Your Sick Policy Could Make the Corona Outbreak Worse. Here’s What It Should Look Like

Mar 9, 2020

By not giving your employees the sick days they need, you’re part of the problem.

“I can’t use more than three ‘unscheduled absences’ in six months, or it’s a disciplinary ding. I used up my unscheduled days on sick kids, so when I got sick, I had to wear a mask and come in anyway. I ended up doing chest compressions on my patient while I had a fever.” – Andrea, RN

“We get sick time but can’t use it till all our vacation time is gone, so people come to work sick. Even if we have a note from the doctor, we still get dinged for it. So many occurrences result in disciplinary action.” – Tina, physical therapist assistant

When people talk about problems with sick time, they often refer to retail and restaurant workers who regularly work part time at low salaries and have limited to no paid time off. But Andrea and Tina are licensed, educated professionals, and they work under terrible sick policies. Imagine punishing someone who was sick and had a doctor’s note!

Imagine you or your loved one is crashing, and the RN, standing directly over your face, is running a fever. Yes, she’s wearing a mask, and yes, she washed her hands, but wouldn’t you feel better if she weren’t sick?

And what if you’re recovering from a serious illness or injury and the physical therapist assistant who works inches from your face and touches your body is sneezing and coughing into her mask?

The federal government doesn’t require any sick time unless you qualify for accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family Medical Leave ActState laws can vary–with some states requiring sick days and others not. But your business should provide them, regardless of your industry. While it’s especially disgusting to have fevered medical personnel and vomiting restaurant workers, your IT guys don’t need to be spreading plague or COVID-19 around the office, either.

Your sick plan should include the following:

  • No doctor’s note should be required for fewer than three days’ absence unless the company pays for the visit. Most illnesses don’t require treatment. 

  • Provisions for employees to use sick days to care for sick children. Schools and daycares won’t accept a sick child, and you cannot count on your employee to have a spouse to take care of the children. Allow employees to work from home if they can.

  • A minimum of five days paid sick leave and five days unpaid. Don’t panic that people will take a ton of time. In 2018, the average employee took 2.5 days of sick leave. If you have a plan and your exempt employees have used their paid days, you don’t have to pay them for a full day off.

  • Full compliance with FMLA and ADA. 

  • Provide flu shots. In many cases, you can get someone to come to your office to administer the vaccinations.

  • Keep bathrooms stocked with soap and paper towels. Provide hand sanitizer at entrances.

  • Remind people to clean their keyboards and phones frequently.

No one likes to be sick. Not you, not your employees, and not your customers, and certainly not people who are in your hospital, because they are already feeling terrible.

With COVID-19 on the rise, you may see employees quarantined. Naturally, if they are healthy and just waiting out an exposure period, let them work from home if possible. (This is not, of course, possible with all jobs.) While the experts debate over whether this qualifies under ADA or FMLA, you should have a heart and hold their positions. Remember, you can always be nicer than the law allows.

If you choose to have ridiculous and restrictive sick day policies, you’ll make things worse. One sick person in the office can lead to many sick people. 

By Suzanne Lucas