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Caught in the Crossfire- When Employees Spray You with Germs


Q:  Dear Workplace Wonda,  

HELP!  We have someone in our office building that doesn’t seem to understand that when people cough, they should, out of respect and consideration to others, COVER THEIR MOUTHS!  Even if the symptoms of the cough aren’t contagious, the fact that spittle can fly through the air at lightning speed with no restraint, and does not take caution to where it will land is just “NASTY!” 

Signed, Caught In the Crossfire

Dear Caught in the Crossfire,
Coughing and sneezing are unfortunate realities in the workplace.  Another reality is that coughs and sneezes spread diseases.  In fact, did you know that droplets can travel 3-12 feet after a cough or sneeze?   So, if you are in close proximity to the cougher or sneezer, it is likely that you will get “caught in the crossfire.” 

Here is another fun fact that you might find “sickening.”  A recent study showed that “1 out of 4” people do not cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.  Apparently, one of the “1 out of 4” is in your office building. 

Now, before you get your finger wagging at the germinator, take a deep breath.  Well, maybe just take that deep breath mentally for now.  The truth of the matter is, according to the survey mentioned above; only 5% of those surveyed know the proper way to prevent the spread of germs from sneezing and coughing.  
It’s “snot” our fault.  Most of us were told to “cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.”    Great advice, Mom!  The problem is dear ole Mom forgot to inform us that coughing into our hands is just covering our own hands with VIRUS!  Then we touch doors, desks, and other items that our co-workers touch.  YUCK!  Gesundheit! 

Now, any good therapist will tell you that we can’t blame our parents for our bad behaviors forever.  Thanks, therapist.  I was using that excuse for years.   Instead, we need to educate ourselves and our coworkers on proper hygiene etiquette.

Why don’t you take the lead and ask your supervisor if your office and/or team could have a meeting to discuss ways to prevent the spread of illnesses in the workplace.  What better time than during the fall/winter months.  Asking for team participation in finding a solution encourages buy-in and develops a set of office rules that everyone needs to adhere to. 


Having the office meeting will make it a lot easier to address the germinator next time he or she spasmodically expels air and nasal secretion into your work space.   
You can take several approaches:
  1. Kindly offer them a tissue to sneeze/cough into.  I wouldn’t suggest offering them your elbow sleeve, but offering a tissue might be a subtle hint.
  2. Politely remind them of the staff meeting and how you all agreed on ways to prevent the spread of germs.  
  3. If this fails, ask your supervisor to speak to him/her. 
To help stop the spread of germs,
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put your used tissue in the waste basket.
  • If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Hopefully, your germ-spreading coworker will read this and get the message.  It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at!
Signed, Workplace Wonda…….a…a…a..aachooooooo!!!!!!!



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