Small Business Guide to Helping Sick Employees

Today’s current climate is challenging businesses to take proactive, fair, and compassionate measures for sick employees. An employee going through an illness should not be taken lightly and it pays to have a plan in place for when it happens. Clear protocols can help save you and your employee time, while also alleviating avoidable stress.

There are many things to know before an employee calls out sick. Below, we’ll break down some of the important protocols so you can be there for your employees to keep them healthy and happy. Skip ahead to our infographic for quick tips on supporting a sick employee.

Table of Contents

Sick Employees, Remote Workers and COVID-19

illustration of monitor with employee   The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Precautions to slow the spread of this disease have resulted in workplaces transitioning to remote setups to help employees abide by shelter in place and other mandates in their areas.

Employers can play a role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging employees to work from home and limiting mobility to only essential tasks if possible. If your business requires employees to go in to work or your area allows you to open your doors, ensure you’re following guidelines published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep your employees safe. You can also contact your local officials to see what steps your city and state are taking to support businesses.

Additionally, you’ll need a plan in place if an employee does fall ill with COVID-19 or another sickness. This may include a list of officials to contact if necessary, a clear sick leave policy in place, and a procedure to continue business operations while your employee is recovering. We’ll cover tips for reviewing a general sick leave policy later in the article.

Take a look at the guides below to learn more about how to support your employees during this difficult time and prepare for potential hardships.

How to Prepare for Sick Employees

illustration of cleaning supplies   As an employer, you should stay up to date with related laws and regulations, update your sick policy, and keep your workplace safe. Take a proactive approach in your employees’ health. Below we’ll break down what to keep in mind when making a plan for sick employees.

Understand Laws, Programs and Entities Related to Sick Employees

Before making any decisions, it’s crucial to understand what laws and entities govern sick employees. Your employees are entitled to rights and are protected by laws and entities to ensure they are fairly treated. We’ve highlighted a few key ones below.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA protects people who have illnesses or disabilities that significantly limit major life activity from discrimination. The ADA also requires reasonable accommodation in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that modified work schedules and job restructuring are a couple ways businesses can provide adequate accommodations.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Eligible employees are entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons under the FMLA.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Employers have a responsibility to keep the workplace reasonably safe to mitigate injuries and illnesses. Employees have a right to file a complaint to OSHA if they believe their workplace isn’t safe.
  • Worker’s Compensation: Employees are entitled to wage replacement benefits, medical treatment, and more if they were injured or acquired an occupational disease on the job.
  • Local laws: Get familiar with any local laws governing your area that relate to sick employees to ensure you’re following the guidelines. Check your city’s and county’s websites for updates, stay up-to-date with the news, and contact your local representatives for more information.

Review Your Sick Policy

After familiarizing yourself with the applicable regulations, it’s time to sit down and review your sick leave policy. We’ve rounded up key components below.

  • Sick leave and other time off: There are a number of things to consider when deciding on the amount of sick leave to offer employees. For example, you should think about how it is categorized and how much of that time is paid. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says that offering little to no sick leave may result in employees showing up sick and less productivity. Founding partner of The Law Offices of Jezic & Moyse, Andrew Jezic, says sick pay is the most effective way to prevent sick employees from going to work. Jezic says, “If an employee knows that they will be without pay after taking work off due to an illness, they might be tempted to come in and work, despite the fact that they might be exposing coworkers.”
  • Notification requirements: Consider how much time employees have to notify you if they are taking a sick day. Last minute notifications are unavoidable in cases of emergency, but having a clear policy can solidify expectations from the beginning.
  • New employees: Some companies don’t extend full benefits to new hires during their first few months, but you should inform your newer employees on the procedures in place for when they get sick.
  • Health insurance benefits: Health insurance is tricky to navigate, but crucial for supporting your employees’ health. See how you can realistically make health insurance affordable for employees and work with an HR professional to make an informed decision.
  • Doctor’s note requirements: Employers typically require employees to provide doctor’s notes to verify they can go back to work. This might be difficult if your company does not offer affordable health insurance benefits since employees may not have access to a healthcare provider. Weigh the pros and cons, consider your industry, and your employee’s rights under the law before you require a doctor’s note.
  • Telecommuting options: Working from home is one alternative to consider. It gives employees a choice to continue working or work reduced hours while keeping their coworkers at a safe distance.
  • Look into surety bonds: If you’re implementing a sick policy for the first time, look into securing an ERISA bond. This is required by law for employers who have employee benefit plans.

Keep the Workplace Safe

Employers can prevent illness by actively keeping the workplace safe and clean. Encouraging things like vaccinations, personal cleanliness, and a healthy work environment can go a long way. Here are a few recommendations from OSHA to implement in your workplace.

  • Promote vaccinations: OSHA encourages employers to promote vaccinations to their employees to protect employees from preventable illnesses.
  • Regularly clean the workplace: The CDC recommends specific cleaning instructions for employers like disinfecting high touch surfaces. If it’s in your budget, you can hire professional cleaners to outsource janitorial tasks. Giuseppe Aragona, M.D. from Prescription Doctor says, “Make sure all staff are washing their hands and cleaning surfaces as much as possible.” You should also encourage a culture of personal hygiene by providing necessities like hand soap and tissues.
  • Encourage employees to take time off: Employee presenteeism can be just as damaging as absenteeism. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that presenteeism increased the risk of moderate or severe exhaustion. Keep an eye on your team and encourage employees to take time off if they appear sick, but keep in labor laws in mind that may not allow these well-intentioned nudges. “The first thing I would recommend is to make sure that your employees understand that they are not pressured to work if they are sick,” says lawyer Justin Lovely from The Lovely Law Firm. “Employees who work while sick are simply placing the office at risk and frankly, are not productive while in the office.”
  • Reduce stress: A study from the The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences find that chronic stress can have a significant impact on the immune system. The WHO also recently redefined burnout as a syndrome. Finding ways to actively reduce stress and prevent burnout is a good way to keep employees healthy and productive. A few ways to do this include

8 Steps to Take When an Employee is Sick

employee calling in sick Take the steps outlined in your sick policy when someone calls in sick or if you notice an employee is under the weather. In these cases, you should take a fair, but compassionate approach, especially in these difficult times. Keep in mind employee rights and laws to ensure you’re protecting their privacy and rights to work.

  • Review your employee’s history: If you notice your employee is frequently calling in sick, take a look at their previous attendance and work history. It might be a sign of absenteeism and require disciplinary action.
  • Confirm they’ve followed your sick policy: See if your employee followed proper procedure (within reason) if they’ve called in sick. You should also consider if they’re in an emergency or otherwise urgent situation.
  • Check in with your employee: Chat with your employee if you suspect that they’re sick or if they’ve called in sick to make sure you’re both on the same page.
  • Consider sending them home: If your employee is sick and you believe they are contagious, then you may be within your rights to send them home depending on the situation. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor says that employers can send employees home as long as they comply with laws relating to discrimination. However, you should review the laws in your area and consult with an HR professional before making any decisions.
  • Inform customers and employees: Notifying your customers and other workers may be necessary depending on your employee’s type of illness. Navigate this sensitively and carefully to simultaneously protect your employee’s privacy while also relaying necessary information.
  • Check in with your employee while they are out: Keeping in touch is a good way to support them and get a better idea of how long they’ll be out. It’s also your opportunity to keep them informed of their sick leave benefits, health insurance benefits, and any changes or action they may need to take.
  • Manage your team’s workload: Review the rest of the team’s workload. One less employee may result in scheduling or workload conflicts depending on that person’s role. If needed, look into hiring a temporary employee. Hiring a temp could save your business time and money in the long run if it keeps your team less stressed and more efficient.
  • Check in with your employee when they come back: A welcome-back meeting is your opportunity to see how they’re feeling, review shifts in their workload, any changes made while they were out, and ways you can support them. If your employee comes back with a disability, it’s important to understand what kinds of accommodations they may need and if you can properly provide them.

  eight steps to take when an employee is sick Getting sick is tough for anyone. The best way to support sick employees is to put together a plan, do your best to prevent illnesses in the workplace, and stay honest and open. To learn more about how you can be there for sick employees, take a look at our infographic below.   how to be there for sick employees infographic   Sources: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine | Robert Half 1, 2 | Bureau of Labor Statistics  

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