How Can Employers Help Sick Employees?

It can be inconvenient when employees get sick. However, you should think carefully about how you treat sick employees. Encouraging sick employees to keep going to work will achieve nothing. They may end up getting more sick due to the stress, spreading sickness to colleagues or delivering poor quality work results. 

Instead, you should be helping employees to recover by giving them the rest and access to treatment that they need. Employees are your most important tools, and just as you should carry out maintenance on your tools, you should also care for your employees.

Just what are some ways in which you can help sick employees? A few examples of things you can do are listed below.

Provide paid sick leave
Companies in the US are not required by law to provide paid sick leave. However, many of the best companies do provide this perk to employees.

Why should you continue paying employees when they're sick? Firstly, it makes it easier for employees to seek out treatment without having to worry about paying other bills. Secondly, it discourages employees who are financially struggling to go to work while they are sick, potentially spreading it to the rest of your team.

It is up to you as to how many paid sick days you offer to employees per year. Most companies offer five to nine days, but may extend this if a valuable employee has a more serious illness/injury. Sick leave payments may be reduced compared to regular working payments. Some companies may have a system in which sick leave payments gradually reduce after a certain amount of days.

Offer medical insurance
There may be employees within your company who refuse to see a doctor for a problem or seek treatment due to the cost. This could result in a small medical problem becoming a big medical problem – eventually they'll have no choice to get treatment and they'll require more time off to recover. Had they had the funds to pay for treatment earlier, they may not have had to take so much time off.

Providing employer medical benefits ensures that your employees have the funding to pay for treatment. This includes putting money towards certain treatments or paying for health insurance.

A medical insurance package is one of the best perks you can offer to retain employees and could also help you to attract more quality applicants. There are many different forms of medical cover that you can provide. Many employers offer basic cover for doctor and hospital visits, as well as prescription drugs. Others provide a more extensive plan, which may include dental cover and vision care. It's up to you as to what coverage you provide. Take the time to shop around for company health insurance deals.

Set up a HSA
A HSA (health savings account) allows employees to put a certain percentage of their wages directly into a savings account. No tax has to be paid on this income, allowing employees to pay less tax each year. These accounts collect interest each month.

HSAs allow employees to build up savings to pay for medical expenses. This could include medical insurance deductibles and expenses not covered by medical insurance such as over-the-counter drugs, prescription eyewear, first aid supplies, birth control, feminine products and even sunscreen. All in all, it can give employees the funds to look after their health and can be a worthy perk to have.

Allow working from home
If your job can be worked remotely, consider giving employees the option to work from home when they are sick. Allowing employees to work from home encourages them to keep working without spreading illness to colleagues. It can also be useful if an employee has an injury like a broken leg – by not having to commute to work, they can give the injury the rest it needs. Similarly, employees with conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia can work while getting the physical rest they need.

Covid-19 lockdowns forced many companies to introduce working from home options. While many companies have now been encouraging employees to get back to the office, it's worth still offering the option to flexibly work from home for situations like employee sickness. If you still need people in the office, you could consider offering a restricted number of WFH days per year or only allowing it for certain circumstances. This discourages staff from working from home all the time, while still giving them the option to do so when it is a necessity.

In order for employees to work effectively from home, you'll need to make sure that all information is remotely accessible via the cloud. Make sure to use the right communication tools – many companies find that instant messaging is the fastest way to communicate, while video calls can be useful if you need to talk face-to-face (just be wary that if they are ill they may not want to do a video call).

Share the workload
There are times when a sick employee may still be able to go into work, however they may not be able to carry out as many duties. For example, an employee recovering from a back injury or hernia operation may have to avoid tasks like heavy lifting.

It could be important for the rest of the team to therefore take over any tasks that the sick employee cannot do. This prevents employees who are recovering from illness or injury from taking on too much work immediately and becoming sick/injured again. The sick employee may still be able to oversee certain tasks if they require specialist skills or knowledge, however you should encourage them to not get too involved if you can.

Gradually, you may be able to give a sick employee more responsibility. Just make sure to take into account any recovery instructions from a doctor.

Consider hiring temp staff during periods of long-term sickness
If any employee is likely to be off work for a long period due to illness or an injury (such as a few months), you may have to consider hiring temporary staff to take over their role. This ensures their work is being done and reduces the pressure for the employee to come back to work early.

Hiring temporary staff instead of replacing them with full time staff allows you to keep onto valuable employees instead of having no choice but to dismiss them. There are temp agencies that you can use to source qualified temporary employees.

Know when to actively encourage employees to take time off
If an employee is visibly ill or complaining about a health problem but not taking time off, it may be worth encouraging them to take sick leave. Some employees may be stubborn, but in doing so they could be letting a health problem get worse. They could also be endangering other employees if it is infectious, as well as putting in a poorer work performance.

All in all, for the sake of your business and the sake of their health, it makes sense to encourage sick employees to take time off. If you have benefits like sick paid leave, working from home and medical insurance in place, it will make it much easier to convince employees to take time off.

Take measures to prevent work-related sickness
Employees can get sick or injured for all kinds of reasons. In some cases, sickness or injury could be work-related. Examples of work-related illness include repetitive strain injuries, slip and fall injuries, chemical poisoning or even simply burnout due to work-related stress.

It's important to take steps to prevent employees from getting sick as a result of work. Not only does it lead to more employee absence, but it can also result in workers' compensation claims. Employee morale is likely to be affected and your reputation as an employer is likely to suffer. Therefore, it is vital for not just your employees' wellbeing, but your company's success, to prevent work-related sickness.

A health and safety audit of your workplace could help to identify any hazards that could result in injuries or illness. You can then take steps to improve health and safety measures where necessary such as making sure that employees wear certain PPE or making sure that all desk setups are ergonomic.

Work-related stress is also something you should try to reduce. This could include conducting mental health checks with employees and encourage employees to open up about worries at work. Be careful of overworking employees and take a stance against workplace bullying and abusive customers.

Offering other workplace employee benefits such as annual leave for vacations and a good amount of breaks can prevent employees feeling overworked. You should also try to make the workplace a happy environment where employees are being praised and rewarded for their work. All jobs have their moments of stress, but if employees feel they have support from employers and the ability to take time out, this stress will be much easier to cope with and will not leave employees ill.

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