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Swine flu 'will keep one in eight workers at home'

Following official figures, estimating that up to 12 per cent of the workforce will be sick with the swine flu virus by September, international law firm Eversheds comments on the HR business continuity and health and safety implications.


Swine flu 'will keep one in eight workers at home'

“Facing the practical implications of high staff absence will inevitably pose difficult operational issues for businesses. Issues such as how to address lack of attendance, workplace closures and what, if any, payments absent employees should receive can also be legally complex. How an employer should respond will vary according to the particular issue and, unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. A starting point will be the contract of employment. For example, if a workplace is required to close temporarily, the contract may provide for enforced holiday or lay-offs. If employees cannot attend work because of their personal circumstances or travel facilities, there is unlikely to be a specific contractual term addressing this. Consideration will then need to be given to issues such as the employee's right to stay at home to undertake emergency childcare, flexible working and home-working policies and any custom and practice within the organisation. Likewise, consider custom and practice in the context of occupational sick pay; the risk being that this has become a contractual right for employees.” says Audrey Williams, partner at Eversheds.

Partner Tim Hill adds:"Staff welfare is a legal obligation on all employers, alongside the more recognised areas of 'health' and 'safety' in the workplace. There is a difficult balance to be struck between supporting an individual who is absent through illness and looking after the welfare of others still at work if, for example, an individual feels under pressure to keep working given the tough economic climate. As well as dealing with practical issues within a business' flu response plan, thought must also be given to considering the welfare and health aspects for all staff, particularly as a healthy workforce is always more productive."

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