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Chronic cougher at work driving everyone crazy. What to do?


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Jun 23, 2010, 10:00am   #1
schadenfreude's Avatar
Thread Starter
really
I have my own office but it's at the edge of a large open room with maybe 50 cubicles. One woman, who is hearing impaired, has an extremely loud and disruptive chronic cough, complete with wet mucus-y sounds. When it gets really bad I hear people out in the large room saying Ugh that's DISGUSTING kind of loud, although I don't think the offender can hear it. On one hand, I feel bad, because maybe the woman can't hear herself (although she's not completely deaf). On the other hand, she never covers her mouth when she coughs or makes an effort to control the cough. She even stands in front of common food at potlucks, coughing openly. At this point, it's beyond being annoyed and disgusted by the sound -- it's also frankly rude and unsanitary, not to mention disruptive.

I've brought it up to a manager, but she kind of blew it off. I am considering going to the HR department and bringing it up to see if someone there is willing to be more proactive. Is there a legal reason why the company would be prohibited from making an official statement in writing to the employee? The cougher isn't doing anything wrong or illegal per se, but she affects many people negatively. Does anyone have any experience with something like this? Any ideas or suggestions?
Jun 23, 2010, 10:03am   #2
DC-Cutie's Avatar
Member
just say something like "Oh, girl you've had a bad cough for sometime. Need some water or throat lozenge?" break the ice..
Jun 23, 2010, 10:17am   #3
Echoes's Avatar
Pondering Perplexity
Quote:
I am considering going to the HR department and bringing it up to see if someone there is willing to be more proactive.
Do that. Tell them you have concerns the person may have TB or something else that might affect the health and welfare of others. At the very least tell them that it is affecting the morale and productivity of the office. They won't be able to tell you the results, but at least they'll be aware and may take some other actions.
Jun 23, 2010, 10:22am   #4
p
Member
I don't think the kind of person who just doesn't get it is going to get a subtle hint.

Realistically you are not going to get sick from her, and you can stay away from the food she coughs on. Work is work, it's not worth creating a "situation" over some noise.

If anything, when cold and flu season comes back, get a manager to circulate an educational sheet on proper cough and sneeze etiquette (into your elbow) and go over it in whatever regular meetings you have. That way it gets your coworker's attention, but it applies equally to everyone and is presented as a workplace health concern.
Jun 23, 2010, 10:23am   #5
Bradysmum's Avatar
Carter and Evan too!
Do you have a health and safety policy? Ours has a "if you're coughing so hard you have couging fits, don't come to work" policy. People have been sent home.
Jun 23, 2010, 10:59am   #6
rosasharn78's Avatar
I run so I can EAT!
Do you work in my office? lol. I have one of those at the end of my row as well. In fact, many have approached her about it. Apparently her cough is allergy/asthma induced so that makes it a bit of a sticky situation since it's a chronic condition & not cold/flu related.

I really don't have much to offer but am interested to hear everyone's suggestions.
Jun 23, 2010, 5:42pm   #7
twinkle.tink's Avatar
Choose to be happy
First, I would hope you and your co workers have some empathy!

For crying out loud, if it's chronic, it is probably allergy or asthma related and she can't help it.

I can't believe how self absorbed people can be.
Jun 23, 2010, 6:08pm   #8
schadenfreude's Avatar
Thread Starter
really
Really? I have an issue with one person's refusal to deal with a health issue affecting over thirty individuals' work environment, and that's self-absorbed? The only self-absorption issue here is the person who won't be proactive and treat their chronic condition. I believe the person in question here probably has allergies, and is quite obese to top it off - way to help open that airway. Even more reason for her to get treated! I can't imagine it's fun to live your life constantly hacking and choking on your own snot.

If you had allergies and your coworker wore an extremely strong and offensive perfume, which you just let it go, or would you suffer through your lost productivity, watering eyes, and sneezing? Or if your coworker thought it was okay to sing all day? Or what about someone talking on a cell phone in a movie? Where do you draw the line? I'm all about people growing the hell up and realizing the world doesn't revolve around them, but when someone's behavior is blatantly disruptive and/or offensive, it doesn't seem right to let it carry on for the sake of being polite.
Jun 23, 2010, 6:25pm   #9
V
Traveler
Was eating at Houston's & a man near us started hacking & doing the snot in the back of the throat swallowing thing. (TMI but now one can imagine what it was like to sit there trying to eat dinner) a waitress asked him if he was OK & brought him water. No one did anything for a few minutes. The man kept it up & eveyone was getting grossed out, people were making comments. Finally people started to complain & a manager came over & asked if he needed to call any one for him, was he OK etc. Then he told him he needed to leave. He was done eating & had paid his bill, he was just sitting there. The weather was wonderful outside, no reason not to leave or go into the bathroom.

The common sense decency we all used to operate under I guess is a thing of the past.

I have allergies & don't expect anyone to have to put up with me coughing or blowing my nose. I go into the bathroom, even at home with DH. These are my problems not everyone who I work or live with.
Jun 23, 2010, 6:34pm   #10
k
Member
Originally Posted by schadenfreude
Really? I have an issue with one person's refusal to deal with a health issue affecting over thirty individuals' work environment, and that's self-absorbed? The only self-absorption issue here is the person who won't be proactive and treat their chronic condition. I believe the person in question here probably has allergies, and is quite obese to top it off - way to help open that airway. Even more reason for her to get treated! I can't imagine it's fun to live your life constantly hacking and choking on your own snot.

If you had allergies and your coworker wore an extremely strong and offensive perfume, which you just let it go, or would you suffer through your lost productivity, watering eyes, and sneezing? Or if your coworker thought it was okay to sing all day? Or what about someone talking on a cell phone in a movie? Where do you draw the line? I'm all about people growing the hell up and realizing the world doesn't revolve around them, but when someone's behavior is blatantly disruptive and/or offensive, it doesn't seem right to let it carry on for the sake of being polite.
Singing, talking on the phone, wearing perfume...those are OPTIONAL activities. A cough isn't. And a chronic condition is exactly that: chronic. Maybe it's treatable, maybe not, but if it's chronic, it can't be cured. How do you know that she's "[refusing] to deal with [her] health issue," that she's not "proactive" in treating her condition? Have you taken time off talking about her to talk to her? You could've approached her a long time ago to mention that you've heard her coughing her head off and that you're concerned about her health. Yet...then again, you're not concerned about her health; you just hate the coughing, so nevermind that idea. I'm curious about the comment about her weight. Are you implying that she's coughing because she's fat? Do you think that all overweight people have chronic cough or that only fat or obese people cough? LOTS of assumptions here.

Having said all that, if the coughing is that frequent, that loud and that wet, then I think it's reasonable to go to HR with your concerns.
Jun 23, 2010, 6:44pm   #11
twinkle.tink's Avatar
Choose to be happy
Originally Posted by karmenzsofia
Singing, talking on the phone, wearing perfume...those are OPTIONAL activities. A cough isn't. And a chronic condition is exactly that: chronic. Maybe it's treatable, maybe not, but if it's chronic, it can't be cured. How do you know that she's "[refusing] to deal with [her] health issue," that she's not "proactive" in treating her condition? Have you taken time off talking about her to talk to her? You could've approached her a long time ago to mention that you've heard her coughing her head off and that you're concerned about her health. Yet...then again, you're not concerned about her health; you just hate the coughing, so nevermind that idea. I'm curious about the comment about her weight. Are you implying that she's coughing because she's fat? Do you think that all overweight people have chronic cough or that only fat or obese people cough? LOTS of assumptions here.

Having said all that, if the coughing is that frequent, that loud and that wet, then I think it's reasonable to go to HR with your concerns.
This was exactly the impression I got, which is why I posted about being self absorbed.

Also, this is also work. Something that is essential...not dining out where...again, it's an option. So while I hear you VLL, the situations are not even remotely the same.
Jun 23, 2010, 9:37pm   #12
exotikittenx's Avatar
Ooh la la!
Originally Posted by twinkle.tink
First, I would hope you and your co workers have some empathy!

For crying out loud, if it's chronic, it is probably allergy or asthma related and she can't help it.

I can't believe how self absorbed people can be.

I think there is some cause for concern about the woman's coughing. This woman is a potential health hazard with her coughing all over the place, around food, etc. The reality is, hearing someone coughing up mucous all day long can affect others to some degree. It doesn't mean we don't feel sorry for the person, but sometimes we do have to be concerned for ourselves at the same time. The least her office can do is give the woman her own private office where others do not have to listen to her and perhaps speak to her about being more sanitary, or to ask her to go outside of the office when she has a coughing fit. Would you want to eat a dish after someone was hacking right over it? Would you like to be the person who shares a cubicle with her coughing right over you? It's human nature to be turned off by someone coughing so violently and not want to be around that.

Perhaps the OP made too great a leap mentioning her obesity, but I don't the OP is wrong to be concerned.
Jun 23, 2010, 10:30pm   #13
digby723's Avatar
Back to reality
Originally Posted by karmenzsofia
Singing, talking on the phone, wearing perfume...those are OPTIONAL activities. A cough isn't. And a chronic condition is exactly that: chronic. Maybe it's treatable, maybe not, but if it's chronic, it can't be cured. How do you know that she's "[refusing] to deal with [her] health issue," that she's not "proactive" in treating her condition? Have you taken time off talking about her to talk to her? You could've approached her a long time ago to mention that you've heard her coughing her head off and that you're concerned about her health. Yet...then again, you're not concerned about her health; you just hate the coughing, so nevermind that idea. I'm curious about the comment about her weight. Are you implying that she's coughing because she's fat? Do you think that all overweight people have chronic cough or that only fat or obese people cough? LOTS of assumptions here.
ITA!! If you haven't actually talked to this woman to ask her why she is constantly coughing then I don't think you have a right to pass judgement on her for why she is always doing it (like saying her weight is the issue). I agree that there is a concern for her coughing in front of food, that's icky and gross and that should be dealt w/ no matter what may be causing her coughing. I too find it distracting when people are constantly coughing or sniffling, esp if they're unsanitary about it, but if it's allergy induced then it's not contagious and there's nothing this poor woman can do. You could talk to a manager/supervisor as exotikittenx suggested to see if they could possibly give her her own office, but I don't know if that would fix the issue considering she may leave the door open and still annoy you. Otherwise suck it up and deal with it. I've never heard of someone getting fired for coughing, and I think going to HR about it is counterproductive, since unless they have a reason to think that she is spreading some sort of disease, I don't think they can force her to stay home, esp. if she already has a some sort of note in a file or someone is aware of her health problems if she has asthma/severe allergies. First and foremost though before you go and talk to HR is to actually talk to this woman to see if there is something you can do to help.
Jun 24, 2010, 12:09am   #14
BigPurseSue's Avatar
Member
Maybe give her a copy of Betty MacDonald's "The Plague and I," a fun-filled memoir about how MacDonald spent a year in a sanitorium during the Depression after she and everyone else in her office contracted TB from a coworker who was constantly coughing. Their boss's response when they complained about the coughing was "everybody has a cough, who doesn't?" or something to that effect.

Seriously this is a health hazard. Coughing expels germs and bacteria from the mouth and into the air at a fairly high velocity. There's a reason why we instinctively shy away from people who are coughing. Add to that the fact that ventilation in most offices isn't much better than that on an airplane. The woman should at the very least cover her mouth and refrain from coughing into her coworkers' food.

I would talk to your boss about it again, and if she doesn't do anything, I would go to HR.
Jun 24, 2010, 1:13am   #15
monkeytail's Avatar
(Jennifer)
If you are uncomfortable talking to your coworker about it I would go to HR and ask them to talk to her, but not that they give her written warning. In my office HR handles delicate conversations like this because our main HR generalist is great at having these kind of conversations and always approaches from a place of concern for everyone's wellbeing. I think wanting the coworker to get reprimanded or to get a written note in her file is kind of over the top.
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