7/18/2011 12:07 AM

A Healthy Approach to Sickness

Here's a tricky question that I've run into in my own business from time to time, and one that I expect you've encountered: How do you feel about the hero employee who turns up for work when they're patently sick? Sheesh, you've probably done it yourself. But does it make sense?

Well, of course, that all depends on what kind of sickness it is and how it impacts on everyone else's performance. But the bottom line for me is that if an employee - or even you - has a contagious sickness, you should not be in the workplace.

The reason is so glaringly obvious it hardly needs stating -- but I will. The sick person will simply infect others, and then you'll have an even bigger problem on your hands. Still, some employees, especially the good ones as it happens, seem to think they'll get marked down for taking sick leave. Your job is to let them know that's not the case -- and don’t wait till they fall sick to tell them. Let them know it's more important that they give you as much warning as possible if they think they might be heading for sickness, so you can make plans to cope with their absence.

For instance, an employee who feels under the weather on a Saturday should call you that day to alert you to the possibility they might not turn in on Monday. And if you detect a heavy bout of coughing and sneezing in the workplace, send the sufferer home straightaway. It's true that some employees might abuse this policy but you'll get to know who they are, so you can implement a different policy to deal with them.

On the other hand, an employee with, say a broken leg, might be perfectly capable of working normally, or another person with a non-contagious, sometimes a serious one, might prefer to be at work where their mind can be focused on other things.

You should be prepared to allow this provided it does not breach either workplace regulations or the terms of any health insurance coverage, nor significantly disrupt productivity. You may want to take professional advice on this, such as getting a note of opinion and support from the appropriate medical person and speaking to the local office of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

If all of these hurdles are cleared, the important thing is to sit down with such an employee to ensure you fully understand the issues and any special needs that might arise as a result of their condition -- and be comfortable that you can meet them.

One final point concerning employee sickness: it's worth spending a little time looking at what aspects of the various job functions in your business could be done at home, perhaps with the use of phone and a PC, in case there are circumstances where people feel perfectly happy to do their job but you're not happy about them coming in and spreading their germs around.  Again though, make sure you're on safe regulatory, medical and insurance grounds.

Just some thoughts about how you might deal with sickness issues in the workplace. But, naturally, I wish you and your employees the best of health!

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