Dear Barb—Sick of the Sickness

Dear Barb:

I work in an office with about 15 other people. We all get along well for the most part. My issue is people coming to work when they are sick. Why would someone do that and end up making everyone else sick? Two weeks ago our receptionist came in coughing and sneezing, so she not only risked getting all of her coworkers sick, she also put our customers at risk. As a result, four people in our office came down with a cold this week, obviously they caught it from our receptionist. I understand that people may need the money and not want to lose pay, but we have 6 paid sick days a year, so why not take a few days off and get well? I don’t know whether I should bring this topic up at a staff meeting, or just accept that this is the way it is. Thanks, Marilyn.

Hi Marilyn:

Thanks for your letter. I can completely sympathize with you. When people come into work sick and risk getting others sick it does appear to be a selfish act on their part, however, there are several reasons why someone would arrive at work with an obvious cold or other aliment. The number one reason would be money. Even though you say you have paid sick days, often people want to save their sick days just in case a more serious illness occurs. Additional reasons may be that they fear missing an important meeting, or deadline and perhaps end up losing their jobs or being reprimanded.

Going to work when you are ill, is not good, whether it is a cold or an injury, as it may cause the illness to linger because you are not getting the proper rest required to recuperate. Making others in the office ill may cause a major reduction in overall production.  According to a 2011 research study, sick days are costing the Canadian economy $16.6 billion a year, with the average worker taking 9.3 sick days.  Mental health issues, possibly as a result of workplace stress, account for many of these sick days.  I think it would be a good idea for you to bring this topic up at your next staff meeting, and, if you don’t want to be seen as a problem, maybe you could discuss it with your boss before the meeting and have him bring it up. Your boss would be more effective at encouraging employees to stay home when they are ill, by reassuring them that their job is not in jeopardy if they don’t come into work because they are ill. Also, as a group, you may want to look into negotiating more sick days, or see if vacation days can be used instead. Hope this helps.

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.
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