I am in the situation where I am sitting at a cluster of desks. My fellow employee opposite me is sick as a dog (coughing, sneezing and wiping his nose on his hand.) For some reason he never takes his sick leave.

I really don't want to catch a cold/flu and I find it terribly stupid to come to the office sick. We do have sick leave and remote logon, so I don't see any reason to be at the office.

What can I do in this situation?

  • Various surfaces are now likely covered in the cold germs so you might want to take vitamins or use something like Vicks first defence. Is it possible for your colleague to work from home? This would allow for them to get things done without the infection risk. There are downsides though such as potential communication issues (meetings, answering desk phone etc.), inability for the employer to monitor things and potential changes such as setting up a VPN.
    – Alpar
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:47
  • 2
    @Alpra These things don't work. Washing and cleaning stuff does.
    – user8036
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:53
  • I've had several people tell me that the nose spray works, although I suppose it could be confirmation bias, placebo effect or similar. The vitamins are less effective - just a potential boost if you have a weaker immune system. There is also the possibility that being seen to clean everything that the colleague has touched etc. will be perceived as rude or OTT
    – Alpar
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 15:00

3 Answers 3


Talk to your boss.

Your argument should be that it's better for the firm that the boss send that employee home with instructions to take an appointment with a medical provider than to have a situation where several employees will be calling in sick over the next few days.

You are doing your boss, the employee, other employees and yourself a large favor by having that employee sent home to recover.

I am actually far more obnoxious to my colleagues and management because I am usually a carrier - not directly affected but spreading death(?) and destruction all around me while looking the picture of health :)


Unfortunately, most workplaces are managed in a reactive manner, so your boss may not do anything about it until several employees are sick at the same time and leave.

Some people may not have a fever, so they may not be contagious (As a former school teacher, that was a good rule to send or keep kids home.). Check if your HR department has any guidelines.

Also, you have to consider how people who take leave are actually treated in your company or by this person's supervisor. Too many people don't even use all their vacation time in these environments, so they may feel going home with "just a cold" is some sort of sign of weakness or not caring about their job.

You could give this person a little encouragement (offer to pick up the slack?) to consider going home, but consider the consequences and the "unwritten rules" of your company culture.


It's quite possible your colleague is more afraid of losing his job if he calls in sick than he is of infecting others and/or his health deteriorating further if he doesn't.

Blame the job market, but it's not uncommon for people to be afraid to take time off for anything out of a fear of being considered "not pulling your weight" or "slacking", "not being a part of the team" and terminated at your next performance review or not having your contract extended.

Talk to him, see why he's not calling in sick, and don't be paranoid about some bugs either.
There are many diseases that are not infectious yet have you coughing all day long. Chronic stomach problems for example.

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