Why you shouldn’t replace a sick employee

Bringing in temporary workers could actually have a negative impact on the workplace, warns one recent study.

A new study has found that sending sick employees home and calling in a healthy external replacement can actually accelerate the spread of infection and disease.
The research, led by mathematical biologist Samuel Scarpino of the Santa Fe Institute, studied the effects of ‘human exchange’ in relation to the spread of disease. That is, the consequences when infected employees take sick leave and are replaced by healthy workers, something that undoubtedly raises the risk of infection for the healthy worker called in.
The research is particularly relevant for people in essential roles such as healthcare workers, first responders and teachers, who are often in close contact with disease and infection.
Scarpino, in partnership with theoretical physicist Laurent Hébert-Dufresne and the latter’s long-time collaborator Antoine Allard, tested their hypothesis by looking at 17 years’ worth of data regarding the diseases influenza and dengue. Their findings showed that human exchange does indeed accelerate outbreaks of influenza, but not so dengue, which is spread via mosquitos. “We didn’t see a strong signal in diseases where we didn’t expect it,” said Hébert-Dufresne. 
Hébert-Dufresne also commented on the practical implications for employees, employers and the workplace, saying, “Of course, being infinitely prudent and staying home as soon as we get infected would be ideal.”
“The problem is that we cannot afford to be infinitely prudent. From there comes a trade-off: staying home always slows down an epidemic at first, but eventually the fact that some responsibilities of sick workers are redistributed catches up to us once the epidemic is more prevalent. That’s when we see an acceleration.”
The researchers advise that a sick person should be sent home. However, rather than replacing them externally, their duties should be shared between existing workers.
More like this:
The HR mistake that destroys an employer brand

Why you should never ask if your employees are engaged

How one HR team is stamping out the stigma of disability

Recent articles & video

Budget 2024: Public service to lose 5,000 workers

School board terminates 2 workers for theft, misappropriated funds

Ottawa launches Canadian Internal Trade Data Hub

Why is sleep so important for employees?

Most Read Articles

Saskatchewan looks to protect newcomers with new legislation

What does an employer have to report after a workplace harassment investigation?

Network for neurodivergent workers embraced by Canada’s public service