Trump case should trigger review of culture on working while ill

Out-Law News | 07 Oct 2020 | 8:51 am | 1 min. read

Allowing employees to continue work when they are unwell can create an unhealthy workplace culture and could give rise to legal risk, according to experts in employment law and employee wellbeing at international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Dr. Anne Sammon and Kate Dodd of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said businesses should consider their culture and review policies around worker illness in light of the example of US president Donald Trump apparently working while in hospital where he was reportedly receiving treatment for coronavirus.

While the legal position is different across jurisdictions, Dodd said that businesses around the world have a duty to consider the health and wellbeing of their staff and that senior executives have a major role to play in ensuring organisational culture towards working is healthy and balanced. She said this is particularly important at present as employers and society at large grapple with work and life during a global pandemic and public health crisis.

Dodd said: "Allowing a culture where ill health and absence are seen as signs of weakness can be extremely counter-productive. A great deal has been reported about the dangers of ‘presenteeism’ and there is a clear link to reduced productivity, poor health and chronic exhaustion, as well as the increased risk of spreading infections."

"In homeworking situations, the already blurred lines between home and work can create further problems, with mistakes and missed deadlines occurring when teams are unclear who is working and when. It is important to discourage those members of staff who try to ‘soldier on’ and to encourage instead a culture in which your staff can properly rest and recuperate," she said.

Sammon said employers need to be mindful of their obligations under equality laws when imposing restrictions on working on staff.