Preparing for Large-Scale Absence in the Workplace
We have been warned that with COVID in the community, it is only a matter of time before New Zealand experiences mass absence in the workplace due to Omicron. Your employees or their dependents may be sick or may be required to isolate at home as they are contacts of positive cases.
Having a contingency plan for how the business can continue to operate and how you can support your employees is essential. Customer delivery, contractual obligations, logistics and supply and even a temporary reduction in services may be on your mind. Here are some ideas on employment issues you may consider:
Create a plan
- Do what you can to cross-train to temporarily cover for absence, including yourself. Who will sign off payroll or invoice payments if you are sick?
- Consider splitting into groups, rostering on different days, or splitting location break times, so that if one group needs to isolate the other can still work.
- Do you have access to casual workers or agency staff who can cover gaps short-term?
- Anyone able to work from home should have the resources to do so.
- Review employees’ current leave entitlements and balances; be aware of any potential issues and consider your options.
Some details you may have missed
- If someone is instructed to isolate, in general this must occur at their current location. If someone is away from home working, or on leave, they may not be permitted to return home. Think about whether they take their laptop with them in case this happens.
- Understand what to pay someone who is off and unable to work from home. If they are sick or caring for someone who relies on them then sick leave is appropriate. However, if they are unable to work and are not sick, then other options including the government COVID financial support, annual leave, leave without pay or other leave may be appropriate. Remember: normal employment considerations always apply.
- Keep up with staff recruitment and retention. It can be tempting to put off normal operations until after the much talked about wave of absences has subsided, but we have learned over the past 2 years that COVID doesn’t always follow projections.
Support your Team
Not only can a surge of COVID (or any illness or situation that creates large scale absence) have the potential to increase workload significantly, it also creates additional stress outside of work. Workers may have to consider child support, suffer increased financial pressures, or experience fear and anxiety about the disease itself.
Health-wise, individual responses to COVID will vary from those who have no symptoms to those who may become extremely sick. There are also the implications of longer-term health effects that may impact an employee’s return to the workplace.
- Ensure you are checking in with your team on their mental and physical wellbeing. Stay connected through calls, emails or virtual meetings.
- Let employees know of any resources that may be available to them:
- Details of an Employee Assistance Programme if you have one.
- Free confidential support from a trained counsellor or peer-support worker is available by free calling or free text 1737 24-hours a day.
- Information on financial support is at https://covid19.govt.nz/isolation-and-care/financial-support/
- Carry out return to work interviews when employees return to check how they are and whether they have any ongoing issues or needs.
If you are concerned about employee absence in the workplace due to Omicron, or other reason, contact FixHR for help.