I am an FAE that has to represent our company at various different locations. Last week, I had to do an installation with a customer where one employee was visibly very very sick (sneezing, coughing, noise dripping, etc), he even said he was here just to do the training then he was going to go home sick.

With my current schedule, I can't afford to get sick (nor do I want to), so I tried my best to avoid contact and made sure to avoid touching my mouth, etc. But at the end of the session as I was being walked out and was offered a hand to shake, I felt obligated to shake their hands...including the guy who was very sick.

What should I do in this situation? I've concluded that it's my job to be polite because I represent my company, even if it means shaking the hands of someone I don't want to at risk of my own infection. I'll note that when I am sick I always politely decline a handshake, but what do I do when the tables are flipped?

(Also, 1 week later I'm still not sick, so I'm in the clear!)

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    You could always go to a bathroom and wash your hands afterwards unless all this was done outside the buildings. Maybe you need to keep some hand sanitizer or wipes on hand.
    – user8365
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 21:30
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    I think @JeffO has the only real answer to this. I don't see any foolproof way of dodging a handshake in such a situation. I'm sure that those with great people skills can mostly pull it off but even there a lot depends on your relationship with the sick individual, his temper and how easily offended he is. You could fake just recovering from / coming down with an illness but you'd need to do it well and that will only work the once.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 21:35
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    why the concern with offending the person, if he's obviously sick thats a perfect excuse not to shake hands. If he gets offended at that, then he/she is the one with issues, not the OP
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 10:50
  • @Kilisi - and if the person has an allergy with the same symptoms instead of an infectious disease, it won't look good for you.
    – user8365
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 15:05
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    @JeffO the person already said they were sick, but in any case I have four kids, if I get sick I end up with four sick kids, not worried about how I look. I'm not in a beauty contest.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


It doesn't always work, but claiming to feel sick yourself can diffuse this.

I'd shake your hand, but I'm not feeling very good and I wouldn't want to get you sick / more sick.


How about a Howie Mandel fist bump?

Howie Mandel Fist Bump


I think the most polite thing to do is to carry around a bottle of hand sanitiser in your pocket, then after you've shaken hands with someone who is obviously ill (or maybe even just in general) once you're out of sight or have left the building, then just give your hands a quick clean with the sanitiser.


Just decline politely.

"No offence mate, but I don't want to catch whatever you have."

Or if you're on very casual terms with them.

"Get your grubby germ-ridden paw away from me before I contract whatever dreadful and embarrassing disease made you look so ugly."

  • 3
    Your second version sounds a bit over-the-top, even if you're on casual terms.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 10:53
  • @Brandin yes it is, nethertheless I have said similar (actually much worse) to close friends as a joke. What I don't understand is the reluctance in the answers to come straight out and refuse to shake someones hand politely because they're obviously and at their own admittance sick. It must be a first World thing?
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 11:05
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    Even if I was on "very casual" terms with somebody I interact with in a professional setting I likely wouldn't talk to them the same way I would close friends. Saying something like that to your friends in a non-professional setting is fine, but I'd be careful about it in a work context, especially if there are other people who might not understand how casual your relationship with that person is around. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 11:06
  • @AnthonyGrist I agree, it depends on the general atmosphere and the people present.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 11:07

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