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How does working from home affect sick leave?

With the far more common occurrence of working from home (WFH) brought about initially by the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees now seem to be working, or at least partially working, while sick.

WFH has numerous benefits, most notably no painful commuting, better eating options, greater time flexibility and being better able to stay on top of personal admin. However, one of the blurred areas is sick leave. In the past when employees were sick, they would simply phone in and then be able to take a full day 100% away from the office.

Now, it seems, whether due to guilt or dedication, if employees are sick, they turn to working from home. While this may be seen as dedication from the employer’s perspective, there are times when an employee simply needs a complete break to recover from the flu, mental stress, exhaustion or other medical conditions.

The Guardian reported in June 2022 that UK employees took the fewest sick days in the developed world. This is particularly true in mid-market businesses as there are far fewer cover points, and staff are more directly accountable. The BBC also reported in 2022 that sick people were generally working from home and posed the question, “How ill do you have to be to take a ‘proper’ sick day from home?"

The bottom line is that there should be some discretion, and if employees cannot get out of bed, they certainly should not be on an 'important' Zoom call. In most instances, employees are the company's most valuable assets and as such should be treated accordingly. For those companies with a flexible WFH policy, it is prudent to tailor sick leave guidance to address this new working environment.

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