As if managing attendance problems was not already a headache, COVID-19 has certainly complicated things. The threshold for employees to stay home is very low as all precautions must be taken in the interest of health and safety. However, how do you handle excessive absenteeism in an era of COVID-19?
How to handle excessive absenteeism related to COVID-19
There are many different scenarios that might be taking place in your workplace. For any COVID-19 related absences, it is necessary to follow your established COVID-19 protocols (and if you don’t have any in place, start by downloading our risk assessment template to develop your protocols). You should have established procedures for the following situations:
- Employee who is sick with no COVID-19 symptoms
- Employee with COVID-19 symptoms
- Employee with a confirmed case of COVID-19
- Employee who must stay home to care for a dependent with COVID-19 symptoms
- Employee who is ordered to quarantine by public health
- Employee who has been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19
If you feel that an employee has been taking excessive time off under the guise of COVID-19, you still need to follow COVID-19 protocols to remain complaint with safety standards. However, at the same time you should be maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the problematic employee and ask these types of questions:
- What is going on? What is the cause of all the absences?
- Depending on the answer, you may be able to support the employee by doing things such as modifying work hours or allowing them to work from home so that they can manage any health or personal issues that have been brought on by COVID-19. Perhaps the PPE that they are now required to wear is making them feel ill. Are there alternative solutions that could be explored?
- Are there resources that you can point the employee to such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or corporate health coverage that they could be taking advantage of such as counselling?
- Are there risks within the job that you need to do a better job of mitigating to make sure that the employee stays healthy?
- For example, if the employees work with the public, are they constantly being exposed to germs that are making them sick? Do more safety precautions need to be taken?
- Is there an issue in the work environment that is causing the absences (team dynamics, leadership, workload etc.)
- Is there a performance conversation that needs to happen? Check out our performance and development questions to help facilitate the conversation.
Be prepared and ready to listen during these conversations; you may be required to accommodate the employee depending on the situation that they are in. Alternatively, the employee might be eligible to take a leave of absence under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) which would allow them time off to attend to personal matters (mental health, family related matters, physical health etc.) and then return to work better prepared to do their job.
For circumstances where the level of absenteeism is unsubstantiated and unrelated to COVID-19, it is important to manage them as soon as you notice the problematic behaviour cropping up. Poor attendance left unaddressed sends the message that it is condoned and will worsen quickly. Download our attendance letter as a first step to managing excessive absenteeism.
Who pays for COVID-19 related absences?
If an employee is unable to work because they are sick or need to care for a sick dependant, the absence will typically qualify as a sick day or personal day under the company’s sick policy. However, if your company does not offer paid sick time, employees who have been employed for at least two consecutive weeks are entitled to the following unpaid absences under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA):
- Three days of unpaid sick leave due to personal illness, injury or medical emergency
- Three days of unpaid family responsibility leave due to a family member’s illness, injury or medical emergency or due to an urgent matter concerning a family member
- Two days of unpaid bereavement leave due to the death of a family member.
In light of the pandemic, the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (Ontario Regulation 228/20) was announced in May 2020 and provides employees with a job protected leave in the following circumstances:
- The employee is under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19.
- The employee is acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
- The employee is in isolation or quarantine in accordance with public health information or direction.
- The employer directs the employee not to work due to a concern that COVID-19 could be spread in the workplace.
- The employee needs to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as a school or day-care closure.
- The employee is prevented from returning to Ontario because of travel restrictions.
If an employee needs to take a substantial amount of time off for COVID-19 related reasons under the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave, the employer is not obligated to pay the employee during their absence. However, the employer is required to protect the employee’s job so that they return to the same (or similar) job. Employees who take a leave under this regulation may be eligible for some income replacement from the following sources:
- Short Term Disability – If your company has a short-term disability plan the employee may be eligible contingent on the approval of the case by the insurance company.
- Employment Insurance – If the employee has to be off work for COVID-19 related reasons, they may apply for Employment Insurance through Service Canada. It will be the decision of Service Canada if the case gets approved.
Managing excessive absenteeism can be a balancing act between preserving the employee’s rights while protecting your business. You can call on the experienced HR professionals at Essential HR to help you work through the most difficult of cases. Talk to us today!