Managing Sick Employees

Handling Sick Employees

Managing sick employees can be difficult for many business owners and supervisors.  People getting ill is part of life and it can’t be avoided, but there is no “one rule fits all” that covers every potential scenario.  Some employees may have a simple cold, while others discover they have a new, long-term condition.  Some call-off because they’re legitimately sick while others use sick days as a way to play hooky.  There are employees who never call out (even when they should), and there are employees who seem to call out almost every week or two (which may indicate a root problem).

Some managers, supervisors, or business owners are fearful of the legalities involved with sick days, or sick leave, and they tend to sweep health-related issues under the rug.  If you’re among these individuals, you may want to re-think your strategy.  If you don’t address sickness absence head-on, you’re lining yourself up for trouble!  Employees remaining “on the sick” affects your productivity, your profits, and team morale.  Disability discrimination claims are not uncommon and it’s important to know your rights, and the rights of your employees. Allowing sick employees into your office environment can allow conditions to spread among your whole team.  You can’t afford to ignore sickness in your office!

While there are specifics that can (and do) change depending on context, industry, and variances among laws; here are some guidelines you can consider as you seek to manage sick employees:

Have best practices in place

Managers need to make their recommended practices clear so that employees know when they should use their sick time and stay home. As important, managers need to communicate policies and procedures that will be followed when excessive absenteeism occurs.

Be a role model

If employees observe their bosses in the office when they are clearly sick, they’re going to assume the same is expected of them.

Send them home

Some employers don’t realize that they can send a sick employee home, or tell them not to come in.  Not only is this possible, but as one considers OSHA regulations, this may be an obligation that is required of you so you can protect the safety of your entire team.

Do not invade one’s privacy

While an employer can ask for a doctor’s note that states when an employee can return to work, they must be careful not pry too much into the employee’s medical condition.  Doing so could become a legal issue.

Work from home

Not all illnesses are debilitating.  There are some kinds of tasks that employees are capable of doing while sick, but they shouldn’t do it in an office when they are still contagious.  Consider allowing your employees to work from home instead of coming into the office.  Connected to this option, however, are two items you also need to consider.  First, if you allow someone to work remotely be mindful that you’re setting a precedent for future requests and it will be more difficult to deny a similar accommodation to other employees.  Second, you can’t expect everyone to be able to work from home when they are sick.  The rules that apply to an individual with the common cold or flu do not apply to someone with a serious illness, one that may even be covered by the ADA and/or Family Medical Leave Act.

Be proactive

One of the best ways to avoid sickness is to encourage healthy behaviors among your employees.  Regularly promote prevention measures.  For example, ensure the office is being cleaned and sanitized.  Distribute materials that encourage safety practices or ones that relay health information. Provide flu shots if possible.  Encourage people to walk, stretch, or exercise during breaks.  There are endless ways to promote good health in your office!