In a recent Financial Times article, Caroline Walker, Managing Director of Cavendish Employment Law, comments on the traditional view of absence in the workplace and how this view has undergone a transformation in the wake of Coronavirus. Caroline's comments are noted below.
When asked about the current mindset of asset management firms, and their current focus on presenteeism, Caroline commented: “Absence has typically been frowned upon and historically it has even been used as a basis of selecting people for redundancy, determining who to dismiss in a reorganisation, [or] passing someone over for promotion or reducing their bonus,”.
Commenting on UK health secretary Matt Hancock's remark that employees should stop 'soldiering on' if they are unwell, the article discusses the possibility that employees could soon find themselves subject to disciplinary action if they were to arrive to work whilst ill: “People are now more aware of their role in preventing transmission, not just of Covid-19 but of any virus, and there is no reason why this should not become a policy imposed by the employer to observe in future, with potential [disciplinary action] for those who fail to do so.
“That is not to say you might be able to sue your colleague for giving you the flu or a common cold, as there will always be challenges in establishing liability and losses, but it may no longer be acceptable to fail to take reasonable steps to avoid infecting colleagues.” In order to mitigate this issue, human resources departments may end up “prescribing for absence to be encouraged by senior employees where an employee’s wellbeing requires it”, alongside “policies that require employees to be responsible for minimising the transmission of any viruses they have”.