So I came down with a bad cold over the weekend. On Monday I have an important meeting regarding the future of our company, and on Tuesday we have an important client coming. Both appointments are fixed and cannot be moved. To top all that, my department is heavily understaffed.

Say I would go to work, is there some sort of professional protocol or etiquette for this type of situation? All I can picture is the awkwardness of shaking someone's hand while having a cold and sitting through meetings with a tissue in my hand. That would be highly unprofessional.

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    Pretty sure this'd be company specific. Ideally you'd just call in from home to avoid sharing. Feb 5, 2017 at 15:21
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    That would be highly unprofessional. I am not sure what is unprofessional about showing up for a critical meeting when you are sick. These things happen. Of course you do want to minimize your exposure. In fact, if your role is not critical, you can likely do the meet and greet, put in your $.02 on anything within your purview, and then go home or back to your desk. That is not unexpected. Just make sure you have a common cold and not a flu. That would be completely different. I have showed up to work on-time on a critical day after leaving the emergency room at 4:10am. It was appreciated.
    – closetnoc
    Feb 6, 2017 at 2:15
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    @closetnoc: It is very culture specific. In the US I get the feeling that some people would regard failing to turn up because you had Ebola as unprofessional. In Germany, most people would regard exposing other people to a common cold as unprofessional. Feb 6, 2017 at 8:56
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    I concur with @MartinBonner on this. Here in germany, people would probably be quite mad at you for turning up obviously sick.
    – Magisch
    Feb 6, 2017 at 10:18
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    @closetnoc Right, so you think it is unprofessional to miss a meeting because you have a cold. My point is that view is culture specific; in Germany it would be unprofessional to attend a meeting with a cold. (I had no idea at the time I wrote that the OP is from Germany). Feb 6, 2017 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


You have several options, but it's very important that you try to do a few things:

  • Minimize your presence. Specially with the client meeting, you don't want the client to remember your sickness as "the company is sick". It seems silly but it happens.
  • Minimize your contact. You don't want to pass around your cold. So avoid shaking hands, etc. etc.
  • Minimize your impact. Leave the room if your start coughing or sneezing. Try not to blow your nose, opt for 100 wipes instead of one nose blow.
  • Minimize your recovery time. There will (hopefully) be action items from your meeting. Make sure you can get to them in a timely manor by minimizing your down time.

So what I would recommend:

Go to the meeting, and just the meeting. Show up for the "pre-meeting" if you guys do that kind of thing, but only go in for the meeting. If you can't call in or do a video conference, then fine, actually go into the office (I will assume you need to go in for the rest of the answer).

Sit away from everyone as much as you can. Take a seat in the back, by the door, make sure you have a trash can near by. Hide one under the table if you need to.

Try not to have to be the active speaker. If you need to keep it short and sweet. Cut out the manager speak as much as you can. "Yes, we can do that", "No, that's not doable.", "Let me look into that." Try and stick with safe answers like that.

Try not to have to commit, or make any on the spot decisions. "I will look into it and get back to you." is much safer then committing to something because you are tired.

Bring lots of bottled water. Usually, we feel bad when were sick because were dehydrated. All that extra snot production takes a lot outta ya. DRINK A LOT OF WATER before the meeting. You will look and feel better. You won't actually be better, but you will be able to fake it better.

Take notes, or record the meeting. Again you are not thinking straight, so make sure you can review something when you are back on top of your game.

When the meeting is over go home. Don't hang around, don't chat, don't go to lunch. Go home. Focus on recovery. This is specially important for the first meeting as your going to have to "fake it" the second day too.

At home things:

Don't take medicine that will make you sleepy. Do take medicine that has a decongestant.

Don't drink stuff with a lot of sugar or caffeine. Do drink a lot of water . Do not alter your drinking/eating habits more then you need to. For example if you have a cup of coffee in the morning. Drink that same cup of coffee. Now is not the time to change that.

Don't "not eat", even with a stomach flu. Do eat foods that are high in carbs and starches. Eat a whole pound of bread if you want. You body will need the extra energy, and the starch will turn to sugar at a much even rate then sugar, giving you a kind of "long burn" on your energy.

Do not stay up, or sleep in. Do get up at a normal time. Sleeping too much will make your groggy, too little and your will end up snoring and sneezing during the meeting. Your body needs sleep, but get it after the meeting, not before. Specially in the time between meetings. Sleep a lot then.

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    I agree with "drink a lot of water", but keep in mind that it could make you go to the toilet more often than expected - and in the worst possible moment, according to Murphy's law. Cold and some cold medicines can increase the effect.
    – Pere
    Feb 5, 2017 at 21:26
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    I would add to this: use nasal spray with salt water in it or something more potent. Use it alone in the bathroom an hours before the meeting and blow your nose hard. Again, this won't make you better and but will help you fake it.
    – ytoledano
    Feb 5, 2017 at 21:49
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    "and the starch will turn to sugar at a much even rate thAn sugar" - sorry, can't edit a single letter.
    – Mindwin
    Feb 6, 2017 at 11:48
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    I'm very surprised to see no comment or answer talking about checking with ones supervisor for their opinion or any company policy. That's what I like to do and I been told both "we really need you there" and "no, stay home, we can cover it". Feb 6, 2017 at 13:10
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    I thought it was implied by the question that skipping the meeting was not an option.
    – coteyr
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:11

It's entirely legitimate to say "Please excuse my not shaking hands, but you really don't want my cold."

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    ... and offer to sit away from others, and feel free to excuse yourself momentarily if you get into a coughing fit. A multitude of social no-no's are forgiven when you have to be there regardless of your condition, and you take steps to minimize the impact to others. But please, don't put used tissues on the table!
    – Kent A.
    Feb 5, 2017 at 15:54
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    @KentA. Well, regarding the tissues, that should pretty obvious to anyone with basic manners. In any case, thank you for being thorough. These should be official guidelines, and they should be as thorough as possible. Feb 5, 2017 at 16:30
  • I would add that a surgical type face mask would also be appropriate. It demonstrates that you respect those around you enough to take measures against spreading your illness to them. Just make sure they know you have a cold, otherwise they may be afraid of catching something worse.
    – BlackThorn
    Feb 6, 2017 at 20:42

Don't share your germs. You'll be contagious at the meeting if:

  1. You have a contagious disease (like rhinovirus, influenza, or strep), and
  2. You have a fever over 99.5 °F (measured orally) within 24 hours of the meeting start.


  1. You have or may have been exposed to someone with a contagious disease, including engaging in infection-risky behavior (for example, not observing social distancing guidelines on a crowded beach with SARS-CoV-2 in circulation).

If you or your boss insist on attendance, wear a surgical face mask. While more common in Asia than elsewhere, they are safe, cheap, and extremely effective.

Commuters wearing face masks

The most professional move is staying home. If that's not an option, the safest move is to wear a face mask. Anything less and you risk infecting your customer and your co-workers. Don't be that person.

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    This answer is a perfect example of why country tags are helpful, as many things are not just company but culture specific. Feb 6, 2017 at 3:59
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    In some Asian countries wearing face masks is not only common, but considered appropriate if you have a cold. Even if it would be considered weird in other countries, it's one of the most effective methods to keep your germs contained while still having social interactions.
    – BgrWorker
    Feb 6, 2017 at 8:39
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    I agree with @zabeus, because in the US I would find wearing a mask to be very strange.
    – David K
    Feb 6, 2017 at 14:41
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    Yet it is quite common in my workplace in the US - at a health clinic. Feb 6, 2017 at 15:09
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    I would say this good advice for a regular day to day at the office. Meeting with clients wearing a mask though, I think, at least in the USA, would chance leaving a bad impression. People might think either you are seriously ill or you are weak and/or a hypochondriac.
    – mercurial
    Feb 6, 2017 at 17:49

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