With reports of serious viral illness in the United States and the flu season upon us, employers might want to take steps to control the spread of communicable diseases in the workplace.
The following tips can help your company prepare for the upcoming flu and virus season:
#1: Communicate workplace policies.
Develop hygiene policies that address keeping the workplace clean and reducing the spread of communicable disease. Consider re-communicating these policies during flu season to remind employees of the importance of maintaining a sanitary work environment.
#2: Be proactive.
Develop a plan to control the spread of communicable disease in the workplace and monitor communicable disease activity in the community. Consider providing employees with information on how the flu and other viruses are transmitted and how to prevent the spread of germs. Help employees practice healthy habits by providing tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap and sanitizer, and disposable towels.
#3: Promote vaccination.
Encourage workers to get a flu shot and other vaccinations. Consider hosting a flu shot clinic or informing employees where they can get the flu shot in their community. Most employees with health insurance should be able to get a flu shot at no cost. Note: In general, employers may not compel employees to get the flu shot. Certain employees may have a disability, medical condition, or sincerely held religious belief or practice that prevents them from getting vaccinated.
#4: Stay home with the flu.
Encourage employees to stay home from work if they have the flu or another virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals wait at least 24 hours after a fever ends before returning to work. Employers should avoid pressuring ill workers to return to work too soon. Employers should also inform employees of the company's paid time off or sick leave policies and associated call-in procedures in the event of an absence due to illness.
#5: Understand leave requirements.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and similar state laws require employers to provide unpaid leave to employees with serious health conditions. The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees, but some state laws cover smaller employers. Additionally, a growing number of jurisdictions require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. Employers should confirm that their leave policies and practices comply with federal, state, and local laws.
#6: Send workers home, if applicable.
Ask employees with flu-like symptoms to go home if the illness is akin to the common cold or seasonal flu. If the condition is considered a disability under the ADA, the employer must consider a reasonable accommodation and evaluate whether the illness is severe enough to pose a direct threat to others in the workplace.
#7: Obtain information cautiously.
Ask employees who call in sick if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, a cough or sore throat. Employers should avoid questions that are likely to elicit information about a disability, such as "is your immune system compromised," which could result in the employee revealing that he or she has an illness that is covered under the ADA.
#8: Maintain privacy.
Treat all information about an employee's illness as a confidential medical record. This information should be kept separately from the employee's personnel file. If an employer wishes to inform employees about a communicable disease in the workplace, the employer must not reveal who has that illness.
#9: Develop a business continuity plan.
While an outbreak of the flu is generally not considered a crisis in the workplace, depending on the size of your business and the number of ill workers, you may still experience impacts to your day-to-day operations and your bottom line. Consider a business continuity plan that details how the company will recover critical business functions following a disruption. The Department of Homeland Security has published a guide for employers on Pandemic Preparedness, which businesses may find helpful in developing a business continuity plan.
Taking these steps can help employers to prevent the spread of illness in the workplace and decrease the number of sick-related absences.