The flu: preventative measures and evidence requirements for sick leave

Friday May 4th 2018

How do colds and flu spread?
Colds and flu are highly contagious. In early stages of infection, a person with a cold or flu may not be showing symptoms of illness like a blocked nose or coughing, which means they could infect others unknowingly. People who go to work while they are infected may expose their colleagues and workplace visitors to their virus, when they cough or sneeze or touch common surfaces without washing their hands.

Measures to prevent the spread of flu at work

Flu vaccine
Vaccinations are one of the best ways to control flu epidemics. However, employers cannot compel employees to obtain a flu shot. You may want to encourage your employees to get vaccinated or provide incentives to them, such as:

  • Providing free vaccinations by hosting a flu vaccination clinic.
  • Reimbursing employees for the cost of the vaccination.
  • Paid time off to obtain the vaccination.

Discourage presenteeism
Presenteeism refers to an employee attending work when they are unwell, and as a result, they become less productive.
Presenteeism can have a negative effect on your business’ productivity in the following ways:

  • The employee is unable to work to their full capacity, which can result in lower quality products or services, poor customer service, and a greater chance of workplace injury.
  • The employee’s illness could be exacerbated, increasing the number of sick days taken.
  • Contagious illness may spread within the workplace. Even if an ill employee feels well enough to perform their duties, other employees with lower immune systems might catch the illness and become sick.

An employee may be concerned that they are ‘letting the team down’, or that their team may have to pick up extra work during their absence but employers should encourage employees to stay home until they feel well enough to return. This will assist the employee to recover and reduce the risk of the illness spreading.

Reducing the number of employees who contract and spread the flu is a win-win scenario: increased productivity and workplace morale, and a healthier bottom line.

Maintain good hygiene
Apart from the vaccination, encouraging employees to maintain good hygiene is another way to help prevent the spread of colds and flu.

Good hygiene techniques to communicate to your workforce include:

  • Regular hand-washing with soap and water, particularly after touching their nose and mouth, before handling food and after coughing and sneezing.
  • Sneezing and coughing into tissues and throwing these away immediately.
  • Cleaning surfaces such as the keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs.
  • Not sharing cups, plates and cutlery.

You may want to provide hygiene products including plenty of soap and paper towels, disinfectant gels and wipes for shared equipment such as telephones, keyboards etc.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Staying healthy reduces the risk of infections like colds and flu and other illnesses, so as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, remind employees that they should:

  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid stress.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake.

What kind of evidence can I require employees to provide if they need time off?
In order for an employee to access their paid personal leave entitlement when they are sick and cannot come to work, they must comply with your business’ notice and evidence requirements set out in a company policy or procedure.

Notice and evidence requirements are broadly set out under the National Employment Standards (NES) in the Fair Work Act. The NES entitles an employer to ask the employee to provide evidence that would satisfy a “reasonable person” when taking personal/carer’s leave. Generally speaking, it is reasonable for an employer to request an employee to provide a medical certificate and, if they cannot do so, for the employee to provide a valid reason or a statutory declaration.

If an employee does not comply with their obligations in relation to notice and/or evidence, you could deny payment of personal leave which means that the employee would be deemed to be on unpaid leave for that period.

Further advice or assistance
For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

Call 1300 862 217 8.30am – 5.15pm AEST Mon-Fri

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