It is that time of year when everyone in the office seems to be coughing and spluttering, with cries of ‘bless you’ echoing through the corridors.

The cold and flu season can divide an office quicker than the issue of a mistimed brew run.

On the one side you have the stoic ‘I will not be beaten by a few germs’ crowd and on the other are those who would prefer it if colleagues kept their germs at home. Then there are those in the middle who would love to be able to take time off but fear the repercussions from management or a return to a mountain of work.

As an employer, there is no easy answer to this dilemma. On the one hand, ‘the show must go on’, but in reality the productivity and accuracy of employees who are under the weather is bound to be diminished.

The BBC tackled this issue in their recent article, quoting research that suggests employee sick days have dropped to the lowest level in 19 years, perhaps due to employees coming into work whilst ill.

The articles raises the interesting issue of colleagues suffering from disabilities or illnesses who may be adversely affected by those who come into work whilst ill. For example, those recovering from chemotherapy treatment, or who have auto-immune disorders.

In light of this, a sensible pragmatic approach needs to be taken by employers. An environment of mutual trust and communication should be encouraged, that could be coupled with agile working.

For example, the dilemma may be addressed by permitting the ill employee to work from home until the risk of infection has passed, or arranging for the workload to be shared until their return. This may encourage employees to take the time needed to recover, whilst not adversely impacting upon the business.

Obviously, with this approach employers need to ensure that they are up to speed with sickness absence records in order to ensure that any patterns of intermittent absence is spotted and dealt with early on. This can be assisted by a clear and robust sickness management policy.

For more information on how to handle workplace sickness contact Christine Hart at