How to Respond to Increased Sick Leave this Flu Season

Jun 10th, 2022

Recent statistics on sick leave in the month of May have revealed figures significantly above the norm, even adjusted for the season.

Payroll data provided by MYOB concerning small and medium sized businesses found that 49% more sick leave was taken in the first two weeks of May than the long term average. In WA specifically, it is much higher at 81%.

While a portion can be attributed to COVID-19, particularly in WA since it experienced its first wave of COVID-19 cases much later than the rest of the country, there are other factors contributing to this excess rate.

Medical professionals have warned of a more severe flu season given that a large portion of the population have not been exposed to it in the last two years, and therefore our immune systems are less equipped to ward it off. This results in more individuals getting affected, and for longer.

Beyond this, the common cold is one of many viruses that also circulate the community.

As such, employers should put steps in place to minimise the disruption of day-to-day staffing challenges during the flu season and ensure they are upholding their work (occupational) health and safety obligations.

These steps may include:

HR Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures ensure consistency and certainty when dealing with the everyday happenings of a workplace and allows for staffing issues to be quickly resolved. Having these in place can essentially automate the response when an employee is unfit for work.

Employees should understand the appropriate means of alerting their employer they are unfit for work, and the evidence requirements for the leave period (typically a medical certificate).

WHS Policies and Procedures

In the wake of COVID-19, all businesses will have updated policies/procedures concerning infection control. These also apply to the general flu season.

Measures include:

  • Hygiene control measures such as access to hand sanitizer and soap, and frequent wiping down of surfaces
  • Minimising contact with symptomatic individuals, such as through social distancing or allowing employees to work from home where possible
  • Encouraging employees to stay home while symptomatic, even if they have a negative PCR or RAT test
Flu Vaccine

The flu vaccine is the best means of prevention for contracting the flu or minimising the impact of contracting it. It is therefore strongly recommended that employers encourage their staff to receive the latest flu vaccine, including allowing annual leave to receive it.

Employers that are particularly concerned could offer paid time off for employees to organise their dose.  

Reserve of Casual Staff

To minimise the disruption to day-to-day operations, employers need to consider the reserve of casual staff they may need to call in to fill a sick employee’s position. This includes notifying these casual employees that they may be called upon to work with minimal notice and requesting that they understand the needs of the business in this time.

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