My co-worker has been sneezing about 8 times a day for the last two weeks. Like clock-work, I will hear him loudly sneeze out into the air every hour. He is not covering his mouth when he sneezes (and coincidentally, many people in the office have gotten sick in the intervening two weeks).

Anyways, what is a good way to ask my co-worker to start sneezing into the crook of his arm/elbow, as is generally accepted to be hygienic?

  • 17
    What's wrong with just asking your coworker this?
    – sphennings
    Apr 25, 2018 at 20:55
  • I used to work with someone who would sneeze onto his hands, inspect it and then rub his hands together with glee before carrying on with his mouse and keyboard. I grew up on a farm, and I'm not OCD but even I think thats a bit gross. Your colleague sounds the same. No adult should be sneezing into the air. Why don't you offer him a tissue ? That beats elbows Jul 5, 2019 at 9:46

2 Answers 2


First things first, start by expressing some concern for his health. I've been sick for a week now, and when I'm sick, I'm usually a bit grumpy. That means that I have a tendency to be on edge. I think that holds for people in general; a two-week cold means that your coworker is probably pretty miserable. It also means that the cold could be more serious than a passing cold (although it could also be allergies, depending on where you are).

Therefore, I'd start with

Are you okay? It seems like you've been sick for a while now. I hope you're not feeling too bad.

Ideally, they appreciate that you care for their well-being (and I assume you do, to some extent), and might say as much. This puts them in a slightly better mood to respond to your next question:

Would you mind being a bit more careful when you sneeze? I know that you want to keep working at the office while you're sick, but I also want to make sure that everyone else stays healthy while you recover.

What this does:

  • It lets him know that you're asking for the good of the office as a whole.
  • It acknowledges that the person is trying to keep getting work done, while they probably just want to lie in bed and not have to deal with . . . work.
  • It phrases things as lightly as possible. It also isn't aggressive or accusatory; it doesn't say "You're responsible for getting everyone sick here!" (even though they might be).

And if it turns out to just be allergies - well, maybe you can sympathize, although it could then be a longer-term problem.

  • If it is allergies, then it is also less of a health hazard for the rest of the office because allergies aren't contagious. Nevertheless, other viruses present in the mucus of the coworker may be and sneezing spreads them out to a distance of up to three meters.
    – GretchenV
    Apr 26, 2018 at 11:16

Oh, I know the feeling! I had a very similar situation with someone I worked with for several years. It was a fairly close work setting, so there wasn't really any way to just avoid him. The way to address this is actually fairly simple: just come out and say it! I don't mean be rude or harsh: something along the lines of,

Say, would you mind covering your mouth when you sneeze? I would really appreciate it, and it would help prevent the spread of disease.

Emphasize politeness, but get the point across.

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