Ask LH: How Can I Deal With Sick Colleagues?

Ask LH: How Can I Deal With Sick Colleagues?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a colleague who always comes into work sick, resulting in a number of my other colleagues getting sick (including me). We work in a smallish office. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with sick people in the office? Thanks, Sick Of Sick Colleagues

Sick colleague picture from Shutterstock

Dear SOSC,

Eternally-sick colleague syndrome comes into play when someone decides that the importance of the tasks which they have to perform matters far more than the health of anyone else. That can signify a broader problem with the office culture, but it can also mean nothing more than a slightly self-important individual. Either way, the tactics needed to deal with the issue are the same.

Since this is a recurring problem, the time for subtlety is over. The next time your colleague arrives at work and is self-evidently sick, point it out loudly. This doesn’t mean attacking them: take the line of “You’re too sick to work effectively, and there’s a risk you’ll pass on what you have to everyone else. Go home and rest and you’ll be more productive in the long run.” Making that statement openly also gives other staff the chance to chime in as well, so it doesn’t look like an individual attack.

If you’re really not comfortable with direct confrontation, raise the issue with your own manager. After all, if you get sick, your own output will suffer, which is something that should concern your boss. In a smaller business context, chances are your manager is also in charge of the over-keen and frequently-ill individual. Some people figure that martyring themselves and working while ill will score brownie points; if it’s pointed out that their behaviour won’t have that effect, changes can be rapid.

Broader changes to the office environment can also help deal with the issue. If working from home is an option, suggest that: it’s hard to pass on the flu via email. Make sure your own diet is healthy and that you get regular exercise; if you’re unfit, you’ll be more susceptible to passing bugs. And don’t neglect the importance of hygiene basics — make sure you wash your hands regularly for starters.

This is a common workplace problem: if Lifehacker readers have additional tactics they’ve used successfully, we’d love to hear them. Good luck and stay healthy!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • At my last job I went to work sick, as if you were sick for 1 day, you needed a doctors certificate. I can’t afford $60 consultation fee to get paid 1 day sick leave.

    1 of my colleagues brought it up. I offered that I’d stay home sick if he paid the consultation fee. He didn’t accept that offer

    • I am the same, if they werent so hard on people having days off for being sick I think a lot of people would actually take time off to get better rather than infect the rest of the office. People shouldn’t have to feel guilty that they are not at work because they have a cold.

    • x2 on this, my previous workplace was mental about sick, and this hardline policy meant tonnes of people came to work sick all the time making everyone else sick.

    • There are more than enough doctors who bulk bill.

      If you can’t work from home, then you’re not important enough that you have to come in when you’re sick. If you are important enough to the business, then you will be able to work from home, or at least do something productive without coming in.

        • Australia, son. It ain’t that hard. Also, if you can’t find one there’s always the medicare rebate or private health insurance. This isn’t the third world.

          • I don’t believe private health insurance covers the gap between the medicare rate and what the GP charges. I don’t believe mine does in any rate and I recently looked at the options.

            In Canberra it is quite difficult to find a bulk billing doctor. Once you include the medicare rebate a typical Doctor’s appointment is about $30 to $35 out of pocket.

          • Yet I offered my work colleague (who works fulltime) that I stay home sick if he paid my consultation fee. And he declined. So not only me

          • What a dick move. Take responsibility for yourself instead of expecting other people to deal with your illness.

          • I don’t consider it a hardship I just felt that there were errors in your original comment as well as positions for which I had a hypothesis and wanted to discuss.

      • Can you name 1 that bulk bills people that don’t have a health card? None near me do. And private health insurance doesn’t cover GP visits

        • That’s why medicare exists. Also, if you work full time, you can afford it.

          I think you should perhaps just grow up and take responsibility. Even the smallest violin in the world can’t be bothered playing for you.

          • I do work fulltime. If I didn’t, I’d have a health care card, and most doctors bulk bill people that have them.

            I am grown up. That’s why I still go to work, to get paid when unwell. Not be a little child and say “MUmmy I’m too sick to go to school”.

          • So you work full time but don’t get sick leave? Time for a new job. Can’t afford to pay the medicare gap either? Mustn’t earn much. Going to work regardless of your health is an inherently selfish decision; ie, one that a child would make.

          • If you read my original post which you replied to, I said where I used to work. And yes we did get sick leave, but for 1 day absence we needed a doctors certificate, hence the need for a doctors certificate.

          • 1. Uh, no you didn’t
            2. Your reply doesn’t really address anything in my comment, therefore:
            3. Starting from the late 13th century, the Ottoman beylik united Anatolia and created an empire encompassing much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed following its defeat in World War I, parts of it were occupied by the victorious Allies. A cadre of young military officers, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues, organized a successful resistance to the Allies; in 1923 they established the modern Republic of Turkey, with Atatürk as its first president.

          • Yes it did. It says “At my last job I went to work sick” Notice “last job”, not “current job” And the post addresses everything you wrote.

          • If you read my original post which you replied to, I said where I used to work.

            So what was the name of your workplace? Didn’t say.

            Can’t afford to pay the medicare gap either? Mustn’t earn much.

            Presumably this was your problem, as you didn’t address it in your response.

            Please, go ahead with some more blabbity bloopy bloo blah

  • Our office permits work-at-home. A colleague spent all day yesterday telling people he’d probably stay home tomorrow, either working at home, or staying in bed if she was too sick to work — in between coughing and blowing his nose. I have a poor respiratory system, which means I catch things easily AND I get them an order of magnitude worse than the person who gave the bug du jour to me. I tried to say, “You should go home,” but was only greeted by the “I’m probably staying home tomorrow” refrain, never mind that it’s the first couple of days of an illness where one is most contagious. I left around 5, which is early for me, and came back to work another couple hours at 7 after they’d gone home. It was just too risky for me to stay in an open office environment 2 meters from this person any longer than I absolutely had to. (For example, last year, I used 2 weeks of sick leave over the winter. During the summer, when no one’s sick, I don’t catch anything, and might use an odd day for a migraine, but that’s it.)

    I empathise with not wanting to go to the doc for a simple cold, seeing as there’s really nothing that can be done to treat it AND seeing as one gets exposed to worse things in the waiting room, though. Still, in a work-at-home environment, there ought be no excuse. If you come in, and you’re sick, and you don’t know enough about your patterns of illness to know you are not contagious, pick up your computer and go home. No doctors’ certificate required if you’re honest enough to work when you leave the office, and if you’re not, you shouldn’t make that your coworkers’ problem.

    • Yes Barb, in an environment where it is possible to work from home, I would most definitely do exactly that if I was sick (Hell, being quite the introvert I’d probably work from home almost permanently if I could), however there has been no job I have ever worked that has allowed this option.

      In every job I’ve had, calling in sick then means going and sitting in a Doctors waiting room for an hour or more (since the ones around here do not allow same-day bookings, and you can’t book for the next day or they won’t give you a certificate for the previous day, not having seen you then), pay the $50-60 consultation fee + sometimes fees for tablet etc you are prescribed.

      At the end of the day, you spend half your day just seeing the doctor (trip there and back, time waiting, consultation), spend half your days wages on said consultation, and get absolutely nothing productive done (Not to mention if this happens more then once every couple of months the Boss starts to look at u as the next person on the chopping block).

      So yeah, unless I’m severely sick or injured (I came in to work the day after a motorcycle accident, and was sent home 2hrs later because I was in to much pain), I’ll still come into work. I can still perform my job, considering most of my time is spent in the office in the first place – the person who made ME sick is probably already in the office anyway, and it costs me less money in the long run and makes me less likely to be the next person out on my ass when cutbacks have to be made.

      Unfortunately we don’t live in a world made of sunshine and rainbows, and the hard truth is that in most offices, if you fall behind, you get left behind. This attitude towards / treatment of staff by management leads to exactly the issue the person who sparked this article is complaining about. If you want to fix this sought of behaviour – start from the top, and look at why the person who is sick feels they need to make an appearance in the first place, instead of just staying at home.

  • My issue with this is that anyone saving 1 day of sick leave by coming in to work contagious COSTS ME 4 or 5. I *can’t* come into work when I’m really sick. The entire office screams at me to go home because of how disruptive my symptoms are — a half litre or more a day out my nose, constant coughing, eyes tearing, chest clearing and sneezing, barely audible voice — and it’s really obvious I’m getting done only about 4% of what I’d get done on a normal day. PLUS, it’s a legit health RISK for me. I’ve had pneumonia twice in my life already, with my repeatedly partially collapsing lung (due to weakness from too much respiratory illness) apparently providing a great breeding ground for things and landing me in the hospital for tests when becoming seriously ill every couple years.

    I understand people thinking of their own bank accounts and annoyance factor in these situation. But do also try to be empathetic toward those whose life could be put actually in jeopardy by your behaviour. I know, I’d be “just another coworker”. But still, people. To some people, your illness isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s a DANGER.

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