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Sick leave: 'hero boss' vs 'hero employee'

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Ted Blackwater |
Sick employee
Sick at work   From lower productivity to huge expenses

We all used to go to work sick. We have deadlines and projects, and we want all the work to be done, being sick or not. But, what makes us working during sick days? Along with a sense of duty, there is one strong motivator: Our boss.

But, working while sick may have serious consequences for your and your company. First to make one thing clear: If your condition is contagious, regardless of being a manager or an employee, you have a moral obligation to stay at home. This is especially important if you work with a lot of customers - the fast food industry is a good example - you don't want to get them all sick.

Second, as an employee you may end up on a long sick leave if your condition worsens and that may mean huge direct or indirect expenses for your employer. Direct expenses for your company are increasing health coverage costs - in some cases even more than 50%! - and there are indirect expenses that must be paid for an employee while she/he is on a prolonged sick leave.

In some jurisdictions, your company may pay a hefty fine for allowing you to work while you are sick. That's why well-organized company have a health emergency plan in place that describes what happens when an employee is sick, who will step in and what happens if big number of employees is forced to stay at home.

And to make things even worse, there may be some serious legal troubles along the way. First, someone - your colleague or your customers - may file a suit against your company because you made them sick and then just lawyer expenses may put your company on the verge of bankruptcy.

But, what makes us working during sick days?

Along with a sense of duty, there is one strong motivator: Our boss. Every hard-working CEO looks indestructible: Being at the company before anyone else, working all day long, jumping between meetings and regular duties... It's no wonder that employees follow the leader's example because if she can, how can they say they can't?

But there is a catch. Two, in fact. First, leaders are also humans and they get sick but you might not know about that. A strategy may be put in place for a CEO to be "on a trip" or "very busy," while in fact she is at home blowing her nose. That's an easy way to go through short periods of absence without leaving employees and partners worried.

If the company is public, this is a nice way to avoid the regulatory filing that the CEO took the sick leave and it makes sense: it would be silly to reports every flu that can happen every season, and when the company reports that the CEO is absent, stock is going down just like that.

In private companies there is no such regulatory pressure but it is also good to have the chief "ready and willing" all the time. Although there are much more healthy than sick CEOs that sank their companies with their decisions, it is good for a company's image to present their leader as a person that can work 24/7 with almost superhuman powers.


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