This year’s flu season is setting dangerous records and people must take measures to protect themselves and their loved ones. Since the flu knows no boundaries, employers are not immune from the widespread flu outbreak affecting their employees and worksites. One contagious employee is all it takes to spread the flu across the ranks and decrease productivity on a large scale. As a result, employers should use these precautionary measures to protect their employees during this long and unpredictable flu season.
- Offer Flu Vaccines to Employees
All workplaces should be concerned about productivity and loss of resources that may be caused by the flu. One step to protect against an outbreak of the flu is to provide flu vaccines on-site and make them convenient and low-cost (or free). These on-site clinics should be held early in the flu season, preferably September/October. But believe it or not, it’s still not too late!
An employer should educate their employees on the importance of the flu vaccine by:
- Sending an email to all employees;
- Hanging posters in high traffic areas; or
- Offering a class as part of a wellness program.
HR should speak to local practitioners who may be able to provide flu shots to groups at a lower rate. In addition, options may be available through the employer’s health care provider as well as an employee assistance program.
However, while flu vaccines are important, an employer should be careful about not requiring employees to receive one. There may be employees who refuse to get a flu vaccine because of a religious belief or a medical condition. In these cases, employers should not take any disciplinary or retaliatory measures against those employees.
- Provide Sick Days
One way to demonstrate a commitment to your employees and their wellbeing is to provide days off in the event of an illness. Whether these days off are dedicated to times when an employee is sick or they are part of a paid time off (PTO) allotment, it is important to offer employees the ability and permission to stay home and recuperate.
In any event, a sick employee, especially one hit hard with the flu, will typically be less productive than normal. Also, by providing employees with time off to get better, the employer also limits the risk of contamination and spread of the flu across its staff and equipment.
Several states and municipalities require certain private employers to provide sick time off to employees who otherwise would have to choose between their health and their job. Most of these laws permit employees to use paid and/or unpaid time off to recuperate from the flu or take care of a family member who is suffering from the flu.
- Allow Employees to Work Remotely
In the event that taking the day off is not an option or a project must be completed, an employer should offer a sick employee the ability to work remotely if possible. This will allow the work to continue while protecting the employee from a loss in pay.
Also, by allowing ill employees to work remotely, it limits their interaction with other employees and therefore the spread of the flu. Again, employers must make an effort to protect the wellbeing of their employees and giving them the flexibility to work remotely not only reflects the employer’s commitment but also boosts employee morale. However, both employers and employees must remember that not all job positions lend themselves to telecommuting. In these cases, employers should work together with employees to agree upon an alternative accommodation.
- Educate Employees
An employer should also look to its employees to help protect against the spread of flu and other illnesses in the workplace. The most critical way to achieve this is to educate the workforce on precautionary measures they themselves can take.
For example, an employer should strongly promote the frequent washing of hands throughout the day as well as good personal hygiene. It is also worth providing hand sanitizers to employees and placing sanitizers in high-traffic areas or around items that are handled by numerous people, e.g., printers, coffee machines. Tissues should be made readily available throughout the office as well.
Employers should also consider distributing cleaning supplies to employees, such as disinfectant wipes, to encourage employees to regularly wipe down their workstations, including their keyboards mouse and phone. Finally, if a workplace is especially hard hit with a flu outbreak, an employer should look into having a specialized cleaning service come in and thoroughly disinfect the worksite.