The Increased Risk of Presenteeism During COVID

By Fiona Burns
13 Dec 2021

The statistics show that a third of UK employees have worked while unwell since the beginning of the pandemic.

Presenteeism isn’t an issue exclusive to COVID. However, as we make our way through the winter months, and a new variant spreads, coming into work can have a serious impact on staff health.

Let’s take a look at how serious a problem it is, and how to address it in your workplace…

Presenteeism and Covid statistics

First, a report by insurer Direct Line Group found the following:

  • 80% would still visit the office with a headache
  • 66% would still visit the office with a sore throat
  • 48% would still visit the office with a cough
  • 47% would still visit the office with sickness or diarrhoea
  • 35% would still visit the office with a high temperature

High temperatures and coughs are key symptoms of COVID. Aside from these symptoms, Direct Line estimates that 2.9 million workers would continue to travel into the office if they felt unwell in general.

Second, a survey by Canada Life UK found that 35% of staff had worked while unwell over the last 18 months. More than a quarter of those said the main reason for working while ill was the size of their workload.

Together, these reports indicate a worrying trend.

But how dangerous is it really? Should you just take an employee’s word that they are well enough to work?

Why is this an issue?

There are plenty of reasons why presenteeism puts your workforce, and your business, at risk. It can have a detrimental effect on morale and overall wellbeing. This attitude also tends to spread as a contagion. It sets an expectation for others who may feel pressured to come in despite not feeling well enough to do so. This in turn leads to higher staff turnover.

With regards to COVID, the risks are also transmissible—literally. When it comes to the safety and wellbeing of your staff, you must judge which prevention measures suit your workplace best. In many industries, workers cannot practically distance or wear masks. However, doing nothing at all presents a significant risk to your staff. If one person only shows up with Covid, you’ll soon face a situation where more employees need to self-isolate.

There is an added risk in customer-facing roles, or in the care/medical industries. Those on the front-line could pass the virus on to the general public or the clinically vulnerable.

Finally, there is the risk to the individual themselves. If an employee is ill with COVID, they should be isolating at home, or seeking treatment if their condition is serious. Performing their role despite their illness puts them at risk, especially if their job involves physical labour.

Presenteeism in the care and charity sectors

There is an added challenge for those working in certain sectors, such as care or medical practices. From 1st April 2022, healthcare provider delivering CQC regulated activity will only be able to employ staff who have face-to-face contact with patients if they’re fully vaccinated. The two exceptions to this are:

  • If the individual is under the age of 18
  • If the individual is medically exempt

The regulations enforcing this rule are likely to be approved in January. Following this, the rules will take effect 12 weeks later, allowing for a grace period. Under the current rules, staff need to have had their first dose by 3rd February, and have had their two-dose primary vaccination before 1st April 2022.

Make sure you prepare for all of the HR and health & safety challenges this could cause in good time. If you need a second opinion, or expert advice, speak to one of our consultants today on 01455 858 132.

What should I do?

If a member of staff turns up to work with COVID symptoms, you should encourage them to go home and take a test. In light of the new Omicron variant, there are a few things you can do:

  • Review your current working practices
  • Review the prevention methods you have in place
  • Review or conduct a fresh risk assessment
  • Consider hybrid/flexible working

If you need help conducting or reviewing your assessments, speak to one of our expert health & safety consultants today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.


Fiona Burns

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