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Coming to the office when sick: Is it a problem in Hong Kong?

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It’s an admirable trait for workers to want to come into work rain, hail or shine but is desirable for them to drag themselves to the office when they’re feeling under the weather?

January in Hong Kong is smack-bang in the middle of cold and flu season and with such a proliferation of bugs around at this time of year, it’s hardly surprising that a fair proportion of an organisation’s workforce should be affected by a viral or bacterial infection. Sneezes, sniffles, coughs and fevers are all too common.

But should an unwell member of staff be coming to work? After all, someone with a cold or flu could easily pass on an air-borne infection to one or more colleagues. Perhaps it would be more prudent to take a day or two’s sick leave – recuperate – and return to work when they feel better, rather than risk infecting colleagues.

Of course, in today’s busy workplace it’s not always easy to take two or more days’ sick leave as the to-do tasks in the in-tray quickly piles up.

Is it OK for employees to come into the office if they are unwell?

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An interesting trend in the Hong Kong workplace in recent years is for employees to wear a face mask to work when they are feeling slightly unwell with a possible cold or flu – based on the assumption that the mask would prevent them passing on germs to colleagues.

It’s a workforce phenomenon that only began with the outbreak SARS in Hong Kong in 2003. Almost overnight, people both in public and in the office began to wear a face mask in the hope of not catching – and avoiding the spread – of the deadly coronavirus.

SARS is no longer a threat but the spread of Wuhan pneumonia – which first appeared in the aforementioned city in China – is a cause of concern. And while it is not considered to have the deadly potency of SARS, Chinese authorities are monitoring the virus closely as it has spread to other parts of China, with cases of the disease also reported in at least five other countries.

But despite SARS no longer being a factor, the habit of employees in Hong Kong wearing a face mask to work continues. But is it effective?

Several doctors that Human Resources spoke to pointed out that only a proper surgical face mask offers full protection from the spread of germs – not the face masks commonly available in 7-Elevens in Hong Kong. That such masks, while having some effect at stopping germs from getting out, have limited effect in stopping the wearer being exposed to germs.

But the issue of sick employees coming to work remains a tricky one. What’s your take on the issue? Take our poll and find out what your HR peers think.

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