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Remote Work Policies Reduce Sick Leave

by Ron Seibel / May 10, 2018

The benefits of allowing your employees to work from home are numerous and well-documented. In addition to the long list of environmental and work-life benefits, there is the solitude required when your employees’ heads are many levels deep in work. Then, with a click of a button, they can join a virtual meeting full of coworkers through fast and reliable teleconferencing. But, what may be one of the least recognized advantages to working from home? Sick days! Set up properly, your company’s policy on sick days can benefit both the company and the remote worker. And, companies with traditional offices can reduce sick days by allowing staff to work from home during illnesses and recovery.

Let’s Agree On This

There are some sicknesses/accidents/injuries where your employees should stay at home and recover in bed. Period. Nobody believes that working as a zombie, even from home, benefits anyone. Stay in bed and rest. This blog is not about you. However, if you are sick or recovering from an illness or accident, but are up to working, I invite you to read on.

Sickness in a Remote Office

The obvious advantage of a coworker staying home when sick is that the chance of you catching what they have is gone. At some point in your career, you have been a little under the weather, knowing you could perform fine in the right setting. This is where the home office shines! Having experienced a recent illness in which my recovery precluded me from traveling into an office, I was so glad to be able to work from home. Don’t get me wrong. I am not espousing ‘working through the pain.’ I’m talking about keeping your mind and body active during your recovery.

After my one-week stay in the hospital, I was itching to become re-engaged in my work. My recovery did not require me to be bedridden, but I was unable to travel. I was mobile, alert, and eager to work again. And, being a remote worker, I was able to start up and work though the entire recovery process…from home. Because my company utilizes business management apps like Slack, I was always ‘in the loop.’ Projects moved forward and the company was able to meet its deadlines.

I felt good about working again and the company was not on the hook for my entire recovery time. On the other hand, my wife, who works in a traditional office and who was instrumental in my care at home, needed to use sick and personal days to transport me to doctor appointments. Her company’s policy worked well for us. My company’s policy, allowing me to work from home during recovery, worked even better.

Sickness in a Traditional Office

Often, in a traditional office setting, you know you are not feeling 100% but you must make the decision whether to go into the office or not. This decision not only impacts you but everyone you come into contact with that day! That’s some serious pressure first thing in the morning! You feel well enough to work, but are you contagious? You suspect coworkers will judge you on how sick you actually are when you take a sick day. But, if you do go into the office, you worry they’ll blame you for every sniffle and sneeze in the company for the next month. In a traditional office, you are either SICK or you are WELL. You are either IN or you are OUT.

Sick Leave Policies

For many companies, sick leave is an important part of an array of benefits that are provided to employees, and with good reason. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) already requires unpaid time for personal or family illness. As of February 2018, here in Maryland, employers with 15 or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of earned, paid sick and safe leave. If your company employs 14 or fewer employees, you must offer unpaid sick and safe leave. The Maryland law specifies allowable carryover hours from one year to the next and places caps on total accrued hours. It also lists allowable reasons to take sick time, including to care for the physical or mental health of yourself or a family member, maternity and paternity leave, and relief from domestic or sexual assault. So, the future is clear. To stay compliant and to stay competitive, you will need to incorporate sick days into your benefits package, if you have not done so already.

How Many Sick Days to Give

You want to provide sick days to your workforce. But, how many? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website shows that, on average, employees in a professional, technical, executive, or administrative position have an average of 8.5 sick days available to them after one year with a company, growing to over 10 days annually after 25 years. However, more and more, companies are offering a paid time off (PTO) policy that combines sick days, vacation days, and personal days into one bank of days that employees use at their discretion. This provides employees with more flexibility to manage their time off.

Update Your Company Sick Day Policy

If your company sick day policy does not already include language that allows and encourages your workforce to work from home instead of taking sick days, you may benefit from making this change. Your employees will benefit because they will not need to use personal days or vacation time to recuperate from an illness. And your company will notice fewer days missed by employees, and fewer impacts on productive work.

Keep in mind, if paid sick time is provided, you are not required to pay employees for accrued sick time when the employee leaves your employment. Regardless of how you set your sick day policy – whether they are in a separate pot of days that are accrued over time or tied to vacation and personal days – you should include the option to work remotely, if possible. And, working remotely is more than just a sick day perk. In a recent Gallup poll, 35% of employees said the number one perk they’d leave a job for is the ability to work remotely full-time. However, only 12% of poll responders said their employer allows it.

Not Too Sick to Work, Just Too Sick for the Office

With a well-planned sick day policy that includes allowing your employees to work from home, you can attract and retain better talent, lower your absenteeism rates, and improve your bottom line. And, take it from me, nobody enjoys being sick or in an extended period of recovery. With my recent illness, I didn’t feel like I was truly recovering until I was back to work in my home office.

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Ron Seibel

Ron Seibel

Ron Seibel has been managing servers and writing code at Fentress Incorporated for 24 years. He likes to play tennis and golf and enjoys traveling with his wife, Dawn, and his two boys.