Absenteeism: In The Workplace During COVID-19

Absenteeism: In The Workplace During COVID-19

Managing Return to Work and Absenteeism

It goes without saying that the global pandemic has tested entrepreneurs and small businesses in ways that we’ve never seen before. Managing employee absenteeism and return to work during the pandemic will be a challenge for employers for the foreseeable future. In order to thrive in this uncertain environment, it is essential for business owners to stay informed, be flexible, foster open communication with employees, and manage expectations to avoid overly ambitious plans.

Plan for Returning to Work

Much like an early and safe return to work program for injured employees, conducting a thorough risk review can help to ensure you’re providing your employees with all the support they need to effectively return to work. This may include developing a plan for graduated hours, staggered shifts, new policy implementation, remote service delivery, and physical workplace changes to ensure appropriate social distancing.

Implement Physical Controls

Ensuring six-foot separation of workstations, erecting barriers, installing high-efficiency air filters or increasing ventilation, marking the floor to denote six-foot distances, separating chairs and tables in break rooms to be at least six feet apart, and designating and posting the direction of foot traffic in narrow hallways will all need to be considered.

Sick employee

Reduce Gatherings

Consider means for avoiding groups and gatherings, including reducing or restricting access to common areas, holding electronic meetings, and rotating employee work schedules to lessen the number of employees in the building at any given time.

“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” — Lou Holtz

Clean the Office

Ensure that office cleaning includes the frequent sanitation of high-touch surfaces like door knobs, workstations, keyboards, handrails, communal copiers, and printers through out the day.

Respond to Outbreaks

Develop a plan for identifying and quickly isolating employees who may become symptomatic with COVID-19 while at the workplace. Ensure compliance with contact tracing requirements and procedures for notifying other employees of possible COVID-19 exposure. Keep in mind that WSIB is allowing claims for workers who contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment and that employees have the right to refuse work that they deem unsafe.

Provide PPE For Employees and Customers

Companies must provide appropriate personal protective equipment (like masks, gloves, face shields, etc.) and ensure that employees are instructed on its proper use. A best practice is to install touchless hand sanitizing stations throughout the workplace and encourage employees to use them every time they walk by.

Conduct Health Screening Within Reason

Companies must provide appropriate personal protective equipment (like masks, gloves, face shields, etc.) and ensure that employees are instructed on its proper use. A best practice is to install touchless hand sanitizing stations throughout the workplace and encourage employees to use them every time they walk by.

Extend Remote Working Arrangements

Organizations that can’t accommodate remote work for all employees or are eager to have everyone return to the office should consider allowing or extending remote working arrangements for specific at-risk groups, like pregnant workers and those with immuno-compromising medical conditions.

Plan for Decreased Productivity

Don’t be surprised if there is a decrease in employee productivity when employees first return to the office and re-acclimate to the altered work environment. This initial decrease in productivity can be mitigated by helping people to manage their anxiety about being back in the office.

Employers should be attentive and prepare for a second or third wave of COVID-19 that may require workplace closures or a return to remote working arrangements. Employers should communicate workplace changes as well as their plan for dealing with workplace closures or an outbreak in the office.

Expect Absenteeism Within Reason

Excessive employee absenteeism can be challenging to manage at the best of times. Add to this increased caregiver and childcare responsibilities, uncertainty regarding children returning to school, fear of exposure, concern for immuno-compromised family members, and quarantine requirements, and it’s evident that it will be along time before companies return to normal.  

Human Resource Policies Must Be Updated

  Companies need to plan for increased absenteeism and have contingencies in place to address it. Review your attendance and absenteeism policy to ensure it’s still appropriate in today’s climate. Encourage sick employees to stay home. Consider being more flexible with employees by relaxing the requirement for doctor’s notes and providing reasonable accommodations for care-giving responsibilities. If you haven’t already done so, implement the means for employees to be able to work from home if necessary (due to childcare or quarantine requirements).

Lead Your Team with Compassion

The pandemic has significantly impacted employee well-being — both physical and mental. Be compassionate to employees’ concerns and provide support in the form of wellness programs or an employee assistance plan. Allow liberal use of leave policies, flex time, and lieu time.

Set Up Routine Team Communications

Communicate with employees frequently and candidly, and make sure to include those employees who are not currently working due to illness, injury, or layoff. Ensure transparency with changes to the workforce, such as layoffs, reassignments, and increased workload. Failing to do so may cause employees to complain to the Ontario Ministry of Labour if they don’t think you’re listening to their concerns.

Cross Train Employees and Invest in New Skills

If you haven’t already done so, cross train employees so that multiple individuals can carry out key duties within the organization and you’re not dependent on one person for critical tasks.

Review the Need for Doctor’s Notes

Consider requiring a “fitness for work certificate” or proof of negative test results if an employee returns to work after having been diagnosed with COVID-19. However, be considerate of the fact that the local healthcare system may be taxed from the pandemic and it may be challenging for employees to obtain such documentation.

“We are in this together — and we will get through this, together.”
— UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrers

Review Your Approach to Employee Discipline

Employers should take a flexible, non-punitive approach to employee absenteeism during this time to ensure that employees are empowered to protect themselves and each other. However, if excessive absenteeism and abuse of work flexibility are left unchecked, there may be negative impacts to work productivity, an increase in work errors, and negative effects on employee morale and engagement. Attendance coaching, rather than discipline, is recommended at this time.

Consider Absenteeism Within Your Supply Chain

Not only does your own company’s absenteeism impact your bottom line, but there is also potential for absenteeism at your suppliers to interrupt supply and delivery, with delays and cancellations in geographically affected regions. Investigate alternate vendors and couriers to ensure that your supply chain can be stabilized if issues arise.  

With careful planning and ample communication, not only can you manage absenteeism and employee return to work during the pandemic, but you can also use it as an opportunity to gain trust and commitment from your employees as you support them during this challenging time.

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Rebecca Scott
Web Designer

Rebecca is a Web Designer at BluePrint CPAs. She is a graduate of St. Clair College’s Internet Applications and Web Development Program and has worked as a freelance web designer before joining the BluePrint team.

BluePrint CPAs is a management consultancy that simplifies digital, financial and talent strategies. Our team helps entrepreneurs and their teams grow profitable and modern businesses.

Kit Moore, BluePrint CPAs President & Lead Tax Advisor
Kit Moore, CPA, CA
President & Lead Tax Advisor

Kit Moore, is an entrepreneur that simplifies digital strategy for other business owners. The team at BluePrint CPAs can assist you with web design, development, analytics, management systems and, more importantly, your overall business strategy. The toughest part of digital transformation is re-training your team - and we have pros to help with that as well.

BluePrint CPAs is a management consultancy that simplifies digital, financial and talent strategies. Our team helps entrepreneurs and their teams grow profitable and modern businesses.

Kit Moore, BluePrint CPAs President & Lead Tax Advisor
Kit Moore, CPA, CA
President & Lead Tax Advisor

Kit Moore, is an entrepreneur that simplifies tax and financial strategy for other business owners. The team at BluePrint CPAs can assist you with financial technology, tax strategies, mergers & acquisitions, succession & exit planning and, more importantly, your overall business strategy.

BluePrint CPAs is a management consultancy that simplifies digital, financial and talent strategies. Our team helps entrepreneurs and their teams grow profitable and modern businesses.

Joe Marra, MBA
Senior Associate, Strategy Consulting

Joe is a Senior Associate, Strategy Consulting at BluePrint CPAs. He is a recent graduate of the MBA Program at the Schulich School of Business and has most recently worked for Bayer Inc and the Ford Motor Company of Canada. His experience in marketing, sales, and human resources spans various industries including hospitality, logistics, life sciences and automotive manufacturing. Joe loves working with entrepreneurs to develop their digital strategies and help them grow their business.

BluePrint CPAs is a management consultancy that simplifies digital, financial and talent strategies. Our team helps entrepreneurs and their teams grow profitable and modern businesses.

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