Absence rates up 147% on December 2020

Absence rates in December were up 147% on the year before due to Omicron as employers are advised to prepare a back-up plan.

Sickness at work


Sickness absences in December 2021 were up 147% on December 2020 figures due to the Omicron variant, according to new figures from BrightHR which is advising of the knock-on impact of absences across the workforce.

The figures show a 72% increase of sickness instances in 2021 compared to 2020, with a 58% increase in the number of employees taking at least one sick day. Based on BrightHR’s absence tracking software, it has calculated that 13% of all employees took at least one day off sick in 2020, compared to 21% in 2021.

Omicron, which emerged in late 2021, has had a particularly big impact because it is so infectious, with schools, the NHS and the transport sector heavily impacted.

BrightHR says the Government needs to develop ‘robust contingency plans’ in preparation for workplace absences of up to 25% to help limit disruption, especially for industries where staff are unable to work from home.

Jenny Marsden, Director of Service at BrightHR, says: “It is clear to see the impact that Omicron has had on the number of sickness days taken in December, compared with the same time last year…

“One area of particular concern for employers is travel. As Covid-19 cases have substantially risen over the last few weeks, industries such as the travel sector have been greatly impacted. With a reported 6,000 train staff absent, including crew members and drivers, this has a profound impact, not only on the transport industry but also on everyone who commutes to and from work.

“Rail passengers are facing reduced timetables, and short-notice cancellations as more than 1 in 10 rail workers are absent. There is potential that this could cause chaos for commuters.”

She added that employers need to have concrete plans in place to deal with staff shortages in the coming weeks as cases increase and travel disruptions continue.

“Not only is it important staff get to work safely, but also, to ensure they feel safe at work,” she stated. “That’s why it’s still important to maintain a Covid-secure workplace and regularly encourage hand washing and the mandatory use of face masks.”

The TUC is calling for Statutory Sick Pay to be raised to the real living wage level to ensure people can afford to stay off sick if they are infected.

Boris Johnson this week announced that the Government has identified 100,000 critical workers, in areas from food processing to transport to our border force, and will be rolling out lateral flow testing for all these workers, available on every working day, from 10th January. Moreover, the Government has stated that asymptomatic people who test positive on lateral flow tests no longer need follow-up PCR test in England. However, it emerged that low-paid workers seeking to claim the 500 pound Covid payment if they have to isolate will still need a PCR test.

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