HR Blog: Managing sickness this Christmas

News of the Omicron variant has made everyone much more edgy about COVID-19 again this festive season. Daily cases of coronavirus are on the rise, and the government has asked people to work from home where possible.

Even before this you may have faced a difficult Autumn managing sickness in your team. Experts have said that the common cold and flu will be back with a bang this year after we spent so much of last winter socially distanced.

It is extremely unhelpful of all these germs that the symptoms they bring out in us overlap so much. Is that tickle in the throat the first sign of COVID-19 or simply some seasonal snuffles? Is the fatigue your receptionist is complaining of an onset of flu, or COVID or just the result of one too many Christmas parties?

We have all got to be alert, but we can’t let operations grind to a halt.

Taking care of your team

You have a legal duty of care towards your employees and other people who may visit your premises, and we are all subject to varying coronavirus rules and guidance at different stages of the pandemic. Beyond this, like most employers, we are sure you’ll want to take care of your team.

The latest guidance is for staff to work from home where possible, so you will already be exploring to what extent this will work for your business. For employees still coming in, the first thing you need to do is update your risk assessment. Increasing lateral flow tests for those attending the workplace is a sensible idea.

Face masks are making a comeback, especially in prescribed areas like retail and public transport, whilst regular cleaning never went away. You may want or need to look at social distancing measures again and ventilation remains a key defence against COVID. Fortunately, all the actions you take to stave of coronavirus should help with other seasonal illnesses too.

Sickness management policies

With the health and safety angle covered, you may find it helpful to review your sickness and or absence management policies. Some sectors like care homes do have mandatory COVID vaccination requirements, but most do not. And, except in such sectors, neither are you allowed to insist on knowing people’s vaccination status.

However, a softer approach to vaccines may still have its benefits: such as providing factual information about vaccines to counter conspiracy theories that some staff may believe, and just asking if people mind sharing their vaccination status.

Be careful with how you store this personal information in the light of GDPR, but the more vaccinated people you have and the more you know about it, the easier it may be to manage absence. Your team will be better protected and you will be able to advise on whether someone double-jabbed needs to self-isolate, for instance.

There is a flu vaccine too of course, and you may wish to either permit employees paid time off to get jabbed or even pay for the injections if they can’t get them free.  Any outlay for you would likely be more than compensated for if it stopped just one person being off for a fortnight with flu.

The rules on self-certification have recently changed

Under The Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 2021, employers cannot ask for proof of sickness until an employee has been off for 28 days or more. This applies to all sickness absence from 10th December 2021 – (and including) 26th January 2022.

Employers must be sure that they do not require workers to provide a sick note (statement of fitness for work) for an absence of seven days or more as they may normally may have done and they must not penalise workers for not providing this evidence before 28 full days of absence. Welfare meetings may continue where appropriate during this time.

Keep the comms flowing

As with all effective HR, communicating information clearly to your staff is essential. If staff can see you are pulling out all the stops to manage sickness in the workplace, they are more likely to be onboard. With well communicated policies they will know the consequences if they break the rules or try to pull a sickie at this busy time of year.

If you would like help managing sickness in your business, please get in touch with your local HR Dept office.

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