PRESENTEEISM IN THE AGE OF CORONAVIRUS

By February 10, 2020 Newsletter

Spread joy, not your germs

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 with an added bonus this year with the Coronavirus. While it’s not the worst in history, this year is 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?

Send. Them. Home.

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? Communicate clearly and simply that there will be no negative fall-out for staying home when ill. Perhaps allow employees limited opportunities to work from 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 require you 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. It’s also fine to pay them their regular wages. Just be certain you are consistent in your practices. The wage and hour laws vary from state to state, so be aware of your state’s show up or reporting time pay. In California for example, you will need to take into consideration Reporting Time Pay if you send a nonexempt staff person home when they have come in to work their schedule shift. If the employee requests to go home, there is no need to consider Reporting Time Pay. With the advent of so many new paid leave laws, perhaps even those employees without regular sick or PTO, may feel better about staying home when ill.

Here are a few practical tips to follow to help you and your staff stay healthy or at least, perhaps help prevent the spread of colds and the flu.

  1. Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine.
  2. Advise all employees to stay home when they have a fever and for 24 hours after the fever is gone (and without the use of fever-reducing medicines). Not everyone who comes down with the flu will develop a fever. The CDC recommends staying home from work at least 4-5 days after the onset of symptoms. Reminder: persons with the flu are most contagious during the first 3 days of their illness.
  3. Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap and/or hand sanitizer.
  4. Wipe down community spaces (faucet handles, fridge and microwave handles, door handles, etc.) daily with sanitizer.
  5. Promote frequent hand washing.
  6. Keep hydrated.
  7. If you need to sneeze or cough, remember to sneeze and/or cough into your elbow, not into your hands.

For more information on preventing the spread of colds and flu, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm


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