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JOHN DeMONT: The new etiquette of going into work sick

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Is it ever OK to go to work when you're sick and contagious? - Pixabay

I work mostly at home, in a vacuum-sealed room where only those who have signed a witnessed medical waiver may enter.

But I gather that out there, where real human beings tread, it is cold and flu season once again.

Not only that, some kind of particularly malignant bug — of a virulence not seen since carts of dead made their way through the plague-infested streets of London — is upon us.

This I know from email and telephone calls since I have vowed not to make human contact again until this year’s strain of grippe, known to include both influenzas A and B, has been eradicated.

But please know that my sympathies are with those who have to go out into the real world and, alas, have no such option. I feel for you, I really do.

Tuesday I found a 2019 survey of 500 Canadian workers, in which 89 per cent admitted they’ve come to the office with cold or flu symptoms.

Twenty-seven per cent in the same poll even said they always go to work, even when they’re under the weather.

That’s worrisome. But so is a survey the previous year by IPSOS that found that eight in 10 Canadians would go to work sick if their employer required sick notes for minor illnesses.

This sick note thing seems like a holdover from some bygone time, when companies didn’t trust those on the payroll not to try and pass a hangover off as giardia.

It’s a headache for the lengthy list of Nova Scotians who don’t have a family doc. It’s also enough of a nuisance that Nova Scotia doctors fed up with writing sick notes for employers now use Doctors Nova Scotia form letters that bill the employer for the time it took to write the note.

I think we all would agree that something is amiss when those with the tubercular coughs cannot stay home, binge-watching Peaky Blinders, rather than spewing and horking their way up in the work elevator.

No one wants to hear the person in the next cubicle, eyes fogged with NeoCitran, rearing back and sneezing as if about to expel a spleen, filling the air with streptococcus bacteria.

Eyebrows are raised when you walk into the lunchroom and there is Bob from payroll, towel over his head, inhaling medicinal fumes from the tea kettle.

But this is not necessarily the world in which we live.

For those who must work and travel among the plague-ridden, a new kind of office etiquette has emerged, that Louise Fox, founder of Toronto-based Etiquette Ladies, feels is a departure from the old days, no matter what the statistics say.

“My generation went to work regardless of how they felt,” she said. “You felt that your employer would appreciate the hard work, that it showed that you cared about your job, and would win you some brownie points.”

Consequently, the way she recalls it, flu bugs tore through entire offices back in those brown-nosing days like the Black Death through 14th-century Europe.

Now, her impression is, that things are different. Millennials know that the chances of a gold watch and an indexed-pension being there at the end are slim in these days.

So, if they have mandated sick leave — and are confident enough in their position to chance missing a couple of days — she thinks they will take the opportunity to stay home when they have a temperature.

Now this could just be someone of my generation pining for the old, in our view, somewhat better days.

Or it could just be the new manners around workplace illness coming to the fore. Fox says they’re just common sense: if you don’t have to — and please investigate your employer’s policies regarding illness before making some kind of career-limiting move — do not go to work sick and risk contaminating others, including those with compromised immune systems.

“Stay home and keep your germs with you,” she said.

For those who simply don’t have that option to stay home, wash your hands, since not doing so is commonly how germs are spread.

If you have to cough, for God’s sake, turn away from others. If you sneeze use a tissue, or your sleeve.

“Take care of yourself, but be considerate of others,” she said.

Oh, and let me know how it goes. A text is good; I’ve heard you can get bugs from emails.


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