A recent TVNZ story has highlighted the fact that some employers have begun encouraging staff not to take sick leave by giving them an end of year bonus.
What it didn’t discuss is how to deal with employees who continue to come to work, despite being clearly unwell.
Those employees often have genuine reasons for continuing to work, such as deadlines that must be met, or the fact that an employee has exhausted their paid sick leave entitlement and cannot afford to take unpaid leave. However, it is a potential problem for an employer who does not want the rest of its workforce to get sick or when a sick staff member’s co-workers start to complain.
What does the law say?
An employer must be very careful about sending an employee home, as it could be construed as a suspension, and should always check their employment agreements and policies to see whether it has the power to do so. Balanced with that is the obligation to provide a safe workplace, which might include taking steps to isolate an employee who might make their colleagues ill.
A cautious employer might seek medical advice as to whether an employee is actually contagious (and therefore really does pose a risk) rather than relying on a non-clinical belief of the risk of infection. In that case, the employer may consider whether it is feasible for an employee to work from home for a period of time until they are no longer infectious.