Only two weeks ago, I mentioned to a colleague that “So far, I’ve managed to avoid catching that bug going round”. “You’re tempting fate” came the reply. And they were right. Only a few days later, I’d come down with a nasty case of man-flu probably passed on from my daughter. It started with a tickle under the chin (does anyone else get that?) in the morning and had moved on to sneezing by the afternoon. A night of disrupted sleep followed. However, it was only man-flu and the little voice at the back of my mind told me that I should drag myself in to the office on the next morning.
One heavy sneeze, a sore throat and a loud nose-blow later, I’d thought better of it. Even if I was well enough to work, I didn’t think that my office colleagues would really appreciate my new germ friends. So I emailed my team to tell them that I’d be staying at home. If they needed me online, just email and I’d try to be there.
Apparently, the average number of days taken as sick leave dropped to 5.9 in 2019, being the lowest on record according to the CIPD. This could be explained by staff fearing for their jobs or missing deadlines or work piling up or being passed on to colleagues in their absence. Alternatively, it could be because they could and decided to work from home.
As I say to both my clients and colleagues, “Your health is the most important thing when it comes to work”. If someone is not as fit and well as they can be, both physically and mentally, they’re not going to be the most effective, efficient and productive as they can be. And if they battle through without taking proper care of themselves, they will only delay their return to fitness.
In general, staff do not take the mick when it comes to being sick. It’s far better for someone who is really unwell to take the time to recover. If they’re still capable of getting their work done to the required standard and that work can be done remotely, then that’s what they should do. After all, you don’t want your whole team coming down with an illness at the same time and therefore being unable to service your internal or external customers. Look at how easily a football team can slip down the league table when their key players are injured.
Another thing to bear in mind is the risk of infecting those at work who might be more susceptible to illness due to weakened immune systems. You owe an additional duty of care to those particular individuals.
As new viruses evolve (such as the coronavirus probably making its way from China to an airport near you) and infections become more resistant to standard drugs, it’s good practice to allow your staff to take advantage of access to remote working where practical to reduce the risk of infection. In any event, it’s good to have a workplace culture where staff are not fearful to stay away from the workplace for the sake of their own and others’ health.
The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP