Q: So much attention is paid to COVID-19 that people are ignoring other contagious illnesses. Someone came to work with a cold. Though she thought she was hiding it, I heard her sniffling throughout the day. I work closely with her and within a couple of days, I caught her cold. I am furious. We work in a hospital setting and are required to wear masks. But the masks we wear are loose and don’t hold one’s germs in. I’d like to complain to the manager, but she will know it was I who complained. I am not petty, but I don’t like being sick with anything. When I have to take care of someone, I do not want to be sniffling or running out of the room to blow my nose or sneeze. I stay home when I am sick, so I don’t infect anyone. We all have paid sick days if we stay home. Different people have different levels of immunity to all sorts of things. I want her to know this is a serious infraction. What should I do?
A: No one likes to be sick, and colds can range from mild to severe depending on a person’s resistance, so you have a right to be angry. The patients are already in a compromised situation since they are in a hospital or some type of care facility. The problem is that you should have spoken to your co-worker at the time when you realized she had a cold. It would have been easy to take her aside privately and explain that her presence at work was wrong; it jeopardized the patients and the staff. You could have told her, even though you are not her supervisor, that the right thing would be for her to go home.
Speaking directly to a person about a complaint you have with that individual is the most respectful first approach. Reporting a person to a manager without giving the person such notice is a coward’s approach. Imagine how you would feel about a co-worker going behind your back. Your decision to report a co-worker should depend on whether you think the behavior could be harmful to the patients and to other co-workers. In a health care environment, both groups — patients and health care workers — need to be protected. To disregard one’s health status is self-centered and certainly not a desirable trait in a health care worker.
Now that you have the cold, do the right thing by calling in sick. When you return to work, explain the situation to this co-worker, saying you know you caught it from her because you two work closely together, and that you knew the proper protocol was to take sick days off. Because of that, you have decided to report it to your manager. You also may not know who else caught the cold virus, which could include patients she had access to.
You may feel awkward reporting your co-worker’s improper behavior, but you are not doing it for yourself. You are letting the supervisor know about behavior that could harm patients. There are workers in all sorts of positions who should not have been hired. If you don’t stand up for the required ethical code in a position, you will be as guilty as the person who intentionally violates it.
Email [email protected] with all workplace experiences and questions. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.