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The corona-epidemic has reached the city where I work. The number of cases confirmed by the authorities has been increasing day by day. My wife is pregnant. She is in the seventh month with our baby. These two things coinciding make me extremely worried. After the birth I will be taking a paternal leave to support my wife. During these two months I won't work, I won't even show up in the office. A trainee is there to cover part of my workload for this period. She arrived a couple of days ago and I am the one who trains her. As a workmate she is great and clever and eager to learn. We have covered already a lot. However today she started to show symptoms of an infection (Common cold? corona? flu? who knows..). She has been coughing definitely more than she did yesterday or the day before and she feels the need to blow her nose in every 15-20 minutes. She does not seem to have fever, though. I asked her if she is OK, and she answered, "no problem". But she keeps coughing. It's a scientific fact that corona causes only mild cases in many people, still these people are spreading the virus just like everybody else.

The management takes corona seriously. The other day we got a memo advising washing hands regularly and avoiding the office if somebody visited Vuhan or North Italy in the last 4 weeks. My trainee hasn't been in the above places but she could have contracted the virus anywhere in our city.

I do not feel comfortable sitting in the same room as a person who shows symptoms however mild those symptoms are. One can call me paranoid, I don't care: at this time of the year, having a heavily pregnant wife I just do not want to be nowhere near any person if this person keeps coughing and feels the need to regularly blow her nose. My biggest fear is getting corona and passing it to my pregnant wife. Remote work (working from home) is somewhere between hard and close to impossible for me and for her as well due to the nature of my work.

So my question is what can I do? How can I ask my manager/HR to send her to see a doctor or just stay at home for a couple of days?

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    For what it's worth, unlike other viruses like Zika, the COVID-19 does not seem to be specifically problematic for (late-stage) pregnancies. – Gregory Currie Mar 6 at 8:24
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    AFAIK a running nose isn't a COVID-19 symptom. – undefined Mar 6 at 8:48
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    "It's a scientific fact that corona causes only mild cases in many people" I want to add that some carriers of COVID-19 don't even show any recognizable symptoms at all - So you would need to ask your mgmr/hr to send home the entire staff to make sure you are at zero risk of being infected.. – iLuvLogix Mar 6 at 8:54
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    The above source also suggests that you don't need to get checked unless you have had cold like symptoms or a fever for more than 4 days and for the most part, a check is not needed unless you have a strong reason to believe you have been in contact with someone who has been infected. (Not going to link, but echoed by US's CDC, among other sources). – Mars Mar 6 at 9:06
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    @undefined: official sources (like the Robert-Koch-Institut) state that symptoms are unspecific and include fever, dry cough, running nose, fatigue, but also shortness of breath, headaches etc. In other words, it can manifest like a regular common cold or flu in some people... and kill others. – Richard Metzler Mar 6 at 14:42
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I don't know what country you're in, or what sick leave rules are typical there. But under the circumstances, you could talk to the trainee and say something like:

"Normally I wouldn't be worried about someone in the office having a cold. But with the coronavirus in the city, and my wife pregnant, it's different for me. If you want to take some days off, I can help talk to HR to make sure it's no problem."

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    This, while worded well, assumes a lot of power that OP may not actually have... – Mars Mar 6 at 10:17
  • Accepted. I like it. I might not have the power to send her home, but I do have the power to send myself to sick-leave if push come to shove to save my family. – Megharapta Mar 6 at 11:44
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    @Megharapta your language in a few comments is very extremist. I'd add a step 0: Calming down and considering the situation rationally. Your choice of words won't come across as professional and may border on confrontational. – Mars Mar 6 at 14:58
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    @Megharapta There are thousands of more causes killing a thousand times more people. Are you going to make a post about your fear of your wife getting in a car? – Mars Mar 7 at 1:36
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    This kind of attitude reminds me that of a politician. I have a PROBLEM, that can potentially destroy everything I love and believe in. I want to do anything in my power to mitigate the risk. Full stop. You are free to write as many jugdemental comments here as you please, once you or somebody you care are in this situation you might reconsider your laid back attitude. – Megharapta Mar 7 at 16:30
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It's for their own safety to take actions regarding their health.

  • If there is any policy regarding sick leave make your trainee aware of those. It's in the interest of the company that no one comes to work sick.
  • Make the trainee aware of the risks of spreading their disease (whether it's the flu or the Covid19 virus)
  • As Sourav Ghosh suggested take measurements for your own safety. I would add asking to work from home if it is possiable.
  • If the trainee persists that it's fine you can escalate to HR or anyone in your organization which is responsible for health issues/ management
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  • It sounds like OP has already approached the trainee regarding this subject. If OP has already spoken with Trainee multiple times, this approach could lead to a harassment report (And could thus use an asterisk somewhere) – Mars Mar 6 at 10:35
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So my question is what can I do?

If your company has not sent out directives already, reach out to the HR (or the Pandemic Task Force, as applicable) and ask for guidance. Also keep following all the precautionary measures / directive circulated already, ex

  • washing hands frequently
  • avoid touching eyes, nose with bare hands
  • use medical masks as applicable

Also, since you have a special condition (expectant partner) at home, you can also reach out to your manager to ask permission to work from home for the time period. You mentioned it's difficult, but this is also not a general case - it has specific requirements that should be taken care of.

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  • When reaching out for guidance, I'd specifically check if it's within OP's power to request that the trainee be properly checked. Legality will probably change by location, but at a previous workplace, it was within a Manager's power to send a symptomatic employee home/to get checked--but this was only exercised in the presence of a high fever – Mars Mar 6 at 9:23
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I do not feel comfortable sitting in the same room as a person who shows symptoms however mild those symptoms are. One can call me paranoid, I don't care: at this time of the year, having a heavily pregnant wife I just do not want to be nowhere near any person if this person keeps coughing and feels the need to regularly blow her nose. My biggest fear is getting corona and passing it to my pregnant wife. Remote work (working from home) is somewhere between hard and close to impossible for me and for her as well due to the nature of my work.

It's certainly understandable that you're afraid and that you want to do everything possible to avoid you and/or your wife getting sick.

It's certainly reasonable to present your concerns and ask, but you should be prepared for pushback.

The problem here is sick leave and company policies. How is your company handling this? Do trainees get mandatory paid sick leave? It's very possible that you'll get pushback from her if the company policies and local regulations mean she'd have to take leave unpaid and can't afford that.

So find out first what kind of sick leave is available, and, if necessary, lobby your HR for paid sick leave in this circumstance.

In addition to that, you should take the usual precautions (thoroughly wash your hands regularly, 20s scrubbing with soap neutralizes most of the virus on your hands, avoid touching your face, avoid large gatherings) as well.

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  • Well said. This addresses the real problem--the company doesn't want to pay unnecessary sick leave and the trainee won't want to use unnecessary sick days. In my former companies, there were policies regarding those that had fevers, which highlights that this will really come down to a company policy issue first, followed by a chance to push HR to make an exception if needed. – Mars Mar 6 at 10:39
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There is no reason to make this about Corona. If you are not in Wuhan it is vastly more likely that your colleague has a common cold or a flu/ influenca instead of corona. But you don't want to be infected with influenca either and having a pregnant wife is a perfectly valid reason to be a little more paranoid than usual. So tell her that you are worried about being infected with whatever type of virus she has and ask her to stay home for a few days.

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    A common cold or a flu is more likely... but if it is Corona, it is much more likely to kill people she infects (and the people those people infect, and the people etc.) than a common cold or flu. A greater-than-normal degree of paranoia is completely warranted. – Richard Metzler Mar 6 at 14:46
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    Oh wow, this answer did not age well at all! – A.fm. Jun 14 at 18:24

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