Sick workers ought to be sent home for own good and to spare colleagues

CAN THEY DO THAT?

March 22, 2006|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN | CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN,NEWSDAY

I work 40 hours a week and have a strict schedule to follow. So when a colleague came in sick and refused to go home, I was upset. She works 10 hours a week at her convenience. She easily could have stayed home. Instead she showed up sick and was constantly blowing her nose, coughing, sneezing and saying how bad she felt. To make matters worse, her workstation is about 3 to 4 feet from mine. I was afraid of catching what she had. I complained to my boss, and to his credit he told her she could take the rest of the day off. But she declined. So she stayed for about six hours, passing her germs around. Can the boss force a sick employee to go home?

Your question is timely. Recent surveys have underscored how pressured employees feel to show up even when sick. Some studies also have indicated how unwise those decisions are, because sick employees put a drag on office productivity.

Your sick colleague should have been sent home for the good of the company, said Peter Handal, chairman and chief executive of Dale Carnegie Training in Hauppauge, N.Y.

"An employer has a responsibility to provide employees with a safe, attractive work environment," Handal said, "not just because the employer wants to be nice, but because it adds to the productivity of the workplace."

With the flexibility of your colleague's schedule, he said, "it should be very easy to make up the time."

On the other hand, because your colleague insisted on staying, the employer should have demanded that she isolate herself by moving to another desk or into a conference room, Handal said. But home would have been the best place for her.

"If I saw someone as sick as the person in the letter, I would be concerned for that person," Handal said.

Your company most likely has the legal right to order her home, said employment attorney Allen Breslow of Commack, N.Y. That's assuming the sick employee isn't covered by a union contract or a written employment agreement forbidding the company from ordering the person out of the office.

carrie.draffen@newsday.com

Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday.

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