Dear ReWorker: Can I Send a Sick Employee Home?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Dear ReWorker,

I'm sick because one of my employees came to work with symptoms, and we work in close quarters. Now I have to use my vacation time to get well. Can I require someone to go home if they come in sick to prevent illness from spreading to other workers?


Curbing Contagion


Dear Curbing Contagion,

Here is the short answer: Yes, you can require employees to go home if they come in sick. But your company has a bigger problem than the bug that's going around. Let's start with the fact that you have to use vacation time while you're sick.

Vacations should be used for traveling the world, lounging around on beaches with fancy drinks or cleaning out the basement. But, you know what vacation time shouldn't be used for? The flu.

Lots of organizations don't provide sick days at all, and some companies simply offer general paid time off (PTO). A PTO policy is better than nothing, but there should be designated sick days—otherwise, people often hesitate to use their PTO to cover times when they are unwell. If the PTO bucket is generous enough, it's not a problem. However, at companies with stingy PTO policies, people come to work when they shouldn't. After all, if they've already booked a flight to go see the in-laws, they can't take time off for illness without canceling those plans.

Additionally, even at companies that provide sick time or adequate PTO, many people don't take sicks days because they don't want their manager to think they are slackers. Remember perfect attendance awards back in elementary school? Those were dumb back then, and they are dumb now. Contracting an illness isn't a moral failing or a sign of disengagement—it's a sign that we are human and sometimes we get sick.

So, what should you do to prevent sick employees from coming into work in the first place?

  • Establish a reasonable sick policy. Check with your state and local laws, because places like Connecticut and New York require employers to offer sick leave.
  • Allow people to work from home (if applicable) when they are feeling under the weather.
  • Tell employees that they should stay home if they have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Do not punish people for staying home. You can require a doctor's note, but that places an unnecessary burden on employees, since many illnesses don't require a doctor's visit. If employees are lying about sick days, chances are they're not performing well in other areas of his job. Focus on those.

It may seem expensive to allow people to take time off for illness, but one sick person can spread germs to everyone else, which will drop your overall productivity as everyone drags themselves around, trying to work while feeling terrible.

We all need sick days once in a while.


Your ReWorker

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady

Photo: Creative Commons

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