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Employee Engagement, Life at Work

WHY SICK EMPLOYEES NEED TO BE BANNED FROM COMING INTO WORK

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Neal McNamara

Neal has spent a decade working as a newspaper reporter, which is one of the worst jobs in America job according to some career websites, but he actually likes it a lot.

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iStock_000001758878_Small-2Aside from air travel and doorknobs, the workplace is perhaps the most effective route of disease transmission in the modern world.

Workplaces force you to be around other people every day for extended periods of time. Drop a sick person into that situation, and they put everyone at risk. Some people are conscientious when they’re sick, but there are many people who will sneeze into their hand and then grab a doorknob without a second thought.

So as part of a proactive employee engagement and retention strategy, employers should review their company’s sick policy to see if there’s room for improvement. Aside from the germs, there are three major factors that exacerbate to sickness in the workplace. To truly address problems associated with workplace sickness, you have to address these problems first.

Sickness Martyrs

anigif_enhanced-buzz-19616-1365730509-7SOURCE: buzzfeed.com

We really value hard workers in our society, and for good reason. But some people believe that to truly be a hard worker, you have to work no matter what, even if you’re in the throes of the flu. Workers who insist on coming to work when they’re sick need to be stopped. It’s borderline abusive for them to put their coworkers — and your customers — at risk just so they can keep working.

Take the common cold, or rhinovirus, for example. The reason it’s so common is because the virus induces symptoms that maximize transmission: sneezing, coughing, and, most underrated, mobility. Cold viruses are awful, but not so bad that we can’t make it to work. Allowing one person with a cold to come into work guarantees that others will get sick.

It might sound extreme, but workplaces should consider banning sick employees. With the advent of tools like Skype and Google Drive, it’s easier than ever to allow workers to work from home, a great option when someone is hosting a nasty cold.

Lack of Sick Days

tumblr_lqaouu1dKP1qeeqito1_500SOURCE: tumblr.com

This week, a new poll revealed that 51% of food service workers “always” go to work when they’re sick.Tweet: 51% of food service workers always go to work when they're sick http://bit.ly/1GiK5Wb via @TINYpulse The reason? Many of them don’t earn sick days, forcing them to choose between their health and losing a day’s pay.

It’s bad enough they have to work while sick, but the consumers end up as victims, literally forced to eat someone else’s germs.

Offering sick time costs money, but it’s a worthwhile investment because it can offset potential business losses. Imagine if you came down with food poisoning after eating at a restaurant — would you ever eat there again?

Only about 53% of U.S. employers offer paid sick time, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and there’s no legal requirement to offer the benefit.Tweet: Only about 53% of U.S. employers offer paid sick time http://bit.ly/1GiK5Wb via @TINYpulse However, some local governments, like the city of Seattle, have mandated it. A recent study by Cornell University estimated that flu infections would drop by 5% in the U.S. if sick workers stayed home.Tweet: Flu infections would drop by 5% in the U.S. if workers stayed home http://bit.ly/1GiK5Wb via @TINYpulse

Education

For a quick lesson in disease transmission, show your employees the first few minutes of the movie Contagion. In it, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, looking quite ill, enjoys a night in a crowded casino. She blows on dice, sips from a glass, and grabs nuts from a communal dish. The scene culminates when she hands a credit card to a bartender as the camera follows each step of the transaction. The message is clear: Paltrow is a disease vector, spreading a killer virus to dozens of people through a series of ordinary actions.

Your employees should be educated about how easily diseases spread. Knowing the difference between a relatively benign cold and the potentially deadly flu might help them make better decisions about when to stay home from work.

Take for example norovirus, a particularly insidious gastrointestinal infection that accounts for about 48% of all foodborne illness. The body continues to shed the virus for about two weeks after you recover. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are ineffective against the norovirus. With proper education, an employee could take precautions to ensure that they don’t expose coworkers to such an awful ailment.

You can also contact your local pharmacy about setting up a vaccine clinic at work. Pharmacists can come to your workplace and vaccinate workers for everything from flu to pneumonia.

Cold and flu season is upon us. With a little thought and time — and the occasional spritz of Lysol — employers can foster a healthier workplace by educating workers about the risks of being sick, and by allowing them to either rest in bed or work from home.

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Neal McNamara

Neal has spent a decade working as a newspaper reporter, which is one of the worst jobs in America job according to some career websites, but he actually likes it a lot.

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