to doughnuts, this is the reason she's coming in. As a former struggling hourly employee, I think it totally sucks for absolutely everyone in every way, but I can understand it.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on January 15, 2013 [120 favorites]

Either call HR or get over/deal with it (Purell, etc.) Do not give orders to your random, not-your-direct-report, fellow employees, please. HR people hate it when that happens.
posted by SMPA at 7:41 PM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Can she work from home?
posted by skrozidile at 7:41 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, if she DOES come in tomorrow, there's always the passive-aggressive approach: if you're in an open field of desks instead of cubicles, sort of scoot your desks away from her; wear masks; keep lots of hand sanitizer on everyone's desks, and use an anti-bacterial cleaner frequently on your keyboards, desk tops, etc.
posted by easily confused at 7:47 PM on January 15, 2013

What Miko said. For someone in financial straights, who needs PTO for something in particular in the future, taking time off when you're sick is just not an option. I've been there, and it sucks because you feel back about exposing people to more germs, but you can't afford to stay home.

Also, it doesn't sound like she's had the flu. Other stuff is going around, and what she has sounds very similar to what I just got over, which was basically feeling lousy/tired, sore throat, coughing.

Probably the best thing you can do is bring in a few things of antibacterial hand sanitizer to put around the office. Keep in mind she's not the only one spreading germs.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:47 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

(yeah, we just had the flu in our house - my partner, not me - and he was physically incapable of going to work, or even getting out of bed or eating a meal through most of it, so I bet it's not that).
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

She's hourly - she doesn't have the option, dude.
posted by heyjude at 7:55 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Why don't you stay home?
posted by jacalata at 7:58 PM on January 15, 2013 [16 favorites]

I unfortunately have to say that Miko's probably right. When I used to temp, it was hard for people to understand that if I didn't work, I didn't get paid. I was working so few hours at one place that I was going hungry, and the boss suggested I not come in the following afternoon (because he couldn't afford my hours!) but suggested I might spend the time "Christmas shopping" instead. The salaried employees also thought I earned more than they did, which was untrue.

I remember my father - very generously, okay, despite appearances this is not a complaint - paying for a three-week trip to the old country for me and my mother, but I couldn't afford to take the time off work. I told him as much, he booked it anyway, and began to list out what expenses I would be responsible for and that I would have to start "saving hard" to cover them. When I expressed concern he told me "life's not a free trip, you know!" Just before we left, my mother asked me when I would get my next paycheck and was totally shocked to learn that I wasn't going to be paid for those three weeks because, duh, I wasn't going to be working. She was amazed. "That's terrible!!!"

The only bright spots were during flu seasons when there would always be loads of full-time employees on sick leave. I was almost always recurrently sick myself (my record being 5 weeks of recurring colds), but at least I could see it as drumming up future business.

But even people who have the full facts really don't understand what it's like to have no money. They just don't get it. Please ascertain that she really does get paid time off for being sick and that she does not have any caring responsibilities that she might have to use that time for. If she doesn't get paid time off or gets inadequate paid time off, the only way you can insist that she goes home is if you can either renegotiate her contract or cover her lost earnings yourself.
posted by tel3path at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2013 [24 favorites]

You stop being contagious long before you stop showing symptoms (and for the record, you're most contagious before you start showing symptoms).

if she's coming to work and is really that bad, she probably desperately needs the hours and wants to be there even less than you want her there (unless she's salaried). Buy some hand sanitizer, take vitamin C and show some compassion, because having to work when you're sick is horrible. Besides, if you were going to catch this from her, you probably would have already.
posted by windykites at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

You stop being contagious long before you stop showing symptoms (and for the record, you're most contagious before you start showing symptoms).

It depends what you have, surely?

All I know is that I spent a week over Christmas in a house with two coughing, phlegmy, running-a-mild-fever nieces. I then spent the first week of the new year sick as a dog, coughing until my nose bled, and sweating so hard I couldn't sleep.

I am not sure how Sick Co-worker's right to save her PTO trumps the OP's right to stay well.

I wouldn't do anything anonymously, or go over my boss' head to HR, but I would speak to my boss again and state my objections quite strongly, especially if you think he's just letting her get away with it because she tends to be 'difficult'.

Not sure what else you can do, but I don't agree with the general consensus of just sucking it up.
posted by Salamander at 8:11 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you are really that concerned, you should probably stay home.

If both of you are at work, I think it's pretty reasonable to ask that she stay away from your desk and not handle your paperwork. If anyone is sick at work, that's pretty much what we do as a voluntary thing.

I would agree that it sounds like she's worried about using up her PTO-- I have pretty great sick leave hours, but taking off an entire week would wipe out a lot of my carefully-accrued hours, and it's only the third week in January. If this person has kids or family members in her care, this is undoubtedly a very difficult balancing act. This isn't to belittle your concern: I work in a library with college students, many of whom sound like they have the bubonic plague. I send my own student workers home or to the health center if it looks like they're too ill to function, but they come in with lots of colds and coughs and whatever else is going around. It's not great! I wish we had a better system!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:12 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

What can you do? You can have some sympathy for someone who is probably caught between two terrible situations: go to work and be absolutely miserable, or stay at home and take a possibly disastrous financial hit. I mean really, do you think this person is coming to work to spite their coworkers or that they just love work that much?

nthing the advice that you should stay home if it's that big a deal.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:14 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

You wash your hands and don't let her touch your phone/keyboard/tools. Otherwise, there's nothing you can do.

Also, some salaried jobs do not equal "work whenever you want." I've had salaried jobs for years, and they all gave a finite amount of sick time separate from vacation time.
posted by kimberussell at 8:14 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

As a reference point, I have terrible sinuses that are irritated by allergies and weather changes. I am regularly told to go home, despite the fact that I am not contagious as you cannot catch crap sinuses.
posted by politikitty at 8:15 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

this is more of a work or human relations question.

most importantly: at this point it'll only be a few more days that she's sick.

it probably won't work, but you could ask your boss to just give her pto, not for her, but because it's really hurting moral.

the efficacy of this depends on how much discretion your boss has.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:17 PM on January 15, 2013

It's more than discretion; there are IRS rules that specify what kinds of benefits someone can get based on their position category.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on January 15, 2013

Seriously, though, can you work from home?
posted by salvia at 8:29 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

It may be a legitimate use of your sick time to stay home. For instance, our policies at work say that you can use sick time to care for a sick loved one or to visit the doctor. Check on what yours would cover.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on January 15, 2013

Also, she is hourly but I know she has PTO.

Yeah, I had "paid time off" when I was a temp too. But - I did not receive that paid time off until I had already put in a certain number of hours. So while I technically COULD take a day off in May if I was sick, and I technically COULD get that days' worth of pay back, I wouldn't get it back until August. So that was about a hundred bucks I'd be out in May.

Getting paid hourly sucks, and "paid time off" doesn't always mean what you think it does. I showed up at work on plenty of days when I probably shouldn't have because I simply couldn't afford not to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 PM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

As I recall, the NIH now says you may be contagious AS LONG AS YOU STILL HAVE SYMPTOMS, not this "a couple days after you come down with it" that my mom told me a million years ago.

You can try wearing a mask that's rated for this kind of thing...

It's a difficult situation. Some people really cannot afford not to work (it's hard to imagine till you've been there); on the other hand, I wouldn't have gotten the horrible and annoying neurological/immune system syndrome that I got a couple years ago if someone hadn't gone out in public with a cold. :/

Good luck and I hope you don't get sick.
posted by wintersweet at 8:33 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

but I like my manager (as well as my coworker, who is otherwise excellent)

All of this over someone you like who is otherwise excellent? This is another vote for stop giving her a hard time and think about why someone would be at work who was obviously sick. She's not there just to make you nervous. I'm positive she doesn't like it any more than you do.

This is from someone who carefully considered whether or not it was ethical to come into work while sick last week. I decided if my workplace cared about ethics they'd give me sick days. But they don't. So. Mama's gotta pay the bills.
posted by bleep at 8:39 PM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

I also technically had paid time off as a temp, but the circumstances for qualifying for any of it were nearly impossible to meet. I temped for four years without ever qualifying for a single minute of PTO.
posted by tel3path at 8:55 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you ask your boss to temporarily move her workspace to someplace more isolated, like a conference room, while she's showing symptoms? Since the flu I A Thing right now, maybe making one of the conference rooms into a temp isolation space would be worthwhile. Then show her you have some sympathy with some fancy tissues, fresh OJ and some bottles of water stocked up there?
posted by marylynn at 8:57 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Look, no one WANTS to come in to work sick. It sucks majorly for all involved, but probably most of all for the sick person who is both feeling unwell and dealing with annoyed co-workers. So, unless you have some reason to believe this woman is an evil bitch focused solely on getting you ill (seems unlikely!), she probably has a good reason for not being able to take what PTO she may have (and keep in mind, you're not the manager and you may not have the full story here as such). Have some compassion and use lots of Purell. Also, keep it in perspective. There are lots of sick people who are on your subway car, in the restaurant where you eat lunch, grabbing cans off the shelf at the grocery store and putting them back, etc. etc. You can never 100% eliminate exposure to germs, and this is just one source. Unless she's coughing in your face, get over it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:57 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You stop being contagious long before you stop showing symptoms (and for the record, you're most contagious before you start showing symptoms

Not this again. For the record, the above is completely untrue.
posted by Justinian at 9:01 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Can you maybe discuss with your boss the possibility of people -- everyone, not just her specifically -- having the option to work from home during cold and flu season as needed? That doesn't solve this problem specifically, but it might help mitigate the problem the next time someone who is hourly gets too sick to come in, but not really too sick to work. Being in that nebulous area sometimes makes it hard for people to decide to take the time off; you don't want to infect other people, but you don't feel WRETCHED and you have shit to do. Don't know if that works with your gig, but it might be worth a try.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 9:11 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some people really cannot afford not to work

Well, that's too damn bad - it doesn't somehow give them the right infect the people they work with.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:16 PM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

You are not alone in despising this.

Nthing HR, attach one of the MANY articles about the flu epidemic to the email.

This is what sick days are for.
posted by ibakecake at 9:47 PM on January 15, 2013

HR? They protect the company's interests, not the employees.
posted by crapmatic at 10:27 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another vote for considering that she probably would stay home if she could stay home. I don't think she's just being stubborn here. Don't you think that a sick person would rather be sleeping in bed instead of sitting at work coughing up a lung? But if it's a choice between paying rent and feeding the kids or going to work sick, I'd have to go with paying the rent and feeding the kids. Some decisions are tough, but a person's gotta do what a person's gotta do.
posted by patheral at 10:29 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

See if you and your coworkers can donate sick time to her. If she's hourly it's probably cheaper for the company to use your more expensive sick time to cover hers.
posted by kdar at 10:31 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

She probably has some sick person or kids at home that she has to save the PTO for if she's coming into work violently ill like this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:33 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Going to your boss or HR probably won't help. They employ people to d a job, and if they cant do the job, great. They're probably not going to say to someone who can do the job, "please don't come in".

If you're worried about airborne contagion, wear a face mask.
posted by Solomon at 10:47 PM on January 15, 2013

Agitate for your workplace to pay for flu vaccinations next year.
posted by gingerest at 10:49 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

it doesn't somehow give them the right to infect the people they work with

Or, from another perspective, the fear of possibly getting sick doesn't give anyone the right to prevent her from earning a living. Going outside means you're constantly at risk for picking something up.

At any rate, I doubt if it's possible to force someone to stay home unless they're under some kind of quarantine; people are responsible for their own health.

As for the contagion stuff, all I said is what I learned from my school textbooks last year. I do still think that you'd probably have caught it by now if you were gonna. But why not wear a mask if you're truly worried? Or if you really want her to stay home, why not pay for it? That's not snark, it's sincere. Though if she has benefits that are dependant on being present for a certain number of hours, it might not work. I think the most you can do here is take responsibility for your own health, and maybe ask her to wear a mask, too.
posted by windykites at 11:18 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

On one hand, I would like to stop stop stop listening to people cough and moan and sneeze and infect everyone with any of the several viruses that are making national news as being particularly virulent and widespread.

On the other hand, I temped for many years, and have touchy sinuses that make me coughy/sneezy for non-contagious reaons, and well remember those "generous" "offers" to go home early and how I fumed at the needless loss of income.
posted by desuetude at 11:49 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

People have asked our manager to have her leave and he said he's been telling her and she won't go.

Well, the good news is your boss is a spineless pushover. Just tell him, "No problem. I'll be working from home the next few days then". If he allows people to flagrantly disregard what he asks them to do then you can probably just bully him into doing whatever you like.
posted by atrazine at 12:17 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am not sure how Sick Co-worker's right to save her PTO trumps the OP's right to stay well.

I agree with this. *IF* she actually has PTO in the bank, she should use it. That's what it is there for.

HR? They protect the company's interests, not the employees.

And it is in the company's interests to not have a flu epidemic in the office.
posted by gjc at 3:28 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

People don't have a right to stay well. (If they did we would have a better health care system) . Unless we start quarantining everyone who has the cold, or any kind of virus and not allowing them any human contact in any situation...what we do is to protect ourselves as best we can.
Wear a mask, use sanitizer, get the flu shot earlier next time, move to a conference room or work from home, and keep some perspective about how exposed you are to germs from everyone everywhere
posted by SyraCarol at 3:44 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Give her a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Ascertain if she can do her job from home.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:56 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I asked her if she at least had antibacterial hand sanitizer at her desk and she said no.

Just so you know, this is absolutely useless against the cold and flu. They are viruses; all you're doing with that antibacterial hand sanitizer is breeding resistant forms or bacteria.

The best defense you have is to actually wash your hands with soap and hot water frequently. The sanitizer is not helping anyone.

If she still seems unwell, I am going to point blank ask her to please go home.

You are not her manager; do not do this. Conflcits with a coworker go up the chain, your manager has already decline to do something. You now need to decide if you want to escalate to HR (massive overreaction), or do something that will actually help. Move your workstation, wash your hands, keep distance, etc.
posted by spaltavian at 6:20 AM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sounds like you should either do what atrazine says or come down with a "stomach bug" if your boss won't do anything about the situation. (I don't think he's so much a spineless pushover as he is secretly happy that your sick co-worker comes in and Stays Productive - then his department can continue to Look Busy but he can blame her for her alleged recalcitrance.) That is pretty much what he's setting his staff up for anyway.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:22 AM on January 16, 2013

From the CDC's website:

People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away.

To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick
posted by orme at 6:35 AM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Half of us in our office have or are getting over this cold, the other half are spaying Lysol like they have stock in the company.

It's the human condition. I'm not home because I was contageous long before I was showing symptoms, and I have WAY too much stuff that needs to get done.

I think there was even a story this morning about this very issue on NPR.

Unless what I have is the plague, and unless I'm so sick I can't move, I'll probably come to work. I'll steer clear of people, wash my desk and hands frequently and try to be as germ free as possible, but at the end of the day, I don't want to use my PTO if I feel well enough to sit and type at my desk.

Yes, I suck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

This colleague may have PTO but it's January. More than likely she won't get re-upped on PTO until next January. What are you going to tell her in July when she gets really sick or injured (hypothetically) or a dependent needs her to be home (again, hypothetically) and she doesn't have sufficient PTO to cover? I guarantee HR will tell her she's SOL.

I agree it's bone-headed that people are exposing their colleagues to illnesses, but I'm not going to blame the worker considering how the deck is stacked against her.
posted by rocketpup at 6:50 AM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

It would be one thing if it were just a cold

I have Just a Cold and have had this fucking thing for a week. I worked from home much of last week but this week I'm in our other-coast office for a mandatory training and cannot work from home. I would really rather not be coughing and blowing my nose all over the place, but there's jack I can do about it. And I'm salaried and have tons of PTO.

I know there is nothing she has to do that either we couldn't do ourselves or that could wait.

You can't earn her money for her. Can or would you and your colleagues be willing/able to donate either PTO or actual cash money to make up for the days she would have to miss, since she's hourly?
posted by rtha at 7:11 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Of course, if you DO mention this to HR, they might very well just take the expedient tack of simply firing her.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2013

If she can't go (and work from?) home, then can you? Or can you temporarily set up shop elsewhere in the office?
posted by SemiSophos at 7:35 AM on January 16, 2013

Two people on my team, sat next to me, got norovirus. In case you don't have this in the US, it is a short, unpleasant and extremely contagious illness - if someone in hospital gets it, it is a MAJOR headache. Despite two of us sitting next to the sick people, passing them tissues or pens, neither of us got it. It's not a given that you will be infected.

We don't have designated sick days in this country - if you're a salaried employee and you get sick, you stay home and you get paid, unless it's a long-term situation when pay might be halved and such, - but even then, there are times when people come into work because they're busy and taking a day off will be more of a headache later, or their appraisal is coming up and they were off last month, or because there are children at home who might get it, or any number of reasons. I think when you add in finances as a factor (I used to temp at a time when I got migraines on a near-weekly basis) there are a lot of compelling reasons for someone not to stay home.
posted by mippy at 7:55 AM on January 16, 2013

Guys, the flu is not a cold. People die from it. Not everyone. Plenty of people can miserably soldier on and infect their coworkers and fellow bus riders. But some people who become infected will actually not survive. And you know what is the #1 way of distinguishing the flu from a cold? Fever. Given the described symptoms, it is fairly likely that this woman has influenza. People are generally considered to be contagious for 7 days after the onset of symptoms, or 24 hours after the fever goes away without using any fever-reducing medications, whichever is longer.

That said, the flu is spread by droplets. Coughing, sneezing, or touching things after coughing/sneezing into your hands, are how the virus spreads to new people. It doesn't float around through the air of an entire office; the droplets can only go about 6 feet (though obviously paperwork that she's touched might go around the entire office, and her germy hands probably are touching doorknobs and things that you also have to touch).

I work in a hospital, and we can't just send patients home when they have the flu (though of course employees are required to stay home through the entire contagious period). To protect ourselves, we wear masks and wash our hands and use plenty of hand sanitizer*. We also require that any patient who enters a hospital with flu-like symptoms must wear a mask when they're outside their room, and any staff or visitor who goes into their room must also wear a mask. People with flu-like symptoms are not allowed to visit patients in the hospital.

So, ideally your coworker would stay home. Ideally your workplace would make accommodations to allow hourly employees to stay home when ill without loss of pay. This is in their best interests, because the organization suffers when a bunch of employees get sick. But. Since we don't live in a perfect world, this person really should be isolated in her own little corner of the office (preferably in a separate room), and wear a mask when walking around common areas. You should all be using hand sanitizer frequently. And since the only person you can really control is yourself, you would certainly reduce your risk of catching anything by wearing a mask. It might be worth suggesting to your boss that the company could at least spring for a bunch of hand sanitizer for people's desks during flu season, maybe some bleach wipes for doorknobs and things. But get your own bottle of hand sanitizer and use it, don't wait for the corporation to keep you safe.

If you stay at least 6 feet away from this person and don't touch anything she's touched, you'll probably be ok. But that doesn't mean your concerns aren't valid. Maybe she's saving her sick time for a chronically ill kid. But maybe you live with a parent or child getting chemo for cancer, who could easily die if they get the flu. Maybe you can't afford to take time off work either, and there's no guarantee that you would feel able to drag yourself into the office if you catch the flu from her. Everyone has their own situations, and there's no clear answer to whose rights should have preference. But if you feel you fall into one of the categories where catching the flu wouldn't be just miserable, but actually disastrous for you or your loved ones, tell your boss you're staying home until this person gets better.

*Someone upthread said that hand sanitizer contributes to bacterial resistance -- this isn't true. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer actually does kill bacteria and the flu virus, and does not cause resistance. Antibacterial soap is the bad guy that breeds resistant bacteria; look for triclosan on the ingredients list and avoid it.
posted by vytae at 10:57 AM on January 16, 2013 [14 favorites]

Fever can also show up with colds. It's more common for kids than adults, but it can happen, says NIAID.
posted by rtha at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2013

I notice a lot of people talking about how contagious the flu is, but I don't see any corresponding proof that the sick co-worker has the flu in the first place.

My point being: maybe the sick co-worker knows that all she has is a cold or a sinus issue, and maybe with her she knows that colds just LOOK nasty as all hell (or maybe it is just a minor cold, but she can't take pseudoephedrine because of a blood pressure issue so she has to make do with some lower-strength thing that we all know doesn't work worth a bull's left hindmost nipple anyway), and all that, combined with whatever unknown issues concerning paid time off that the op does not know about, is what is leading her to however reluctantly choose to suck it up and go in to work.

I speak from experience - and also can add, speaking from experience, that your coworker would absolutely rather be at home herself, but she may have absolutely no choice in the matter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Or, from another perspective, the fear of possibly getting sick doesn't give anyone the right to prevent her from earning a living.

That's just an absurd load of shit. Coming to work when you're sick is intentionally exposing others to your illness. Your illness is YOUR problem and should not be ok to be spread to others. I'd like to see people charged with a crime for for that sort of thing... oh yeah, they have been.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:58 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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