Q: I work in a government agency call center with 11 co-workers, one supervisor and one manager. One of our call takers has had a chronic and annoying cough since she started working here more than a year ago. She insists her cough is not contagious, yet the rest of us in the department are out sporadically for three to five days with colds, coughs or flu. We have no choice but to breathe the same air as this co-worker. How do we stay healthy with her in our office? No one has the authority to make her stay home until the cough stops.
A: It is common for office workers breathing the same recycled air in a building to come down with colds and other minor viruses. It is not likely that the woman has tuberculosis, since her cough has remained the same all year and her general health has not worsened. Chronic coughs can be caused for many reasons, among those is an allergic cough due to the various seasonal blooms or food. It is annoying to listen to, and probably annoys her as well. With the right type of coaxing, you may be able to convince her to see an allergist. Do some research for her on chronic coughs, and give her all the articles you find. She may be the type who doesn't like going to doctors, but once you show her that a chronic cough is not normal, it shouldn't take much to get her to make an appointment.
Sharing Negative Information Without Being Negative
Q: I work for a company where I know the owner very well and have a mentoring relationship with him. Recently, he hired a new vice president whose behavior is inappropriate. He has shared very negative, personal family background information with me, which I did not know how to respond to. His e-mails are insulting, accusatory and hostile. When I questioned him regarding the meaning of his e-mails, he responded that he just likes to "mess with people's minds." Before working in the corporate world, he spent many years in a secret operations section of the military. The company's sales are down and his new strategies don't seem to be working, so I am hoping he will be fired soon. I am a top producer for the company, but working for this man has created a stressful environment. I want to take a three-month leave of absence for other reasons, but when I mentioned it to him, he told me that with his connections, he could track me down to see if I have been traveling. I do not want to share my personal reasons for wanting a leave of absence, but I don't know how to respond. I think the owner needs to know this man is headed for a meltdown, but what do I say to him?
A: Don't say anything. Let the new vice president's e-mails speak for themselves. Surely you kept copies of everything. Since the owner is your mentor, simply forward all the VP's e-mails to him with a memo saying you thought he should know how this man communicates with his employees. Include every e-mail — insults, accusations, hostile and inappropriate — especially the e-mail about liking to mess with people's minds. Also print out every e-mail and keep copies in a safe place. You may need them at a later date. Postpone your leave of absence in the midst of this problem. An employee doesn't have to explain reasons for a LOA, but the owner does have the right to refuse approving it.
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