What impact will prolonged or intermittent absences through Covid-19 have on a worker’s future prospects?

What impact will prolonged or intermittent absences through Covid-19 have on a worker’s future prospects?

We’ve all known that one colleague who goes out drinking all weekend then suddenly comes down with a life-threatening illness on Monday morning. These work-shy Wesleys, using their most stricken, pathetic voices, always manage to convince their bosses that what they’re suffering is a genuine illness and not simply a hangover from Hell.

The vast majority of workers, thankfully, are conscious of the impact frequent absences may have on their long-term career prospects, and only take time off if absolutely necessary.

With Covid-19, however, we may have a completely different landscape when it comes to employee absence. We’re still learning about the virus and its long-term effects on the body, but there’s already enough evidence from sufferers that shows it’s not necessarily a ‘stay in bed for a few days then you’re over it’ affair. The damage the virus does to the lungs and immune system means there’s a possibility of complications further down the line. People have reported that, on more than one occasion after they thought they’d beaten the disease, they felt significant fatigue and shortness of breath, as well as confusion/foggy brain and aching joints, which resulted in further time off work.

So, how will such prolonged and/or intermittent time off impact a sufferer’s employment record?

A survey carried out by XpertHR has shown that, for the moment and despite fears, sickness rates have not drastically increased due to the coronavirus. The average working time lost to absence because of the pandemic has risen from an average 5.6 days per employee, recorded in 2018, to 6.4 days in 2020.

As well as the workplace absence of those who catch the virus, there’s also the risk of more working days lost by keyworkers and essential workers who toiled solidly through the pandemic. Burnout and/or a weakened immune system may lead to a range of mental and physical conditions that could affect their attendance, now that infection rates have begun to ease, compared with those at the peak of the pandemic. Studies have shown that humans tend to cope well with a crisis; our bodies produce adrenaline and a raft of measures to get us through. However, once the danger and panic subside and we begin to relax, all hell can break loose within our immune systems, which can lead to illness.

XpertHR’s research shows that many employers plan to create a separate ‘Covid-19 employee absence policy’. Terms would include, for example, the payment of occupational sick pay, regardless of an employee’s time with the company. The survey showed that they would also consider disregarding absences due to Covid when assessing an employee’s overall attendance record.

Whilst this will no doubt be a relief for employees, the cost of Covid absences in the workplace is set to rocket, at a time when many businesses are already feeling financial strain.

How do employers feel about recruiting someone who has had Covid-19 and recovered? Would this put them off hiring a candidate, in case they succumb to long-term complications from the virus?

As yet, this is a grey area. In theory, to turn a candidate down on this basis could be viewed as discriminatory; however, the government and employment rights lawyers probably have their hands full at the moment to even consider writing enforceable legislation. Because we have no idea whether a second, third, fourth or perpetual wave of Covid-19 is on the horizon, this could prove a real cause for concern in the future.

If we look at the government’s initial plan to combat the virus, i.e. herd immunity, it could be argued that we were all destined to find the virus in our system at some point in our lives anyway. Thankfully, most people do not show or suffer symptoms with Covid-19, and therefore, having the virus does not automatically equal time off work. If employers are willing to single out and omit Covid-19 absences from an employee’s record, candidates looking to change roles, or those looking to get back into work after redundancy, will have little to fear – other than an overpopulated candidate market.

Though recruitment web design agencies may not yet have to quote or consider Covid-19 absence policies in the course of their work, the subject may crop up at some point. The virus is likely to be with us for a while yet, and to be forewarned is to be forearmed, so they say.

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