How Employers Can Prepare for Cold and Flu Season

With winter in full swing, we have the joys of reduced daylight, snowstorms and the dreaded cold and flu season. The flu, along with other infectious illnesses, has the potential to affect an entire workforce. Not only do contagious employees risk spreading their sickness to other workers, they are often less productive.

Flu season in the US typically falls between fall and early spring, with February often considered the worst month. During this season, employers should attempt to prevent the flu and other illnesses from overtaking the workplace if they haven’t done so already.

Below are some tips to help prepare your workplace for cold and flu season.

Offer Vaccinations

Employers can choose to provide vaccinations on site to better prevent illnesses. This makes the process as convenient and low-cost as possible, while ensuring higher rates of protection among employees.

Health practitioners are usually able to offer lower rates to groups than the individual employee would have to pay at a private practice for similar immunizations (such as the flu vaccine). Consider having the organization’s managers and leaders vaccinated first – to lead by example – at the flu clinic. Also, an employer may want to offer the vaccines to employees’ family members as a potential motivational tool as well.

While vaccines are important, an employer should be careful about not requiring employees to receive one. There may be employees who refuse to get a vaccine because of a religious belief or because of a medical condition. In these cases, an employer should not take any disciplinary or retaliatory measures against those employees.

If few employees are getting vaccinated, the employer may want to educate employees on the importance of vaccines. This can be done by:

  • Sending an email to all employees;
  • Hanging posters in high traffic areas; or
  • Offering a class as part of a wellness program.

Promote Proper Hygiene

It’s important for employers to promote proper hygiene in the workplace to help prevent the spread of illnesses. An employer should educate employees on ways to reduce the risk of exposure and how to protect themselves.

For example, an employer may want to consider providing hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas or around items that are handled by numerous people (e.g., shared computers, copiers, bathrooms).

Additionally, inviting health care professionals to provide information and seminars, including demonstrations (hand-washing, covering a cough, etc.), can provide the workforce with invaluable tools to stay healthy and ensure the continuity of productivity for an organization.

Encourage Use of Sick Time

It’s common for an employee to come to work while sick. Upon waking, he or she may feel under the weather, yet, at the same time, overwhelmed because of the amount of work there is to do. Rarely does the notion of spreading germs cross that employee’s mind when deciding to enter the workplace. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common and is one of the reasons infectious diseases spread so rapidly in the workplace.

Providing paid time off while sick is an effective way to prevent having sick employees trudge into the office. It is especially important during cold and flu season for management to set a good example. When members of management come to work sick, they set the expectation for the entire workforce.

It’s also a good idea to consider allowing employees to carry over sick days if it is consistent with your policies. Because not every cold and flu season is as severe as the next, and employees often have good and bad years when it comes to their health, employers that allow employees to carry over some or all of their unused sick days will give employees a better way to manage the time they need to recover.

Be Flexible

As an alternate to asking an employee to take a sick day, if the job description and employer technology permit, HR may want to offer to let the employee work from home. This will allow the work to continue while protecting the employee from a loss in pay.

By allowing ill employees to work remotely, it limits their interaction with other employees and therefore the spread of illness. Again, employers must make an effort to protect the well-being of their employees, and giving them the flexibility to work remotely not only reflects the employer’s commitment to that ideal, but also boosts employee morale.

However, both employers and employees must remember that not all job positions lend themselves to telecommuting. In such cases, employers should work together with employees to agree upon an alternative accommodation.

Additionally, encouraging employees to telecommute while they are sick is really only a good idea when the employee feels well enough to work but does not want to infect his or her fellow workers. If employees are really feeling under the weather, they should be taking time off to rest and get better and not worrying about working (even if they are at home).

How does your organization deal with cold and flu season? Let us know by leaving a comment below.



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