The flu season typically runs from October through May and can have a significant impact on the workplace and productivity. Here are steps you can take now to help protect the health of your employees.
#1: Communicate workplace policies.
Develop policies that address keeping the workplace clean and reducing the spread of the flu and other communicable diseases. Re-communicate 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 the flu in the workplace and monitor flu 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. Encourage respiratory etiquette by providing education and reminders about covering coughs and sneezes. Encourage hand hygiene by providing education and reminders about washing hands and offer easy access to running water and soap or alcohol-based hand rubs.
#3: Encourage flu vaccination.
Encourage workers to get a flu shot. 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.
#4: Instruct employees to stay home if they feel sick.
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: Adopt generous paid leave and remote work policies.
A growing number of state and local jurisdictions require employers to provide paid sick leave or paid leave that employees can use for any purpose. At a minimum, employers should confirm that their leave policies and practices comply with applicable laws.
Even in the absence of a requirement to provide paid time off to employees for the flu, many employers continue to offer paid leave to employees to encourage sick workers to stay home and to help prevent the spread of the illness. Many employers also develop other flexible policies to allow workers to work remotely and create other leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools close.
#6: Send workers home, if applicable.
Suggest that employees with flu-like symptoms go home if the illness is akin to the common cold or seasonal flu. If the condition is considered a disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (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, requiring the employee to leave the workplace.
#7: Obtain information cautiously.
When asking how an employee is feeling, 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 they have 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.
Consider steps to help reduce the spread of the flu and decrease the number of flu-related absences in your workplace.
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