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I recently started a new job in a small office. My company offers sick days, and in theory, anyone who's sick is supposed to stay home and recover. In reality, this doesn't happen. Only one of my co-workers has been sick this year, but he has never taken a day off. In the office culture, taking a sick day seems to be frowned upon by just about everyone because the rest of the team has to cover for anyone who's out.

Unfortunately, I get sick a little more easily than the average person. There's no reason for it besides just luck of the draw. I don't have any medical conditions that make me formally immunocompromised, but colds seem to latch onto me at the drop of a hat, they always have. Spending several hours a day in a small office with a sick person is practically a guarantee of getting sick for me.

I've been sick a few times this year, always after that co-worker was sick first, and it's been bad enough that I had to take sick days (even if I did drag myself in, I wouldn't have been productive at ALL). Now, other people in the office are complaining about it.

It's bad enough that my co-worker in all probability gave me his colds by going to work when sick. But what really bothers me is that the general opinion in the office is that my co-worker did this awesome thing by working sick, and that I'm not a team player because I followed the rules and took time off, when he's responsible for causing the problem. In other words, he did the bad thing and I'm getting punished. Punished twice, if you count being sick separately from work complaints.

I feel like I have legitimate points, but I don't know how to raise them, because who wants to listen to the unpopular person? I'm afraid that anything I say would be considered whining or an attempt to use the rules to deflect criticism. How can I bring this discussion up with my team constructively? Or am I out of line here?

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    "The opinion in the workplace is that my coworker did something awesome by working sick". Welcome to corporate America. We have a very screwed up corporate culture where sacrificing your health to show dedication to your slave masters is acceptable. – Lawrence Aiello Feb 18 '15 at 19:56
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    Does your office allow people to telecommute? It may be a way to steer people away from bringing illness into the office. – apaul Feb 18 '15 at 20:34
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    Let's re-frame this: You got sick after your co-worker came into work sick. I.E., your co-worker made you sick. – Zibbobz Feb 18 '15 at 21:16
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    Telecommuting is not an option. I said "office" because it was easy and generic but I actually do hands-on work in a lab environment. – elizabeth Feb 18 '15 at 21:20
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    @LawrenceAiello: That guy is sacrificing his health and risking the health of other people who then can't work. If I come to work sick for two days, don't achieve much, and then two colleagues stay home ill for a week, my boss won't be impressed with my dedication to the company. – gnasher729 Feb 21 '15 at 23:02
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You have a legitimate concern here, and your co-worker is trying to mask this in order to make themselves look good for never taking sick days.

You aren't going to win any points by confronting him openly or aggressively - so don't try. Instead, take this up with the people who are complaining to you, one-on-one.

There is a legitimate reason for not coming into work when you are sick, and it has nothing to do with you being too sick to work - it has everything to do with you getting other people sick at work, which your co-worker is probably doing by never taking a sick day off.

Point this out to your co-workers who are complaining to you - that your concern is not just selfish, but that it is for them as well. This is a much easier pill to swallow.

This may make your co-worker who never takes a day off even when sick look bad, but that's because there are legitimate reasons not to come into work when you are sick.

Edit:

This is especially true if you are in a lab environment as you say, where cleaniless is important. Even if you're only working with industrial products, there is a strong chance that your sickness will pass on to whatever you're working with - it's especially dangerous if you happen to be be working at a medical lab, or with food.

And, as has been mentioned in previous answers, you can also point this out to your boss.

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The great thing about company culture is that it is defined by the mindset of everyone involved. Everyone includes you.

One thing that I've noticed to be fairly common is the perception of "me vs them" with these kind of issues. What I have found is more "me vs each individual". What I mean by that is that each individual is going to have his/her own gripe about you taking a sick day. Then each individual starts voicing their opinions to the other individuals, and it becomes a group issue.

The real way to solve this is to talk with each individual that is voicing a complaint. Find out what they have against you taking a sick day off, and attempt to address it. By making it on a personal level with the individual, you're giving off the idea that you do care about how it affects them.

I also find it easier to deal with these kind of things when you have a friendly relationship with other people. People are more willing to complain when it's about someone they don't like. However even a "good acquaintance" generally turns into "I hope he/she is doing alright".

I would imagine that these people might be upset about something else. For example, causing extra work for another individual will get some people upset at you. Missing appointments and getting people angry at your team would also get some negative attention. If this is the case (and what it really sounds like to me), you can take some extra steps to help reduce the impact on your team.

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First of all, the sick leave is regulated in labour law and/or your work contract and it has nothing to do with what your co-workers want. If your co-workers want you to dance on the desk, how would you deal with them? They have no rights to do that!

Second, your co-worker was completely irresponsible for coming to work sick, because he have made others sick (just curious, could you in U.S. sue them for that?). Just make your point clear. You don't want to be sick, you have made nothing to be sick, your co-worker have probably caused your sickness, and it's not you who should be ashamed now.

As for communication, you shouldn't respond to any personal accusations. Be calm and say you're doing your job correctly, and you can't responsibly work when you're sick, and there's absolute no point in coming to office sick, since in can cause more damage (making others sick).

If it causes your collegues to personally attack you (for example blame you for missing the deadlines etc.) it's probably a mobbing and unfortunatelly, you have very little options there. Namely, run away or try to talk with management (wish you luck). But the health is the most important thing, and there are enough jobs out there, so there's no point in dying because of your current one :)

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