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An employee where I work has a very intense cough. Every 10-30 minutes this person -- whom sits a few rows away in a large floor filled with cubes -- has a coughing fit which lasts less than a minute but sounds bad. I'm worried that this person could have something contagious.

For whatever reasons this person does not stay home sick, nor has a manager done anything. My boss does not manage this person, and it would need to go far up the chain of bureaucracy in order to get to have someone officially speak to this person. So lacking any official, direct means of dealing with this, what can I do? Try to speak to the person? Ask to work from home until the office is free of sickness?

Related question: What can I do when another employee is sick? -- except with the limitation as noted above; assume "talk to boss" is not an effective solution.

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    "For whatever reasons this person does not stay home sick." What is your sick policy? The actual one, not the official one. Maybe the root problem is something that can only be fixed high up the chain (though I doubt anything about you or this other employee will convince them to fix it). Apr 10, 2015 at 19:49
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    Earplugs. Headphones. Tolerance.
    – keshlam
    Apr 12, 2015 at 2:12
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    have a co-worker who is constantly sniffing, clearing her throat, etc. Asked if it was seasonal allergies, in passing conversation. Winds up, she has one of the most common forms of Tourette's Syndrome, and that's how it manifests itself (instead of the more dramatic outbursts of obscenities we see in movies or on TV shows). Tread very carefully and consider whether this is actually a concern for your health, or if you're trying to find a way to get rid of a minor annoyance. You don't know what the actual issue is, and you don't want to wind up looking like a jerk in this. Jun 27, 2017 at 17:05
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    @3kstc - Bull. If you feel that way, then YOU should stay at home and work in a sealed plastic bubble. The world does not revolve around your convenience or minor nothings that annoy you. If you think that's "political correctness" when your own whims aren't catered to, then there's a certain amount of irony and hypocrisy that you are blind to. Jun 28, 2017 at 15:05
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    @3kstc So businesses should be allowed to discriminate based on disabilities? Apr 23, 2018 at 20:17

7 Answers 7

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Earplugs. Headphones. Tolerance. Treating them with the same respect and consideration you would want if you had a bad cough for some noncontagious reason.

That isn't an unofficial solution. That's the only solution.

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    Of course treating co-workers with respect is important. I'm not sure why anyone would assume otherwise. That said, a bad cough is a bad cough and a manger should have the power to make accommodations. Tolerance, respect and consideration should be part of any solution, but there are many solutions.
    – DA.
    Apr 12, 2015 at 5:28
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    There isn't much a manager can do about this short of sending the cougher home, and fixing it on the listener's side is easy. Expecting others to fix this for you feels unrealistic to me. Ymmv.
    – keshlam
    Apr 12, 2015 at 14:12
  • @keshlam Why on Earth wouldn't a manager send a contagious employee home? You make it sound like it's some kind of unthinkable drastic action. Apr 23, 2018 at 20:18
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    I strongly disagree. While you're sick you have some obligations to others to keep them safe.
    – tymtam
    Jun 13, 2018 at 0:56
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    This assumes that the person is contagious and the symptoms will not persist for months. What about people with allergies/asthma? Oct 14, 2018 at 0:11
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As someone who has one of these coughs, we know it annoys the people around us. It annoys us too! We would give anything for it to stop but for me, it doesn't between the months of October and May. It hurts to constantly cough. Abs are always sore, chest and throat is always raw and some times taste like iron/blood. It also makes it awkward to laugh when a co-worker says a joke and you have to choose between letting yourself laugh or risking a cough that can make you pass out (yes, I have passed out from laughing at work due to my cough).

I am sorry it annoys you and you have health concerns. Please also try to be considerate of the fact we are very conscious about it! When I first started working at my new job, the lady on the other side of my cubicle complained to my manager about my cough and he sent me home early a few times. It's rather embarrassing and frustrating because it is something I can't control.

To solve your issue, I would also look to take the more patience route. If you are allowed headphones/music try wearing it for part of the day. See if there is an empty desk you can move to that is further away.

Also talking to your own manager may not be a bad idea. Just because they aren't his manager doesn't mean they don't know about him. His manager may have emailed all the other managers to inform them of his cough should there be any concerns. Your manager might tell you that it's just an asthma reaction, or they may say, you know, I have noticed this cough too. I should find out if it has any contagious implications since some of you are concerned.

Please also note that PTO/Sick days are valuable. If I stayed home every day that my cough was bad, I would be out of vacation days within the first 2 months of getting them. If your company offers work from home and he is able to do so, maybe your company can offer him the ability to work from home on days he feels really bad.

Either way, Good luck! I hope I was able to at least give you a first hand account of what it is like from our side with the goal that you may end up being a little more understanding.

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  • Have you worked from home? Apr 23, 2018 at 20:21
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    @KyleDelaney I would love to... but So far... both jobs that had the options to do so have the mentality "If you are too sick to come to work, you are too sick to work from home".... so I get to burn my sick days due to ignorance.
    – ggiaquin16
    Apr 23, 2018 at 20:24
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If this isn't something that started up recently it's probably not due to something contagious, but rather some internal medical issue.

As such, the boss has no reason to send him home.

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    A good boss, properly enabled, should make sure their employees have a workspace that best accommodates them and their co-workers. If a worker is a disruption to others, ideally there'd be some effort to make things work out for all parties.
    – DA.
    Apr 12, 2015 at 2:23
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    @DA. But that will probably take second place to the risk of an ADA issue. Apr 12, 2015 at 3:14
  • I'm certainly not proposing that discrimination happen. If this is a chronic issue, that's one thing. If it's a matter of "work from home until you fell better" that's something entirely different. That said, even if it's a chronic illness, there's no reason to assume they'd not be better accommodated in a different environment. Never hurts to ask (when asked in an appropriate manner, of course)
    – DA.
    Apr 12, 2015 at 5:27
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    Can I call this bullshit? As someone who spend the end of September 9 days in hospital for an aggressive lung infection that EXACTLY started like that. It may be well infectious.
    – TomTom
    Oct 13, 2018 at 13:13
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    @TomTom Note that I said probably. An infection is a possibility but with it persisting for a long time it's unlikely to be the answer. Oct 14, 2018 at 1:52
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The person may have a non-contagious medical condition such as asthma. One version of asthma triggers coughing instead of wheezing. Another non-contagious condition is COPD and then there are neurological conditions that can trigger coughing. I suggest trying to have a little compassion, perhaps asking if the are okay, essentially being empathetic.

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  • He also may have a significant heart problem - that is waht triggered my asthma. Or a contagious lung nfection. But that is for a DOCTOR to decide.
    – TomTom
    Oct 13, 2018 at 13:14
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Confer with your manager and have the manager take steps to send the employee home. If this means that your manager has to confer with this employee's boss, so be it.

Sick days are awarded for a reason. Said employee has to use them and see a doctor. Coughing fits this intense simply means that the employee is doing a significantly less than adequate job of managing his coughing on his own - That's disruptive. And this employee's health problem could easily become the health problem of a whole bunch of others - That's not acceptable. At least, to me.

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    This assumes facts not in evidence. There are a number of pharmaceuticals that cause pretty much what the OP describes. Someone I know was on one of those drugs for a time and sounded like death warmed over.
    – Blrfl
    Apr 12, 2015 at 12:28
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    @Blrfl Do I look like a medical doctor to you? You sure don't look like one to me. Out to see the doctor he goes. And he doesn't come back until he comes back with a doctor's note saying that he is not a danger to anyone your anecdotes notwhistanding. Apr 13, 2015 at 1:22
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    @VietnhiPhuvan How do you, or the OP, know he hasn't done that already? The OP hasn't mentioned that he has talked to the guy in question or his manager expressing his concerns, AFAICT.
    – Iker
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:17
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'My boss does not manage this person, and it would need to go far up the chain of bureaucracy in order to get to have someone officially speak to this person.'

You make it sound as if the cougher is at fault!

I have an extremely bad cough and I've experienced office bullying for it in addition to having a medical condition which is incurable and gradually damaging my airways.

It may be annoying but compassion is called for here! A cough caused by a genuine medical condition that can't be treated isn't just going to go away by a manager speaking to someone!

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    I understand your point, but your answer lack an actionable solution OP can take to approach this situation. Currently you mention that cough can be a genuine medical condition, and thus not to be judged for... how should OP approach this (please consider enhancing your answer)
    – DarkCygnus
    Feb 6, 2020 at 20:35
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I understand that a person coughing like this has an illness; you could also say it's a type of illness or impairment if the distraction and distress caused by noise like this is extreme. If a person feels intense negative emotions and can't concentrate on work due to that type of background noise in the office, they could also have to either work from home or go on disability. Definitely the existence of both conditions - chronic loud, heavy, distressed coughing that can be heard from 100 feet away and on levels of the building - and misophonia - emotional reactions to triggering sounds - are arguments for greater availability of remote work. Someone listening to loud music trying to drown out the extremely loud and constant coughing of a nearby sick person is not going to be happy about work, and the sick person likely is not performing at their best either. It was interesting to hear the perspective of some of the people here who posted as the people coughing with chronic conditions. Clearly, they have physical distress; I wonder if they understand the intense emotional distress of people who suffer from misophonia triggered by the coughing sound.

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  • This doesn't seem to answer the actual question.
    – mustaccio
    Sep 7, 2023 at 20:04
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    "I understand that a person coughing like this has an illness" - This was never indicated to be a fact in the question. The question was also submitted 6 years. I severely disagree with pretty much everything you have indicated in your answer.
    – Donald
    Sep 7, 2023 at 20:16
  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
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    Sep 7, 2023 at 20:41

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