Dear Co-Workers with Flu, Can You Please Take Sick Leave and Not Infect the Whole Office


Dear Co-Workers with Flu, Can You Please Take Sick Leave and Not Infect the Whole Office

Illustration: Arati Gujar

The first cough of the season, especially amid an outbreak, is always the scariest. Automatically your eyes peer over your computer screen to look for the culprit. After a quick scan of the room, you locate “patient zero”. They’re seated in a corner, more jacket than human, with the same expression elderly relatives make while trying to figure out how to post a picture on Facebook. 

“Do you want to go home,” you ask, briefly concerned for their health. “Sure,” they reply. “Just as soon as I’m done adding 33 slides to this PPT.” Another cough, this one more aggressive than the last.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” you ask, this time worried about your own health. “Yes of course, just a small bout of tuberculosis. Or was it bronchitis?” they mumble, barely able to get the words out through all the phlegm.

Desperately you look around for some support, only to see another potential patient sneezing in the corner. “Go home already,” you yell out in your head. But it’s too late. Someone has already coughed on the back of your neck, and you’re about to enter a cosy meeting room with three ACs running at full blast. The temperature is set a 20 degree celsius but it feels like minus 2. So you accept that in about 12 hours, you’ll meet the same fate as your coughing colleague. Especially because the last time you ate a fruit it was 2001, and your entire immune system is focused on the ₹20 packet of Lay’s you just ate. “There’s a bug going around,” you tell everyone over lunch. They nod and continue to sniffle. 

Why bother wasting a perfectly good holiday on a cold when you can just pop a crocin, am I right?

No one is surprised by this information anymore because somehow over the years, office spaces have acquired the same reputation as paani-puri stalls, public toilets, and computer keyboards as being wholesale germ dispensers. For at least a month every year, especially during the monsoon, employees turn into bearers of pestilence, and every surface transforms into a culture lab. Plus, it doesn’t help that the air-conditioning has only two settings — East Siberia, and Off. According to this helpful doctor’s analysis, these very air conditioners are live breeding grounds for pathogens like fungi, bacteria and moulds, and can lead to a range of breathing disorders.

Still, somehow, no one goes home. Because Indians believe that sticking around at work with a flu is proof of their dedication to work. Hate to break it to you, but sneezing 10 times in five minutes in not going to win you the “Employee of the Year” trophy. Also, replying to pointless email threads with witty replies, gossiping about that “intern who stares”, and playing Solitaire can wait for a day.    

We refuse to stay in because there’s this tendency to brush off every sickness as minor sickness unless we’re physically unable to move. Often, we’ll follow the advice our school nurse gave us back in the day — put our heads down for 15 minutes and hope it goes away. Wonder why no doctor has ever thought about this… Maybe because it never fucking helps.

We all know it’s inhumane to make sick employees work. That’s why almost all companies are supposed to give their employees sick leave. The issue is very few people seem to see the point of taking these sick leaves. A holiday is a holiday. There’s this subtle agreement we all have that sick leave is meant for Netflix binges and surprise wanderlust outings. Why bother wasting a perfectly good holiday on a cold when you can just pop a crocin, am I right? No, I’m wrong, crocin is not a magic potion that rids you of all illnesses. 

No human should be allowed to unleash the plague on their colleagues anymore. It’s 2019.

What’s even worse is this silly habit of sick-shaming people. “Pop a pill and come in” is not an appropriate response to someone with raging diarrhoea (not infectious, but still not something you want to go to work with). Neither is telling them that people work with much more serious illnesses than you. But somehow, there’s one in every three employees who’ll be embarrassed enough to fall for this tactic — “I just have a cold, last week Ramesh came to work with dengue.” 

Meanwhile, a recent report from the National Sample Sample Survey Office, has confirmed what most of us secretly believe — that urban Indians have the longest working hours of any country in the world. We spend an average of 53-54 hours a week in offices, and we’re also more likely to take up more work, and be more engaged in said work than our global peers. Which means we take deadlines more seriously, effectively ensuring that our offices are just five beds and a few TVs away from being hospital rooms. 

While this dedication to getting stuff done deserves a resounding round of applause, and numerous pats on the back, there’s no need for us to take it out on sick days. It makes sense for all parties involved if we’d just take a few days off — that way we’d return to work more excited to get stuff done, and we aren’t risking turning your entire workplace into a contaminated ground zero. No human should be allowed to unleash the plague on their colleagues anymore. It’s 2019. 

So the next time you’re convinced you should go into work despite whatever flu you’re currently grappling with, just stop yourself. If your boss forces you to come in anyway, sneeze on them. And let the contamination begin!