Sick leave while working from home

In the current pandemic, many of us are about to start working from home full-time. My employer announced yesterday that our offices will be shut from next Thursday, and my team have been transitioning to working from home full-time over the last fortnight. For many of us, this is a new experience, and people who usually work from home have been sharing advice and tips.

There’s one important point I’ve not seen mentioned yet:

It’s okay to take sick leave if you’re working from home. Don’t force yourself to work through a splitting headache or fever – focus on resting and getting better.

You need to use your judgement; some illnesses are more severe than others. If I have a heavy fever or I can’t see straight, I’m going back to bed and not working. If it’s a runny nose or I’m sneezy, I’d have spared my coworkers the germs if we still shared an office, but I’m still well enough to work from my sofa.

“Am I too ill to work from home” is a different question from “Am I too ill to go to the office”, and a lot of us don’t have a good handle on the distinction (myself included).

This is unfortunate, given that one of the major effects of a pandemic is that lots of people get, well, sick.

Whether it’s COVID-19, a physical injury, or some other nasty illness, over the next few months you may need to decide if you’re well enough to work from home or if you need to take a rest day. We don’t stop getting sick just because we stop going to the office.

If you’re a manager of a newly-remote team, make sure your team feels okay about taking sick days. Check in regularly, and if somebody sounds sniffly in the morning standup, make sure they’re not trying to brave through something nasty. Switching to full-time remote is hard, and trying to navigate that while being ill is even harder.

You also need to think about your policies around recording sick leave. Like many UK employers, Wellcome will ask for a doctor’s note if you’re off sick for more than seven calendar days. That’s a reasonable requirement most of the time, but a lot of GPs are limiting or stopping appointments. If somebody gets sick for more than a week, but they can’t get to a doctor, what will you do?

This is something to consider even if your company is already fully remote. This policy is sensible for remote employees in normal times, but a pandemic is not normal times. You plan for your employees to be in different physical places, not for the complete overload and unavailability of the healthcare system.

I don’t have any great advice here, because I’m still figuring this out myself. I know it’s something even long-time remote workers can struggle with, and if you have any advice I’d love to hear it. In the meantime, we can all encourage and support each other to get the rest we need and deserve.

One more reminder: it’s okay to take sick leave if you’re working from home.