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I’m working mostly from home, but I do have to go in the office weekly, and all next week. It’s all cubicles, which is normally OK. The policy in my area, and for my building, is masks required. But the guy in the cube across from mine unmasks in his cube. He remasks if he goes out of his cube to the restroom or something. I’ve asked him to please wear a mask and he said he’s in a 6 foot bubble in his cube and doesn’t need to.  He wore it for a bit but then took it off and never put it back on. I’m high risk but need to work, although I avoid going elsewhere. I’m pretty annoyed by this. 
 

So, what do I do?  Keep talking to a hostile work-neighbor?  Ask building management to clarify cubicle mask policy?  Be a snitch and talk to whoever his boss is—which is an option I reject already, for many reasons, on principle. What do you do in an office setting?  And my other cube neighbor wears a mask unless he’s in a video meeting, which he frequently is. Then he removes it. How does that help me?  True, these guys are over 6 feet from me if we’re all sitting down, but we all get up and walk the aisle to go here and there, which means I go maybe 6 feet, by someone talking without a mask. Am I being overly cautious?  This is new territory as to how to handle things and still coexist peacefully with a cube neighbor. Any thoughts or similar experiences?  

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You’re not being over cautious, and you’re certainly not in the wrong. If it’s an option you’re comfortable with, I would definitely contact build in management, and if not their boss, then yours, and let them give the employees a talking to. You don’t have to specify who you’re talking about. But it’s management’s job to enforce these policies, not your burden. 

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I assume these are open-top cubicles in a single large open office space. The reality is that masks and social distancing are not going to ensure your safety in such an environment. The mask is intended to keep you from breathing the contagion in, not so much to keep others from expelling it. No mask provides 100% containment of output from nose and mouth; they only reduce the immediate speed of spread, and the time it takes for droplets to travel a given distance in the air. The cubicles, likewise, may contain a certain amount of immediate lateral exposure, but they are an indoor environment and exhaled droplets will ultimately find their way up and over the tops of cubicles just as they would find their way through air ducts in a more enclosed space.

If you have already spoken to your colleague about his lack of mask-wearing, it is more likely that if his supervisor or some other authority cracks down on him for not wearing it, he will wonder who it was who complained, remember your conversation, and assume it was you. That is not necessarily a reason no to address the matter at a higher level, but it you may wish to consider the possibility as you decide what to do. Another option might be to approach your supervisor and explain that you are in a high-risk category and believe that the work environment is putting you at increased risk, and explore the possibility of modifying the workflow that brings you into the office such that you could work from home full-time for the duration of the emergency.

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I went ahead and sent an email request for policy clarification to the building manager but kept it very neutral. Good thing, because he immediately forwarded it to someone else who I specifically hadn’t wanted to get involved, but that’s why I worded the email as I did. Now I need to wait for an answer and go from there. I’ll plan my next move then. Do you think a fan in my cube facing outward would help?  Or is that totally ridiculous?  I need to get along with this guy and I need to go into work at times, but I don’t want to take extra risk. I’m hoping there’s an official policy but if not, I have to think more. 

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Well that didn’t help. The official policy is no mask required while in your cube, only as you come out of it. So I can’t fall back on policy, which I think sucks. I may try to bring in a fan and aim it outward to improve air flow but not sure that would actually help. Also considering wearing two layers of masks for extra filtration but still air comes in the sides. For some things I can move into a conference room to avoid him and I probably will trial that for this week, when I need to be there daily. After that, I can minimize my days. 

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What style of mask are you wearing?

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At work I wear a hospital surgical type mask, standard.   (I have various cloth masks for street wear but don’t use them at work). 

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By hand, yes;  in theory by machine if I could find my machine. I do have cloth masks, with and without filter pockets. 

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I think the empty conference room is a good idea. If people aren't in the office all the time, is there a an empty private office (belonging to someone else) that you could use? Would your boss or HR go to bat for you and ask a private office occupant if you could work there for the few days you have to be there? Some private offices at my work location are big enough that they have both a desk and a small table. Maybe someone would be okay with you using their office if you sat at the table and not at their desk?  

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