‘Help! My coworkers always come to the office sick and it’s ruining my health’

Ashley lutz ask the insider

Ask The Insider columnist Ashley Lutz answers all your work-related questions, including the awkward, sensitive, and real-world ones. Have a question? Email [email protected]
Dear Insider,

What can I do about my coworkers who come in coughing and sneezing? I’ve already been sick five times this year.

My office has a pretty progressive view on coming in sick — don’t do it. We’re flexible about working from home or taking off in those circumstances.

But we work in an open format and when people decide to come in it’s really difficult to keep your distance.

I’ve spent the past few days with a bottle of NyQuil. With every dose, my resentment toward my coworkers gets worse. I fantasize about my company creating a special conference room to quarantine people who decide to be martyrs and come into work.

How do I keep from getting sick in the office?


Sick Of My Martyr Coworkers


Dear Sick,

I’m sure it’s frustrating when walking germ bombs come into the office — especially when your company pays for and encourages sick leave.

Your idea about the quarantine room for sick people is pretty brilliant. Nothing sounds less appealing than being locked in a room with a bunch of sick people. But it’s also ethically questionable and pretty difficult to enforce.

Moreover, it’s possible to catch germs before your colleagues even show symptoms. Healthy adults can start infecting others for up to a week before they show symptoms.

I assume you’re taking care of yourself, working reasonable hours, and getting enough sleep.

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Experts also recommend avoiding the office kitchen, washing your hands often, avoiding touching your face, and rinsing your coffee cup with hot, soapy water immediately before use. Taking these precautions would help you avoid some germs.

You could also ask your boss to reiterate the sick policy to the team. It’s possible that not everyone has heard the “stay home if you’re sick” message. Once it’s boss’ orders, maybe the sick people will be more inclined to stay home.

If you notice your coworker is coughing or sneezing, you could send them a message and say “are you feeling OK? you should go home if you’re not well.”

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If you’re not comfortable doing this, I’d recommend flagging it to your manager. Say something like, “I’ve noticed Henry doesn’t seem to be feeling well.” If someone on my team did this, I would take it as healthy concern for a colleague and would encourage the sick person to go home. One person’s missed productivity is better than the whole team.

Getting sick sometimes is inevitable. But there’s no reason your coworkers should bring the whole team down with them.


Ashley Lutz is a senior editor at Business Insider answering all your questions about the workplace. Send your queries to [email protected] for publication on Business Insider. Requests for anonymity will be granted, and questions may be edited.

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