In the midst of a staffing crisis, managers can be your best defense or worst enemies when it comes to sick employees. Between norovirus, COVID, allergies, and mental health issues, managers play a big part in deciding who works, who stays home, and for how long. We'll discuss tools managers need to manage call outs, resources for employees and managers alike that can help reduce health-related staffing issues, and how to mitigate the impact of sick calls on the ongoing staffing crisis.
Daily wellness checks are still the gold standard for preventing illness from spreading in a workplace, but logistical challenges mean that many are moving to a “sick call” model rather than daily wellness surveys for all employees. In a sick call model, employees only fill out the survey if they have symptoms or exposure. The downside is that employees who think they just have a mild cold or allergies may not choose to self-report their symptoms in a sick call model where the onus is on the employee, whereas they’re more likely to report those symptoms when they’re asked point-blank about their symptoms each day. Still, a sick call program can be a great way to tone down your COVID response without sacrificing one of the most important parts - keeping sick employees at home!
We’re getting this question a lot this week. Many companies who returned to work some time ago continue with use of cohorts and regular (usually weekly) testing. Those who are returning now are often requiring initial testing before returning and then some type of regular testing on a weekly basis, often at home. As we see case counts climb back up, we’ll keep you posted if we’re hearing about more frequent or additional testing. The recent DC superspreader event didn’t include testing, and has led to at least 80 COVID cases so far.
This is a question to ask your primary care provider, but from an employer perspective, quarantining together or separately doesn’t really impact the exclusion of return to work date if the employee themself is COVID positive. The only time it really matters is if someone in the family doesn't have symptoms and isn’t COVID+, in which case they should isolate from their sick family members, especially if they’re not vaccinated and up to date on their booster. When the whole family has COVID, there’s not much clinical reason to separate since everyone is already infected, though you should always check with your doctor.
We’re seeing incredibly variable responses from health departments, who have experienced unprecedented turnover and some of the same staffing issues as the general workforce. There are estimates that 50% of first line public health employees have been in their jobs one year or less (this varies by geography, position and department). In many instances, we’re working with public health teams that aren’t experienced in handling anything but COVID, who are now seeing Norovirus, Hep A and TB. While some are slow to react, others are over-reacting. That’s why it’s more critical than ever to make sure you’re doing everything to protect your team and guests, identifying illness at its earliest point, and that you have a solid response plan when illness does crop up.