Woman with a flu. Picture for illustrative purpose only Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: When was the last time you had a cold but didn’t take leave? Ask Christopher Jenkins, a Dubai-based PR executive, and he says, “There was no way I could stay home for a common cold and mild fever. There was so much to do at work, and in any case, I didn’t see the doctor as I just let the viral infection run its course.”

Now that was in November last year, when Jenkins even earned the appreciation of his colleagues for working through his sickness.

But fast forward to March 2020, and the same Jenkins would be frowned upon for turning up at work. Thanks to the coronavirus scare everywhere, there’s a stigma attached to anyone who as much as sneezes, let alone have a runny nose or a rickety cough.

A patient getting a flu shot at a clinic. picture for illustratuve purpose only

Says Ritu, an interior designer in Dubai: “I do have a cold and I feel so isolated. People I talk to visibly stiffen, even step back a little, when I am talking to them. While preventive measures for the spread of the flu say patients must stay home, taking leave is not so easy.”

With companies downsizing and sick leaves hard to come by, many employees continue to work through their flus, at the risk of spreading the infection. But just how dangerous can it be under the present circumstances?

No leave in general cases

Dr Abhilash Ramachandran Nair, Internal Medicine Specialist at Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, told Gulf News that doctors follow a well-defined protocol for recommending sick leave for patients suffering from the common flu.

“To begin with,” he says, “This depends on the established cause of the flu. In general, we do not recommend sick leave in the case of common cold. There are many common viruses like rhino virus, para influenza virus, strains of coronavirus other than COVID-19, adeno virus , RSV and so on, which cause benign, cold and cough. These infections may be contagious but not unduly harmful, so we do not recommend sick leave. However, if a patient has influenza, he is recommended three-to seven days of leave, on an extendable basis. Cases of viral pneumonia or other complications would warrant longer leave.”

According to Dr Nair, doctors recommend sick leave if the patient’s clinical condition needs marked improvement or there is a need to prevent the spread of the infection. “If the patient is stable and he doesn’t require rest for his clinical condition to improve or if there is no danger of an epidemic being triggered, we do not advise sick leave.”

In the specific context of the coronavirus scare, Dr Nair said, “One has to be very careful. So far, the 21 cases that have been reported in the UAE are those that have been to affected countries or have had contact with known cases. At such a juncture, we do not ask patients with a common cold to stay home in the fear that it could be a case of coronavirus, unless the case history suggests otherwise.”

So who is at risk?

Dr Jacques Malan, Consultant Emergency Physician and Head of Department at the Mediclinic City Hospital in Dubai, told Gulf News, “Like any of the viruses in this family, the COVID-19 symptoms are “flu-like”, comprising fever, cough, runny nose, general body ache and breathing complaints. People at higher risk for developing severe symptoms and disease progression if they at the extremes of age and have other respiratory or immune diseases. Also, people that have been in close contact with a person who has confirmed nCoV infection or has travelled to affected countries is at risk.”

Difference between common flu and coronavirus

Asked at what stage a patient with mild flu symptoms should visit the doctor, Dr Malan said, “If you develop respiratory symptoms and have travelled from China / Singapore / Hong Kong / Italy / Iran / Japan in the past 14 days or have had contact with a confirmed case, you must be tested for nCOV. The incubation period for most coronaviruses, including nCoV, is two-14 days, with the peak onset of symptoms being five to seven days.”

“If a person has symptoms and has been in close contact with a person that is confirmed to have COVID-19, they will need to be seen by a health care practitioner to exclude nCOV. Most patients will be isolated until the swabs are confirmed negative. This could mean admission to hospital in 24-48 hours.”

Sick leave as per the UAE Labour law

How much sick leave (paid and unpaid) is an employee entitled to?

An employee is entitled to a sick leave of not more than 90 days per year, only after a period of three months’ continuous service following the probation period. The provisions are subject to conditions and do not apply to occupational illnesses.

The 90 days sick leave can be continuous or intermittent, and the salary is paid as follows:

• full pay for the first 15 days

• half pay for the next 30 days

• no pay for the remaining 45 days.

The employee is ineligible for a paid sick leave:

• during the probation period

• if the illness arises from the misconduct of the worker, such as the consumption of alcohol or narcotics

• if the employee works for another employer during the sick leave.

Is there a time period within which you must inform your employer about your sickness?

According to Article 82 of the UAE Labour Law, as amended, the employee must notify the employer about his sickness within a maximum of two days. The employer has the right to put the employee under a medical examination in order to verify the illness, and the authenticity of the employee’s leave.

Influenza, or flu, is a viral infection that usually affects your respiratory system. Image Credit: iStockphoto

The employer is entitled to request the employee to present a medical report, which justifies the employee’s absence and the calculation of the entitlement of the pay.

Can an employee be terminated on grounds of sickness?

An employer may not dismiss an employee or give him a termination notice while the employee is on sick leave. If the employee uses all of his 90 days’ sick leave and is not able to report to work afterwards, the employer may terminate his services. In such a case, the employee shall be entitled to end of service gratuity in accordance with the provisions of the labour law.

Can an employee resign during sick leave?

An employee can resign from work because of illness and before the expiry of the first 45 days of the sick leave, if the physician from the respective health facility or the physician appointed by the employer consents to the cause of resignation. In such a case, the employer must pay to the resigned employee for the entire 45 days.