Dig Baton Rouge

East of the River: Working Sick

By Katie East 

Nothing makes a stranger run away quicker than hearing a sneeze. As someone with allergies I know this to be true. There’s a code to being sick that you should follow for the good of yourself, your job and everyone else who has to be around you.

I lie in bed writing this on day eight of the flu, so I have some particular wisdom on the subject. Yes, the flu in May. If you haven’t had the pleasure of having the flu in 85-degree weather, let me say congratulations. There’s just something about sweating out a terrible sickness while getting a tan that really says summer.

I thought I had beaten the flu this season. Actually, I had never had the flu until last week. Three of my coworkers who ride to work together all came in with the flu. With the very busy weekend I had coming up I was hell-bent on not getting it. Three Emergen-C’s, a detox-bath and some voodoo chanting couldn’t keep it away, though.

Thus is the first rule of being sick: don’t come to work. It seems like a simple one, but it always happens because managers and business owners are short-sighted when it comes to sick employees. Yes, you have to find coverage for one day. But, would you rather deal with one person gone for one day or half your team having to take off for several weeks? I just had to deal with the latter because my managers were being snarky about missing one day with the flu.

When your coworker does have to come back to work, don’t act like you’re avoiding them like the plague. Sure, that nasty wet cough is enough to gross anyone out. Don’t make them feel like a troll for trying to get it up though.

I’ve had people yell at me many times for not swallowing back a nasty cough. Don’t make someone feel disgusting for doing something they have to do. You don’t have to quote Shrek: “Better out than in, I always say.” Just shut up or make a sarcastic “yum” comment and move on.

When a sick coworker gets back to work be sensitive and be aware that they’re not going to be at their best. Help more than usual. Nothing drives me more insane then when a boss expects my A game and I’m just glad to be sitting on the bench. Hey, at least I showed up.

Your coworker may not be feeling their, best but that doesn’t mean they’re still contagious. Keep your distance just in case, but let them go about their business. As an allergy sufferer, there’s nothing worse than when someone tries to tell me I’m sick when I know I’m not.

Every Spring I wish I had a shirt that said: “I’m Not Contagious, My Face is Just Rejecting Itself!” I hate it when I pass by a perfume or flower that I know I’m allergic to and have people treat me like a social pariah for sneezing. I’m not sick; I just can’t ever live in the outside world, people.

So, can you be mad at someone if they get you sick? The answer is sometimes. If they followed all the rules and still managed to get you sick, then no. It’s not their fault as much as it wasn’t your fault that your immune system failed. If they came to work sick without alcohol wipes and an open mouth then you’re allowed to be a little annoyed.

Don’t hold your sick grudge for too long though. My coworker has been giving me the “I’m sorry” eyes all week. At first, I wanted to be mad at her. In the end though, we were both just in the same sick boat, and I knew I was going to need help paddling.


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