Co-workers Distracted by Persistent Cough

Vol. 16 •Issue 16 • Page 8
Management Q & A

Co-workers Distracted by Persistent Cough

Q: Nobody likes getting sick. Margie, a long-time coder in the HIM department, has come down with a nasty upper respiratory infection. She has just returned to her job after using 4 days of sick time and, according to her doctor, she is no longer contagious.

But she still has a chronic—and distinctively loud—nasty hacking cough that is extremely distracting to her fellow employees. Many co-workers have complained to Agnes, Margie’s manager, and feel that the cough is not only distracting, but that Margie could still be sick. Margie assures Agnes that she is taking cough syrup and she has apologized to those around her.

Because the hospital has recently instated an attendance policy that caps the number of sick days an employee can take in a quarter, Agnes is hesitant to encourage Margie to take off more time. Agnes is unsure how to pursue this issue and was hoping Margie’s cough would just clear up, but this prospect is not promising. What, if anything, can Agnes do?

A: There are several things Agnes could try to make the situation better for both Margie and her co-workers in coding.

First of all, the amount of paper and dust in the department may help to aggravate the cough. If this is the case, Margie could try utilizing an individual air cleaner on her desk. Another alternative for the co-workers would be to allow them to utilize CD players or MP3 players with earphones to listen to their favorite tunes. Maybe Margie would be willing to work a later shift until her cough clears up, or take 2 more days off during the week and make up the time on the weekend when she feels better and the other coders are not working.

Another solution, if space allows, would be to temporarily move Margie into a more private area until the cough improves. If none of these solutions work, and/or Margie does not begin to recover soon, it may be wise to involve human resources.

If Margie has a true chronic cough, she may be eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This would allow her to be off for a longer period without the danger of losing her job. Also Margie may need to return to her doctor for further treatment.

Communication with the staff is essential when a situation like this arises. This lets them know that Agnes is not avoiding the situation and that their work environment is important. Staff should be assured that Margie is not contagious.

Kelly Ward, RHIA

A: Agnes has a couple of options to address Margie’s situation. One recommendation would be for Agnes to request Margie return to her physician and ask for a statement stating that Margie is no longer contagious and she is able to work.

After receiving the physician’s statement, Agnes must look at other work accommodations available to Margie while she is recovering from her illness.

While it is understood that Margie’s chronic coughing is an annoyance to her co-workers, if Margie’s condition is not a potential health hazard to her co-workers, as her supervisor, Agnes must make every possible attempt at finding an alternative location for Margie to complete her job duties and responsibilities.

Is it possible that there is another area of her workplace that would allow her to work independently and away from her co-workers so they are not disturbed, or is there work that Margie can accomplish from her home?

If moving to another area or working from home are not viable options, it is unjust to ask Margie to take additional sick days if she is indeed no longer contagious but her cough is distracting her co-workers. As her supervisor, Agnes should go to human resources and request that Margie is granted a reasonable amount of paid leave by the hospital because the circustances are out of her control and it is not fair for her to take sick leave if she is not contagious.

Alison H. Vincent, CPC, CPC-EMS

This Week’s Panel:

Kelly Ward, RHIA, is a consultant for Nauvalis Healthcare Solutions in Nixa, MO.

Alison H. Vincent, CPC, CPC-EMS, is the director of coding compliance for the United States Air Force, 460 MDG based in Colorado.

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