take your virus to work day!

Part of my job is supervising 11 student workers.  Most of them are new members of the work force, i.e., if they’ve had jobs before, they were jobs like babysitting, pet sitting, working in mom and dad’s office, being paid under the table for construction/contract work through a friend of the family, etc.  The debate of “call in or come in” has not been one that most of them have engaged in.  Each year, we address it.  Sometimes multiple times, most often provoked by a student showing up looking like crap, dragging, and exhibiting flu-like or cold symptoms.  As was the case yesterday.

Yesterday’s student was having chills “I’m hot and cold” he told a staff member who had just asked him to do something that involved going outside.  I asked him if maybe he should sign out and go home.  He said no, and that “I’m not really sick yet, I just feel like I’m coming down with something.  But I can still work, I don’t feel that bad.”  And to him I replied “I’m glad you don’t feel that bad yet.  But let me explain something to you about my philosophy on coming to work with something that is quite likely contagious….”

And then he got an earful about responsibility to his coworkers, to the people visiting or meeting in this building, to the people he might be asked to work with during his shift.  “You know that some people are immunocompromised, right?  So what for you is a cold, for them could result in a pneumonia.”  I went on to explain that if a student had a chronic condition that wasn’t communicable, like allergies, then I wouldn’t ask the student to stay home if he or she felt ok enough to work, but that if a student had a stomach bug, a cold, the flu, strep then that student should stay out of work until they were feeling better  “a good rule of thumb is that you be symptom free for 24 hours”.  I added that I am happy to give them hours later when they were feeling better to make up the lost time and money, if they wanted it.

I don’t delude myself into thinking that I am going to completely change practices of people coming to work sick with these policies, lectures, and emails on the cons of coming to work sick – I do, however, hope that I’m educating a small set of people to be at least a little more sensitive to the role of the individual in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.  Also, I’m hoping that I can make them a bit more aware of the fallacy of assuming that general underlying good health is the universal standard – i.e. there are people around them who are not generally well and for whom the application of that fallacy can create significant hardship.  And I hope that they take this sensitivity and awareness out into the world where it can be a few drops in a bucket that desperately needs filling.

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  1. queenofoptimism

     /  November 5, 2011

    I Love this post and it’s something I really need to think about. I am so freaked out about missing work. I will push and push to make sure I can go without missing a full day. I’m careful (lots of hand washing and mostly keeping to myself – but I’m still putting other people who are likely to get sick at risk. I do have a duty and am going to figure out how I can express this better to those who expect that I’ll be in no matter what as well as the people who need the push to get home and stay home until they are better.

    What is up with people who never get sick? And, therefore have no empathy and no idea what we’re talking about when we have super mega infections that 3 different antibiotics can’t touch? F those people, too.

    • If your workplace culture and supervisor’s attitude is “come in no matter what!” then it’s a tough spot to be in. I think in that situation, I wouldn’t blame someone – especially someone who probably doesn’t get the chance to hoard sick time and/or who is literally the only person who can do the job – for dragging themselves into work. I’ve even done it myself. But with the student workers, I am their boss and I get to make the rules on this one…within limits of course. They’ll get so much pressure to come in sick in their lives, I want to be a bit of a counter-balance to that.

  2. When I was still working, my office was like a teeny tiny closet. But everyone wanted to talk to me. And they always wanted to talk to me when they were sick, or when their kids were sick. I remember one time one of the guys came in and told me how his kids had some kind of stomach bug, and all five of them were puking, and he was feeling a little “off” himself. I wanted to spray Lysol right in his mouth. People are idiots sometimes.

    I would be a terrrible boss, I would send them all home.



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