HR Blog: Managing employee absence during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Ordinarily, it would be highly unlikely for most of your team to be absent from work at the same time. Each case would be dealt with individually according to your absence policy and your staffing levels would typically provide adequate cover.

But the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic has complicated matters.

Whether due to sickness, self-isolation, stress, or family commitments, you may find that you are now juggling phone-ins from employees.

So, what’s the best way to manage absences under extreme circumstances such as these? You still have a business to run and will want to ensure that employees are treated fairly.

Document everything

Post-it notes aren’t going to cut it, especially if you’re busy and dealing with an influx of calls from employees.

Absence management software, such as The HR Dept Toolkit, can help you and your managers to record and monitor employee absences. Better still, this data will also help to inform your payroll when the time comes.

Have the answers to hand

Where coronavirus is concerned, employees may be coming to you for advice on what they need to do. Keep up to date on official government guidance to keep your business COVID secure.

Absences due to coronavirus sickness and self-isolation

 At the time of writing, employees showing signs of coronavirus (a fever, new continuous cough, loss of taste or smell) must stay at home for 10 days and are entitled to statutory sick pay. Employees instructed to self-isolate, for example by test and trace, must stay at home for 14 days and are entitled to statutory sick pay.

They will not have to submit a fit note, however you can request that they produce a self-isolation note. These are available online from NHS111.

Of course, if employees are feeling well during their period of isolation and able to work from home, they should do so, in which case they should be paid as normal.

See our coronavirus hub for more FAQs.

All other reasons for absence

These should be dealt with in accordance with your existing policy. Do make sure that employees are feeling mentally and physically well before they return to work. You’ll need them to be at their best.

Keep in mind that we’re now entering cold and flu season. Symptoms of coronavirus can be very similar to those of the flu. As above, any employee with these specific symptoms will need to be in isolation for at least 10 days.

It may seem disruptive to have employees out of action due to isolation but an outbreak of COVID-19 in your workplace would be much worse.

Plan for the worst

Even if your team seem fit and well and have been lucky enough to avoid the need to isolate, it’s best to plan for absences to prepare for the worst. For example:

    • Prioritise essential business functions and decide what could be put on hold.
    • Prepare communications for suppliers or clients so that you can manage their expectations. Most people will be understanding when they know the situation.
    • If you’re able to offer overtime to cover absences, mention this to employees now to build up an emergency cover team of contacts.

Champion teamwork and inclusivity

At a time like this, teamwork is more important than ever. You are going to need employees to cover each other and understand the importance why. Remind them that this is only temporary until a more permanent solution is in place, and let them know how much their contributions are appreciated.

Keep an eye on any bitter remarks over some having “lots of time off” as this can lead to discrimination. Some people have undeniably been more affected by the pandemic, and compassion is needed.

Of course, if you suspect that someone is actively skipping work and breaking isolation rules, this could be cause for disciplinary action. Get in touch if you need advice on how to manage this and other absences during coronavirus.