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A Presenteeism Epidemic – Don’t Let It Affect Your Organization

By February 2, 2018February 9th, 2018

This time last year, we conducted our first ever HR Practices survey. The survey focused on five main areas that get a lot of airtime on our HR Hotline. I thought it was time to expand on some of the survey’s findings. This is the first of five articles to be featured in future 501(C)onnect newsletters.

One of the five areas surveyed was Benefits. A specific question was on paid leave time, specifically, what type of leave do members of 501(c) Agencies Trust offer. We had been hearing from our Hotline calls that organizations were transitioning back to separate sick and vacation time and pitching the all-inclusive PTO. We were surprised to see that the trend was real. Sixty-two percent of our respondents provide separate sick and vacation time with only 38 percent offering PTO.

Let’s face it, we’ve all come to work sick and for a variety of reasons. I know I have. We are invested in our jobs; serving people, meeting deadlines, managing employees, and running organizations. We also know that when we aren’t there, there is likely to be more to do when we return. It’s not like going on vacation where we’ve planned out who will do what in our absence. However, have we weighed the cost of coming into work when we aren’t well? Have we thought out the potential consequences? Typically not. We are laser-focused on our duties and responsibilities, not on the fact that we could be spreading germs to our coworkers and their loved ones. As leaders in our organizations, we must ensure that our employees have a safe and healthy workplace. Getting sick at some point is inevitable. How we handle it is worth a conversation.

As I write this, we are at the height of flu season. While not the worst in history, this year has been brutal. In light of this, what are your options when it comes to employees who show up to work apparently not at their best? Do you have a policy in place? Do you as a manager follow that procedure and walk the talk? Do you have an epidemic of presenteeism in your organization? Presenteeism is, employees, showing up for work and because of illness or other medical issues or conditions are not functioning at full capacity. Presenteeism is not about avoiding work or goofing off on the job. It refers to a loss of productivity resulting from real health issues.

What is the best way to approach an employee who has shown up to work when they are visibly ill? First of all, consider your organization’s culture and practices. Does your leadership team typically come to work when they are visibly sick? Do you have a policy and practice that encourages people to stay home if they feel like they are coming down with something? Do you spell out that you expect employees to stay home if they have a fever and remain there for 24 hours after the fever breaks?

Send. Them. Home.

Make it clear from the top down that everyone should stay home at the first indication that they may be coming down with the flu. I asked earlier if you had a policy regarding what employees should do when they are getting sick, what the expectations should be. Here is a sample statement you can incorporate into your handbook: “XYZ nonprofit has the right to exercise discretion and send home sick employees and ask you to not report to work if you have a fever, are vomiting, etc. and to stay home 24 hours after those symptoms have stopped.”

It’s time to stop rewarding our employees for coming in sick. No more, “Good for you for gutting it out! Atta boy for showing your commitment!” Consider the option this flu season, not forever, to forgo or waive the doctor note/excuse for missing a day.

If you do send home an employee due to illness, you have the right to require them to use any accrued unused leave time or give the employee the option to use unpaid time. In some states, like California, you will need to take into consideration Reporting Time Pay if you send a nonexempt staff person home. If the employee requests to go home there is no need to consider Reporting Time Pay.

If you are interested in any of the policies discussed above or you have any HR related issue, contact HR Services at or (800)358-2163.

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