“Did you just SNEEZE?” Why freelancers are phobic about getting sick


If there’s one thing we freelancers find more terrifying than the end of the tax year, it’s the sound of anyone near us sneezing. Ditto coughing, spluttering or rustling those little-old-lady packets of tissues. All are freelancer kryptonite.

And if you’re going to actually TELL US that you’re “coming down with a cold,” you’d better be ready for us to cut the conversation dead, fashion a makeshift face-mask with our sleeve, swivel 180 degrees and leg it down the street. 

But nine-to-fivers who read this behaviour as rude misunderstand us completely. This isn’t about manners, it’s about survival. Because, newsflash: we freelancers DON’T GET SICK PAY.

If we get ill, we lose cash. End of. Forget everything you thought you knew about statutory sick pay, doctors’ notes and complaints to HR. They’re for Mummy’s boys – not freelancers. We’re Lone Rangers in the Wild West of the working world. Rules be different out here.

If we’re working for a client on a day rate, we simply can’t charge for time we’re not toiling. And if we’re working on a project basis, we know our client doesn’t care about our sniffles. They’ll have zero sympathy over missed deadlines, and continue to expect updates on our work, not our flu symptoms.

(Incidentally, wage slaves – if you’ve ever hired freelancers, have you noticed that we never seem to get ill? That’s because we could be phoning you from A&E where we’re coughing up blood – and we still wouldn’t mention we’re a little under the weather).

But our biggest phobia is being struck down during one of the few days we’ve been granted to prep for an important new client pitch. These don’t come up often and the stakes are high. Get the gig and we can clear our debts, pay our mortgage and fund a little holiday. Miss out? We get zero. 

“Forget about sick pay, 

doctors’ notes and complaints to HR. They’re for Mummy’s boys – not freelancers”

This is why coworking offices are generally germ-free zones. In a regular workplaces of nine-to-fivers, the unwell who struggle in are considered martyrs. Not in a coworking office. In a shared desk space, the sick are regarded as live, dirty germ-bombs. There is an unwritten, unspoken honour code at coworking offices: If you’re feeling peaky, stay at home.

As a possible solution to the annual fall-out from this imperfect – and, frankly, Darwinian – situation, forward-thinking freelancers in the Netherlands are trying to organise broodfunds (or “bread funds” – basically sick pay collectives for freelancers ), which sounds like a brilliant idea to us.

But until a UK movement follows suit, we freelancers know we’re on our own in the annual battle against sickness. And if it’s your germy snot rag or sneeze-spray that infects us, we will hold you personally responsible. So please, get well soon. Until then? We thank you for keeping your distance.


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This Blog entry written by Tanya de Grunwald. Tanya is a freelance journalist based in London. She is a long-standing member of Rentadesk and the founder of careers blog Graduate Fog.