A report by insurance company Aviva suggests that millions of sick employees struggle into work because they are worried about the consequences of taking a sick day.
The research reveals that seven out of ten workers employed by private firms – which is equivalent to 18 million nationally – have gone to work despite feeling unwell.
More than two in five of those surveyed believe that their employer prioritises the performance of the company over the workforce’s health and wellbeing.
40 per cent of respondents admitted they forced themselves to go into the office because they were afraid work would pile up while they were away.
Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva UK Health, warned employers that having unwell staff at work is a “false economy”.
“Businesses need to ensure they create a working culture whereby people do not feel pressurised into coming to work when they are unwell, safe in the knowledge their absence can be effectively managed,” he said.
“Presenteeism, driven in part by an increased ‘always-on’ culture, poses a genuine threat to overall business performance through the adverse impact on productivity and morale in the workplace,” he added.
The report appears to back up the findings from the Office of National Statistics which found that the amount of sick leave taken by UK workers fell to its lowest level since records began almost 25 years ago.
In 2016, an average of just 4.3 days sick days were taken compared with 7.2 days in1993.
The ONS also revealed that around 137 million working days were lost from injuries and illnesses last year, compared with a peak of 185 million in 1999, despite an increase in the number of people who currently make up the UK workforce.
Lara Murray, an Associate and Employment Law expert with Palmers said: “On the face of it the decline in the number of workers taking time of sick appears to be a positive benefit for employers. However, as the commissioner of the report warns, a culture of fear, where staff are too worried to take time off when they genuinely need to put their health first, ultimately serves no-one.
“Employers need to ensure that their staff handbooks clearly set out what is expected in the event that a worker needs to take time of sick and that the culture of the company does not lead to an employee being under undue pressure to come into work, despite not feeling well enough to perform their job competently.
“In particular, employers need to remember that any workers with long term progressive illnesses, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis are classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and as such reasonable adjustments, which may include allowing time off work for treatment and recovery, need to be made.”
For more information on putting in place workplace policies and drafting employee handbooks which are compliant and up to date, please contact us.