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How Do You Tell a Sick Co-Worker to Go Home?

Speak Up: How Do You Handle a Sick Co-Worker?

It's officially cold and flu season at Sugar HQ. While there are more desks than usual sitting empty — a telltale sign of a co-worker resting at home — I'm also surrounded by the sounds of my colleagues' coughs and sniffles. Not without blame, I'm part of this crew. In my defense, I did stay home through the worst of my cold and returned to the office today with only a slight cough.

A recent article in the Boston Globe explored the delicate balance of handling a sick co-worker and the best way to tell them to skedaddle when they're too sick to work. Working at the office won't do much to further their wellness, says the article, and of course the infected risk spreading their germs from cubicle to cubicle like a wildfire. In the time of the swine, no one wants to be sitting next to the person hacking up phlegm.

To find out how to tell a sick colleague to go home,


How do you tell a dedicated employee to go home and rest, and ultimately do you say anything at all? The article suggests the polite approach: "‘It looks like you’re not feeling well, you really should be at home because that’s where you’re going to recover and recuperate. How can I help you wrap up what you’re doing so you can get home?’’’ But sometimes going home means no pay — what about those employees who cannot afford to take the time off? Do we just stock up on extra bottles of hand sanitizer and cross our fingers that we'll remain unscathed?


It still seems better for one employee to take a few days off then risk infecting the entire staff, but in every office environment you're bound to encounter people who don't feel comfortable missing work. If that's the case, the article suggests sending around "an e-mailed link to one of the many humorous videos floating across the Web that encourage good disease etiquette, such as coughing into the crook of the elbow and washing hands frequently." This doesn't seem like much of a solution, but it should brighten up the day of those feeling under the weather. Laughter is always good medicine in my book.

This article definitely raises a pertinent question: Would you be able to tell a sick co-worker to go home? How would you handle it? Please share your ideas with me in the comments section below.

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
Carol14947145 Carol14947145 3 years
I have COPD which is no ones fault but my own, however, now working at the age of 75 because I need to I am extremely distressed by co-workers that come in and cough and sneeze around my desk borrow my scissors, tape & phone. I recently was exposed to this and of course as usual I wound up with brohchitis, Spent two days of not being able to even walk up one flight of stairs due to lack of breath. Two trips to the Dr. Meds, rescue inhalers and bronchial treatments for me. Missed 2 days of unpaid work, while the co-worker came in ill first day to spead her good will and then took the next two days off. Dosnt anyone have any common sense anymore, is it always me first anymore?
Allytta Allytta 7 years
my work fines people for short notice sick leaves. terrible i know, and we don't get paid for the time we spend off work either. i just came down with something and can't call in sick because it's saturday and the office is closed and the job is somewhere else and I already called in sick 2 times in the last 2 weeks. i recuperate in a day, go back and catch somebody else's sniffles, because there's sick people everywhere,
chibarosa chibarosa 7 years
I work in HR, and we're pretty up-front about it. In addition to the email reminders, we tell people they need to go home - that's what PTO is for. A few of my co-workers are pretty passive aggressive as well, and if a sick person comes in, everyone gets out the Lysol spray cans. It can be funny - you hear coughing from a cubicle, and then 4 or 5 spray cans spraying "phsshhhhhhh...." Often the sick person is shamed into going home.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
I avoid the person like crazy, and honestly, I'm not always subtle about it. You're putting my health at risk, so why should I be all concerned about your feelings? I'd probably ask HR or my boss to send out a subtle reminder about good flu season etiquette.
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
The secretaries who sit outside my office have been coughing non-stop since . . . mid-September? At first it bothered me, now I'm just used to it. Like Spectra said, there are germs everywhere, so you just have to keep your hands clean and hope for the best.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
Here's what we do at our lab--run a rapid flu test on the sick person (this part is always the most fun because it involves sticking a swab up their nose). If it's positive, we send them home ASAP. If it's negative, we give them a mask to wear (a normal one, not the N95 type) and the rest of us wash our hands all the time to minimize the risk of getting sick. Viruses/germs are everywhere, sometimes you just can't avoid it--sick people are going to be around you almost everywhere you go. So wash up often!
Wild-Magelet Wild-Magelet 7 years
Is it bad that if I went to work sick and someone started to say "Maybe you ought to go h...", I would be out the door and watching Pride and Prejudice in my PJs before they'd even finished the sentence?
Deidre Deidre 7 years
I agree with Fauxcat; I would be a little annoyed at a "funny" viral video about sick co-workers. Things you could do: - Simply let the co-worker know you're concerned for their health. Ask if there's anything you can do to help with their workload if they go home for the day. - Ask you HR department or your boss to send out a health reminder to employees about flu season (inc. notes about how to use sick time, washing your hands often, etc). It's good info without being a passive agressive jab from any one employee. - All else fails, just wash your hands, try to avoid contact with the sick person, and watch what you touch around the office...
shukuo shukuo 7 years
My professor handled it really well. During the height of swine flu season, over half of my campus had it, and all three of my roommates. So, when I felt symptoms coming on, I knew it was going to be bad, but I had a presentation due, so I kept calm and carried on. By the time I got to the class where I had to do the presentation, my nose was stuffed and my joints ached. The teacher began the class with a spiel about how important it was to go home, and the instant he finished, I sneezed. He looked at me, and after a brief pause, I stood down, grabbed my things, and left. Sometimes, that's all it takes!
fauxcat fauxcat 7 years
Lord, would I roll my eyes at someone in the office sending a link to one of those 'humorous' videos. What's funny to some isn't always funny to others, and I hate being spammed on stuff like that. Plus, it's far beyond subtle if someone's been pathetically coughing in their corner all day. I think it's good to recommend that the person go home, particularly if you're friendly with them, and to offer to help them out. Otherwise, I'd try to (tactfully) avoid them and load up on immunity-boosting things, drink more liquids, keep up my exercising, etc, in effort not to catch it. My immune system is pretty strong, so I usually don't. One should also keep in mind that some colds/viruses have symptoms that drag out forever (like a lingering cough) even when the person is no longer contagious.
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