December 2021 saw an unprecedented rise in absence from sickness due to the Omicron variant. 

BrightHR found an increase of 147 percent in absences and and a 72 percent rise in sickness compared to the previous year.

Ministers are being warned to develop ‘robust contingency plans’ in preparation for workplace absences of up to 25 percent 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.”

She warns that an area of particular concern for employers is travel, and could impact people getting into work. 

She said: “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. 

Earlier this week, rail passengers saw a number of rail disruptions, due to Covid-related staff shortages and faults. Operators used reduced timetables to improve reliability, with ScotRail cutting 150 daily services. Passengers still report travel disruptions affecting their commute, despite demand for train travel being at 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Ms Marsden warns that for those who insist staff are needed in the office, employers should ensure the mandartity use of face masks and hand washing. She added: “Employers should prepare for an increase in workplace absences and have concrete plans in place to deal with staff shortages in the coming weeks as cases increase, and travel disruptions continue.”