Swine-flu sufferers on contract and commission may refuse to stay off work

Suspected swine flu sufferers working on commission or in contract jobs may refuse to go home for fear of losing out on pay during the recession, a staffing association has warned.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) told Personnel Today employers should better communicate their swine flu policies to staff so that the risk of spreading the virus – and increasing sickness absence – is minimised.

APSCo said its members had reported numerous cases of business professionals on fixed-term contracts trying to hide their flu symptoms and still attending work in an attempt to clock up hours.

Marilyn Davidson, APSCo’s managing director, said: “Our members have already reported several cases of contractors with suspected swine flu refusing to go home. The combination of a pandemic and a recession is a recipe for trouble, potentially leading to contractors putting the health of the core workforces at risk by attempting to avoid periods off work.

“People working in senior jobs or working on commission are also less inclined to go home when they are not well, so the potential for spreading the virus is increased.”

Swine flu cases are declining in the UK – in the week to 27 August there were an estimated 5,000 new infections, down from 11,000 the week before. But chief medical officer Liam Donaldson has told employers to expect a surge in the autumn/winter as kids go back to school and the weather gets colder.

Michelle Mahdon, programme leader of health and wellbeing at the Work Foundation, said: “Employers have to be really clear that it’s important that people don’t risk coming in. If attention [moves away] from the issue of swine flu people might start thinking their symptoms are just a cold and so forget to stay away. Employers must keep re-iterating the importance of staying at home.”

Claire Tyers, associate director of the Institute of Employment Studies, added: “Employers do need to send people home; they need to create an environment where people feel they should and can go home.”

Meanwhile Guy Lamb, employment partner at law firm DLA Piper, said staff with swine flu who refused to go home represented a health and safety risk, so employers could force them to leave the workplace.

He said: “If somebody has swine flu and is therefore a known health and safety risk, the employer is entitled to suspend that person on medical grounds.”

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