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Posted on 16 December 2021

The problem with Presenteeism 

Posted in Legal news

Statistics show that a third of UK employees have worked while unwell since the beginning of the pandemic.

Presenteeism and Covid

Presenteeism (the habit of going to work despite illness, injury, anxiety) isn’t an issue exclusive to Covid. However, as we make our way through the winter months, and a new variant spreads, coming into work can have a serious impact on staff health.

How serious a problem is presenteeism for employers?

How can presenteeism be addressed in your workplace?

Presenteeism and Covid statistics

A report in November 2021 by insurer Direct Line Group found:

  • 80% would still visit the office with a headache
  • 66% would still visit the office with a sore throat
  • 48% would still visit the office with a cough
  • 47% would still visit the office with sickness or diarrhoea
  • 35% would still visit the office with a high temperature

High temperatures and coughs are key symptoms of Covid. Aside from these symptoms, Direct Line estimates that 2.9 million workers would continue to travel into the office if they felt unwell in general.

A survey by Canada Life UK found that 35% of staff had worked while unwell over the last 18 months. More than a quarter of those said the main reason for working while ill was the size of their workload. Together, these reports indicate a worrying trend. But how dangerous is it really? Should you just take an employee’s word that they are well enough to work?

Sickness in the workplace 

There are plenty of reasons why presenteeism puts your workforce, and your business, at risk. It can have a detrimental effect on morale and overall wellbeing. This attitude also tends to spread as bad as a virus itself. It sets an expectation for others who may feel pressured to come in despite not feeling well enough to do so. This in turn leads to higher staff turnover.

With regards to Covid, the risks are also transmissible - literally. When it comes to the safety and wellbeing of your staff, you must judge which prevention measures suit your workplace best. In many industries, workers cannot practically distance or wear masks. However, doing nothing at all presents a significant risk to your staff. If one person only shows up with Covid, you’ll soon face a situation where more employees need to isolate.

There is an added risk in customer-facing roles, or in the care/medical industries. Those on the front-line could pass the virus on to the general public or the clinically vulnerable.

Finally, there is the risk to the individual themselves. If an employee is ill with COVID, they should be isolating at home, or seeking treatment if their condition is serious. Performing their role despite their illness puts them at risk, especially if their job involves physical labour.

Presenteeism in the care and charity sectors

There is an added challenge for those working in certain sectors, such as care or medical practices. From 1st April 2022, healthcare provider delivering CQC regulated activity will only be able to employ staff who have face-to-face contact with patients if they’re fully vaccinated. The two exceptions to this are:

  • If the individual is under the age of 18
  • If the individual is medically exempt

The regulations enforcing this rule are likely to be approved in January 2022. Following the approval the rules will take effect 12 weeks later, allowing for a period of grace. Under the current rules, staff need to have had their first dose by 3rd February 2022, and have had their two-dose primary vaccination before 1st April 2022.

How can employeers manage sick employees?

If a member of staff turns up to work with any symptoms that could possibly be Covid, you should ensure they leave work and take a PCR test.

In light of the new Omicron variant, there are a few things you can do:

  • Review your current working practices
  • Review the prevention methods you have in place
  • Review or conduct a fresh risk assessment
  • Consider hybrid/flexible working

If you need help conducting or reviewing your assessments speak to us today.

Contact Paul today