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Should you call in sick when you’re feeling under the weather?

Coming into work when you’re not feeling 100 per cent, attendance management policies and programs

By Brian Kreissl

In more than five years, I’ve never taken a sick day. It’s a bit silly, I know, but for some reason that stoic attitude is a bit of a badge of honour for me.

While I do sometimes work from home when I’m not feeling well and can’t face the commute into work, I have to admit to being one of those people who occasionally come to work even when I’m feeling a little under the weather.

Yet I understand the argument against this type of attitude: “Why come into work when you’re not feeling well? You’re only going to infect everyone else.”

That makes a lot of sense when you’re dealing with something fairly serious or highly contagious like chicken pox, the measles or a bad flu. But I tend to feel a little differently about a minor case of the sniffles. We can’t stay home every time we have a tickly throat or a slightly runny nose.

The problem is you can’t win when you’re sick. If you come into work, people treat you like a pariah, but if you don’t come in, they think you’re playing hooky or you’re being a bit of a wimp.

While it really depends on the situation, if you’re going to come into work with a cold, you can be more considerate of others by following a few simple protocols:

•trying to work from home at least some of the time

•coughing or sneezing into your sleeve if you don’t have a tissue handy

•washing your hands frequently; using alcohol gel to sanitize your hands

•avoiding social situations and meetings wherever possible

•avoiding handshakes, explaining you’d rather not give someone your cold

•if you really must attend meetings or other events, sitting off on your own if possible and explaining to others why you’re doing so.

Again, I’m not suggesting people should come into work if they are feeling really ill, and if you really don’t feel well enough to work, you should take a sick day. But with absenteeism being such a major problem in many organizations and industries, HR professionals can set a good example for others by ensuring they don’t abuse sick time and by following their own attendance management policies and programs.

The importance of attendance management generally

Attendance management is a serious issue for organizations because absenteeism can lead to poor productivity, cause disruptions in service and lead to poor morale and even negative publicity, especially in public sector organizations.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the average annual absenteeism rate per employee in 2009 stood at 6.6 days – up from 5.7 days in 2008. In some industries, the figure is far higher than that.

Clearly this is a growing problem, yet there are several things organizations can do to combat absenteeism:

•ensuring the work environment is safe, healthy and pleasant

•keeping employees motivated and engaged (click here to read my Nov. 15, 2011, blog post on employee engagement)

•ensuring employees have adequate work-life balance

•having formal attendance management policies and programs which are clearly communicated to employees

•reviewing existing policies and programs to ensure they don’t foster a sense of entitlement

•requiring employees to call in each and every time they're off work and insisting on doctor's notes for more lengthy absences

•keeping in touch with employees who are off on extended sick leave

•accommodating disabled employees and instituting an early and safe return to work program

•having an employee assistance program (EAP) to help deal with issues such as stress, substance abuse, workplace harassment and bullying, and childcare and eldercare concerns

•allowing employees to work from home, at least on an occasional basis

•introducing flexible work arrangements wherever possible

•introducing workplace wellness initiatives

•providing employees with personal days (also known as "mental health days").

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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