My coworker is making me sick

by Evil HR Lady on September 4, 2012

Dear Evil HR Lady,

One of the coworkers in my call center (team of 30 people, cubicles, the typical set up) has only been on the team for about 3 months. She was referred by her boyfriend. They have both been sick for over a month. Neither one of them has called in, fevers, hacking cough, joking about how many antibiotics haven’t worked for it etc. Stating they can’t afford to call in, our office doesn’t offer sick pay. Attendance has been an issue with the team for a long time. I personally have had perfect attendance since I started in February… aside from when she got me sick. I incurred over 950 dollars in medical bills and absence from work due to the crud she passed around. Turned into bronchitis and required super antibiotics. Here is the problem, Management doesn’t seem to think she is doing anything wrong as she is coming to work. She is still contagious, still coughing and doesn’t cover her mouth, and doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem. 1/2 of the team has had to go to the doctor or ER. One of my coworkers just checked in her daughter at the ER as her lung collapsed. Should I contact HR? Is there something in particular I should say to get this resolved? I feel like management doesn’t care as they are “unable to determine if she has gotten anyone sick” I personally have a compromised immune system, and could get this crap again at any time. I realize it’s flu season, but everyone has been given the same type of antibiotics… HELP! I can’t afford to get this thing again!

I suspect this isn’t about illness at all, but rather that you don’t like your new coworker. What makes me say this? First, you stated clearly that both this woman and her boyfriend are sick,  yet the whole rest of the email is about her and her alone. Why not lover boy? Are his germs sterile? You also mentioned that she was referred by her boyfriend. Is the implication that she doesn’t deserve the job? Because that’s kind of the feeling I’m getting from your email.

So, take a step back and evaluate how much of this is just personal annoyance at her existence.

I’m now going to pretend I’m a doctor (which I’m not) and say that it’s highly doubtful that a disease that was so mild that your coworker and her infected boyfriend haven’t missed so much as a minute of work is sending half your team to the doctor or the ER. Unless you all live in a bubble when you’re not in the office, you have no way of knowing where you got infected. I mean, have you paid attention to what lurks on the grocery store carts lately?

Now, could the company force her to go home when she’s sick? Yes. But are they? No. What can you do about it? Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer.

I think companies should offer sick time so this doesn’t happen, but the reality you’re in is that sick time isn’t available. Can you really blame someone for wanting to work if at all possible? I’m sure she cannot afford to take time off more than you can.

Should you say something? Sure. You can even ask that you be moved away from her because of your compromised immune system. (Although if you do, don’t be surprised if they ask you for documentation on that.) And, I have no idea if compromised immune system fall under ADA (and further more I’m feeling too lazy to actually look it up).*

But, I suspect this is more about a personality conflict than anything else. Maybe asking to be moved is a good solution.

*I will deny this sentence in future job interviews. Someone must have hacked me. I am never lazy when it comes to ADA. Confused and bewildered, yes, but not lazy.


{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith September 4, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I love your response here. I got the same impression you did when I was reading her article. Seems she really dislikes this lady. A collapsed lung from a cold?… that’s quite a stretch.

Have a great day!


Evil HR Lady September 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Yeah, boyfriend doesn’t get the same attack. And I do find it annoying when people insist all their illnesses are a result of a sick coworker. First of all, you’re often contagious before you show symptoms. Second, there are chances to get sick all around you! Third, if everyone is sitting in their cubes, there isn’t a heck of a lot of coughing on each other going on.


J December 13, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have recently discovered this website and blog and wanted to provide some feedback and concerns in hopes that this makes its way to whatever powers may be.

Not sure if your self-assigned title of “Evil” is quite nearly as appropriate as “Manipulative” or “Incompetent”, as is the case with most human resources departments. Your propensity to hone in on a slight in the wording and framing that YOU perceived of the question at hand, to instead perform “lazy” (remember, your words) analysis is a disservice to the role in whatever company that has you under their current employ.

Make no mistake, you are no Sherlock Holmes, and should cease perceiving yourself in such a high esteem. From your evasiveness of the main prompt of the question, it is clear you have not demonstrated the analytical skills necessary to make such an assertion but instead use this trope to hide the fact that you have shirked your responsibility.

Instead of dismissing the question outright by voting cliche reasoning, perhaps address the alternatives, such as and FAR from limited to the possibility that this infected coworker is not taking adequate precautionary measures to limit the infectiousness of their sickly state, potentially being negligent of common and reasonable hygiene and disease-control standards i.e. covering one’s mouth with an elbow or tissue and not ones hands, or to even just plainly for the infected to cover their mouth in the first place.

The fact that these basic possibilities somehow slipped past your awareness to the point of not being included provides a perfect example of why you, the (abhorrently mislabeled) title of your profession, and your personality are considered with such low regard amongst a majority of if not entirety of the members of the modern workforce.

Your post, your website, and your execution of your assigned function is bad, and you should feel bad. In all honesty, you would prove more useful to society and serve in a less parasitic capacity by finding a grouping of large heavy rocks and kicking them repeatedly. Good day to you and your podiatrist.

Warm Regards,


MKD March 6, 2020 at 10:17 pm

Thank you for this most thoughtful and eloquent reply to an obviously incompetent advice giver!! I too have a coworker who is constantly ill, and has sickened me twice in 7 months, costing me 6 pto days!

This is a serious issue for many office workers in particular, in close quarters with recycled air! I appreciate your knowledge on the subject, although I am quite sure that was list on the arrogant writer!!



Vicki September 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Suzanne – you say “…a disease that was so mild that your coworker and her infected boyfriend haven’t missed so much as a minute of work…”

but the OP wrote ” fevers, hacking cough, joking about how many antibiotics haven’t worked for it etc.”

That’s not “mild”. But if the pay will be docked, they come in anyway. _Sensible_ people would miss work. Less sensible people would drag themselves in, especially if they can get to work without having to drive a car.

(p.s. My assumption is that OP works on the same shift as the woman and not the boyfriend. The boyfriend could be in a different department. That would explain why she talks more about the F than the M.)

Sick people should go home.


Evil HR Lady September 4, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I agree sick people should go home. But this sick person isn’t and the boss isn’t making her so there’s nothing the coworker can do.

I think the severity is exaggerated in this email. And a boatload of antibiotics won’t cure a virus.


EngineerGirl September 5, 2012 at 12:51 am

Actually, I believe the woman. We had a similar incident here. A woman I managed (but I wasn’t her manager) came in with a cold. I told her to go home and she refused. This was right before Christmas break. You guessed it – the other 11 people spent their Christmas break sick while Typhoid Mary had a great one. Worse – she then insisted that she deserved a bonus because of the “sacrifices” she made by coming in sick. At that point the woman became my least favorite employee.

I suspect the same thing here. The OP now hates the new woman because of the harm she caused. No surprise.

I suspect the OP needs to go to her manager and talk about how Typhoid Mary is affecting productivity. That may cause a change.


fposte September 5, 2012 at 1:30 pm

But you have the same conclusion-leaping–that’s cold season, and colds are all around. There’s no way to say that people got sick from her rather than their grocery cart. Or from a nice quiet worker everybody likes who did go home after symptoms developed, but who had spread it to everybody in the prodromal phase.


EngineerGirl September 6, 2012 at 5:02 am

The entire team got sick with the same time delay and the same symptoms as Typhoid Mary. If it was a random colds the time delays would be different. “Mary” was just starting her cold when told to go home. Its a pretty strong correlation.


EngineerGirl September 6, 2012 at 5:02 am

BTW, “Mary” was irresponsible about a lot of things.


Anonymous September 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm

So long as they never go outside the building, I agree :-). But mostly I think this is about people not liking Mary.


Evil HR Lady September 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I wouldn’t consider going home for a cold. I get three or four colds a year, each lasting a week to 10 days. If I took off work for every cold, I’d never be able to hold a job.

i don’t blame Mary for not going home.


EngineerGirl September 7, 2012 at 7:02 am

She was told to go home for the day, so as not to make the other team members sick. And she got paid sick time – as much as she needed! And it was a bad cold. The team was overworked and already susceptable. C’mon Suzanne, our business does what you say is best – unlimited sick time so people don’t feel pressured to come in and spread their germs.

“Mary” was disliked for a lot of reasons. Her nickname (given by the lead SW engineer) was “your tax dollars at work”. ALL of her work had to be re-worked – it was that sloppy. She blamed everyone but herself for her many issues. She even filed false charges against others so she could divert disciplinary action. Finally (far too long for my taste) she was put on a PIP. That got her attention – along with several high level engineers telling her she would be black-listed from their program. Then she felt bad. Yikes.


Evil HR Lady September 7, 2012 at 7:07 am

If she was told to go home, sick pay was available and she didn’t, then I’m on your side as well. I still can’t imagine telling anyone to go home for a cold, though, so I’m assuming it was stronger than a cold.

She sounds charming.

fposte September 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

No disagreement that she sounds like a PITA. But from what you initially wrote, it sounded like she wasn’t “told to go home” in the sense that her manager told her–you said you were the one who told her but that you didn’t manage her. Which may be part of the frustration with her–it sounds like her manager (your manager, maybe?) didn’t do much about her in any area.

SunnyCA September 5, 2012 at 1:31 am

When I started my current job, I got a cold, which turned into bronchitis and then into pnemonia in both lungs. It was brutal and lasted about eight weeks (three rounds of antibiotics), but I didn’t miss a day of work, though I’m sure my productivity was sub-par.

I would have loved to have stayed home, even for just a few days, but the company culture here is a “macho” one that most definitely frowns on taking sick leave except for major surgery or possibly if you’re comatose. People here brag about how much sick leave they’ve accrued. Employees schedule their chemo so that they feel worst on weekends, because they’re afraid to miss a day of work. And taking leave without pay is VERY poorly regarded (don’t get them started on parental bonding leave, yikes). Because I was new, that’s what I would have had to do.

So, if you work at a company like mine, what do you do? I dragged my sorry sick behind into my office, used lots of hand sanitizer and tried not to cough on anyone. Luckily, nobody else got sick. In my review, my boss said he “admired my tough spirit” –specifically mentioning how I worked while sick!


Evil HR Lady September 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I’m not a fan of a culture that doesn’t allow for people to be sick.

I like sick days. I like bosses who understand that sometimes the best thing for the business is for people to rest.


Just Me September 7, 2012 at 3:41 am

We get points for calling in no matter what reason. When I first started within 2 weeks I got bronchitis. I stuck it out at work for the fear of a point. 2 points in your first 3 months you are fired.
3 months later I got bronchitis again. Probably never got rid of it. I called in and was out for a week.
1 point takes 2 months to get off with no call in’s or lates or the points keeps accumulating and it takes longer to get the points off.

If I had gone on my instincts I would have somehow gotten the 2 points within my 3 months gotten fired and today be employed somewhere else.

They will tell people that even if they wrap their car around a tree and call in.. they are given a point.

The HR person ( not employed at that part of the company anymore) seemed to get really excited when she talked about the points and firing people. Waaay too excited……


worx September 12, 2012 at 1:51 am

One has to wonder why places like this even have any healthcare benefits, if you can’t use them.

I worked at a place that frowned at any time off. People came in sick, and it was terrible. So I am with EngineerGirl about this Mary, who had sick days and didn’t use them.

The workplace has become like a slave ship in many ways. People don’t have rights, are not treated like human beings, and it’s all talk and hype about “caring for our employees”.


Elizabeth West September 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm

I HATE HATE HATE presenteesim. Call centers are notorious for their poor working conditions, which is why I’ll go back to food service before I ever take a job in one. At least you get to eat. It is not weak to stay home if you are deathly ill and not macho to show up sick. I would much rather cover you for a couple of days than end up sick myself!


Evil HR Lady September 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I’d far prefer fast food to call center, as well. Although I do have a friend who was an HR manager for a really good one. But, I think they were the exception rather than the rule.


Kim September 14, 2012 at 3:34 am

Yeah. Every fast food place I’ve ever worked, people came to work sick. Even people in customer service, where, regardless of their actual contagiousness, the perception of contagion is enough to scare away customers. I would say that I don’t understand why my managers never sent people home sick, but they were prey to so many numbers and data that were so far divorced from what they were intended to measure that you needed every body you had. 🙁


Mask September 6, 2012 at 5:05 am

My tactic would be to wear a mask to protect myself against the contagious in between calls, or while walking to and from my cubicle. I would also be spraying Lysol or using wipes on my work station.


Evil HR Lady September 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Yeah, if the boss won’t do anything about it, you have to do what you have to do.


Tanya September 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm

We have a policy regarding absences for staff in their probation period. Perhaps this sick person did not want to make a bad impression by all of a sudden missing days after just starting to work with the company. Also, we have 60 people here and colds and flus spread within close quarters. We have frequent reminders of hand washing, keeping workstations clean, offer flu shots, make hand sanitizers readily available… but when one gets it, it really won’t be long before others get it as well. Is the first to be sick repremanded? No. If they are sick beyond being able to function we will prompt them to go home and rest. Some do, some don’t. As far as the OP asking to switch locations… if everyone else in the office is sick, won’t she just be moved closer to someone else with germs? Maybe she caught her virus from one of the other sick people in the office instead. Or are only the ones from the new girl proven to be contageous? I agree that there is a personality conflict as well.


Evil HR Lady September 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Boyfriend got a pass, and you’re right. No telling what other people are bringing in.

If another coworker has a kid in daycare, you really don’t know who is bringing what in. Daycare is nothing more than a germ incubator where children play. Although, I will say after one year of daycare, we had caught just about everything and we weren’t sick as frequently any more.


nyxalinth September 8, 2012 at 12:14 am

the sad thing is that unless you are dead, call centers severely frown upon their phone staff calling in. This makes me agree with your stance, because the OP is either willfully leaving that out, or she’s lucky and works in one that encourages people to take care of their health.


worx September 12, 2012 at 1:52 am

Call centers are the new sweat shops. Where you have to go if you have no skills, or your field is saturated, or you’re deemed “too old”.


Jess M. December 2, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I think you can get a sense of who gave you a cold or flu if you share a small office with a co-worker that gets sick a lot and anything contagious you end up getting yourself down the line. I am thinking of resorting to facial masks for protection on top of airborne b/c I seemingly work in a daycare germ environment when I’m not a daycare worker if you get my drift. It’s not attractive, but it may be one of your last line of defenses. Also, I have asthma so I am more susceptible to getting sick with the flu or cold.
My co-worker is well aware, but doesn’t exercise care/caution even with that knowledge. She’d rather stay in denial in regard to anytime she’s made me physically ill and not take responsibility. She can work from home if need be. Work policy changed so she has no excuse. And I try not to use leave as much as possible since I don’t want to eat that up, however, I always try to be mindful of others when I am sick myself. You can’t think you’re being productive if you are sick at work and spewing out germs everywhere, and making other workers sick as a result causing a bigger problem.


Debby May 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

I have a compromised immune system due to immunosuppresants I take for an autoimmune disease. Concern about diseases while on these strong meds is very real. FYI there. We had a man at work who didn’t appear to be infecting anybody and I was not worried because he didn’t sit near me but he had a very disgusting and wet hacking cough all winter. And it was loud. A co-worker wrote an email to the boss just stating she was tired of hearing his ominous coughing and worried about her health. She didn’t sit near him either but they told him to go home that very day (around March). He went home and then went on disability because he was out for more than four days (we have state disability and have to use it if we are out 4 days) and then got the summer off. My company is petrified of lawsuits and trouble. Yet they’ve made big mistakes and have plenty of both.


Lisa December 5, 2014 at 6:04 pm

As a manager, I’ve encouraged sick employees to go home only to be told “no” by one particular employee. And this employee always had plenty of sick time. Of course, her productivity was very low when she stayed. Unfortunately, when she stayed at work, she got plenty of reinforcement from other employees–sympathy, praise for staying at work while sick, etc., and I got the feeling this was a motive for her not staying home. I believe the best way to deal with sick employees (because even the healtiest of us get sick from time to time) is to have ample sick time for employees, as well as a policy outlining to send sick employees home when they are ill OR if they refuse, stockpile surgical masks and have the sick employee wear it for the duration they are at work. Give them a choice.


Jo April 15, 2015 at 7:16 pm

Dear Evil HR Lady:

I agree that this is actually the company’s fault for not offering paid leave. It is hard to stay home when you are sick, but the company should also take into account the loss in productivity, and the hit to morale. Where I work, people are on the phones, and all the coughing in the office is disruptive, to say the least. I also agree that this lady has a right to be pissed. I recently had an incident with someone who came in sick, she used my computer without my knowledge and got her germs all over my desk. Less than 6 hours later I came down with the stomach flu. She is lucky I managed not to give it to my kids, because if this made my kids sick I would have filed a formal complaint. We are not allowed to wear perfume to our office do to the “sensitivities” of fellow employees, the company is required to provide ergonomic chairs, but someone can come in with the flu and get everybody sick? How profitable can a company be with the workforce hit with this stuff? I suffered for 4 days, and I feel like I want my 4 days BACK! A little courtesy please, especially in close quarters (aka cubicles) and no windows. A virus like this could cause birth defects to a pregnant woman, for God’s sake this is a serious issue and should be taken seriously. BTW, doctors know that those anti-bacterial gels are actually making these germs stronger. It kills the 99% weak ones, leaving the stronger 1% to take over and rule our world.


Nicola March 2, 2020 at 6:25 pm

Ok, I have a question. I have a co-worker who has come into work sick (he is really very nice and I understand due to time off for other health issues he doesn’t want to stay home). He was advised by a dr. yesterday that he has the flu virus. I have asthma and catching this could literally be life threatening for me…where do I stand?


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