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How to Keep Contingent Workers from Spreading Contagious Illnesses

Posted by Tara Jones

2/18/16 9:00 AM

It’s always inconvenient when an employee calls in sick. It’s even more inconvenient when half of your workforce calls in sick at the same time. Working in close quarters with one another is an easy way to spread disease around. So when one worker has the flu, soon everyone has it, and your staff is down to the bare bones, possibly for a week or more. Lost productivity due to illness costs American companies around $227 billion annually. Replacing those workers while they’re absent costs another $117 billion. So how do you prevent it? What can you do to stop the spread of contagious illnesses in the workplace? Here are a few tips.

Control the Spread of Germs

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can keep your employees from getting sick in the first place, you can keep them from passing that sickness on. So make it easy and convenient for employees to keep up basic hygiene in the workplace.

Provide handwashing stations, with sinks, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, etc., at strategic places throughout your facilities. Also make sure they have convenient access to tissues. In some working environments, you can even provide gloves and facemasks for employees to use, to stop the spread of germs.

Encourage them to use these measures throughout the day, to keep germs at bay, and train them in various preventative measures for keeping healthy. That way, you’ll reduce the amount of sick leave they need to take.

Decide on a Sick Leave Policy

No matter how many preventative measures you take, employees will still get sick sometimes. So make sure you have a clear sick leave policy that tells employees when they should and shouldn’t come to work. That $227 billion annual loss mentioned earlier: it’s only partly due to absenteeism. Some of it is due to presenteeism—employees who force themselves to come to work even when they’re sick, thus passing what they have on to the rest of the office.

One of the biggest reasons workers force themselves to come to work sick is because they’re worried that an absence will reflect poorly on their employers’ perception of their job performance—or that working hard even when sick will indicate a good work ethic. Make sure your employees know that neither of these things are the case. Their jobs will remain secure, even if they take a few days off. And if they come to work sick, they’ll be immediately sent home.

If employees insist on working through an illness, due to, say, a fast-approaching deadline, you may decide to let them work from home until they’re healthy enough to return to work. Keep in mind, though, that while working from home, they must still be paid their regular rate.

Use an Absence Tracking Tool 

The problem with having a flexible and understanding sick leave policy is that some workers will be tempted to take advantage of it. This is why many employers are such sticklers about workers taking time off, and why it carries such a stigma. So how do you keep workers from taking time off when they’re not really sick?

There are tools you can use to track employee absences and uncover patterns. Perhaps a worker has a chronic illness, that causes them to need sick days frequently. But if the tracking tool notices that those sick days tend to be on Mondays or Fridays, it can alert you that maybe the employee is simply taking long weekends. Once you’ve spotted the patterns in their sick leave, you can decide how best to address the issue, to maintain both health and productivity in your workforce.

Have a List of Backups

Any employee absence lowers productivity and costs your company money. Therefore, when someone calls in sick, it’s important to have someone on hand to replace them at a moment’s notice. You could have employees constantly on call and ready to step in, but those workers must be paid whether they’re called or not. If you don’t have many absences, those on call employees can cost you a lot of extra money. 

The trick is to know when to expect more illnesses, and have your workers on call at those specific times, when they’re more likely to be needed. Use the attendance records from previous years to pinpoint the weeks and months when sick leave is at its highest, and plan out what kind of coverage you’ll need and when, based on that information.

Employee absences are unavoidable. They’re hard on everyone, and can cause significant losses in productivity and revenue for your company. But if you know how to handle them correctly, you can minimize those losses and maintain a steady level of workplace productivity, even during flu season. Will you be prepared when illness strikes your workplace?

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Topics: Safety, Workforce Health