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Flu season is upon us

November 18, 2017

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

With November arriving, so has the official start of the flu season.  An outbreak of the flu in the workplace can cause significant reduction in productivity.  Employers should educate their employees on how to avoid the flu and how their sick policies apply should an employee get sick.

While flu activity in the U.S. is low right now, it will likely surge over the next few months.  The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.  It can cause mild to severe symptoms and should be taken seriously.  People can spread the flu to others from up to six feet away – about the width of a cubicle and less than the width of a conference room table.  It is spread mainly when people cough, sneeze, or talk.

Employees should be encouraged to stay home when sick.  Typically, adults can infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. This can consume a lot of an employee’s allotted sick time or have serious detrimental financial affects if no sick time is available.  It’s important to educate employees on how to prevent the flu for both themselves and their family.

The CDC recommends these two strategies for businesses and employers to help fight the flu:

Strategy 1: Host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace.
To minimize absenteeism, employers frequently offer onsite seasonal flu vaccination to employees at no or low cost to their employees. This option can work well if the employer has an on-site occupational health clinic. If you don’t have a clinic, pharmacies and community vaccinators can be contracted to provide seasonal flu vaccination services on-site.
Strategy 2: Promote flu vaccination in the community.
Make sure your employees know where they and their families can get seasonal flu vaccines in their community. Additionally, find out what health care providers, pharmacies and clinics provide seasonal flu vaccines. Partner with a pharmacy or provider to get your employees vaccinated.
In addition, the following precautions should be encouraged by employers:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Organizations must make it clear that employees should stay home when sick. Illness affects both the quantity of work and the quality.  In addition, the sick employee could spread their illness to fellow employees.  Presenteeism or working while sick can cause productivity loss, poor health, exhaustion and workplace epidemics. To avoid employees coming to work sick, they must feel it’s OK to call in sick.  Some suggested ways employers can reduce presenteeism include:
·        Be open minded with accommodations
·        Create a culture of acceptance
·        Cross-train employees so they can fill in for each other when necessary
·        Be clear about your expectations – make it clear that your company expects sick employees to stay home
A recent study by Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) shows that employees typically take four sick days per year, but confess to being unproductive on the job due to illness for 57.5 days each year.  The GCC study also showed that the cost of presenteeism to businesses also was 10 times higher than absenteeism.  Absent workers cost employers $150 billion per year, but those who came to work and were not fully productive cost $1,500 billion per year.
Both presenteeism and absenteeism can be reduced by promoting healthy well-being among your employees as well as educating them on how to protect themselves from illness.  And most importantly, allowing and encouraging them to stay home and rest when sick.

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