Claire Crowley
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‘Tis the season for sickness — colds, flus, coughs and a multitude of mysterious maladies seem inescapable this year. What can you do about that symphony of coughing is coming from the next cubicle over? Here are some tips to politely and professionally deal with sick co-workers and let them know that, really, they should have called in sick.

1. Make your work space germ free.

The first step in handling a sick co-worker in the office is to first make your own work space a germ free haven. This will help you to avoid getting sick and also help to avoid spreading any illness to other employees at the office. 

Take action by wiping down your desk, computer and anything you touch on a regular basis - pens, armrests, mouse pads and drawer handles — with a disinfectant every single day. 

Be sure to wash your hands regularly and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on your desk as a backup germ killer for post handshakes or for after signing a greeting card that’s been passed from hand to hand. 

2. Clean the common areas.

After you’ve created your germ-free workspace, consider taking steps to thwart the spread of illness in common areas. Printers, door handles, shared refrigerators and even the office coffee machine can easily become hiding grounds for germs that can make you and your co-workers sick. 

Speak with your employer about its practices to double up the cleaning of common areas during the sickness season. You can also consider minimizing your usage of office common areas if it seems your employer isn’t doing enough to keep the spaces germ free. 

3. Suggest that your co-worker head home.

What can you do if a sick co-worker simply refuses to stay at home — and the constant coughing and sneezing is distracting you from your work? If you’re friendly with the co-worker, you may consider dropping some subtle hints to get him or her to retreat home. You might mention to your co-worker that they aren’t quite sounding or acting like their normal, healthy self. 

Politely keep your distance from the co-worker if your routine includes chatting with them around the water cooler and decline any offers to grab lunch until they’re feeling better. Stay glued to your bottle of hand sanitizer and politely offer to share your disinfectant wipes.  

4. Consult human resources.

If that co-worker doesn’t quite grasp these subtle hints and refuses to go home, it’s best not to take matters into your own hands to avoid a potentially awkward confrontation. You may want to consider a meeting with your human resources department

Let your human resources department know that you’re concerned that your own health may be in jeopardy if the sick co-worker remains in the office. It’s best left to your human resources department to suggest that your co-worker go home until they’re feeling better or allow the sick individual to work from home instead of at the office. 

Dealing with sick co-workers is a part of the life of working in an office. Remember to take care of your own space because you can only be responsible for your own actions. Leave it to your human resources department to handle the situation if the sick co-worker becomes a workplace distraction.

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