Health and safety

Go Home, You're Sick: How to Keep Sick Workers Away

February 18, 2021

The message is clear: “Stay home if you’re sick. Don’t go to work.” All levels of government and public health officials across the country require Canadians to stay home if they show symptoms of COVID-19. But for many Canadians, even some on your own team, this is easier said than done. So how do you encourage employees who are sick to stay home? 

As we’re settling into the second wave of the pandemic, we continue to face an uncertain future. It may feel like businesses just opened their doors when new closures began. Keeping workers healthy and safe is top priority right now, so it can be especially frustrating as an HR professional or employer if employees come to work sick.

February 2021 Go Home, Youre Sick [ICON]

The New York Times revealed that the top reasons that
employees report to work when they are ill are:

1. Having too much work to do;

2. Feeling obligated to show up;

3. Fearing negative repercussions from management; or

4. Being unable to afford a cut to their hours.

For some workers, all these reasons might apply simultaneously.

Many businesses are trying to make up for lost time and profits, which may be unintentionally pressuring employees to work harder to meet operational demands or cover potential staff shortages. Statistics Canada reported that in March, 17% of Canadians between ages 25 to 64 said the pandemic would have a major impact on their ability to fulfil financial obligations or meet essential needs, and a further 30% expected moderate or minor impacts.

Given the current climate that COVID-19 has created, it’s likely that employees are working while sick because of financial hardships. There is a disparity in how the pandemic affects people from different socio-economic backgrounds. Those at the highest risk are low-income, hourly workers in industries like customer service and manufacturing. To many of these workers, missing a shift could mean not being able to pay their rent or buy groceries. Financial strain makes it easy to understand why an employee would downplay their symptoms and risk attending work.

Your business may already have measures in place to keep workers home when sick. Some organizations have adopted flexible sick time and attendance policies, offering leaves where applicable, and encouraging sick employees to stay home. If you find these measures ineffective, we’ve come up with additional steps you can take to encourage staff to stay home when they’re sick. Download our FREE Keeping Sick Employees Home Guide for ideas you may consider implementing in your workplace.

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