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Employers Should Be Prepared for a Tough Flu Season

January 24, 2020

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

This year’s flu season is predicted to be one of the worst in decades.  Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that it could be as bad as the 2017-18 season, which the CDC says was the deadliest in four decades.  Flu activity has been elevated since the start of November and is only expected to continue climbing. Newly released data from the CDC estimates that so far this season, at least 6.4 million people have caught the flu, 55,000 people have been hospitalized, and 2,900 people have died.

In a previous study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., the flu cost U.S. employers over $21 billion in lost productivity in the 2017-2018 flu season.  In order to avoid as much impact to productivity as possible, employers are encouraged to take precautionary measures to help reduce the chances of the flu spreading in the workplace.  Below are recommendations for employers suggested by the CDC:

  1. Encourage all employees to get a seasonal flu vaccine each fall. CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine.

  2. Consider hosting a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace, if possible. Provide resources to employees about where they can get a flu vaccine in their community. The vaccine finder application is a free online service to search for vaccines in your area: icon.

  3. Develop and review sick leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.

  4. Advise all employees to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever (temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher) is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines. Note: Not everyone with flu will have a fever. Individuals with suspected or confirmed flu, who do not have a fever, should stay home from work at least 4-5 days after the onset of symptoms. Persons with the flu are most contagious during the first 3 days of their illness. 

  5. Sick employees should be asked to go home. Employees who appear to have flu symptoms upon arrival or become sick during the workday should be promptly separated from others and asked to go home.

  6. Develop other flexible policies to allow workers to telework (if feasible) and create other leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools close.

  7. Instruct employees who are well, but who have a sick family member at home with the flu, that they can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day and notify their supervisor and stay home if they become sick. Employees who have a certain underlying medical condition or who are pregnant should promptly call their health care provider for advice if they become sick.

  8. Provide resources and a work environment that promotes preventive actions to reduce the spread of flu. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, and/or hand sanitizer.

  9. Provide resources and education about employees who may be at high risk for serious flu complication, such as pregnant women or adults with a chronic medical condition such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes. Flu vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for flu complications. Individuals at high risk for flu complications should seek medical attention right away if they do become sick with flu.

  10. Provide workers with up-to-date information on flu risk factors and preventive actions. For example: 

  • Encourage respiratory etiquette by providing education and reminders about covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, and easy access to tissues and trash cans.

  • Encourage hand hygiene by providing education and reminders about washing their hands and provide easy access to running water and soap or alcohol-based hand rubs. 

By following these recommendations, employers can hopefully keep the flu from spreading throughout the workplace.

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