My colleague sitting next to me is sick, he is coughing, sneezing, doing the sniffles and it is starting to drive me a bit mad hearing him cough and sneeze every 2 seconds when I am trying to concentrate.

I am aware that he is sick, and I am not sure how to approach him without offending him.

Any thoughts?

  • 6
    Chances are, he is aware that he is sick, and he is probably more annoyed by it than you are :-)
    – Kerkyra
    Apr 26, 2017 at 9:49
  • People with flu should either stay or work from home instead of spreading their germs all over the public transport and office. Apr 26, 2017 at 10:56
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    To add to Joe's comment. Make sure it's paid. If I take a sick day I don't get paid. I'd rather be at work ill than at home not being paid. I have bills and mouths to feed. Chances are however it's not flu or at least proper flu. If it was they'd be bedridden. It's probably just a cold (which don't tend to linger), could even be hay fever.
    – Bugs
    Apr 26, 2017 at 11:15
  • Sounds more like the common cold or even seasonal allergies. What many people call "the flu" is not actually influenza. If it's seasonal allergies, there is likely nothing that can be done (and you're not in any danger). Why not put on headphones?
    – alroc
    Apr 26, 2017 at 11:24
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    I personally feel that it is wildly selfish and inconsiderate to come to work knowing full well you are sick. HUGE pet peeve of mine. If you have the ability to work remote, there is no reason to bring your sickness to the office and infect others. If your colleague can't work remote, ask your higher ups if there is a policy in place to force employees to stay away if they are sick. Having one sick person come in to the office and do a half ass job since they do not feel well could turn into 10 people sick the next week.
    – dfundako
    Apr 26, 2017 at 12:48

4 Answers 4


Hmm... This one's not too hard. I'm not sure about in the U.K. but in the United States its socially acceptable to walk up to them and just ask "are you feeling okay?" or... "I noticed you're coughing and sneezing a bit, is everything alright?" I've seen this plenty of times... I think everyone in the office understands that it's not good to come to work sick.

From your comments it sounds like this person is already going to be taking time off. You could have approached the person and after asking how they're feeling, say "do you need to take a couple of days off?"

At the end of the day, you're the manager and you're looking out for this person's well-being. You're also concerned about the well-being of other people in the department.

  • It's generally OK in the UK too, I wouldn't have a problem prompting someone to consider going home sick, but most of the time they'll just announce they're ill and can't work to the receptionist and leave before it becomes a problem for other people. Apr 26, 2017 at 16:28
  • @JayGould That's really what they should do...
    – Snoop
    Apr 26, 2017 at 16:32

After a couple of days, you could approach your manager in confidence and explain the disruption. Do you have phone meetings, or take calls from customers? In past experience, my manager has been able to discreetly ask the colleague to take sick leave as the noise was interfering with these. I've even known a manager to send someone home on the grounds that we work in a small office environment and the last time someone caught a bug, everyone else over time got it too! Given the circumstances, your manager will know it's not a complaint about your colleague's overall capabilities and can hopefully explain it in such a way to him/her.

It depends on your work environment, but I've known colleagues to refuse to call in sick as they feel they are letting the team down. Are there options to work from home you could respectfully suggest if the noise persists?

  • 2
    I am his manager ironically, and I would send him home to work remotely, but he has no internet connection! He has booked 2 days off tomorrow onwards, but it is bloody annoying me right now.
    – bobo2000
    Apr 26, 2017 at 10:01
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    That's some pretty important information to leave out. Is his lack of internet temporary? Why haven't you just sent him home on sick leave?
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 26, 2017 at 10:28
  • @Lilienthal limited resources and very short handed right now. He has also decided to work before he goes off for annual leave. I have told him that he can go home earlier if he wants to.
    – bobo2000
    Apr 26, 2017 at 14:55

Are there options to work from home you could respectfully suggest if the noise persists?

This one should be addressed by an HR / Health policy. Where I work, if you are noticeably ill, you are required to either take a PTO day or work remote.

The company is not going to risk infecting the whole office so one person can come into the office and work.

  • This is a good answer, but a comment above made a good point; "If I take a sick day I don't get paid. I'd rather be at work ill than at home not being paid. I have bills and mouths to feed." So while I do agree with your answer, it might be detrimental to the sick person to take that day off. Apr 26, 2017 at 12:51
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    The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few, or the one. -- SPOCK.
    – Neo
    Apr 26, 2017 at 13:13
  • 1
    I dont disagree! But there's a lot of background information that we can only speculate at, unfortunately! Apr 26, 2017 at 13:15
  • Would prefer him to work from home, but he has no internet connection. He has taken a number of days off already for the Easter break, and it impacted us negatively which is why we haven't asked him to take more days off (he is taking 2 off tomorrow onwards)
    – bobo2000
    Apr 26, 2017 at 14:59
  • @bobo2000 Take the prefer part out of it. Either he can work from home, or he burns his PTO. Once PTO is gone, well his options aren't so good ( meaning he takes time off without pay. :-)
    – Neo
    Apr 26, 2017 at 16:34

I am aware that he is sick, and I am not sure how to approach him without offending him.

Advise them that they seem a little under the weather and it would be better for them to get home and have some rest. If they can work remotely then let them work remotely and ensure they are paid for it. They may not even be ill, they could have a seasonal allergy.

That being said, in all places I've worked, I've had one that allowed to work remotely and they did it begrudgingly. At my current place we are allowed one day to work from home remotely, the others are unpaid. It's not something that I often see being pushed. Often the employer would say if you're ill then take the time off to recover which is all well and good when you can afford too.

Here is the problem. I myself don't get paid to sit at home so if I'm capable of getting my two sons ready for school/nursery and I'm not bedridden, I'm going to work. I myself don't like to do this but I'm not in a position to lose a days wage when I have my mortgage/bills to pay and 2 young ones to feed.

I understand that people don't want ill people to come into work and spread germs but chances are you're going to catch the cold anyway even if that person is at home. People can be carriers of an illness and not show any signs of having it so if one of those people is in the office you're still open to catching it. Obviously if you are really ill or have a really contagious disease then yes the right thing to do is take the day off. I wouldn't come into work with smallpox for example.

I don't like sniffing. It bugs me never mind the person who has to listen to this. Personally I have head phones. Being a developer I often wear these to drown out noise anyway. Get a pair and listen to the radio from your PC. Alternatively move to another location with a bit less noise.

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