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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Employee Relations Case Study: Are you contagious?

Amanda, an exempt employee, became ill after only being employed for six months at the University. Amanda exhausted all 10 paid sick days and had to request an additional 15 days of unpaid personal leave while under the care of her medical provider. Dave, her supervisor, approved the additional unpaid leave.

When Amanda returned from the extended leave, she seemed to have lost a tremendous amount of weight. In addition, she came back with a strange, lingering cough. Even though she provided a Return to Duty Statement from her medical provider, her cough concerned a lot of staff in the department.

Amanda does not interact with many people in the department and does not share anything personal (including about her health) with anyone. However, Shirley, a concerned co-worker, insists on making comments around Amanda when she begins to cough. Amanda does not respond and is fully aware that she does not need to discuss her medical condition – if she has one – with her supervisor or co-workers. Two months have gone by, and Amanda is still coughing.

Shirley insists there is something medically wrong with Amanda and that she should be required to stay home until her cough goes away. Shirley meets with Dave and says, “I just know she is contagious, and I am no longer comfortable working with Amanda. I do not want to be in the same room with her, so I no longer will attend the staff meetings Amanda attends.”

Dave knows that he is not allowed to discuss details of one’s health with anyone, but he doesn’t know what to say or do. In this situation, what should Dave do?

  • Dave should tell Shirley that he is glad that she met with him to share her concern. He should inform her that the health and safety of employees is a priority and that he will look into the matter and take appropriate measures, if needed. In addition, Dave should encourage Shirley to continue to attend all meetings until he can follow up with her. 
  • Any time a supervisor has questions regarding medical issues or concerns, please contact your Employee Relations consultant to assist and guide you along the way.

Dave contacts the Employee Relations department (at 49-41679) to discuss his recent issue. After reviewing the available information, an Employee Relations consultant reassures Dave that there is documented information to ensure Amanda’s cough is not a health threat to anyone.

In addition, the consultant advises Dave to follow up with Shirley and reassure her that Amanda does not pose any related risks to staff members. During that meeting, Dave needs to explain that he is aware that Shirley has made comments in the past about Amanda’s cough, and it is no longer acceptable to make inappropriate comments about Amanda’s cough to him or others in the department. Dave should close the meeting by encouraging her to continue to come directly to him when she has concerns within the department.

- Michelle Jansen
  Employee Relations

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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.