Boss’s email goes viral: ‘Health first, work second’

A boss has received widespread praise after an email sent to staff encouraging sick people to stay home “struck a chord” with thousands of people online.

An email shared on X by Melbourne journalist and lecturer Neil McMahon sparked a positive response due to its emphasis on health and safety in the workplace.

McMahon’s boss, Sam Jacob, executive director at Collarts (Australian College of the Arts), is reminding employees in an email to prioritize their health and stay home if they are sick, as the prevalence of colds and flu increases in Melbourne.

The message had a strong directive to protect the health of all personnel, especially those with compromised immune systems or dependent family members.

“I want staff who are immunocompromised or vulnerable to infection, including those who need to stay healthy to access other types of treatment or care for dependents, to be able to come to work with a reasonable assumption of safety and wellbeing. This means that those who are sick must stay at home. Please,” the email reads.

Speaking to news.com.au, Jacob said they didn’t expect the reaction to their email but were pleasantly surprised by the impact it had.

“I feel like it should be normal. That should be what everyone is saying. I’m a big fan of great leadership as a decent human being,” they said.

Jacob believes Australians have good sick leave provisions and workers should be encouraged to prioritize their health over a “soldier” mentality.

“Everybody works under this kind of almost moral assumption that work is more important than anything and that you have to be a soldier, and they sell us chemical products that actually say ‘we’ll help you soldier,'” they said.

A tweet signed by McMahon on June 5 encouraged labor leaders to “normalize” this kind of approach. It quickly became popular, with over a million views and hundreds of positive comments.

“Unbelievable how in such a short period of time being sick went from being a real trooper to an absolute bad move,” one person commented on the post.

“Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Don’t make others sick, be a responsible person, don’t assume you know the health status of your colleagues,” wrote another.

“Yes, it’s pretty normal at my workplace too. I love this. With the advent of WFH, you don’t have to ‘brave’ to come to the office, and yes, I don’t want the gastronome you picked up at daycare or a throat infection even though you’re on antibiotics,” wrote a third.

One person commented that while they support the idea, they have “problems” with limited sick days.

“The only problem I have with this is that we have a limited amount of disease.”

Collarts’ chief executive said they understood not everyone had sick stock, but where possible “if we’re dealing with an illness in the moment” the recovery time is quicker and “no one else is affected”.

This is the second email Jacob has sent to staff in the past six months, encouraging them to put health first and work second. They said the email also opened the door for staff to have conversations about their personal health journey, which as a boss is “helpful” to know for support.

“Staff have written back and said, ‘That’s so good to hear because I’m one of those people and I can come to work and feel safe’ instead of them staying at home because they’re vulnerable,” they said.

“It’s an opportunity for the staff to have those conversations with me, because otherwise I might not know.

“I think there’s this feeling that everybody says they want to have an inclusive workplace, and that means really thinking about who can come in and be part of the workforce and who should stay at home.

It comes as a frustrated doctor criticized Australian bosses who require medical certificates for short absences, saying he “didn’t become a GP” to handle paperwork for employers.

Dr Max Mollenkopf, who owns a GP practice in Newcastle, NSW, said he sees two or three patients a day who do not need treatment but need a medical certificate to work, taking up patients’ time.

“If someone is sick and wants to see me, I want them to be able to come every day of the week,” Dr. Mollenkopf told ABC.

“I didn’t apply to medicine to do HR policy on behalf of big corporations.”

However, Carys Chan, a senior lecturer at Griffith University, said requiring a medical certificate was crucial for employers to prevent abuse of sick leave by workers.

“If they’re going to pay sick leave to their employee, some employers will have a right to know that you’re really sick,” she told the ABC.

Under current workplace law, employers may require employees to provide evidence of “absence of only one day or less.”

“An employee who fails to provide proof to their employer when requested may not be entitled to sick leave or carer’s leave pay,” the Fair Work Ombudsman states on its website.

As companies continue to balance productivity with health considerations, this directive from a Melbourne boss is an example of how leadership can positively impact workplace culture by prioritizing the wellbeing of all employees.

“Just don’t neglect your humanity at the threshold, no matter what role you have in the organization, whether you’re a boss or someone else, be human first and start your leadership by being decent people,” said Jacob . .

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