Covid-19 Relaxation in the Workplace

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Covid 19 Restrictions

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“I’ve not had a day off sick in 20 years……!”

How many times have you heard employees say that they haven’t had a day off sick for 20 years?

There is a perception that it is said in such a way that we are meant to be very impressed and they deserve a medal but there are contrasting views. On the one hand, you could say that they are very fortunate not to have had to take time off sick and if they have been ill, they have been loyal and committed by not giving in and continuing to come to work.

Or, you may say that they have been slightly irresponsible because there is a fair chance that in that time, they have had their fair share of coughs, colds, sore throats, splutters, the odd virus and by their dedication going into the warm office with Air Con, they have probably spread their germs and caused other people to have time off sick.

We are now going to face this dilemma with Covid-19 because with the relaxation of restrictions, we are relying on people to be unselfish and use their common sense.

So, let’s look at some of the issues?

Why might people not take time off if they are sick?

  • They may only get SSP if they are off sick so there is a financial consideration – “I can’t afford to be off sick”
  • Concern about their sick record – the Company may use the Bradford factor and a period of absence will impact their BF score
  • Absence can adversely impact on bonus payments
  • Some Companies use absence records as a criteria in selection for redundancy.
  • Some employees who are ill but have only been with the Company for a short period of time or are in their probation period will be worried about losing their job
  • Some employees ask if they can take a day of holiday rather than be marked as sick
  • Some are just selfish?

All of these considerations may factor in an employee’s decision making if they have Covid-19. They may decide to stay quiet, carry on, not tell anyone whether they are Covid positive or someone in their family has tested positive and risk spreading to colleagues.

Other employees will take the view that, out of fairness to others, they will stay away and not risk spreading the virus –  some would say this is the unselfish, common-sense approach.

Why not Work From Home (WFH)?

Yes, some employees can WFH but, let’s balance the argument and accept that not all employees have that option. Employees who can WFH are likely to say that they have Covid symptoms or have a cold or a bit of flu and will say they will WFH. No black mark on their absence record?

But, the WFH crusade is in danger of being quite divisive in the workplace because in many Companies, whilst the office staff can WFH, the Production, Manufacturing, Warehouse people can’t so it will cause resentment.

So, potentially, people who can’t WFH may have a worse sick record than those who can WFH? But, that’s not new!

The end of free testing

People who may think they have Covid may not bother to get tested and may argue that they can’t afford the cost of taking the test. Until now, Companies have been relying on employees to take tests and the cost has not been an issue but the cost of providing free test kits is a massive hit to the UK economy but spare a thought for employees on National Minimum Wage (and often they can’t WFH).

Firstly, they will probably have to pay for the test kit and secondly, if it is positive, the likelihood is that all they will get is SSP.

Clearly, the Company can offer to pay for the test kit for the employee, but if the employee then tests positive, are they going to pay the employee whilst they are off sick. This may sound like the sensible thing to do, but is the Company setting a precedent?

Can you send an employee home if in your view they should not be at work?

Yes – because you owe your employees a duty of care and you have statutory obligations for their health and welfare but employers are not normally clinically qualified.

If an employee is not fit to be at work, you can send them home but this cannot go on indefinitely unless you are prepared to pay them whilst they are off? It is more straightforward in the food preparation, catering and similar sectors because if people have had a gastro illness or sickness bug, the law requires them to be clear of the bug before they can come back to work.

Is Covid-19 more or less contagious than a sickness bug? That’s a question for the scientists.

“I don’t want to be in the office with someone who has Covid symptoms and is still coming to work.”

This will be the next challenge because employees may be showing Covid symptoms – albeit mild – but not bother to take a test or even lie to their colleagues and say “it’s just a cold” but their work colleagues are concerned that they are putting others at risk.

The employer owes all employees a duty of care and is required to protect the health and wellbeing of employees but it is reasonable to expect that there are going to be a fair share of arguments and disagreements in the workplace about people who possibly shouldn’t be at work but we must rely on everyone’s common sense and trust.

Unfortunately, the answers to these issues cannot come straight out of the textbook because they were written before we went through a global pandemic.

We can be sure that employers are going to face some challenging situations and difficult decisions if they are going to keep all their employees happy all of the time.

If you want advice on any of the issues raised, Adrian Berwick gives practical advice and support – either call 07885 714771 – or e-mail

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