Every year, the library where I work hands out certificates celebrating those employees who have records of perfect attendance. And if you manage to maintain perfect attendance for a decade, you get a medal.
This is just wrong. People who never miss a day of work shouldn’t get awards and certificates. They ought to be publicly shamed.
Why? Perfect attendance is the hallmark of the Mucous Trooper, a person who never stays home, no matter how sick they are. However feverish and contagious they might be, they drag themselves into work, coughing and sneezing and snuffling, unapologetically contaminating every phone receiver, computer keyboard and door handle they touch.
We have several unrepentant Mucous Troopers at my library. When they ought to be home in bed, they’re at their post at the circulation desk, getting their germs and phlegm over everything you check out.
Of course, some of our patrons are guilty of this too — way too many moms turn up with small children during school hours, with a cheerful, “The school nurse phoned me to tell me that I had to take Timmy out of school because he had a high fever and he kept throwing up, so of course we stopped off here on the way home to find him some DVDs to watch.”
And then there are the folks who simply take out their library card, cough all over it, and then hand it to me, as if to say, “Here’s my card — and my germs!”
I’ve tried to convince the Mucous Troopers I work with to go home, but they believe (wrongly) that they’re indispensable. The library would fall apart without them! They absolutely have to ignore their raging fever to struggle into work and contaminate the rest of us.
Guilt-tripping a Mucous Trooper rarely works. If they don’t have the sense to take one look at their bloodshot eyes and runny nose in the mirror while brushing their teeth in the morning, then phone in sick and return to bed, nothing I say is going to stop them.
But I persist. “You look horrible,” I‘ll tell them. “You look feverish and you can‘t stop coughing. Are you sure you ought to be here?”
“You’re not fine. You’re obviously sick. And you really aren’t doing us any favors by coming to work when you’re contagious.”
“I’m not contagious.”
“Since when are you a doctor? Last time I checked, you had a master’s degree in library science. Or have you been going to medical school on the side?”
When the direct approach “(Go home. Now!”) or guilt-tripping a sick co-worker doesn’t work, you can always try being passive aggressive. I have a co-worker who’ll follow Mucous Troopers around, ostentatiously spraying every surface they touch with disinfectant spray, until I don’t know what’s worse, the overwhelming stench of the spray or the grating sound of the ailing colleague’s out-of-control coughing.
I’m the person who really deserves a medal. Why? Because this morning I woke up with a bad cold, plus laryngitis. All I could do was whisper. Although a library is the one workplace where you can actually function using only a whisper, I phoned my supervisor to tell her that because I was running a fever and coughing up a storm, I planned to stay home.
She found somebody to replace me and I went back to bed.
Which means that if you came to my library today, you left with books and magazines and DVDS, but not with my germs.