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Coronavirus and absence management

Published 08 June 2020

The deadly impact of coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the way we live and it will inevitably impact on absence management in the future.

The current government advice is that anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19 or is suffering with the symptoms of the virus, however mild, should self-isolate for seven days (1). If an employee lives with someone who has symptoms, they will usually need to self-isolate for 14 days.

As a vaccine for Covid-19 has not yet been developed, it is something that is going to have to be considered by employers when managing an employee’s sickness absence.

So far more than 40,000 people are reported to have died after testing positive (June 2020).

The main symptoms of coronavirus are (2) :

  • High temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • New, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you've noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.

Covid-19 has had a catastrophic impact on the world of work. During lockdown a total of 81 per cent of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people is said to have had their workplace fully or partly closed (3).

The highly contagious virus has resulted in employees being advised to work from home where it is possible for them to do so.

However, there are growing fears that this too may lead to a rise in staff absence.

New research highlights concerns that home working is causing a rise in employee burnout and ‘e-presenteeism’ - where workers feel obliged to be online and available, even if feeling unwell or already having worked their contracted hours (4)

The study revealed three in five (58 per cent) HR managers now fear staff will take sick leave caused by the mental health impacts of working in lockdown.

The worry is that working from home is causing, and will cause, stress, burnout, isolation and loneliness. 

Lockdown restrictions have now been relaxed and many employees who cannot work from home are returning to their workplace, which will present challenges for employers in managing sickness absence.

Employees should be logged as sick and the nature of illness or reason for absence noted as usual.

If an employee has been in the workplace and their subsequent sickness absence is Covid-19 related, the employer will need to communicate with other workers as they may be at risk.

Plans will also have to be in place to facilitate a safe return to work for anyone who tested positive for the virus.

Many employers will understandably be worried about the business liabilities, lack of government regulations and the severe implications should an employee fall seriously ill and claim they were forced to work.

Now is the time for all employers to consider the current situation, review existing absence management policies if they have not already done so and assess how it will manage new rules and workplace working routines.

The basics of an effective absence management policy will help with managing all absences in the current climate.

ACAS advise that such a policy should let the employee know what is expected of them and cover (5):

  • How to report absences, including who the employee should contact and when
  • When the employee needs to get a sick note
  • When return to work discussions will be held and with who
  • How and when to keep in touch
  • How the employer keeps track of absence and if they set any review or 'trigger' points
  • Whether the employer provides occupational health or an employee assistance programme (EAP) and when this starts
  • How much the employee will be paid and for how long.

References:

(1) What do you do if you have tested positive for COVID19? [Internet] www.gov.uk [Cited 08.06.2020] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection.

(2) The main symptoms of coronavirus [Internet] www.nhs.uk [Cited 08.06.2020] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/symptoms/#symptoms

(3) 3.3 billion people is said to have had their workplace fully or partly closed [Internet] www.bbc.co.uk [Cited 08.06.2020]  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52199888.

(4) New research highlights concerns that home working is causing a rise in employee burnout [Internet] www.peoplemanagement.co.uk [Cited 08.06.2020] https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/hr-managers-fear-rise-staff-absence-mental-ill-health-lockdown

(5) ACAS advise that such a policy should let the employee know what is expected of them and cover [Internet] www.acas.org.uk [Cited 08.06.2020] https://www.acas.org.uk/absence-from-work

 

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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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