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Q&A: Can we tell an employee to stay home if they are sick?

We’ve had a few employees come into work sick. Can we send them home or, in the future, tell them not to come in to work if they are sick?

Yes. Generally, you can send sick employees home early when they are visibly ill or there is objective concern for the spread of a contagious virus. We recommend you inform the employee, as well as your other employees, of your expectations for when employees should or should not come to work due to common contagious illnesses. Many employers choose to send employees home only in severe circumstances (e.g., a highly contagious illness) as the cold and flu seasons could mean that many employees are sick or recovering at the same time, and employees may not need to stay home when fighting, for example, a minor cold.

Keep in mind that it is important that everyone have a clear understanding of what is grounds for sending an employee home sick and that it is applied fairly to everyone. Also, in the event that you send an employee home sick, we would strongly recommend giving them the option to use any accumulated sick or vacation time.

For these reasons, a written policy to that effect would probably be helpful. That way sick employees know what is expected of them and can save themselves the trip to work.

Take note, however, that some states require reporting time pay, so if you send a non-exempt employee home after they have reported for work, you may still owe them a half of their scheduled shift. Additionally, exempt employees in all states must be paid for the full day of work, even if sent home early due to illness, if any work at all was performed that day, including work from home.

To deter sick employees who want to work from coming in and spreading their germs, you might consider offering paid sick leave. If employees don’t have to worry about a smaller paycheck when they take a sick day, they won’t feel so compelled to work when under the weather.

Answer from Brody, PHR, SHRM-CP:

Brody has over 13 years experience in HR & Customer Service, supporting client companies within the small and medium size markets. He has a focus on identifying opportunities for growth and evolution within his client companies and strives to make his clients better HR practitioners. His past personal involvement with a small non-profit start up has created a special sense of devotion to supporting businesses that share a values based social responsibility. Brody holds dual HR certifications from the HR Certification Institute as well as the Society for Human Resource Management.

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