I work in real estate and our office has finally returned to doing most of our business in-person, following a long period of online interactions during the pandemic. One of my coworkers has severe allergies and she habitually sneezes. She is wearing a mask, like the rest of the office, but some clients have panicked when she sneezes and question her state of health. One client actually ran out of the building and called to ask for a new realtor. I’m at a loss of what she can do to reassure clients without feeling like she is giving away her right to privacy when it comes to her health. What would you recommend she do?
Seized by a Sneeze
Dear Seized by a Sneeze,
I have been waiting for this question, I knew it would appear once office buildings returned to face-to-face interactions. Since the very start of this pandemic, people have been grappling with how to retain their medical privacy while also keeping the people around them from running out the door in fear.
Or spraying each other in the face with disinfectant.
This is actually a very delicate situation that may need to be handled by management. For instance, they can place a sign on the door advising clients who enter of what protocols, if any, the workers are complying with before they come into work. This will most likely reassure the majority of clients that your building is aware of the virus and taking steps to reduce the spread of it.
Fear is making even the most reasonable people act like a trembling chihuahua.
I also think your coworker should tackle this ‘problem’ before it becomes a problem. At the start of a meeting, she could casually mention that due to allergies she has a tendency to sneeze and that they should not be alarmed. She should also make a point to extricate herself from the area when she needs to sneeze. Which she should be doing even when there isn’t a pandemic, since it is one of the most basic rules of etiquette.
No one wants booger hands near them!
Finally, your workplace should prepare to have people flee in fear any time someone coughs, sniffles, sneezes, or hiccups for the foreseeable future. It isn’t personal, people just react differently during times of stress.
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