The Law @ Work

There’s Nothing Absent About This Year’s Flu Season!

by Amelia J. Holstrom

Now that the holidays are over, another season has arrived:  flu season.  You may be looking at your department and thinking, “Where did all of my employees go?” or “I bet he took a few days off to go skiing!”  Well, guess again:  Influenza has arrived and as always is spreading, and what is the doctor’s advice?  “Stay home, rest, and stop spreading it to others!”  As flu season continues, an employer may find itself short-staffed and wondering what it can do about all of the absenteeism.

There Is Still Work to Be Done 

It seems to be a manager’s initial instinct to want employees at work even if they have a cold. When an employee is absent, someone else has to do his or her work, or the work doesn’t get done.  However, if a sick employee comes in, he or she rarely accomplishes anything other than spreading an illness around to other employees and feeling febrile at his or her desk.  Encourage your employees who have the flu to stay home and rest.  Allowing a sick employee to come to work won’t do much more than result in more employees becoming ill and out of work.  So, you may be asking:  “What can I do to make sure I know when an employee is going to be out and find adequate coverage for that position, if necessary?”

Adopt an Attendance and Call-In Procedure Policy

In addition to a hand sanitizer and a few cans of Lysol, every employer should have an Attendance and Call-In Procedure Policy.  In that policy, the employer should state how long before the start of a scheduled shift an employee needs to notify someone of his or her absence or tardiness; who the absence or tardiness should be reported to, along with a second individual to report to in the event that the first is unavailable (or is also sick); whether an employee can leave a message or must speak directly with a person; how an employee must handle unscheduled absences of longer than one day; and any exceptions to the policy, such as an approved leave of absence for a specific duration or confined hospital stay.   The policy should also provide for discipline should an employee fail to follow the established procedure.

Benefits for the Employer

Adopting an Attendance and Call-In Procedure Policy will not eliminate the issue of reassigning the work of an absent employee to another for the duration of the illness, but it will give you some advance notice.  If an employee is required to notify someone of his or her absence an hour before the start of his or her scheduled shift, the employer has some time to either contact a per diem person to cover the sick employee’s hours or find another way to distribute the work among others.

This type of policy doesn’t just apply during flu season either.  It applies to any reason for an unplanned absence throughout the year, such as an employee who takes intermittent Family and Medical Leave.  Depending on the reason for the leave, understandably, it may not be possible for an employee to specifically identify which days he or she will need to be absent due to a serious health condition.  When applicable, an employee needing an unforeseen FMLA day would be required to adhere to such a policy and follow the appropriate procedure for notifying his or her employer that a leave day is needed.  In some cases, the flu could be an FMLA-qualifying condition.

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