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Is Remote Work Killing Your Sick Days?

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Working from home when you’re sick.

Employees these days are using less actual sick days and deciding to work from home while sick instead. For those who work remotely anyway, it may seem like a no-brainer. But is it legal? What are the implications?

First of all, working from home while sick resides squarely in a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) fuzzy zone. If your work situation falls under FLSA authority, your employer is required to pay you for any time that you perform productive work, wherever that work takes place and even if the employer wasn’t aware the work was being performed. Attorney Renee Manson of Pepper Hamilton LLP explains more in this blog post. Communication is key because if you sneak in a little extra work at home after your manager sends you home sick (with the expectation you WON’T be working), you could be putting your employer at risk for violating FLSA.

Secondly, it can be important to take time off while you’re sick. Study after study shows pushing through without time to recover benefits no one. Your productivity and ability to concentrate drops significantly, which could lead to costly mistakes. And it can also hinder your ability to recover, even leading to additional health issues (those who work very long hours face a 33% increase in stroke).

What can you do?

  • Plan ahead: Know your company’s sick leave/PTO policy and if there are any areas left unaddressed—like working from home when sick, especially when you’re a remote worker to begin with—clear it up with your manager now.
  • Set expectations: Some illnesses you can push through while working from home and others can leave you down for the count. If you’ll be checking in twice a day but resting the rest of the time, for instance, be clear about those parameters so that your manager can weigh in and your coworkers know what to expect.
  • Be reasonable: If you’re too sick to think clearly or to get your work done as well as you otherwise could, do yourself and your team a favor and take time off.

“You might assume that being dedicated to presenteeism and clocking in to work no matter what will impress your boss and co-workers, but that can backfire,” says The HT Group Director of Operations Anne Walker. “Knowing when to sign off and get rest so that you can recover faster and more completely is a matter of emotional intelligence. When you have sick days or PTO, use them—and insist on using them—when it makes the most sense.”

For more advice on creating a healthy work-from-home-while-sick plan, check out these tips from SHRM.


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