There is a debate doing the rounds that one of the few positive changes that may come about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is that people will no longer struggle into work when they are suffering from some kind of virus. Instead of infecting work colleagues and their families, employees will instead stay at home until the virus has passed. This all sounds very well, but it pre-supposes that employees have some kind of say in the matter, but they don’t. The reality is that employers regard those who stagger into their workplaces when decidedly unwell are the role models and those who rest-up are the skivers.

in the early years of my working life, I confess that I would go sick at the drop of a hat. As time went by, that changed and I became one of those who went to work even if I was feeling dreadful. This, I suspect, had the effect of making those who stayed at home when very poorly look bad. I would rarely be praised for coming to work when sick, but those who did go sick would receive informal and then formal disciplinary warnings for being ill.

I worked with people who boasted that they had never taken a single day’s sickness. I would reply that they were very lucky. I worked with one woman who took a lot of sick leave on the grounds she had cancer. That was not lucky at all. And she received a disciplinary for sick leave.

The idea that somehow actually going off sick when you are sick will become more acceptable is nonsense. Employees, especially in the lower rungs of the employment ladder, will still feel obliged to work for fear of not being paid or even losing their jobs. Even at a time when a terrible pandemic has been running wild, people have been told they would not be paid if they were told by Serco track and trace to isolate. I know this is true because this would apply to me too. People struggle in to work in order to put bread on the table and the government doesn’t give a toss if you infect your work colleagues. This isn’t change: this is more of the same.

Change isn’t coming. You should still work until you drop, even if that means those around you might drop dead.