Approximately 70 per cent of Australians would go to work with cold or flu symptoms, despite extensive public health communication telling people to stay home if sick.
These findings, from an independent survey commissioned by cleaning services company Cleancorp, raise alarm bells for employers as many Australians head back to the office once COVID-19 restrictions ease in some states and territories.
More than half (54 per cent) of Aussies would present to work with a headache, and 38 per cent would head into the office with early signs of COVID-19 infection including symptoms like a stuffy/runny nose, sore throat, or fatigue.
Around 58 per cent of respondents say they would head into the office with these symptoms because they do not believe them to be serious enough to take time off work.
However, 42 per cent say it's because they have too much work to do to justify taking time off, and 29 per cent said they believe their employer would not regard the symptoms as serious enough.
"Now that we are facing the genuine threat of a virus 'double whammy' COVID-19 and the flu it is more important than ever not to go to work when feeling unwell," says co-founder and director of Cleancorp Lisa Macqueen.
"Our findings reveal that many employees come to work when sick because of feelings of guilt or a fear of being judged by their bosses.
"However, now that we're in a pandemic, going to work sick because you feel obliged to is no longer acceptable."
Under-30s would be more likely to present to work with cold or flu symptoms with the survey showing 47 per cent would do so with a sore or tingly throat, 46 per cent with a runny or stuffy nose, 40 per cent with a cough, 27 per with a stomach ache, and 18 per cent with nausea all higher proportions than the total respondent average.
Cleancorp says the survey results highlight an issue with casual and contract workers, who do not receive payment for sick or annual leave.
21 per cent of casual/contract worker survey respondents said they would present to work with cold or flu symptoms because they could not afford to not get paid. Cleancorp says this means around 546,000 casual workers in Australia would still present to work with symptoms.
"As a significant proportion of employees re-enter their workplaces either partially or fully organisations must do everything they can to minimise the risks of viruses spreading among their employees, customers, and visitors," says Macqueen.
"Employers need to understand that shared desks, meeting rooms, and breakout spaces may no longer be safe to use and occupy, and those old spray-and-wipe principles will also be inadequate for keeping surfaces virus-free."
"While it is encouraging to see that many of our clients are asking for heavy-duty anti-viral cleans, we need to see a strong shift towards a 'stay at home if you're unwell' mentality to contain the coronavirus successfully."
Updated at 10:10am AEST on 21 July 2020.
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