Author Topic: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary  (Read 5476 times)

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meliboea

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Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« on: August 25, 2014, 11:12:08 AM »
I'm a PostDoc in a large research lab. Unfortunately we have a very small, and very crowded office. Most of our grad students only show up infrequently. Because of the space and noise issues, it's often easier to work from home or the library if you're not doing labwork.

One particular student, Mary, works from home most of the time but has a tendency to turn up when she's sick. It's like clockwork. I'm not sure if it's because she's trying to show how hardcore she is, or whether she's just wants company when she's feeling miserable.

Mary invariably infects everyone. I don't know how. I mean, I understand that there is transmission of bodily fluids involved, but managing to infect all 12+ coworkers pretty much simultaneously is an impressive achievement and somewhat ironic given our field of expertise.

The PostDocs have fairly intensive workloads with 60+ hr weeks not unusual. Since there really isn't anyone to cover our individual projects if we get sick, it's not unusual for us to come in if sick. But we huddle in our little cubies and use so much alcohol-based hand rub you could get high off the fumes. Occasions where we've actually managed to pass something onto somone else are negligible.

Last time Mary was sick, the entire office (including visiting officials) became ill, an international meeting had to be postponed, and I got a secondary infection for which I've just finished my second course of antibiotics. My eustachian tubes are still not happy, and I'm a little bit ragey.

How can I politely ask Mary to not come in sick, particularly when there are double standards for post-docs. Is there a tactful way of pointing out that since her hygiene is clearly lacking, additional quarantine standards apply to her?

Carotte

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2014, 12:10:58 PM »
How about making it a rule that anyone coming in sick has to wear a face mask (like sick people in Japan do) ?
That should cut on the sickness spreading and it doesn't sound too far fetched in an environment with labs.

Surianne

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2014, 02:08:50 PM »
I don't think you can make a rule specifically about her, especially when you have no way of proving it's her. 

Often when one person is sick, there are other people around campus who are sick too -- there's no way of knowing you didn't pick up the illness from the washrooms, door entry to the building, public transit on the way to campus, cafeteria, etc. 

I think if you know her hygiene is lacking, you can step up your own -- wash your hands frequently, don't touch your face after touching communal objects, and so forth.  Or, as Carotte said, make the same rule for everyone.  But singling out one person just because you think she's the sickest isn't reasonable, in my opinion.

AngelicGamer

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2014, 03:02:06 PM »
How about making it a rule that anyone coming in sick has to wear a face mask (like sick people in Japan do) ?
That should cut on the sickness spreading and it doesn't sound too far fetched in an environment with labs.

I'm wondering (and piggybacking off of this comment) if donning a face mask if Mary won't would be rude.  The OP states she's just coming off of a round of antibiotics, so her immune system is possibly fragile, so there would be that reasoning.  Or am I thinking too much about this?




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daen

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2014, 03:23:39 PM »
How about making it a rule that anyone coming in sick has to wear a face mask (like sick people in Japan do) ?
That should cut on the sickness spreading and it doesn't sound too far fetched in an environment with labs.

I'm wondering (and piggybacking off of this comment) if donning a face mask if Mary won't would be rude.  The OP states she's just coming off of a round of antibiotics, so her immune system is possibly fragile, so there would be that reasoning.  Or am I thinking too much about this?

I don't think it would be rude if OP were to give a brief explanation of her need for caution, although I'm not sure if a pre-emptive explanation would be a good idea or not. Maybe a small sign or pin that says "nothing personal - my immune system is a wimp" - although better worded.

Certainly it would be a lot easier for OP to wear a mask than to try to get anyone else, sick or not, to do so consistently...

spookycatlady

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2014, 04:00:55 PM »
We had to have an intervention at work because of someone I lovingly called Patient Zero.

She never took sick leave and was perversely proud of her large bank of sick leave hours.  After the sixth(!) time she brought what i can only assume was the Martian Death strain of influenza and I was out for two weeks.

I spoke to my boss at a team leaders' meeting, "Every time she brings disease into the office, I lose at least four days of work." The other team leads expressed frustration too.  We sat her down and said, "Stop it.  If you want to power through, you have to work from home.  You're 'bravery' is costing us our health."

She stopped doing it and she told me a few months later that because she started forcing herself to rest when she was sick, she seemed to bounce back faster and was way less susceptible.

The tone was actually quite gentle, but because it just wasn't me, the crazy germ-phobic outlier complaining, but a wall of quasi-management, she took it seriously.

dawbs

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2014, 04:04:02 PM »
I think what you do is somewhat dependent on whether or not you have any power and/or backup here.

I can get agitated as heck that a co-worker is making me sick--but if my boss's response is to shrug, nothing I can do is going to change anything.

Specky

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #7 on: August 25, 2014, 05:02:35 PM »
Don't touch your face. 

Wash your hands like crazy (or use the alcohol slime) and don't touch your face until you get home, hose down, change clothes, etc.  A lot of viruses get in when we touch something or someone and then touch our nose/mouth or rub our eyes. 

 If it is airborne, putting her in a rebreather helmet might help.   8)

Personally, I would want her to stay away if she is sick.  I was also a maniac about wiping down surfaces, phones, keyboards, etc.

Aquamarine

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2014, 05:28:23 PM »
I would go with frequent hand washing and keeping my hands off my facial area.  When Mary comes into the office I would put on my own mask and gloves and they would stay in place for the entire day.  If anyone asks why, just tell them the truth.  In this type of situation it's hard to control what others do but you can darn well control what you do, and you have every right to protect yourself.
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weeblewobble

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2014, 10:14:19 PM »

"Mary, you seem sick. Please go home until you're no longer sick."

Seriously, you have to be direct. Gentle. Not hateful. But direct.

Twik

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2014, 10:11:54 AM »
I would go with frequent hand washing and keeping my hands off my facial area.  When Mary comes into the office I would put on my own mask and gloves and they would stay in place for the entire day.

Just curious, have you worked entire days with a mask on? It's possible, certainly, but not pleasant.
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Momiitz

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2014, 11:41:32 AM »
I would go with frequent hand washing and keeping my hands off my facial area.  When Mary comes into the office I would put on my own mask and gloves and they would stay in place for the entire day.

Just curious, have you worked entire days with a mask on? It's possible, certainly, but not pleasant.

I work it the OR with a mask on for 10 to 12 hours at a time. (Changed for each patient). You get use to it after a while.

LadyClaire

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2014, 10:56:56 AM »
We have a woman like this at work now. She is currently here while running a fever and is coughing all over everything without covering her mouth. Now, she is still new and can't use her sick time yet, but if she'd just cough into a tissue or cover her mouth or wear a mask it would be so much better. Instead, she's hacking all over everything in the office. Last time she was sick like this, 5 people ended up sick with whatever it was she had.

suzieQ

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2014, 11:07:38 AM »
We had a child like this - came in from school with a 100 degree fever, coughing, upset, miserable. School had called her parents, but they couldn't get her until after work. So she exposed the kids at school, then the kids at after school. Lovely.
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LeveeWoman

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Re: Sickness in the office - or handling Typhoid Mary
« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2014, 10:27:48 PM »
I would go with frequent hand washing and keeping my hands off my facial area.  When Mary comes into the office I would put on my own mask and gloves and they would stay in place for the entire day.

Just curious, have you worked entire days with a mask on? It's possible, certainly, but not pleasant.

I work it the OR with a mask on for 10 to 12 hours at a time. (Changed for each patient). You get use to it after a while.

Wearing that mask is intrinsic to your job. It is not part of Meliboea's job. She should not have to get used to something that is not required for her to do her job.