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Winter illnesses: a headache for employers

26 November 2018

As winter closes in, there is a set of new problems facing employers. No longer are businesses plagued by employees asking ‘is it too hot to work?’, but rather, they fall victim to the common cold or flu.

With close working quarters and air conditioning, many workplaces are the ideal breeding ground for illness. But often, an underlying culture of ‘presentee-ism’ means that employees feel like they have to attend work under any circumstances, and failure to do so will be frowned upon. Consequently, employees will go into work even if they are too unwell, and risk infecting their colleagues.

Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment, without risk of illness or injury to their workforce. They should not encourage or allow contagious employees to come into work, nor to undertake their jobs if they are not well enough, especially if they are operating heavy machinery and taking medication which may cause drowsiness.

What about those employees who are ‘coming down with something’ but still able to work? Where possible, employers should consider allowing them to work from home. The person is not too ill to work, but working from home does mean that whatever is about to strike them down won’t enter the workplace.

Employers should also create a culture where staff know that it is ok to be off work due to genuine illness. Often, employees will recover more quickly and be more productive if they take time off sick, rather than forcing themselves into work whilst ill. Plus, if the employee is at home, so are their germs!

Having an effective sickness absence policy in place, setting out employees’ rights and duties, will ensure that staff are aware of these obligations. It also gives employers the right to take action if an employee’s sickness absence is unsatisfactory, or not due to genuine illness.

For advice on creating effective sickness policies, contact us.

Jenny Hawrot, associate solicitor in our Legal 500-rated employment law team, advises clients from SMEs to national organisations on the full range of employment-related matters, including TUPE, contractual matters and defending employee relations.

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Jenny Hawrot LLB (Hons)
Senior associate, solicitor
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