India Inc needs a work-from-home rejig for leave policies – Moneycontrol - Freelance Rack

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

India Inc needs a work-from-home rejig for leave policies – Moneycontrol

Banker Sumit Awasthi’s boss gave him a blank expression when he messaged him that he would not be able to attend the daily review since he was unwell.

“But you are at home, why can’t you attend a call,” was the boss’ reply 10 minutes later.

The message was clear: no sick leaves during remote working.

Amidst remote working due to the coronavirus-led lockdown, Indian companies seem to be subtly indicating to staff that sick leaves are to be largely avoided unless there is a case of hospitalisation due to COVID-19.

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In a regular office work environment, unwell employees are encouraged to stay at home to ensure that colleagues at the workplace do not get infected. But, now that it is remote working, human resource policies have not undergone a change.

Team managers across large and small firms seem to be reluctant to offer sick leaves, instead encouraging colleagues to ‘just be present online’.

But, since there is no certainty about how long the remote working will continue, it may be the time for HR teams to start working on sick leave policies for work-from-home (WFH) scenarios.

Moneycontrol spoke to a few human resource professionals across companies. The consensus seemed to be that employees cannot ‘take advantage’ of the system. In HR terms, this meant that sick leaves could not be used ‘as an excuse’ to escape daily duties during WFH.

Companies where there is no fixed limit on the number of sick leaves an employee can take are now looking at whether this system needs a re-look. The idea is to exclude ‘mundane’ ailments like cough, cold and fever.

“We are in a tough environment. Employee health is important, but instances of some taking sick leaves even when they are not unwell is not uncommon. During the lockdown when economic activity is already at a standstill, we cannot allow that. Hospitalisation and serious ailments are understandable but not regular flu-like conditions,” said Pune-based Harish Sathe who heads the human resource function for a financial products distribution firm.

In pre-COVID-19 days, in case an employee was a part of a strategic meeting or a project and was unwell, he/she would be asked to log in from home. But, what should be the protocol now? That is what is on the minds of HR teams.

The ideological war between trusting employees and ensuring high productivity even during lockdown has left the company top management wondering what to do.

Employee fatigue during lockdown is already on the rise as per multiple accounts shared by salaried professionals across companies in India. With economic uncertainty and the allied stress, employees have been feeling the pressure to report to work (remote working) even if they are unwell.

On company books, while this would show as an excellent performance by the staff merely on the number of hours clocked in each day, productivity would suffer in the long run.

“I am constantly told that it is just an email, one presentation or one video meeting. But, when I am sick, how will I be able to concentrate?” questions advertising industry executive Ayush Gonsalves.

In fact, he added that, even when his team members have been unwell, they have been made to attend video calls lying on bed.

“What purpose does this serve. Isn’t a person who is unwell supposed to rest?” he asked.

No middle ground has been reached so far. What HR manuals need to do is to clarify that sick leave means the right to be completely absent from office duties, even if it is a trivial task like responding to an email or attending a daily review call.

It is not the location of the workplace that should determine the eligibility to take a sick leave. The criteria should purely be whether an employee is healthy to complete the daily task or not.

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