Can’t Touch This! Doo…do a do…Can’t Touch This!

by admin on September 29, 2014

I’ve moved to a new office, and to my dismay, the break room is adjacent to the men’s restroom. If you sit in certain seats in the break room, you can see who enters and leaves that restroom. (The women’s is further down the hall.) This is a small office, and so the bathrooms are also relatively small. Seldom are there more than one person in the bathroom at any given time, though there are two stalls plus the urinal in there.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. On virtually all occasions that I see him in the vicinity, the oldest man in the office is leaving the restroom while the urinal is still flushing. We have automated sensors on our paper towel dispensers so you can hear the motor when it dispenses, and rare is the event where he’ll even go to the effort to even pretend that he’s washed his hands. This is an office where this man and others work with the general public in sales. (Sadly, this is his MO; he’s generally repellent, no combing his hair or tying his shoes, sometimes has body odor, and if not, smells like the cheap cigars he smokes outside so that others cannot sit outside as well.)

Apparently this has been going on for years before I came along. Another lady put up fliers from the CDC on the restroom doors instructing people on how to wash their hands, hoping he’d get the hint, but it didn’t last long on that door. Also, this is a government office; the supervisor knows about this problem and has done nothing.

I like to bring treats in to work, but I’m even more concerned with the upcoming holiday potlucks and how to handle something like this with a co-worker who everyone knows doesn’t wash his hands. Ever, apparently. Someone else brought some cookies in one day, and put some in a special baggie for this man, so he presumably wouldn’t put his disgusting hands in the bowl with the remainder of the cookies. It didn’t work.

It’s hard not to think about this when treats are brought in for everyone. I’m struggling to decide whether this is an etiquette issue or a public health issue. Maybe it’s both. I’m also struggling not to run around constantly with a bottle of disinfectant wipes. Surely someone has dealt with this and can give me some direction on how to handle this in a sane manner.   0924-14

If this is a government office, your supervisor has most likely done nothing because he can do nothing.   Due to the power of the employee union, it is virtually impossible to discipline or fire government employees deserving of it.   This is especially true of US government agencies where the requirements to terminate an employee are so rigorous that it almost never happens.   An employee would have to be convicted of a crime to be removed.   So, give up looking to management to address the problem because the likely scenario is that they cannot.

In order to bring treats for the entire office, you will have to think creatively on how to avoid your co-worker’s touching food.   Instead of a specific baggie for him, I suggest packing cookies in separate bags for each person and giving them their own treat bag.   They are then free to do with those cookies as they wish, namely eat them, give them away, take them home, trade them or put them back in the common break room area for someone else to consume.   Same goes for cakes, pies, breads,cupcakes…..bring it covered/wrapped with plastic wrap or in a carrier container, before lunch slice it up and place on small paper plates which you then individually cover with plastic wrap with a small container of plastic forks nearby.   One would hope he’s not so crass as to open the plastic wrap of more than one piece of cake to touch it with his fingers but will take his piece leaving everyone else’s untouched.

And so what if the hand washing sign disappeared from the door?  Put up another one only this time use one of the acrylic 8X10 document holders that mounts on a wall.  and if that disappears, do it again.

{ 117 comments… read them below or add one }

Tanya September 29, 2014 at 8:21 am

If it were me, I would address it with him directly by saying “I can’t help but notice that you don’t wash your hands after using the restroom…” followed by offers to “help him remember”, an explanation of why basic hygiene is necessary, or bluntly saying that you are not comfortable with the idea of shared food at potlucks when it’s obvious he has pee on his hands (depending on his rejoinder.)

I’m blessed by the certainty that there is no reason for me to be uncomfortable when I am not the one who is doing something so obviously wrong 🙂

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Wendy B. September 29, 2014 at 8:40 am

I don’t know much about unions, but if that’s what’s keeping the supervisor from saying anything, go to the union steward and see if he/she can do something. I don’t think firing him is even appropriate, but the steward sitting down and explaining that productivity is adversely affected by his lack of hygiene seems to be the way to go. After all, he IS spreading germs and others WILL and probably are getting sick from his issue. Sick days = lost time = more money lost by the office.

I’d forget about giving or sharing treats. Unless you can get to stuff before he does, just figure on it being something you miss out on. And if anyone asks, be honest. You don’t have to be cruel, but simply say that hygiene and avoiding sickness is important to you and as circumstances now stand, you simply can’t bring yourself to participate.

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Devin October 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I wouldn’t worry too much about his feelings. I’m going to assume that a person who does not take the time to groom or practice basic hygiene isn’t the one bringing treats to share, only helps himself to others goodies.
If you bring something, and if you have work friends you can encourage them to do the same, go from work space to work space (cubical to cubical..whatever) and personally offer the treats. Make his area the last to be visited. My coworkers and I often do this for food allergy issues (people can ask if you included nuts or wheat or whatever) and also because the people who don’t bring are always first in line to take if goodies are left out in common areas.

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BellyJean September 29, 2014 at 8:41 am

Agree with Admin on all accounts, including comments about government firing practices. So very true.

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Enna September 29, 2014 at 11:50 am

But what about the other employees’ rights to work in a safe and health office?

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BellyJean September 29, 2014 at 3:49 pm

As they should, but just try and get anything changed.

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Enna October 1, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Maybe talking to the union about it? This man is putting EVERYONE’s health at risk – there was one post about Tyholid Mary who made lots of people ill as she didn’t wash her hands. Maybe the union wouldn’t like it if they got sued for not doing the common sense thing?

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Kate September 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

Ugh. This is why we can’t have nice things. I know it’s PA of me, but I would be tempted to run around after this person spraying everything that they touch with Lysol. I would definitely keep antibacterial gel with me at all times in this office.

This is a real issue at large offices where one person doesn’t understand or care how germs or viruses are passed around, and ends up getting the whole office sick. (Besides being super icky). Perhaps the boss can start an anti-germ program, with flyers and awareness meetings and such? Stressing the ‘Don’t get the whole office sick’, as opposed to focusing on the one person.

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just4kicks September 29, 2014 at 12:29 pm

@Kate: this was my first thought as well.
Maybe OP can, with the boss’s permission, send an office wide memo that “we are heading into cold and flu season, and its all the more important that we all wash our hands often and use the hand sanitizer as often as possible”. This guy sounds like a major tool, though, and will probably ignore that memo….just like he does the signs in the bathroom.

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danmar7 September 29, 2014 at 8:48 am

This may be unique to my region/age group: WASH YOUR HANDS RODGER!

You can leave P/A signs, but if he turns up for treats, ask him if he washed his hands since his last potty break. Yes, he’ll lie, but you’ve put it out there directly. Ask again, and again. Otherwise, put the treats out for all. Take the trouble to wrap if you want, but this is also the only co-worker you know of with hideous hygiene habits.

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Dawn September 29, 2014 at 8:58 am

I’m with Tanya. I would stop him as he passed my office and tell him he needs to go back and wash his hands. His germs are going to affect all of us! And when I brought cookies I would tell him he couldn’t have any until he washed his hands.

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Kendra September 30, 2014 at 9:26 am

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work. Confronting the man directly could result in Him charging You with “Creating a Hostile Work Environment”.

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Tanya September 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I think it is unlikely that someone too lazy to wash his hands or comb his hair would pursue an HR complaint. Is it really likely that such a complaint would stick, though? I don’t see how asking someone to wash their hands “seriously disrupts” their work. I don’t have any experience at all in such areas, though, so may be approaching this with optimistic naivete…

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Kendra October 1, 2014 at 9:43 am

In my personal experience, these are exactly the type of people who run screaming to HR about you creating a hostile work environment because you “embarrassed” them.

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Dawn September 30, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Wouldn’t stop me. Nastiness also creates a hostile work environment.

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siamesecat2965 September 29, 2014 at 9:03 am

Ugh. I think at this point the only thing that can be done is to stop sharing treats, or in the case of potlucks, and this would be tough, assign someone to “serve” everyone, rather than having everyone take their own. Drastic measures, but probably necessary.

What he’s doing is gross. plain and simple.

I had a similar incident with my director, although I only heard second-hand he doesn’t wash his hands after using the men’s room. And even if he does, still gross. We were out for one of our dept. lunches, and we were served bread. It was in front of me, so I offered it to him first, as my mom had told me, you offer to everyone else before taking some yourself (but I suspect that’s really only holds true when you’re the hostess). It was one large piece, sort of halfway sliced, so you tear off a slice.

So director picks up the entire slab of bread, twists with both hands, and rips it in half. Puts one half back, holding the other, looks at that one, then put down the one he was holding, and picked up the other one. As a result, I had no bread that day since he had manhandled all of it. And from now on, rude or not, I make to take some before he gets to it!

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just4kicks September 29, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I can top that, (unfortunately) @Siamesecat.
I was a receptionist in an office many years ago. Once a month, or so, all the salesperson would have to spend the whole day in the office, doing a “phone blitz”, to sell more advertising for the company. On these days, management would order in deli trays, veggies and dip and drinks. If anyone wanted to, they could bring in chips, salads, desserts ect. One lady was very famous for her absolutely delicious pasta salad. It was divine, I must say. Anyway….one day during one such “blitz”, she made a HUGE bowl of it, enough for 30 or so helpings. We all couldn’t wait until lunch! A new salesman who has just joined the staff was, well….very smelly and unkempt on a daily basis. I’m sorry, I know that is unkind, but it’s true. He always had greasy hair, dirty clothes and fingernails. Upon the announcement lunch was served, he was the first into the lunchroom and made a bee line for the pasta salad. He then, (with plate and serving spoon in hand) asked “what is this?!?”. The lady who made it said “it’s cold pasta with veggies and meats and cheeses, tossed in Italian salad dressing….I hope you like it!!!” He took the SERVING SPOON, scooped up a spoonful, and ate it off the serving spoon! After licking the spoon clean (I know….ewww, right?), said, “hmmm…I’ve been hearing all week how good this is supposed to be….you all are crazy! It’s DISGUSTING….YUCK!” ….then, he put the serving spoon back into the middle of the pasta and moved down the buffet line. We were all gobsmacked, and felt horrible for “B”, the lady who made it. Of course, no one would touch it, and “B” was so angry and hurt, she turned on her heel and left.
We all felt so badly, many (if not all) of us slipped her a few bucks for her time and effort and expense, since we ended up throwing the whole thing away. She never made it again, and none of us could really blame her.

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Cat September 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm

I am afraid my critical parent would have kicked in and asked him,” What do you think you are doing by eating off a serving spoon that we all have to use? You can take some on your plate, sample it, and, if you don’t like it, don’t eat it. ”

A co-worker got upset because people would ask her for common headache pills, pour a bunch into a germy hand and then return them to the bottle. I showed her how to tap a couple out into the bottle cap and then tip them into the person’s hand. No one had to touch the pills at all.

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just4kicks September 30, 2014 at 5:41 am

You are right, Cat. One of us should’ve said something, or grabbed the spoon out of his hand and replaced it with another. We were all just stunned that he was being such an ass! He was the type of person who wouldn’t have thought he did anything wrong. He didn’t last at the office much longer after that, and our office manager (after he was fired) told us she had received many calls from his clients about his rudeness and appearance.

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Snarkastic September 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm

That. Is. Awful. Well, gross and awful. Truly yuck. Where did he pick up such lack of manners?

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Marozia October 1, 2014 at 4:45 am

I would’ve grabbed the spoon out of his hand before he put it back in the pasta and hurled it into the bin or the sink and gotten another serving spoon. That might’ve taught him a lesson.

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Bibianne October 1, 2014 at 8:35 am

*Dry heaves*
GROSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

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Ange September 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm

I worked with a lady who would routinely bring along tupperware to restaurant lunches provided for staff as a reward. I clearly remember her one day sticking her finger in the restaurant’s chocolate fountain and then proceeding to take off her shoe to crack crab when the required utensil wasn’t delivered quickly enough. She was a treat.

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just4kicks October 1, 2014 at 5:56 am

@ange: Oh, my God! Her shoe?!? What a boor (boor-ette?)!!! And that is exactly the reason I don’t partake in any chocolate fountains, ever. Luckily, my four kids are old enough now to understand a trip to the chocolate fountain isn’t worth possibly spending the entire night in the bathroom making their own “chocolate fountain”!!!

@snarkastic: I have no idea, but he was a real winner, no one was sorry to see him get fired. There was however, a huge argument over no employee wanting to take over his cubicle. Everyone was afraid they would get lice….or worse. I was pretty friendly with the office manager and asked her why on earth did she hire him in the first place? She said when he interviewed he was clean and sweet smelling. She also said he was pushy, but she was hiring a salesperson and pushy goes with the territory usually.

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Kate October 1, 2014 at 9:08 am

Ugh. That is just…. Ugh. I went to a wedding one time that had a chocolate fountain. With all of the drinking and revelry, by the end of the night people were sticking their mouths in the chocolate fountain.

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lkdrymom September 29, 2014 at 9:24 am

I don’t see why the manager cannot bring this up to the employee. I can see that he cannot discipline him over it, but just to make him aware of the situtation and that people have noticed and complained. I am wondering if age has anything to do with it. My father does not wash his hands after using the bathroom either. He was never taught to do so. Now every time I see him leave the bathroom I pointedly ask him if he washed his hands and every time he has to go back and do that.

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Cecelia September 29, 2014 at 9:25 am

Oh, OP, I know how you feel. We have security staff in the place I work, all male, and they do not wash their hands when they leave the restroom. I do as the doctor suggested to prevent flu/cold germs and use a paper towel to open all doors and wash my hands frequently. I figure if it works to prevent the transfer of flu/cold germs, it will also work to prevent the transfer of other types of germs. (I’m sure there are female coworkers who do not wash their hands, but most of the tell-tale sounds are over by the time they leave the restroom.) We also have the notices about washing your hands, but they are actually plastic plaque-type signs that have been attached to the doors/

As for the upcoming holidays and food sharing- admin’s idea will work for treats such as cookies and brownies- and you could take it a step further and attach festive “name tags” on the baggies. I’m not sure if you want to go to the expense of purchasing paper plates and plastic wrap, but if you do, then that would also (hopefully) prevent him from contaminating the other slices of cake or pie. You could put a bottle of hand sanitizer in front of the treats and do a sign with something about it being the cold & flu season, although this man would probably ignore it.

Since the man has probably been doing this for years and getting away with it, other than speaking to him directly, which would probably make for a hostile work environment, the only other avenue I see is HR. Surely with this man working with the public and not washing his hands, something can be done?

I do not partake in potlucks and shared food because of this type of thing. I have been accused of being a germaphobe a few times, but the thought of trying to eat something that has been handled by people who do not wash their hands, especially after using the restroom, just gags me.

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Goldie September 29, 2014 at 9:25 am

I had a coworker whom I’ve seen on a couple of occasions picking his butt. He’d just stand there talking to somebody and his hand would be behind his back halfway down his pants. I pretty much stopped participating in shared/team lunches after that; or I’d make sure to get to the food before he did. And I started packing my own silverware with my lunches – we had a stash of plastic spoons/forks in the breakroom, but I feared they’d be contaminated by the butt picker. My point is that, while I’ve had a similar problem, and would be VERY interested to hear about a solution that worked, I do not have one of my own.

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hakayama September 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Looks like THAT coworker did not evolve too far from his ape ancestors, 😉 at least in the grooming in public aspect.
Perhaps an anonymous “love note” might yield some results. If not, then there should be at least ONE, preferably male, individual that could tell him, PUBLICLY too, that his actions are visual emetic.
Much is said about (against, really) public shaming for all kinds of reasons, but this is one case that really calls for it.

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just4kicks September 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm

My kids always say to one another who may be picking their butt at the moment: “Hey, are you going to the movies?” No, I’m not. “Then why are you “picking your seat!!!”

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Squicky September 29, 2014 at 9:26 am

I’m in a similar situation with one of my coworkers. Not only does she not wash her hands after using the toilet, she also always has dirty fingernails.
I avoid any baked goods she brings in like the plague (pun intended).

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YardFruitGal September 29, 2014 at 9:31 am

Exactly, shop steward. If you have a union, that is your direct route to something happening.

I’d wrap everything offered food wise. There are ‘disposable serving savers’ sold now, they are inexpensive. You darn right I’d package up my potluck foods like that, put a sprig of something inoffensive on top and plop the lid on, so there’s a reason to be portioning it… and get everyone to do it.

He can be an unhygienic slob, you don’t have to suffer his germs or his cold either. Put the handwashing sign back up with a holder, put it over the urinals and in the stalls in both positions so sitting and standing you see it, and by the sink and on the door. Be even, put them in the ladies for sitting and by the sink and on the door too. Then if he wants to beef the ladies door can be opened with nobody in there and he can be shown, ladies too.

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Josh September 29, 2014 at 9:56 am

Sure not washing your hands after using the bathroom can be a hygiene issue. So is touching a door knob, desk, keyboard, phone or shaking hands. We all need to take a deep breath and realize people are dirty. Life is dirty and a little bit of bathroom residue is not going to mean instant death.

A question for the admin, do you really think not washing your hands is grounds for firing? Also, your abuse of unions is totally unwarranted in this case. The letter writer never mentions unions or them protecting employees with bad washing habits. Unions have done much in the way of improving worker safety and negotiating for a living wage when the minimum wage is inadequate. Not all are great but not all warrant your fear-mongering.

Having worked in US government offices for much of my brief work history, you are completely off base on your characterization of job security. Few of us above labor positions are even in a union. You can be fired for any valid reason, it just so happens that being gross is not really a valid reason without first giving you an opportunity to correct the issue. In some positions you can also be fired for completely nonsense reasons like the administration changing parties. There also seems to be an underlying issue of the letter-writer generally not liking this coworker based on the harsh way she describes him. If she has an issue with his smoking she should take it directly to her manager. But she will likely be told that he is in the designated smoking area and following the rules.

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Library Dragon September 29, 2014 at 10:56 am

Admin never stated that not washing hands was grounds for firing.

The reality is that union rules often make it very difficult to interact with employees in areas that effect other employees or clients, especially if they are not directly job related. Even if it is job related. BFF works in government security, as in he has to brief and de-brief certain employees if they travel to certain countries. These employees are required to go through this briefing and declare all travel. Employee A decided to take an unannounced jaunt to an absolute no-no country. Let’s say Cuba. When BFF tried to deal with the situation it became a 5 year battle with the union that nearly cost him his job.

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crebj September 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm

On the up side, unions brought us the 8-hour day. I also saw a union employee fired. The person had been denied unearned vacation, rewrote her plane ticket, and claimed she was unable to get a flight back. Not cricket. The union dropped her claim.

Admin and others, please don’t judge all union members and activity by one.

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burgerking September 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

Agreed.

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HelenB September 29, 2014 at 11:45 am

This is what I was thinking. I don’t believe that “not washing hands” is even something an office worker here (US) could be disciplined for, forget being fired for it. This would be general office workers, not food handling/medical personnel.

One other thing, studies show that he would not be the only one not washing his hands — he’s just the one that the letter writer has noticed. Studies show 10% don’t wash at all, 30% use only water, and 95% don’t wash “properly”. So, it’s very likely that the treats are being touched by unwashed hands, even without him.

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Shyla September 30, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Yes of course an employee can be fired for not washing hands. You can be fired for anything not based on being in a protected class. You can be fired for wearing stripes if that’s what they want. Now whether you *should* be fired for not washing your hands is a whole other question. If I owned a company with 2-3 employees, I would consider it. I’m a germaphobe. In a normal company, there are ways to address things. This is bad management. Even in a government office this manager could address the situation if he wanted to.

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lakey September 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I disagree with you on the subject of unions. My father was a UAW member, and I had uncles who were members of the Teamsters and AFL-CIO.
People my father worked with were drunk on the job, slept on the job, stole, you name it. The union protected them. Unions and groups of government employees are like everything else in life, there’s good and there’s bad. But the reality is that there are types of employee situations where it is very difficult to fire employees who should be fired.

I don’t know if the man in the OP’s post should be fired or not, but I do believe that an employee who creates significant problems with other employees should be fired. I also believe that before a person is fired, they should be given a warning and chance to fix their problem. Job security should not be automatic; it should be earned.

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Josh September 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm

To lakey,
Not sure why you think you disagree with me as we both came to the same conclusion.

You: “Unions and groups of government employees are like everything else in life, there’s good and there’s bad. ”

Me: “Not all are great but not all warrant your fear-mongering.”

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hakayama September 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm

In some public service sectors, tenure=”job security”, was “earned” after a probationary period of three years. It was during that time when the supervisors had a chance to EASILY weed out individuals that did not “fit”. No questions asked, no protestations considered, etc. (I think it can be compared to the first 6 months on any job elsewhere…)
Even after reaching tenure, workers could be fired for due cause, which does not usually include personal hygiene.
I did have a coworker who was not only gross in the hygiene way, but also had avitaminosis, was paranoid/schizophrenic*, AND majorly messed up in the performance of his duties. However, he stayed on and on… until he had a complete breakdown.
I imagine that his department supervisors through laziness, because of some sort of kinship and/or ill-conceived compassion did not undertake the proper steps early on. Or even later. Starting any process of reprimands (not to mention dismissal) was just so much bother. :-/ Staying with it, would be a major nuisance. It was so much easier to sort of “glide over” things, and to allow the poor disgusting schmuck end up like a sack of garbage.

* Here I go again from my diagnosing armchair: if it walks like a duck, etc.
I also had a classical sample among my relatives.

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eeek September 30, 2014 at 7:16 am

Indeed. I work in the public sector, and though I am in a professional position, I have previously held positions associated with the various unions. In my environment, it is pretty well known and accepted by the unions that there is a reasonable probationary period, during which time the employee is exposed to the array of responsibilities for the job and is rigorously evaluated as to the performance of those duties. It is the responsibility of the supervisor and colleagues to do a decent job determining if the new hire is worth keeping. I have offered feedback to supervisors in cases where the hire has not passed probation, and as a supervisor I have not passed people on probation. It’s not pleasant work, but it beats stacking up the documentation for firing someone who fails to perform her/his duties. But I’ve seen those cases, too – it’s work, requires multiple lines of evidence, warnings and opportunities to remediate – but people get fired for non-performance. And they get fired right quick if they’re doing anything illegal or fraudulent, assuming the supervisor documents the behavior. And – again, this is limited to my 25 years of experience in one realm of the US public sector – the unions do not blindly protect people who are not doing their jobs or who are doing things that are illegal.

People do not, generally, get fired for bad hygiene (unless it’s related to their ability to perform the duties they’re hired to do). In such cases, they get a reprimand and a referral to the Employee Assistance Office – a good supervisor would listen to the concerns of the majority and intervene.

Overall, I rather prefer the security of knowing I can’t be fired for things unrelated to my work. It seems far more fair that what my sister experienced, when she was fired by a business owner (for whom she had worked 5-6 years), who told her she was ugly and he was “tired of her fat face”. Or my niece, who was fired after 4 years employment because she used medical leave when she was pregnant (but they fired a guy, too, so it wasn’t discrimination).

It seems to be a national sport, this union bashing and complaining about government employees. What a pity that people enjoy complaining about millions of people and thousands of different systems and organizations, as though they were uniform and equally awful. This seems, to me, to smack of bigotry – but I do understand that I might be particularly sensitive, since I regard myself as a civil servant who works for the public good.

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just4kicks October 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm

My dad also was a union steward for the UAW when he worked at Mack Truck.
Oh, the stories he could tell on here!
Co-workers came to him for the DUMBEST stuff….

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Dee September 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

In my neck of the woods unions can have a ridiculous stranglehold on management, to the extent a worker can almost never be fired, no matter how badly they perform or abusive they are. We keep electing the same corrupt, money-losing government because the alternative is a union-happy one that previous years of experience leave a bad taste in the mouth of most voters. So, yeah, unions may have been necessary years ago but they sure can ruin a workplace now, and good luck in trying to resolve an issue when a union is involved.

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just4kicks October 6, 2014 at 6:08 am

My dad (a union steward for the UAW) was once in the middle of a huge problem at his office with an African American woman who took offense to everything that was said to her. I’m not trying to start a race war here, but, an example was this lady came to my dad absolutely furious and he needed to do something about those racists in her office NOW!!! When my dad called a meeting with all parties involved it turns out a couple of her office mates were discussing the restaurant they had dinner at the night before. “This place had the BEST fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life! You guys should go check out this restaurant…it was delicious!” This lady got very upset and shouted, “what the hell does THAT mean?!? Huh?!? Just because I’m black means I like fried chicken?!?” The people were shocked, said of course not….we were just saying it was good food!” So on and so forth…. when my dad’s tenure as union rep was up he passed on continuing any further. Not just because of this one incident, but because he was falling behind on his actual job dealing with all sorts of problems.

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Anonymous September 29, 2014 at 10:29 am

Oh, eww. The time for people to learn to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, is during potty training. As for the idea of individually bagging treats for people in the office, I think that’s a good idea. It’s labour-intensive, and environmentally insidious, but at least it’ll prevent some unsuspecting person from eating a cookie that’s been touched by unwashed bathroom hands.

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wattamutt September 29, 2014 at 10:34 am

I really hope you dont think that he is the only one in your office that doesnt wash his hands. I assure you, there are more. Put up another sign. And yes spray the disinfectant every chance you get.

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Wild Irish Rose September 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

I will simply never understand people who don’t wash their hands. Especially after using the facilities. I can’t believe EVERYBODY doesn’t find that to be vile. I’m with Tanya–I’d say something directly to him. Actually, I have confronted co-workers on this very issue. I was especially vocal while I was undergoing chemotherapy. I call it Looking Out for Number One, and anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to, but I’m not sharing food with anyone with dirty hands. Yeesh.

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Snarkastic September 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

It is disgusting! Tell that to the woman I shared a cafe bathroom with today, who ran her hands under the water for a literal second (no soap) and left.

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burgerking September 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

Hilarious that many posters on are going to go on the record as saying just tell the person to go wash his hands like you are his mother. yeah I agree it sounds icky but the fact is you really don’t know what’s going on behind that closed bathroom door – not to mention who else doesnt wash their hands in your office- it could be any number of people in your office. I do like the ideal of individually wrapping treats otherwise this is a big reason why offices don’t recommend bringing treats any longer.

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Miss Raven September 29, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Sorry, I’m Team “Tell-Him-Directly”. This is not a matter of parenting the offender; it’s a matter of public health. This man is creating a disgusting working environment. And as someone who works at a company with an obnoxiously passive-aggressive culture, I can confirm that the only way he will change is if spoken with directly.

In my office, if you are doing something wrong or undesirable, you’ll never be told, ever. Instead, a “friendly-reminder” type passive-aggressive email blast will be sent to the entire department. Two things happen, depending on the type of person: You will wonder “do they mean me?” or you will assure yourself, “they don’t mean ME!”

Someone needs to speak with this man about his complete lack of hygiene and disregard for the well-being of his co-workers. However, that person needs to be a manager or superior, and should probably not be the OP on her own.

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doodlemor September 29, 2014 at 11:26 am

I had thought that this product was a gag gift, but maybe it isn’t after all.

http://www.amazon.com/Maybe-Touched-Your-Genitals-Sanitizer/dp/B004CPQBRA

I agree with administration to bag all of the treats individually, and hand them out individually, too. Perhaps the office could go out to lunch or order out, instead of having a potluck.

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Cecelia September 29, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Ding, ding, ding- we have a winner. I had to look at that link and I LOVE IT! The others are fabulous, too.
P.S. I laughed so loud that a couple of cube mates had to come see! 🙂

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NostalgicGal September 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Oh I laughed so hard…

And look at the stuff Amazon suggests you bundle with your purchase…

I think I need to get some just for such a situation. Thank you.

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Bibianne October 1, 2014 at 8:40 am

ROTFLOL… We have a winner!!!

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creativecat September 29, 2014 at 11:38 am

A lot of the anti-bacterial stuff out there actually strips you of the ability to build up a strong immunity to some of the bugs going around. I am allergic to most soaps and react hormonally to glycerin and other things in hand sanitizer. I do bring some of my own soap to work, but I still have issues with super-dry skin in the winter. I asked a trusted HR person if she had some ideas, since one of her kids has similar issues. She told me that scrubbing your hands is mostly what rids you of the bacteria more so than using soap. Since I stopped using soap half the time (still wash my hands and practice good hygiene), I have gotten fewer colds from people around the office. I was only sick once last year.

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The Elf September 29, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Did you ever hear the old George Carlin bit about giving your immune system a workout?

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Amanda H. September 30, 2014 at 9:52 pm

My scientist husband read some studies that basically say similar things. That there’s such a prevalence of allergies these days because people are perhaps just a little too quick to sanitize things. When you’re killing all the germs everywhere in your house, your body doesn’t know what an appropriate reaction is and tends to overreact to minor things, such as pollen or animal dander. The studies basically say that letting your kids play in the dirt without forcing them to wash their hands every two minutes, or perhaps not religiously scrubbing down every doorknob and phone receiver with disinfectant, might actually help your kids’ immune systems build up better, leading to fewer allergic reactions. Pretty interesting stuff.

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Ashley September 29, 2014 at 11:46 am

I can understand why they might not be able to fire him but surely they can at least say to him “Hey, wash your hands, it’s really gross when you don’t” except in more professional terms.

I’d put signs up every single day if I have to, I’d even find a trustworthy male coworker to put several up IN the men’s restroom if I had to.

It blows my mind that there are people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. That’s so gross to me.

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Josh October 1, 2014 at 11:22 am

They should also say “Hey, stop monitoring what he is doing in the bathroom, it is really unnerving when you do” except in more professional terms.

I’d complain to HR every single time someone commented on my supposed bathroom habits.

It blows my mind that there are people who monitor others’ trips to the bathroom. It is such an invasion of privacy to me.

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MichelleP October 3, 2014 at 11:46 am

It blows my mind that anyone old enough to work honestly doesn’t think that their disgusting habits hurt others.

“Invasion of privacy” to unavoidably notice a lack of hygiene? Ridiculous.

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Devin October 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I’d go one step further and ask a male coworker who you are friendly with to put a sign up in the bathroom WHILE the offender is in there. Its a multi-stall type restroom so it wouldn’t be strange for him to go in there while it was occupied. He could even ‘confide’ that he had to put up a new sign because ‘someone’ was complaining about people not washing their hands have using the restroom. He could even take enough time hanging the sign to see if the offender washes his hands if someone else is present (and in the middle of hanging a sign about hand washing).

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Amara September 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

This is unfortunately common but it is probably the one thing that grosses me out more than any other. I keep a bottle of vinegar, paper towels, hand soap, and disposable plastic gloves in my desk and use them often! I do not touch door handles, drawers, cabinets, the copy machine, the printer or anything else with bare hands. My co-workers have become used to it but I am sure I was gossiped about for quite a while after I came.

I also do not get sick. My immune system and health are excellent but I am sure my precautions at work and elsewhere in public help. I don’t assume everyone else washes their hands–a minimum of 30 seconds of vigorous hand washing including up to the elbows–but even if they do they still touch the door knob going out (and that is touched by everyone, washed hands or not).

In this case, I would avoid potlucks and if you want to share goodies then bag them individually.

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Cecelia September 29, 2014 at 1:16 pm

I use paper towels to open all doors at work, and have for years, and I did have a few curious stares and whispers at first. I also wipe my desk with disinfecting wipes each day and do a full take-everything-off-and-sanitize once a week. Again, I did get a few curious stares and whispers at first, but once people realized that I was sick much less often than they were, a few others began cleaning their desks more often and using paper towels to open doors.

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Enna September 29, 2014 at 11:58 am

I think going to the union if the union have such power over the office. The union have a responsiblity to everyone’s safety. If you mention it OP and he gets nasty (so long as you are neautral/constructive)then that could be grounds for a disciplinary.

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Enna September 29, 2014 at 11:59 am

P.S I also liked the post about putting signs up in the gents’ and ladies’ loos. Plus hand sanatiser. On some cruises you have to use hand sanatiser before going to a buffet and there is a member of staff who is there and will insist you use the hand sanatiser.

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sillyme September 29, 2014 at 12:08 pm

My first thought, before reading how generally unhygenic he is, is that perhaps he uses sani-wipes or hand sanitizer instead.

I’ve been in situations where I don’t like to wash my hands in a restroom because they use hand dryers and not paper towels, or it’s so disgusting I would prefer hand sanitzer or the little sani-wipes I keep in my purse.

I realize that it’s unlikely the case with this character, but in general, I’m just sayin’, don’t always assume.

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AnaMaria September 29, 2014 at 12:10 pm

When my mom was 19 she was working a cash register, and apparently someone with meningitis came through the line and gave her cash that had their germs on it. My mom spent the next two days in a coma, often packed in ice because her fever was so high. She has spent the rest of her life since (she is now in her mid-sixties) with partial blindness in one eye, extremely low pain tolerance and some emotional issues due to the damage to her nervous system, embarrassment by how thin her hair is because the fever burned most of the hair out of her scalp…the list goes on. Needless to say, she has also developed a phobia of germs which interferes with her day-to-day life (she’s afraid of eating anywhere but at home because she’s worried about unknown germs) All because someone couldn’t be bothered to either stay home with such a contagious disease, or at least wash their hands.

OP, normally I would turn my nose up at the thought of individually bagging treats because of the waste of time and environmental resources, but if you really want to bring something to work, I’d give you a pass, here- people should be able to enjoy a cookie or brownie (knowing that a trustworthy person baked it) without wondering if they are going to end up hospitalized because of someone else’s lazy hygiene habits.

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Rosie September 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm

I agree that it’s disgusting to not wash hands, but I also question what the real impact is. Has the OP been sick in the last several years from sharing baked goods with this guy? I can’t get my own husband to wash his hands after using the bathroom, which disgusts me when I think about it in detail, but then I remember that I seem to be perfectly healthy and don’t seem to suffer any ill effects from his poor hygiene. Even when you are sick, you can never really know where you picked up the germs. We live in a world full of germs and while I would love to police other people’s bad behaviors, I just have to believe that it all evens out somehow and trust my immune system to its job. (Note, this attitude doesn’t apply to people with immune deficiencies or other health concerns, it’s just my personal opinion.)

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MsDani313 September 29, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I had a male coworker suspected of the same thing. However, he took it one step further as he always had a runny nose. Whether it was a cold or allergies he had a very bad habit of touching things on other peoples’ desks. On my desk he would just rearrange things as he talked to me until I told him to stop. One day, he picked up my lip balm, uncapped it and sniffed it! My entire jaw hit the floor. That was the day I told him in no uncertain terms was he to touch anything on my desk. He acted very put out that I did not want his snot on my stuff. He went so far as to call me a germaphobe.

In reality, I am a germaphobe because I have a compromised immune system due to having a chronic upper respiratory issue. My advice to OP is to make sure that she washes her hands religiously and to report to HR every time she sees her coworker leave the facilities without washing his hands. Seems extreme but I am serious when it comes to my health. Because when I get sick it causes a trip to the ER, with me on oxygen and other breathing treatments and spending the next 6 weeks coughing like a serial smoker and using my inhaler all day.

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just4kicks September 29, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Call me a cynic, but maybe the constant runny nose was from a drug problem……?
I could be wrong, but having a runny nose 365 days a year is an awfully long cold…….

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ss September 29, 2014 at 9:13 pm

I have a constantly runny nose every day of the year and I have never done drugs in my life. It’s more likely that he suffers from chronic allergies, like me.

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lakey September 29, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Maybe not 365 days a year, but what we think are colds are often allergies.

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just4kicks September 30, 2014 at 5:32 am

I’m sorry, I meant no offense to anyone. 🙂

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Enna October 1, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I think Just4Kicks was trying to be a cynic. If he has allergies he could get treatment for them.

The TARDIS September 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Ugh!

When we use public restrooms, we pick up the germs of everyone else who touched the flush lever. I never use my hands, I kick it with my foot or use toilet paper between my hand and the lever. Germs get transferred to the handle of the stall, the sink(sinks are dirtier than toilets germ-wise!) and, if the person doesn’t wash their hands, the restroom door handle. If we had everyone put a different color of dye powder on their hands and go about their day, they would be amazed at the rainbows they’d find on communal surfaces. We don’t think about how often we touch our own faces – they might find rainbows on themselves, too. All the colds and flu and other nasties they could be catching!

If his hygiene is that bad, I would hate to see the germ count on his desk. Ick! I’m a nurse. Washing my hands is automatic to me and I will crossly send someone back to do so if I notice they haven’t.

What personally irks ME is someone who is obviously sick coughing or sneezing on their hand and immediately handling other objects like the pen at the bank or a doorknob I was about to use myself. Even worse are the parents who don’t teach their children to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbows at a young age. A four year old can be taught this, so why is your twelve year old doing it? Iiiick!

Sorry for the hijack.

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KenderJ September 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm

People who kick the flush lever with their feet drive me to drink. You are always breaking the toilet and then no one can use it. Besides, it’s pretty useless. Most public / shared toilets don’t have a lid. It’s called the “toilet plume” and was discovered by Dr. Gerba of University of Arizona discovered it in 1975. Without a lid, when the toilet flushes you and everything around you is coated in a fine aerosol of not only your own urine & fecal matter but everyone else’s who has used that toilet since it was last cleaned. Yes, of course I wash my hands after I use the facilities, but more importantly, I wash my hands before and after handling any food. The rest of it, just gotta learn to live with it. The way I figure it; it aint killt me yet.

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KenderJ September 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm

oh, forgot the link to Dr. Gerba’s work:

http://ag.arizona.edu/media/archives/6.11.html

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MichelleP October 3, 2014 at 11:48 am

Thanks for this. I’m a nurse too, and if people knew what we knew maybe they would do it.

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Kay L September 29, 2014 at 12:45 pm

The LW’s obsession with this man’s hygiene borders on creepy.

Is she watching every other male employee from her vantage point in the break room to make sure that they also wash their hands?

Just seems creepy and stalkerish to me.

Is she aware that a great number of the restroom going public do not wash their hands or do not wash them enough to do any good? Is she going to make sure that he lathers up for a good 20-30 seconds of he does? And again, how about everyone else?

At a pot luck or candy dish or any kind of shared “people putting hands into the bowl” one shood consider that there ar germs, again, because people generally do not wash their hands, do not wash them correctly, even if they do maybe they just shook someone’s hand who does not.

I woul never take home leftovers from a potluck.

As far as how to handle his BO. Enlist another male to talk with him about it. As far as hand washing. Unless the effort is directed at everyone, it will do little if nothing anyway. You can convert this guy to surgical cleanliness but there are still hundreds more who are germy.

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Library Diva September 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought OP’s obsession over this was a little weird. OP states that this has been going on for years. This guy’s unlikely to change. Put up all the signs you want, but only a direct confrontation has any hope whatsoever of changing his behavior. Even then, I think that the most likely effect will be that he’ll wash his hands more often for a little while, but then will slip back into the habits that I imagine he’s had for around 50 years.

I don’t think it’s so much union rules that stand in the way of this talk as the fact that it’s really, really awkward. No one wants to tell someone else that they smell bad or are dirty. It’s a conversation that’s guaranteed to end in anger and hurt feelings just by its nature. OP didn’t say if this gentleman is generally well-liked or good at his job, but if either one is true, I can understand why a supervisor might choose not to rock this particular boat.

As for the treats, I think doing individually wrapped baggies might be the best option, or perhaps positioning them so that no one would need to touch anyone else’s. If you bring in something like cake or brownies that get sliced and provide a cake server, there should be no reason for anyone to put their fingers on someone else’s food.

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Tanya September 30, 2014 at 6:16 pm

I agree that a sign won’t work… it’s like how locks only keep out the honest. However, I don’t agree that the conversation is guaranteed to end in anger and hurt feelings. I once was asked to help deal with a subordinate to address body odor and the tone was definitely embarrassment. Acknowledging it by saying “I know this isn’t the kind of conversation you want to hear, and it’s not the kind of conversation I want to have with you. However, if it were me, I’d want to know so I could do something about it, so we wanted to bring it to your attention” worked well.

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Library Diva October 1, 2014 at 12:51 pm

You are right, and you handled that conversation well from the sounds of it. But I think there’s still usually a good chance that the person in question will either get defensive and angry, or will just be crushed and humiliated. I don’t think most people would just take it in stride and correct their behavior without emotion, the way an officemate would if you asked them to stop hanging their coat in a certain location (for example). It’s an emotional topic, and if it doesn’t directly impact the way the person in question does their job, it’s a lot easier to invest in some Glade Plug-Ins than to actually sit down and have that talk.

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tessa September 29, 2014 at 12:56 pm

“All employees must wash their hands after using restroom” I think is the wording at the signs in fast food restrooms. Get one of those signs, instead of an instructional how-to sign. More to the point. Of course, there’ll always be the guy who says “why? I didn’t pee on my hands”. And I’d have no problem taking disinfecting wipes to everything. I routinely do it to peoples phones, mouses, keyboards all for the sake of cold germs. I do not want to get sick because they are sick.

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Jen September 30, 2014 at 12:13 pm

They may not have peed on their hands, but they handled their junks with them! All the more reason to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

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admin September 30, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Interestingly when there was a story here a few weeks ago about peeing in a public parking lot, many readers felt this was totally fine to do since urine is allegedly sanitary when fresh.

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KiwiAlice October 1, 2014 at 4:08 am

There’s a difference between stepping in a bit of pee with your foot/shoe and having it spread all over something you’re about to eat. Urine in a parking lot is a bit icky but you’re not exactly about to lick the asphalt.

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admin October 3, 2014 at 8:34 am

With all due respect, humans are not the only creatures affected by diseases transmitted via body fluids. There are livestock farms and dairies that require human visitors to walk through a foot bath before entering the property lest they track in zoonotic diseases on their shoes.

NostalgicGal October 3, 2014 at 11:53 am

I have visitors to my garden and provide clogs if you want to wander my place, and because of having once had to deal with Tobacco Mosaic Virus (believed to be brought in by a smoker who could have gotten it from the cigarettes he handled, then patted and admired my peppers) you will wash up well before getting the tour. Yes I have a whole box full of cleaned and lightly used crocs and ball of foot strap type sandals that I clean after use; and if I go to your garden I will bring my own clean pair along to walk your garden! So yes, Admin; I agree about that… with some farmers if there are certain diseases, vehicles get a spray down and have to have the tires rolled through a bath too to come onto and to leave certain places. (Hoof and Mouth disease for example)

Jen October 1, 2014 at 10:29 am

As someone who has suffered many a UTI, I asked my doctor about whether urine is sanitary one time. I was told that urine most of the time is sterile, but that doesn’t mean that that area of the body IS sterile.

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NostalgicGal October 3, 2014 at 11:57 am

If you are a lady, collecting a clean sterile urine sample is difficult; period. While it’s internal unless you have certain diseases going it’s ‘sterile’, once it leaves storage for disposal, it can become ‘contaminated’… If you do have to ‘go’ outside I still prefer you do it in a place I won’t come into contact with it later, period. Going in the grass I may have to walk through or the lot I have to walk across isn’t a good thing. Pick somewhere else, thanks. (yes I was a farmgirl, I did plenty of having to go in the great outdoors, you didn’t use a parking lot no matter what the surface!)

Angel September 29, 2014 at 1:02 pm

My husband works for the state government, and the admin is absolutely correct. An employee would have to literally be caught red handed stealing from the company, blatant overuse of overtime hours, etc–and even then the firing process could take quite a long time. Not washing hands, while it is thoroughly disgusting and not going to win anyone a popularity contest, certainly is not grounds for firing. Unions make it very difficult to get rid of a substandard employee. Unions also do a lot of good in protecting employee rights–but striking that balance can be difficult.

You could individually wrap all the goodies–and maybe for a special occasion, I would do this. But honestly, I find potlucks pretty gross anyway–and if you are dealing with the holiday season most people are busy cooking for their own families anyway. Why not assign somebody to book a room at a favorite local restaurant and everyone contribute $10 or so–get a limited menu with a few affordable choices on it, and there you go. Nobody has to worry about who is touching their food. Restaurants have cleanliness standards. I wouldn’t mind paying a little bit of money if there is less chance of me getting sick lol.

Keep replacing the sign about handwashing. Really, some people need that daily reminder. Particularly the gentleman in question. Talk about gross!

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JeanLouiseFinch September 29, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I wonder if there’s a sink in the break room? Of course, this guy should be washing his hands after his potty breaks, but I wonder if another place to enforce this is in the break room itself. I always washed my hands before prepping food in our break room, or before handling food I brought for lunch, even though I had my own little frig in my office. I actually think everyone should be doing this, since it kills more germs right before it gets to the food. Who knows what people picked up in the office, just doing their normal work. As a type I diabetic, stomach flu is a pretty serious health problem for me since it can cause my blood sugar to spiral out of control. After I had 4 instances of stomach flu in one year, I stopped eating communal lunches and suggest that anyone with immune system issues do the same, including having a small refrigerator under their desk if need be.

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JD September 29, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Although a couple of women in my office didn’t wash their hands, the problem was mostly with the men. However, for years we had a male co-worker who told on every single man who failed to wash his hands — and pointedly told the same non-washers to wash their hands, if he was in the men’s room when they were. He wasn’t PC, maybe, but thanks to him, we knew who to avoid.
The problem is two-fold:
1. OP KNOWS this guy is not washing his hands — chances are, he doesn’t wash them after picking his nose, either. Who wants to share food with that?
2. OP has no way of knowing who else doesn’t have clean hands.
I’m afraid I would avoid all foods not directly handed to me by a trusted co-worker, or that I brought myself. If OP doesn’t want to go to the trouble of wrapping individual servings, and yes, that is a good bit of extra effort to go to, then just don’t bring food in. And skip the potlucks. If asked why, say quite simply that there is at least one employee whose hygiene has put you off of shared dishes, and leave it at that.
I’m not sure why the supervisor won’t say anything to the employee — I’m not talking firing — but if he or she won’t, it’s up to the co-workers to do what they can, within reason.

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A different Tracy September 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Sadly, as others have pointed out, this man is most likely NOT the only person in your office who doesn’t wash his hands after he uses the bathroom. Or sneezes. Or scratches his armpit. And even those who do wash their hands after the use the bathroom probably don’t do it right after they touch a doorknob or copy machine he touched. So when it comes to food and such, you might just want to assume NO ONE in the office ever washes their hands, and behave accordingly.

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Livvy17 September 29, 2014 at 2:02 pm

The manager may be a coward….unless you work in food service, hand washing isn’t a fireable offense, but if it’s bothering others, he/she should talk to the employee for team harmony. As a HR manager, I’ve been called in to talk to employees about a lot of things that aren’t job related or fireable offenses (too much perfume, body odor, clipping nails at desk), but whenever I’ve told the person that others have noticed and are offended, the person I spoke to stopped the behavior.

But really, if you can OBSERVE his behavior from the break room, you can say something to him. You could couch it in terms that you won’t want him to be the subject of office talk, etc.

Or, just wrap everything individually, as Admin states. And/or put out a jug of hand sanitizer next to something that can’t be wrapped with a note to everyone to use before eating.

If it makes you feel any better, my doctor used to say, “really, people ought to wash their hands BEFORE they go…usually what’s wrapped up and protected under clothes is a LOT cleaner than the average person’s hands.”

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The Elf September 29, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Eh, what can you do? Stop worrying about the germs, that’s what. It’s (probably) not going to kill you. It’d be great if he washed his hands, but if management and a sign hasn’t worked, he’s not going to change his dirty ways.

If the idea of his hands on the treats bothers you that much, encourage single serving treats. Then it is less likely he’ll grab a serving spoon or handle any other serving.

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Library Dragon September 29, 2014 at 3:44 pm

I just had a thought based on my own practice. I wash my hands and then flush with the paper towel in my hand so that my hand doesn’t touch the handle. When I leave the staff restroom the toilet is still actively flushing. Judging solely by this it would appear that I don’t wash my hands when in fact I am and am wiping off the handle for the next user.

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Cat September 30, 2014 at 4:00 am

I have the same problem with turning off the tap once I have washed my hands. If they were germy when I turned it on, they will have the same germs when I turn it off after washing my hands. I use the paper towel to turn it off for that reason.
I love the ones that “sense” hands under the faucet and turn on and off automatically.

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lafred September 29, 2014 at 4:01 pm

You CAN counsel someone on hygiene issues. I work in a state government office, and as a supervisor I had to counsel some one regarding their extremely offensive body odor. I worked with our HR on this, and was given materials and advice regarding what I could and couldn’t say. It was extremely awkward and uncomfortable for both of us, but it worked, and the employee’s hygiene and odor did improve.

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TheBirdandtheB September 29, 2014 at 4:30 pm

For the potluck and office parties, why not just place a bottle of hand sanitizer at the door and tell EVERYONE they need to use it before they start grabbing foods. I work for a hospital and I can tell you that you’re probably touching some really gross and germy things every day. Keyboards and phone are especially nasty. Having everyone disinfect before rooting around in the treats might help.

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Cat September 29, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I worked in a public school for thirty-five years; and I have seen the cake cutters who lick their fingers and place them again and again in the cake; the ones who lick the spoon they use for sugaring their tea/coffee and then return it to the pack; and the lady who feels she can reach into your personal plate and take a piece of whatever she wants.
For this individual, if you cannot change his behavior, you must change yours. Hand out your cookies to individuals, putting a napkin down first, and then using tongs to place the cookies on the napkin. For meals, have volunteer servers until everyone has had a least one portion-with servers filling their plates beforehand. Servers can wear disposible gloves to make cleanliness glaringly obvious.
Be glad he is not a relative and won’t be showing up on Thanksgiving and on Christmas to spread his dirt around your holiday table.

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Library Diva September 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

What’s sad is, I bet those were all staff!

My mother was using the mimeograph machine (remember those!) at the school she worked at. Adjacent to the room with the machine was a small workroom. Teachers would often bring down extra cupcakes from birthdays. etc. for any staff to enjoy and leave them in the workroom. My mother watched as the school’s principal wandered into the workroom, and picked up cupcakes off a tray, one by one, and LICKED the icing. The principal returned to her office, leaving the licked cupcakes on the tray for any unsuspecting and hungry staff to consume! My mother waited until she was gone and threw them all out.

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Cat September 30, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Yes, all staff-and good for your vigilant mother who saved her co-workers from a clueless principal.
I worked with an AP who would come to the office the first few days of a very heavy cold. She would wander about the office, sneezing and coughing, using everyone’s phones, computers, office equipment, and spreading the germs everywhere. Once she passed the contagious stage, she would decide to take sick days and stay home. She stayed just long enough to infect the rest of the office.
I finally confronted her about making so many of us sick so many times. She denied that she had done such a thing and blamed her secretary.

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Lanes September 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm

We have a guy in my office like this – only he “washes” his hands by wetting them. No soap, and no drying either. He then leaves wet door handles and such about the office.

I haven’t yet figured out how to reprimand his poor hygiene on this yet, so I don’t really have any advice, just sympathies.

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Lkb September 29, 2014 at 5:42 pm

I agree with the general gist of the comments. I do. I’ve been an aide and I know how very important hand washing is to the immune suppressed. However, I wonder if the OP should simply not sit in that part of the break room in question (in addition to the other measures, signs, etc.) Then he or she may not be so bothered by something out of his or her control.

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Anonymous September 29, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Another small thing–I hate it when adults use the word “potty.” Even when I was little, I’m pretty sure my parents taught me to say “bathroom” instead.

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Lady Anne September 29, 2014 at 9:17 pm

I used to work in an office with a woman who never washed her hands. BUT, she came down with some sort of infection of the nether regions, would make quite a show of washing up, go into the stall with her tube of cream, and then simply waltz on out of the ladies room. Yee-etch. Nobody wanted to eat anything she brought from home, and we all watched what she took at parties and how she did it.

My husband was once in the men’s room with a fellow who also worked for the bank, but not in the same department, and a visitor. The co-worker was about to leave the men’s room when The Squire called after him, “Aren’t you going to wash your hands?” “Nah. I don’t believe in all that crap.” The visitor followed the man out of the restroom, down the hall, and into the kitchen of the company cafeteria.

Sometimes, not washing your hands IS a firing offence.

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AnaLuisa September 30, 2014 at 2:36 am

Unlike many commenters, I do not think there is a REAL hygienic issue in not washing one’s hands after using the toilet.

That said, I personally find it gross and disgusting. And it makes me think of a friend of ours who died of cancer last year, and was living in our home intermittently for 2 years as her disease seemed to recede but than, sadly, progressed.

And she almost NEVER washed her hands after having used the toilet, and sometimes went straight to the table to eat with us (we have a separate toilet and a bathroom so we were positive that she did not use the bathroom.)

She was a generation older than us, single and living by herself for her entire life so I assume she had no one to call her out on it, and it became a habit in her. I must confess that neither my husband nor I had the guts to remind her of it, although we both found it gross.

To these days, I am not quite sure whether we did it out of cowardice (we knew her reactions when said something unpleasant when she was fine, and it was a mixture of anger and tears) or compassion (we knew she was very ill, and we did not think that there was a real risk health-wise), but to these days I did not find a way how to say it in such a situation.

And I am not sure either how this should be said to a healthy person at a workplace. I’d not use as an argument the health issue simply because I do not think it is serious. I’d find it gross though to shake hands with that person or eat something he might have touched. Perhaps the right thing would be to tell him directly why but my cowardice comes out again and I am not sure whether I’d do it for real.

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The Elf September 30, 2014 at 11:21 am

I agree with your comment about hygiene. Gross and rude, yeah. Likely to make everyone there physically ill? No.

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Devin October 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm

As a public health worker, I’m sorry but I have to professionally disagree. Washing hands in the #1 way to prevent the spread of colds and flu. If a person is not washing their hands after the bathroom, I doubt they are making separate trips to wash their hands through out the day after blowing their nose, touching their face, coughing, sneezing, or just getting normal amount of germs from touching surfaces all day.
Depending on the illness, shaking this persons hands could be equivalent to letting them cough or sneeze in your face.

http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/hand/handwashing-corporate.html

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Gabriele September 30, 2014 at 2:38 am

I’d suggest the OP look into state law…I’ve seen signs that read: State Law and Common Decency require that you wash your hands before leaving the rest room.

I worked in an office where people were outspoken (fortunately) about poor hygiene in coworkers.
There was one man who created a problem several times over…he’s used the men’s toilet…and his waste and the amount of paper he used were so great that at least once a week a plumber would have to be called to unstop the toilet.
Now this was one of the high pressure units (no tank) so all the man had to do was to flush several times (he’d be in there for 15 minutes or more) but no, he wouldn’t do that.
He had been very insensitive to many people (one woman having recently had a baby was told: You need to lose weight or no man will want to marry you if you keep looking like that (she was divorced)) another woman was told he could see her bra straps and that was ugly. He told me I needed to lose weight and I told him he was fatter than I was and since I didn’t tell him to lose weight he had no business telling me what to do with my body. His reply: I thought you ought to know. I had heard of other complaints so I raised my voice (I’m usually quiet) and told him that if I was smart enough to get a much better job than his and make higher pay than his and have the respect of my supervisors and manager then I thought I was smart enough to know I was overweight…but it was none of his business and to please not speak to me ever again. If the building was on fire I’d rather someone else told me. He still didn’t get it…totally clueless.
The final day, the building manager told the company manager that either the employee was terminated for the building would rewrite the contract so our office would be responsible for all plumbing services.
Turns out he had had problems with the plumbing at home (an apartment) so his wife told him to wait and use the facilities at the office. No one ever heard from him after and so didn’t know what sort of job (and where!) he got…

A suggestion? A box of disposable gloves like food service people use isn’t that expensive and could be a good investment for those offices that do have
potlucks and such.

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NostalgicGal October 2, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Let me get this straight. The guy clogs the plumbing at home, and his wife makes him go ‘at work’ so he doesn’t clog THEIR plumbing… he is too clueless to learn to flush a few times to prevent clogging… I assume that work may have talked to him a few times as it is easy to figure out who is clogging everything; and he refuses to change his ways?

There are people that were best fitted to have one holers and a Sears and Roebuck catalog; I guess this fellow is one of them. Since most places pit toilets are outlawed (and he wouldn’t like to freeze his tuckus off in the winter, deal with spiders at night, or mosquitos during warm weather) I guess there is no solution for this fellow. Most people can TELL if things are going out of bounds and can flush a few times to prevent issues… (shakes head)

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BMS September 30, 2014 at 7:07 am

Maybe I’m just a slob myself, but I seriously devote exactly zero hours a day to noticing whether someone has washed their hands, worrying about whose hands have touched what, and bathing myself in hand sanitizer while using paper towels to open everything. I wash my own hands when I leave the bathroom or a chemical lab or machine shop. Otherwise, I don’t even think about it. Sure I get a couple colds a year. I work with college students – it’s inevitable. But to spend time thinking about how to get a coworker to wash their hands? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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Anonymous September 30, 2014 at 7:07 am

The reason why this is uncomfortable, is because, like I said, “Wash your hands” is a lesson that most people learn as children. “Wash your hands before leaving the bathroom” is a lesson that most people learn as toddlers, while potty-training, and it’s usually taught by parents or childcare workers, who are tasked with teaching children things of a somewhat intimate nature, so that they can eventually do those things for themselves. In the case of the co-worker who doesn’t wash (let’s call him Dennis, in honour of a favourite childhood book of mine, “Dirty Dennis”), his lack of attention to proper hygiene forces his colleagues to either take a parental role (“Dennis, wash your hands”), or ignore it, and know that they’re touching door handles, documents, office supplies, and sometimes even communal food, that’s been touched by his unwashed bathroom hands. In the book, Dennis voluntarily changes his ways when he develops a crush on a girl (appropriately named “Neat Nora”), but I’m not sure that’d work with an adult. Presumably, the Dennis in the OP knows that females exist, and he might even already be in a relationship with one. Either that, or he just doesn’t care. There’s also no way to prevent Dennis from touching communal resources in the office, and no polite way to exclude him from communal food, and the proposed solutions (individually wrapping snacks, publicly calling Dennis out and telling him, “no snacks until you wash your hands”) may work, but all I can think is, “Really? An adult has to be told that?” Much as I hate to say this, this might be a job for Human Resources–call Dennis in for a sit-down with the boss (or whoever), don’t say what it’s for, let him sweat a little bit, and then the person could say, “Dennis, your work is fine, but [outline hygiene concerns here].” In those kinds of situations, it usually only takes once.

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Pax September 30, 2014 at 7:28 am

This is a squirm-inducing story, yet I feel compelled to point out that everyone is exposed to these types of behavior even if we don’t see the behavior like the OP did. Public transportation, grocery stores, etc. are all places of bacterial and viral infestation, and it’s really the psychology behind the OP witnessing the event that turns her stomach.

My point is I believe everyone should do their part in ensuring a healthier environment (ex. using a paper towel to open bathroom doors, the appropriate use of hand sanitizer, no communal sweets jars on the desk, etc.) and in my opinion that would extend to telling the offender plainly the obviousness of his indiscretion. It could even be done in a way that appears to be in his best interest (ex. “John I’m sorry to point this out, but people are noticing that you haven’t washed your hands after leaving the bathroom and are hesitant to share items like food with you because of this.”) It may soften the blow to approach it this way while still making sure the message is not missed.

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Kiki September 30, 2014 at 7:30 am

If he’s in a union, OP, you’re in one, too. I’d go to the union rep and ask for some guidance on this situation. They may have a meeting with him and put pressure on him to clean up his act. No more is your job protected just because you’re in a union. My grandparents were in the UAW and so is my husband. The time of tolerance for bad behavior came to an end awhile ago. Go through the appropriate union channels, if you are, indeed, in a union.

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