I am wondering what is the best way to approach sick leaves when dealing with remote workers / telecommuters.
Is there an Additional Stigma?
What's the Difference when You're Already Home?
I feel like there's an additional stigma for remote workers: there's the fear of suspicion of co-workers that they're slacking if they take a day off even though they already work from the "comfort" of their home office, and the notion that they're already partly on leave anyways.
While working from home doesn't mean you're in your pyjamas with a cup of coco working with your laptop on the couch in front of the TV zith kids screaming around and chit-chatting with friends or relatives simultaneously (or at least I hope that's not the general case, but to each their own so long as you manage to work...), the naming itself of the "home office" carries with it the notion that you are already home. So it's not that far-fetched to think you could just sit at your desk and work at a slower pace, especially as "it's right there", you don't have the actual commute, and you don't risk spreading your germs around the "real" office and contaminate your co-workers.
Surely, You Can Drag Yourself to your Desk or Stay in Bed and Type, Right?
Plus it's not unusual for companies to allow people to work from home if they feel sick. Whether that's a good thing and a form of pressure is a different question, and it comes with known caveats, but as this practice exists, it makes it even harder to consider taking a sick leave for tele-commuters.
Of course we're not talking about a prolonged sick leave for a broken limb or a long-lasting condition that would require treatment and really impeach a worker's abilities.
- What are the general conventions on this?
- What's acceptable for casual things, like a common cold, a flu virus, food poisoning or even a bad bout of allergies or other common conditions that may arise on the day?
- Do you have a different tolerance for such cases, both contractually or unconsciously, as a manager or worker? Different processes or even different healthcare-related contract terms?
Personal Experience and Anecdotes
While the above is a general question, I've had some experience with this from both the worker's and the manager's perspective.
As a Worker
I've never been keen on taking sick-leaves in the first place but I've gotten used to the idea that I shouldn't contaminate my co-workers even if I strongly feel that I should keep working. Depending on the infrastructure of the company and security policies, I'd occasionally remote-work in these occasions.
Lately, I've been tele-commuting almost full-time. On the rare occasions where I felt indisposed I've noticed that I felt strangely guilty about requesting a day off. This may be partly due to my aversion for taking leaves, but the feeling is definitely stronger since I've been working from home, and it definitely wasn't for slacking off: when I request a day off, it means I'm in a really pretty bad shape.
Also, I almost invariably get a snicker or joke from co-workers - with whom I have a good working relationship - the next day about me just wanting to stay in bed or probably having to take care of some other business. It's a harmless joke once, but when 5 co-workers do it, and it happens on your next sickness request as well, there's obviously a pattern that feels like it's more due to resentment than to harmless office banter.
As a Manager
From the other side of the fence, I've felt that people reporting to me and requesting sick-days never bothered me, as everybody deals with being sick differently and you shouldn't expect the same behavior from everybody. I put sufficient trust in everybody, especially if I know they've got a condition and I'm happy with their work, even the odd ones who take a crazy amount of half-days off per year for things that are difficult to control or verify.
We all have stuff to deal with, and I'd rather believe it's best to let them handle it and come back happy to work than for them to stay there even if they aren't really sick but are in a bad state of mind to work that day.
However, when it happened that the request came from someone working remotely, I noticed myself that it did immediately cast the shadow of a doubt and I was asking myself if they were really sick. Which bothers me, because I don't like the idea that my mind is tricking me into considering them differently from on-site workers. Though maybe my mind's right.