OPINION: Would staff rethink time off if they weren't given sick pay?

Working from home has changed the rules when you're off sick for many, says Rachel Moore

Working from home has changed the rules when you're off sick for many, says Rachel Moore - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Should workers be paid when they’re off sick?

Posing that question to a full room is like chucking in a live grenade. The result is explosive. Rarely is an issue so polarised than opinions on sick pay.

Two clear camps emerge – those, often in the public sector, in a culture where six months off sick with full pay is a given, and the small business owners, horrified at having to pay staff for doing no work, the knock-on effect on productivity by team absences and the company bottom line.

Never the twain shall meet.

Those who get paid every month regardless of how the organisation is performing, whether they’ve had five days off sick that month have no idea about life in a small business where getting paid depends on your presence and productivity.

The latter, of course, believe the former have it cushy. And we all have a choice where we work and the contracts we sign.

This week, light has shone on cash incentives for people who turn up for work consistently, with no sick absences. A great idea or discriminatory?

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It feels counter productive in a pandemic. Who wants super spreaders in a business who threaten more harm to a business by turning up than staying away?

But we all know those who have regular days off sick with no long-term health conditions, whose absence just puts pressure on others, which breeds resentment and disharmony in a workplace.

Then some are more susceptible to picking up infections and viruses than others so are naturally discriminated against and face a double whammy of losing out on pay because they’ve been struck down.

Is this fair?

The new mayor of Rome has resorted to cash incentives to entice Rome bin collectors to not call in sick until January 9 to battle chronic absenteeism - 1,500 a day - turning streets into swooping gull and wild boar paradise with rotting rubbish rummaging heaven.

Not the most pleasant job, but if it takes a wad of cash to make them show up for what they’re paid to do, there’s clearly more than a pay/sickness issue going on there.

But there remains a stigma – and suspicion – to taking time off sick, which encourages people to bring their colds, coughs, and bugs to work, risking an entire workforce dropping like flies.

You see the thorny issue and how tricky it is to be equal and fair.

Is dangling extra cash symptomatic of a bullying culture where cynicism hangs over every call-in sick and raised eyebrows knowing looks and mumblings of “duvet day” or “heavy night last night?”

The pandemic and hybrid working have brought fewer sick days with statistics sinking to the lowest since records began in 1995.

Working on a laptop with a hacking cough and streaming cold is clearly better than dragging yourself in to work as a spreader.

But if you must be present in a workplace, it’s a different story.

Working at home is impossible for huge swathes of the workforce - manufacturing, retail, hospitality, engineering, NHS, care sector, emergency services, construction…and many more.

It always felt uncomfortable when schools handed out 100% attendance certificates in assemblies, meaning children with health conditions could never qualify and felt even worse about what they lived with.

Good health is largely down to luck and fine genetics.

Should we also penalise those who take time off sick for health conditions self inflicted by not taking responsibility for good health?

The deeper you delve, the bigger the conundrum about fairness.

Honesty is always the best policy. Be honest with employers and, hopefully, with the discretion clause in contracts, they will play fair.

Stella is a great role model

MP Stella Creasy has endured the worst of online trolling, had threats of rape, turned up for live interviews with two-week old baby in her arms, and is known as hard working and dedicated.

She turned up for BBC Question Time last week with her baby backstage and was in the Commons on Tuesday doing the job she loves to lead the debate on buy now pay later consumer credit, her three-month-old baby asleep in a chest papoose.

What a role model for girls and young women to be getting on with her career, making a difference, achieving her dreams with and around family life.

Both her children have been with her in the Commons, but this time she received a letter saying she was breaking the rule “you should not take your seat in the chamber when accompanied by a child”

One can think of far worse offences witnessed in the Commons deserving admonishment - lounging on benches, shouting, and heckling for starters.

Baby and mother should receive a gold star for impeccable behaviour.

A rule review is now under way.

But while the world is run by a certain profile of men that expects the world to reflect what they see in the mirror, this will continue.

We need mothers to be visible, making life work for them, integrating all aspects of life successfully to inspire ambition,

If Creasy had been a father with a baby in a sling, he would have bee praised for being a fine father ‘helping out in a “childcare’ emergency.

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