Rethinking how to manage coughs and colds in the workplace

rethinking how to manage coughs and colds in the workplaceAs the UK population looks towards the complete lifting of restrictions, it seems sensible to begin thinking about how we are going to manage minor illnesses in the workplace before the first winter hits us, after a year and a half of regular lockdowns and continual home working.

Previously someone with a cough, cold or sniffles would most likely continue to attend their workplace, box of tissues or cough medicine in hand. Occasionally people would actually take time off work if the cold was particularly serious or if they worked in certain industries that require them to stay away from work when full of germs (e.g. health care settings). However, sensitivities to ‘germ spreaders’ have hugely changed and organisations will need to adjust to that.

Below we have set out three quite different paragraph options that you might consider including in your sickness absence policy or, if you don’t want to include it as a permanent change, you can simply choose to communicate to staff and managers so that everyone is clear how coughs and colds will be managed this year.

We would suggest that early September is about the right timing for a communication on this.

Please do take a read through our suggestions below and decide which approach will best suit your organisation. You might even want to take a mix and match approach as we have suggested three different sick pay paragraphs too. You will need to amend the text to fit your individual organisation.

Paragraph Option 1

Coughs and colds and return to office/workplace:

It’s business as normal for us, but if any of your colleagues have a cough or cold this coming autumn or winter and you are concerned or anxious about germs, then please do feel free to wear a mask in the workplace. If you have any questions about this and/or other working options please do speak with your manager.

For clarity, our normal sick pay rules will apply in relation to any sickness absence from work. This includes a 3 day waiting period for SSP.

Paragraph Option 2

Coughs and colds and return to office/workplace:

If you have a cold or cough, please be aware of heightened sensitivities at present and we encourage you to work from home where possible until your return to full health. This is requested, but not mandatory.

Anyone in the workplace with a cough or cold, please can we ask you to try to protect your colleagues either by working apart from them where that is possible, ensuring good room ventilation if you can do that, wearing a mask if you feel comfortable to do so and of course by remembering the regular washing of hands and good hygiene.

To ensure there is clarity, our normal sick pay rules will apply at this time, so please do be clear with your manager if you are working from home that you are working as usual and not taking time off sick. If you intend to work part of the day/your shift from home but take part of the day as sickness absence, then please agree that at the start of the day with your manager so that it can be accurately recorded.

Paragraph Option 3

Coughs and colds and return to office/workplace:

If you come down with a cough or cold this winter, please work from home where possible. If you have a cough or cold but need to be in the workplace, then we require you to wear a mask if you have colleagues working (or travelling) in close proximity to you.

For clarity, our normal sick pay rules can be viewed in the staff handbook in xyz location, however, if you are unable to work from home but we send you home due to our preference to minimize the spreading of germs in the workplace just at this time, then you will be paid in full for any period you are required to stay away from the workplace.

Using this final paragraph could potentially increase the risk of employees coming into work to be sent home and be paid, rather than phoning in sick. However, this is up to you to assess and decide the best approach for your business circumstances.

Note: Please remember that if you make a contractual change to your employees terms and conditions then that should be done after a period of group or individual consultation. Any questions about how to consult and who to consult please do call us if in any doubt.

Risk Assessment:  You may choose to do a workplace H&S risk assessment around winter illnesses ahead of making any changes to your absence policy. If you need support with this please get in touch.

It’s been a tough year for everyone, so as the smallest of gifts to you from the team at Jaluch, please do copy and paste any of the above wording you wish to use into your absence policy.


The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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