Post-COVID-19 Sick Leaves

All over newspaper columns are talks about the new normal, how life will change once the outbreak of COVID-19 is over. While I believe that technology will play a greater role in our daily life, I think it is too early to go so far as concluding what the world order will be like. One small thing that I have been pondering over the weekend is the idea of sick leave and working from home.

Soon the idea of working from home will be the norm. I have been hearing my friends in the private sector talking about the future of office work. In terms of space, a small or medium-sized company, for instance, will not need a large working space since personnel may rotate to come into office / work from home / have flexible working hours. In terms of the work proper, many employees, whether they want to or not, are attempting to show their bosses that they are able to deliver the same output / productivity no matter where they are. Trust will be built. By the time this crisis is over, working from anywhere will not make much difference in the eyes of supervisors / employers.

But will this lead to some kind of inconvenient expectation?

I now invite you to consider the idea of taking a sick leave. I am leaving the leaves you take for long-term care and surgeries aside. I want to focus mainly on sick leaves for milder illnesses. The ones that make you feel “Urgh well, I can go to work but I’d rather not go.” With the expectation that you can work from anywhere, since you can continue to reply to emails, type things on your computers or your smartphones, you may be considered not fit to come to office but fit enough to work.

This is not new, no doubt. Even before COVID-19, I’m pretty sure many of us must have heard of bosses who continue to contact and assign work to colleagues during the latter’s sick leaves. But this expectation will be even more entrenched, I believe, after this health crisis.

A few trajectories that I can think of are as follows:

  1. People do not take sick leaves for mild illnesses. A diarrhoea or a mild form of food poisoning or a cold may keep people away from office but they may be reluctant to take sick leaves altogether. All they will do is informing their bosses that they will be working from home today. Hypothetically down the road, will there be no sick leaves for these kinds of mild illnesses altogether? And what implication will that situation be on the well-being of workers since those that suffer from these mild forms of illnesses will still need to work, albeit at the (un)comfort of their homes.
  2. Sick leaves may be taken by a number of hours. If you at least claim that you suffer from mild illnesses, then the company or the employer may deduct say 3 hours from that work day. That means, you have about 8 days to suffer for the accumulated hours to amount to one day of sick leave. This does seem to be quite reasonable. But this needs universal understanding and agreement, at least in that workplace, of what symptoms and illnesses will constitute ‘mild illnesses’.
  3. All illnesses, no matter how mild, warrant and obligate you to take proper sick leaves. This alternative means that all illnesses are treated equal. This way, all employees will be guaranteed a peace of mind. No business nor conference calls. Team meetings can wait until you recover. However, since some companies may have a certain limit on how many sick leaves you can take in a year, this trajectory may result in some people who suffer from mild but annoying illnesses lose out as they have to take proper sick leaves.

I have, by no means, exhausted my thinking on this issue. Perhaps, as the situation develops (and hopefully improves), there are trends and behaviour that warrant me to revisit the issue of taking sick leaves for mild illnesses after the outbreak subsides.