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

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.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Cora September 30, 2014, 10:02 am

    Inspired by admin’s title, I vote for a motion sensor connected to a tiny digital player, like you find in greetings cards now sometimes. Each time he comes out of the restroom into the breakroom, the door’s motion sets it off, and it plays “Can’t Touch This.” Since he sounds like a total dillweed, he probably won’t get it; but still, why not?

  • UKHelen September 30, 2014, 10:07 am

    I used to work for a guy (let’s call him Arthur) who was notorious for his lack of hygiene and general off-putting-ness. Not only that, but he would put his hand down the FRONT of his trousers and have a good rummage around while he was talking to someone – to anyone, male or female, in any situation. We all thought it horrible, and hated being in meetings with him. We were not alone: apparently, top management sent word down that he was not to be allowed to interact with customers, ever.

    Another manager told us that one time, several of the managers went on a short business trip together. They met up to begin the journey and everyone except Arthur had a holdall as well as a briefcase. “So where’s yours?”, they asked him. “My what?” – “Well, don’t you need spare shirts and underwear, at least?” – “No” – !!! Ugh!

    When I left that company, I hoped to avoid Arthur on my last day, and I thought I’d succeeded. But as I was seconds away from the front door, he emerged from the Gents right next to me. Total nightmare scenario! With every ounce of politeness I could muster, I stopped to say goodbye to him and then (steeling myself) shook his proffered hand, while cringing inside. You can bet my first stop once I was out of the building, was to wash my hands.

    I don’t know what you can do to change your co-worker’s behaviour, but I like the idea of bagging up treats for individual people – but then I love doing that sort of thing anyway, so it doesn’t seem like a chore to me.

    • Cat September 30, 2014, 7:04 pm

      I share your horror. I once had a part-time job in an office with three women. The office manager was a man. He started, as soon as he was hired, to decide to change out of his work clothes into other clothing in the office. He would strip down to his Fruit-of-the Looms and dress right there in front of all of us, even though there was a men’s room available.
      The first time he did it, I ran out into the common area. My co-workers, afraid of making a fuss, stayed. The second time he did it, I called the twin owners and pointed out what he was doing.
      They told him he could not do that in front of women. He looked at me and asked, “Which one objects? Hasn’t she ever seen a man in his bathing suit?” He was told that we all objected.
      How many men did he think go to the beach dressed only in underwear?

      • UKHelen October 1, 2014, 3:20 am

        I’m so glad you all told him his behaviour was objectionable, so you weren’t alone. How could he think it was acceptable?

  • scamp September 30, 2014, 10:42 am

    Argh, I have a similar problem. Three of us share one office and one bathroom. I’m the only female. It’s impossible to miss the fact that one of my co-workers never washes his hands after using the restroom, ever. Ever. (the other gentleman does, three cheers!) This grosses me out completely, as I see him shaking hands with clients often and we share a small kitchen. I’ve tried pointing out the latest colds / viruses sweeping the schools (we both have school-age children at home) and telling him point-blank to wash his hands to avoid spreading kid-germs to no avail. I’m grossed out. I don’t know what else to do. His wife sent in baked goods last week and I refused to eat them, knowing he’d handled the package. I felt bad about saying no – but EW. So mostly I try to avoid him and any surfaces he might have touched in the office. Just…ew.

  • Susanna September 30, 2014, 10:47 am

    I work in a large hospital (union). Many years ago a number of employees contracted Hepatitis form food brought in for a pot luck. Many were out for extended sick leave. All were denied workman’s compensation as the pot luck was not mandatory and on break time. We still have pot lucks.
    I recently sliced into a cake and asked the occasion. I was told it was for a birthday two shifts before. I questioned the safety. The doctor next to me (also grabbing a slice) quipped there probably wasn’t any real food in this cake to go bad so she wasn’t worried. We then had a discussion on eating cookie dough (I do, of course she does too). She only knew of one case of illness related but said she also questioned the hygiene of this friend’s kitchen. I wash my hands and/or use sanitizer regularly.

  • Jen September 30, 2014, 11:14 am

    Eww, Gahd!

    This reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me.

    Apparently, her family was at an event/fellowship at her parent’s church and one of the elder church ladies decided to serve up some of the cake that was on offer for dessert. So she makes her first slice then proceeds to lick her finger of the crumbs left behind instead of wiping it off on a napkin. What grossed out my friend was that Church Lady then proceeded to put her finger back on the cake in order to serve up the next slice. And she did it all over again. My friend’s mom quickly dispatched my friend to take over the slicing responsibilities so that there would be some dessert not tainted by this woman’s saliva.

    Church Lady didn’t understand why no one would eat the cake she sliced.

    • AnaMaria October 3, 2014, 3:11 pm

      My parents recently saw something similar at their church, but it turned out the “offending” woman had recently suffered a stroke and showed frequent signs of confusion or regression to a child-like state, so we could extend a little grace to her.

      Unless it’s a huge church, though, I would think people would know if that were the case with the woman described above. Ewww!

  • Molly September 30, 2014, 12:03 pm

    I am also an office worker and I can honestly say that it’s the people watchers/reporters that are more annoying than the non-hand washers. Yes, not washing your hands after going to the bathroom is gross and unsanitary but people that constantly watch others and keep an audible running tab on the happenings and comings and goings of everyone make office life hell.

    I suggest you quit monitoring the men’s room, wrap your treats individually in plastic wrap, don’t partake in the potluck food and do not broadcast your reason.

    Have you considered that while you are fixated on this one person there may be others that also don’t wash or don’t wash to your standard? Even if you manage to ostracize this one person from the office festivities you could still be subjected to icky germs from people you didn’t even consider. Put up another sign in both bathrooms and hope for the best.

    • Rieslingbamko October 1, 2014, 8:42 am

      This is the best comment in this thread. If you are going to be a germophobe to this extent just stop sharing food with your coworkers and don’t eat anything when they have the potlucks or birthday treats.

    • Goldie October 2, 2014, 8:34 am

      Coming into contact with day-to-day germs is one thing, coming into indirect contact with your coworker’s genitals via his hands is another. I’d like to avoid the latter, and if that makes me germaphobic, so be it!

    • nk October 2, 2014, 9:38 am

      If you’re annoyed by people keeping tabs on when you don’t wash your hands, you can very easily solve that problem by WASHING YOUR HANDS, which you should be doing anyway.

      • AnaMaria October 3, 2014, 3:20 pm

        No joke! I don’t think the OP is sitting outside the bathroom taking notes and spreading gossip about her coworker’s handwashing habits; she said in the post that it’s just hard not to notice the toilet flushing and the coworker coming out without any sound of water running.

        I admit, sometimes I don’t wash my hands as often as some people think I should because 1) I have very dry skin and overdoing the soap and water causes me a lot of discomfort and possible skin-cracking and bleeding, and not even the highest quality hand lotion is foolproof and 2) I have lived in multiple foreign countries and think that Americans do themselves more harm than good with our germ-killing obsessions. However, after using the restroom, before touching communal food, or walking into a situation where you’re expecting lots of handshaking, it’s an obligation to wash your hands- other people shouldn’t have to deal with getting sick because of your laziness!

        • just4kicks October 6, 2014, 5:56 am

          I sympathize with you, AnaMaria, about the cracked and bleeding fingers and hands. I used to work with alot of computer ink, and my fingertips would crack and bleed. Then I started wearing those rubber fingertips, only to find I was allergic to the rubber. I always joke with my kids I could pull off a crime, because I don’t really have fingerprints anymore!

    • Rebecca October 3, 2014, 7:27 pm

      I agree; the OP only knows about this because of the unfortunate position of the men’s restroom. But I’ll wager that there are one or two or many people in most offices that don’t wash their hands, and that their actions go undetected because nobody is sitting right outside the restroom to hear. It’s only the knowing about it that’s any different here. I’d just make sure servings are individually wrapped, or don’t partake, if it bothers you.

  • Annie September 30, 2014, 2:19 pm

    For all the people who don’t see what the big deal is–Mary Mallon (“Typhoid Mary”) gave typhoid to at least 53 people because she didn’t see the necessity of washing her hands after using the bathroom. More recently, hepatitis A outbreaks have been linked to foodworkers not washing their hands.

    We are involuntarily disgusted by feces because ingesting it can kill us. So yeah, poor bathroom hygiene can be a pretty big deal.

    I remember back in high school if anyone tried to leave the bathroom without washing their hands, there would be a chorus of people yelling, “Wash your hands!” I think this should be continued into adulthood if necessary.

    • Melissa October 1, 2014, 6:51 am

      She was a carrier, so matter what she did she still would have given typhoid because she refused to stop accepting work as a cook. It got so bad with Mary and the public outcry was answered by confining her to an island for the rest of her life. The first life long quarratine (sp) imposed by public health officials.

      • NostalgicGal October 3, 2014, 12:03 pm

        Worse. They confined her for three years. She promised to quit working with food, and do a different line of work. They let her out; she took a different job, it didn’t pay as well, and she went right back to handling food. They caught up with her again then confined her for the rest of her days at that hospital facility because she refused to quit working with food. (and it took physical intervention to get samples to prove she was carrying, she absolutely denied she was sick and refused to cooperate). She is not the only one to have done this sort of thing but she’s the most well known and one of the earliest identified cases.

        • Melissa October 4, 2014, 10:49 am

          That’s right Notalgic. I took microbiology in college, and could go on about carriers and cases such as this, but don’t we all take our chances in life.

    • Goldie October 2, 2014, 8:37 am

      When my son was 4, most of his daycare center had to be shut down for a month, because two women working in the kitchen turned out to be carriers of dysenteria and gave it to the kids and teachers through the food they cooked (and probably didn’t take proper precautions when handling it, too). Thankfully, only one kid in my son’s class got sick. Unfortunately, that one kid happened to be my son. I agree with you, keeping your germs to yourself is a big big deal.

  • Marozia October 1, 2014, 4:40 am

    Working in a laboratory, I understand about cleanliness. We are all (even us typists) are given instructions on hand-washing, sanitising and cleaning. Soap is always available in the bathrooms and we have sanitising gel and disinfecting wipes for keyboards, desks, etc,.
    I can’t believe this person is an adult and cannot conduct himself in an adult manner. Washing hands and dressing correctly takes really no effort just a few minutes off your day.
    I do agree with some of the responses with separate treat bags for the staff. It may be the only way to solve the problem.

  • Kate October 1, 2014, 9:12 am

    Honestly, germs aside, the real issue here is that this man is touching his manly bits and then handling communal property. That is the same thing as everyone touching his manly bits! I absolutely agree that a little dirt and germs doesn’t hurt anyone, and that antibacterial gel is used way too often, but this is GROSS!

    • admin October 3, 2014, 8:29 am

      In light of the first case of Ebola in the US , which is transmitted by bodily fluids including urine (see http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/) , I would think there would be a greater attention to making sure *all* bodily fluids are not shared with the community.

      • MichelleP October 3, 2014, 12:00 pm

        Thank you for this. I’m a nurse, and we were discussing the Ebola outbreak just yesterday. Please, please, wash your hands and practice basic sanitation.

        In the mid nineteenth century, women and infants died in childbirth frequently from peurpral fever. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis worked at a university and an affilated hospital. He noticed a lower rate of infection and death at the hospital where midwives washed their hands, and witnessed students at the university going directly from performing autopsies to delivering babies. He theorized that handwashing and proper sanitation reduced the risk of fever related infection. He was ostracized, had his medical license revoked, and died a broken man.

        • admin October 3, 2014, 2:58 pm

          I would not want to be one of the quarantined contacts of Mr. Duncan just because I shook his hand within an hour of his visiting the bathroom. Just as we have moved from covering our nose and mouth with our hands when we sneeze to sneezing into the crook of the elbow, perhaps we need to consider a new way of greeting or introducing ourselves that does not involve skin to skin hand contact. Bowing seems dignified and hygienic.

          • Lenore October 3, 2014, 3:55 pm

            Tattoo artists give elbow-fives when they’re in the middle of working i.e they touch elbows with whomever is greeting them. I can get behind that kind of thing.

      • NostalgicGal October 3, 2014, 12:08 pm

        The fellow lied on a questionnaire that he might have come in contact with someone that was infectious (with Ebola). Then flew. I think the count is up to a hundred now that they are trying to find or have contacted, and several are under quarantine with police guard. They are cleaning the parking lot and are going to have the residence cleaned to try to cut the chance of transferal… the problem is is one can contract it and not show it immediately; so they can move about then manifest, and when the symptoms show is when they are infectious. Only caveat they are stating is that the strain is only 70% fatal now not the 90% of a few years ago…. and there is another person that is (is a reporter that contracted it) going to be allowed to come back to the US for treatment. The big thing is the fellow they are dealing with right now FLEW … that is one of the worst worries for exposure…

      • KenderJ October 3, 2014, 3:42 pm

        Except ebola is also airborne. Washing or not washing hands won’t protect you and we can’t all stop breathing. If you had come into contact with ebola patient, you would be quarantined whether you touched him or not.

        • admin October 3, 2014, 3:52 pm

          There is nothing in the CDC press releases or online information that indicates this is an airborne disease…yet.

          • KenderJ October 9, 2014, 12:26 pm

            I saw it on the ticker tape on CNN. They were doing the math. That ebola being airborne and the Texas patient comes into contact with 20 people, and each of those people comes into contact with 20 people, and so on, that in 5 days something million people would have been exposed. I took that to mean that ebola was airborne as well as contact. I stand corrected and am sorry if anyone was frightened.

        • Lenore October 3, 2014, 3:56 pm

          Sorry, nope. Ebola is not and has not ever been an airborne disease. A quick check on the WHO website gives you all the info you need to know on Ebola, if I can look it up, so can anybody else with an Internet connection. Fear mongering is not the answer here.

        • Weaver October 4, 2014, 4:26 am

          Were Ebola airborne, there’d be a darn sight more infected people than there are.

  • Livvy17 October 1, 2014, 10:11 am

    One quick tip: If you are ever in a situation where you desperately DO NOT want to shake someone’s hand, just say that you don’t want to shake, because you’ve been feeling a bit sick lately, and don’t want to pass around any germs.

  • B October 1, 2014, 11:52 am

    Anonymous complaint to OSHA (Occupational Health & Safety). And I agree with previous posters… laminated signs in all restrooms, and perhaps also a listing of all the diseases that can be transmitted from a lack of hygiene. Education for everyone, no one is singled out, and the office is covered in the event that an outbreak of a bug pops up!

    • A different Tracy October 3, 2014, 1:36 pm

      People who don’t wash their hands aren’t unaware of these things. That’s not why they’re skipping the handwashing. No one is going to see those signs and say “Oh, my goodness, I had no idea I could be spreading disease!”, and they won’t do any good.

  • AIP October 1, 2014, 1:33 pm

    *shudder* but at least you know that this man (and others) aren’t properly washing his hands. However, would that really be a sackable offense in non-Governmental offices, where food and hygiene products aren’t handled? If that’s the case then I think the unemployment rate could skyrocket in the matter of hours because many people don’t wash their hands properly after using the loo!

    I mean properly with water, soap and a modicum of rubbing. Go to any public bathroom and notice the amount of people sailing out the door without a backward glance at the sink (grannies and the grand kids are my perennial favourites) or give only the most cursory baptism of a few drops of water. And you can be sure that the baptisers count themselves in the “always wash my hands camp”, despite doing nothing more than spreading the bacteria around a bit more effectively.

  • Ajax October 1, 2014, 5:49 pm

    This person really needs to calm down. We are exposed to germs every day; it’s unavoidable. People who go crazy over germs and sanitize everything they touch are not doing themselves any favors. They’re allowing their immune systems to become weak, and when a nasty germ does come along, their bodies won’t be able to fight it off. I agree that the man should be washing his hands, but plenty of people don’t, and it does no good to obsess over it.

  • kingsrings October 2, 2014, 2:16 am

    Years ago at a friend”s birthday party, her young daughter and another child started locking the frosting off part of the birthday cake. Then someone started cutting and serving the licked cake and handed me a slice! I declined it, and they all laughed and said that it was obvious I didn’t have kids. That excuses these little girls licking the cake? How was this acceptable?

    • Weaver October 4, 2014, 4:37 am

      It’s not acceptable. In that instance, though, the lack of manners would bother me far more than the lack of hygiene.

  • Mojo October 2, 2014, 2:34 am

    I once challenged a co-worker I was friends with, about not washing his hands. He replied that, as he was careful not to pee on them, he didn’t need to wash them. You can’t win.

    • NostalgicGal October 3, 2014, 12:15 pm

      I heard that once from my then future DH, I took both of his hands at the wrist, held them to his face and said ‘smell… have a real good smell’…. and wouldn’t let go until he did a serious attempt at it, and I guess whatever he smelled; he went right back and washed. He might not turn the faucet off all the way (I am about to put in one of those sensors for auto on auto off faucets in the main bathroom) but he washes after he stops at the toilet!

  • kingsrings October 5, 2014, 5:14 pm

    I must say though as someone whose hands get uncomfortably dry from soap at public restrooms, I often use hand sanitizer instead at the sink.

  • Paige October 5, 2014, 6:25 pm

    I know this is not the place to say this but…I think people are overly obsessed with washing their hands.

    • NostalgicGal October 6, 2014, 11:00 pm

      Get sick just once because someone didn’t, and it was blatantly obvious and easily traceable. Spend time in hospital. Spend a LOT of time recovering. No longer an obsession.

      Some things are better NOT shared with your fellow men and women. Wash those hands.

  • CW October 6, 2014, 9:11 am

    Here’s how I see a conversation with this person going, though I obviously do not know his personality.

    You: You know, not washing your hands after using the restroom is unsanitary.

    Him: Well how do you know I don’t wash them?

    You: *explaining scenario where you don’t hear the water running*

    Him: You should mind your own business.

    Then you may end up with a scenario where he either continues to not wash them to annoy you, or just turns the water on to make you think he washed them.

  • NostalgicGal October 10, 2014, 3:02 pm


    enterovirus spread by coughing, droplets, and touch. Wash hands is one of the major things listed to prevent this one from spreading…. this is an extreme case but. Wash your hands, sanitize doorknobs and other things lots touch, with disinfectant or wipes; will go a long ways to keeping stuff from spreading!