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Flu the Coop

Good news, readers. You can put your power suits in mothballs. The new trend in formal work wear is the hazmat suit.

Yes, it's flu season, and if you're wondering what to do about it, Sue Shellenbarger, the work and family columnist for “The Wall Street Journal,” offers “Don't Sneeze: Office Etiquette for Flu Season,” providing the answer to the question that's on the chapped, swollen lips of her readers, “how to avoid your colleagues' germs without seeming rude?”

(My readers don't ask such questions. My readers don't care if they seem rude. In fact, they seem to like it. )

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This year's flu season is worthy of attention, of course. Everybody knows someone who was flat on their back, sneezing, hacking and complaining for two solid weeks. So it is understandable that if a co–worker looks to be smuggling germs into your workplace, you'd want to protect yourself.

The question is – do you want to go overboard?

Like Mary Horowitz, a manager of a North Carolina nonprofit, who “circles her employer's offices after her co–workers have gone home, spraying light switches, keyboards and door handles with disinfectant. If colleagues cough or sniffle, she sprays the chair and surfaces they've touch when leaving.”

“I try not to be rude, and to joke about it,” Horowitz explains. Personally, I don't think Horowitz has any reason to explain or apologize. Her co–workers are darn lucky that when they walk in the door in the morning, Horowitz doesn't jump out from behind a potted palm and waterboard them in a tub of Purel.

That might seem extreme, but, according to Shellenbarger, “many office workers are going to extremes to avoid germs.” You can certainly understand this behavior. Think of all the years you've gone to extremes to avoid work!

Strategies that are in place also include “stocking oranges, creating quarantine rooms and giving gifts of facemasks.” I understand the quarantine rooms and the facemasks. I'm not sure I get the purpose of the oranges. I think the health conscious employee is supposed to start throwing the oranges if a sniveling co–worker comes too close.

Think it's unlikely that a fellow employee would endanger your health by coming to work sick? According to a 2014 OfficeTeam survey, “seven in 10 employees say they often come to the office when feeling sick.”

Since you feel sick when you even think about your office, this may not be too surprising, but I believe they are talking about physical illness, not existential dread. And you can't blame your colleagues for not choosing to stay home. In this economy, you really don't want to show your managers that the work can go on without you. Better to stifle the sniffles and drag your aching body to work.

Besides, if you're sick, you need rest. And as you well know, avoiding chores at home is a whole lot harder.

If you do to want to save your colleagues from infection, even if you have to risk your job to do it, it's not easy. According to Dr. Susan Rehm, vice chair of the infectious–disease department at the Cleveland Clinic, “the virus is contagious for one day before the symptoms set in.”

You can see the problem. If you wait until you're sick, you've already exposed everyone to your germs. Since you have no symptoms, your sweet, unaware co–workers won't know it's the time to scrub you down with Lysol. Unless, of course, they do it every day, anyway, on the basis of the sorry state of your personal hygiene.

The solution is obvious. You shouldn't go to work when you're sick, and you shouldn't go to work when you're not sick. That way, you'll never infect anyone.

Management may not understand your considerate gesture, of course, and you could be fired. In that case, immediately send your resume to Andrea Lotz, a writer at All–Pro Tools in Fort Collins, Colorado. Members of Lotz's team “agreed via instant messages that anyone who needed to cough or blow their noses would step out to the hallway or restroom.”

Since all it takes is a tickle in your throat for you to step out to the Kit Kat Klub for some soothing, herb–infused cocktails, well known in the medical community as the ideal treatment for flu, or for the feverish feeling that arises every time you see your supervisor approaching with a new assignment, you'll definitely set new standards for consideration.

And if anyone doesn't approve, they're sick.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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