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Why You Should (Strongly) Encourage Your Employees to Stay Home When they are Sick

By Regina Dyerly

VP, HR & Operations

With the best of intentions and mounting workloads, we have all worked with co-workers who repeatedly come to work sick. Maybe YOU are that employee. You have a busy work schedule and do not want to get behind; have a vacation planned later in the year and do not want to use the PTO or you have classic “sick” denial and convince yourself you are not sick.

Often employees feel guilt when they must call-in sick to work without notice. This is especially true in work environments that do not outwardly communicate support for staying home when sick. They know their co-workers will have to pick up the slack and having good attendance and being reliable are rewarded at many companies. As an employer, having employees missing from work is an inconvenience, but having a contagious illness spread through your office could be devastating to operations, create potential resentment towards “patient zero,” and kill morale.

For employers, and HR Professionals, it is common practice to institute and enforce attendance policies. After all, showing up to work on-time is essentially one of the most basic requirements of employment. This is where it can be difficult to create a Culture that both expects regular attendance, but also encourages employees to take sick leave and stay home when needed without feeling bad about it.

Here are some considerations pertaining to encouraging employees to stay home when sick:

  • You will have less absenteeism overall. First by reducing the possibility of spreading illnesses and second, by allowing the employee to recover at home, they typically will recover quicker.

  • If possible, give employees the option to work remotely when needed. This allows employees that are “a little under the weather” to maintain their productivity.

  • Do not create a punitive policy to manage the outliers. Yes, some employees will find a way to take advantage of any situation, but it is easier and more consistent to give all employees the benefit of the doubt. If there is a pattern of behavior, that should be addressed and managed.

  • Encouraging employees to stay home when ill reinforces that you trust them and care about your employees’ welfare. In turn you will boost morale, which typically correlates to lower turnover. It is a Win-Win.

Here are four tips to get sick employees to stay home:

1. Executives and Managers should lead by example and stay home when they are sick

As a Manager it is important to set the example by staying home when you are sick. If you can work from home and choose not to work remotely while sick, it sends the message that health is not important. By staying home and not spreading your illness, your employees will see that taking care of themselves is important and it is appropriate to avoid the office and keep everyone else from getting sick.

2. Communicate support for employees to stay home when sick

It is equally important to communicate with your employees that you want them to stay home when they are sick. If they come into the office sick, send them home. Reinforce that their health and well-being is important to you as their manager and to the company overall. If they feel supported in their decision and see management doing this, they will follow suit.

Along those lines, make sure to give your employees the time they need. A flexible time off policy that enables and encourages all workers to take the time they need when they are sick. If you are worried about people abusing the system, do not be. You can still track time off and address outliers.

3. Create a Wellness Committee

A great way to communicate the importance of health and wellness at your company is to create a Wellness Committee. A Wellness Committee can educate employees about programs and policies that support employees when they are sick. It can also help employees stay healthy year round by sharing information regarding nutrition, physical activity, mental health, sleep, and work/life balance. To further support a positive culture, a Wellness Committee can spearhead fun and low cost team building activities like Step Challenges, etc.

4. Allow flexible and remote work options

As mentioned above, remote work is possible for numerous positions and COVID-19 has been a catalyst for many companies to learn how to operate this way. Offering flexible and remote work options will help keep sick workers home. When an employee just feels slightly ill, i.e., a light cold, flexible work is a great way to let employees get the rest they need while staying up on their work. If they are very sick and want the time to get better, support that, as well. Let them manage the situation and assess their needs, then do what you can to support those choices. This can still be managed if it becomes a regular occurrence.

While this is a different mindset and may seem unstructured, it does not need to be. Create a formal remote work, flex work or sick policy that gives you the flexibility to manage your workforce, while still holding employees accountable when necessary. In truth, many states are taking this decision out of employer’s hands, so it is time to get ahead of the curve, if you have not done so ready.


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