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A coworker of mine is older (mid 60s) and unhealthy. He has diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure. (He's an open book about these conditions).

Our company introduced a policy with an additional 3 weeks of PTO if you contract COVID-19. My coworker told me in confidence that he's doing his best to contract COVID-19 so he can get the extra time off.

He has expended a lot of effort on this, such as going grocery shopping daily, visiting as many public places as he can, touching everything he can and then rubbing his eyes and nose. He's even tried to go to visit the hospital, but they told him to leave.

I've tried to explain to him that this is extremely stupid and that he is very high risk, but he's just shrugged it off and said that he'll be fine. He just kept repeating that he really wants the time off.

I'm obviously very concerned about him, and I'm concerned about the rest of my coworkers. (I'm working remotely, so I'll be fine, but there are several people including him that are still in the office).

My boss is out for the next 2 weeks, so I can't talk to her about it. Is this something I should go to HR about? Should I warn my coworkers about it? Or should I just stay quiet?

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    People are really stupid. He will not only infect himself and will be danger to others. Apr 9, 2020 at 15:37
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    Yeah, they are. Some people still don't see the severity of this pandemic. Apr 9, 2020 at 15:37
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    Either he's having you on, or you're having us on.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 9, 2020 at 15:38
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    I don't know where you are, but in some locations it's illegal to intentionally try and catch covid-19 because you'll infect others. The police might be interested to hear about this, even if he's joking, because they won't think it's funny.
    – Erik
    Apr 9, 2020 at 17:09
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    Supposing that your coworker is not joking, the answer is location specific. For example, in some countries you can report him to the police for attack on public health (I don't know if it's the correct expression in English). In any case, you can at least report him to HR for his attempt to take advantage of company rules and, first of all, for exposing to risk his coworkers. Apr 10, 2020 at 9:23

4 Answers 4

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You asked what you should do about this.

If you're actually friends with this person, try to persuade him to stop doing this. Does he really want to risk spending his last waking moments of life listening to a doc explain how they have to sedate him to put him on a respirator? Does he really want to risk forcing his relatives to make a decision about "pulling the plug," without actually being able to see him? When this disease is serious, it attacks lungs. Viciously.

I know a 64-year-old guy who got the dreaded. He conscientiously stayed at home. He was miserable for three solid weeks before he got better. It didn't attack his lungs. But he's otherwise super-healthy.

You asked whether you should intervene with your company. Can anything good come of it?

If your intervention will make you or your other co-workers safer, that's a good reason to intervene. Somebody at the company can instruct him to stay off the premises because he might be infectious.

If you're trying to prevent this guy from "stealing" time off, that's a bad reason.

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    Yes something good might come of intervening. This guy is endangering his co-workers, and the company is in a position to stop him. If he was leaving toxic chemicals around in the office then the company would want to know and should know. This is no different. Apr 10, 2020 at 17:20
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Is this something I should go to HR about?

Yes. They will handle it, probably by giving the employee the PTO before he kills himself, one way or another. Easy case to make for it as he is in a very vulnerable group.

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    OP is working remotely, therefore has no firsthand knowledge or proof, and was told in confidence.... what is he going to say to HR? Sounds like Aprils fool
    – Kilisi
    Apr 9, 2020 at 15:41
  • @Kilisi Quite possible, but I don't know HR who would want to dismiss even a rumor like that, when all that it will cost them is three weeks of PTO. Apr 9, 2020 at 15:42
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    PTO being permanent time off !!
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 9, 2020 at 15:52
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    @SolarMike I wish, but I cannot see that happening. People game systems around sickness because it works, and when done with a bit of "smarts" (regarding the system, not your wellbeing) they are rarely producing immediate consequences. Apr 9, 2020 at 15:54
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    @TymoteuszPaul I think Mike meant that this guy being in the high risk group can easily die from the virus and hence get permanent time off.
    – Catsunami
    Apr 9, 2020 at 16:37
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Since his behaviour is most likely dangerous to other people as well, you should definitely inform HR and probably police as well. It's probably not the right place to discuss law stuff here, but I think in my country he would be susceptible for 3 years in jail for deliberately endangering other people with a registrable disease.

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Following his logic, here are a couple of reasons why he might not want this vacation:

  1. Since covid-19 is still somewhat rare as compare to other sicknesses, he will likely get sick with something else by trying to get infected, and turn ill without a vacation.
  2. Since getting covid-19 will likely make his body feel whack for two weeks at minimum, this vacation will likely be rather more unpleasant than being at work (he won't be able to check in and out of the illness, so he will be working 24-hours a day; in reality, he will be "working" more than he would have usually).

It seems that the real problem is that your company is not willing to give time off.

Why not advocate for him to your boss? Understandably, your boss is on vacation, but it seems like he would want to know about this. Are you friends with someone higher up? Perhaps someone would be interested in granting him a vacation? Could he ask for an unpaid vacation?

It wouldn't hurt to get advice from someone else, even HR, because ultimately, HR is there to protect the company, not the employees. To talk to someone else, I would mention "what would you do if someone ..." rather than telling on any names. That's assuming, of course, that they are distant enough from that particular employee not to tell from his age and demeanor.

Otherwise, if this person is at a respectable age and will only be a fool, obviously reasoning with him won't accomplish much. I wouldn't be irritated by that. Some people will be hurt by their own folly. Just make sure you cover your back so that you are seen as ethical in the sight of the company.

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