The upcoming winter season means that the dreaded flu season is in full swing. Any illness that sweeps through a workplace is serious, but it can be particularly crippling for a small business. What can you do to keep your employees and your workplace healthy? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is maintaining a website specifically devoted to providing information and action to take regarding the flu. The website recommends that employers implement the following steps, where appropriate:
- Review your current workplace flu plan or develop a new plan. Involve your employees in development and review of the plan. Share the plan and polices with your employees.
- Engage your state and local health department to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information.
- Consider ways to allow sick employees to stay home without fear of losing their jobs.
- Develop flexible leave policies to allow employees to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or childcare programs close.
- Share best practices with other businesses in your community. Work with companies in your supply chain as well as chambers of commerce and local associations to improve response efforts.
- Purchase supplies such as tissues, soap, and alcohol-based hand cleaners to encourage healthful habits in the workplace.
- Plan for how business can continue even if many employees must stay home. Designate and train other employees in the event someone becomes sick to make sure you can continue your critical functions.
In addition, employers can take action to keep their employees and workplace healthy:
- Advise all employees to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius) or signs of a fever (have chills, feel very warm, have a flushed appearance, or are sweating). Make sure fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines (any medicine that contains ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
- Employees who get sick at work should go home as soon as possible. If the employee cannot go home immediately, he or she should be separated from other employees.
- Encourage sick employees at higher risk of complications from flu to contact their health care provider as soon as possible. Taking antiviral medicines early might prevent severe complications from the flu, such as hospitalization or death.
- Encourage all employees who want protection from flu to get vaccinated for seasonal flu.
- Provide resources and a work environment that promotes hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes. Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, and alcohol-based hand cleaner. Offer education on hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes in an easy-to-understand format and in appropriate languages.
- Clean surfaces and items that are more likely to have frequent hand contact with cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas. Additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended
- Provide information to employees overseas about what to do if they become sick.
To help businesses, employers, and their employees learn about strategies for preventing flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides helpful links and planning and educational materials to post and distribute in the workplace.
Finally, if flu conditions become more severe, you want to consider taking the following action to prevent the spread of the flu in your workplace:
- Conduct active screening of employees when they arrive at work. Ask all employees about symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, muscle aches, and sore throat during the previous 24 hours. Employees who have flu-like symptoms should be asked to go home. Continue to advise employees to check for any signs of illness before coming to work each day.
- Extend the time sick employees stay home to at least seven days. People who are still sick after seven days should continue to stay home until at least 24 hours after symptoms have gone away, even if they feel better sooner.
- Try to change work duties, workspace, or work schedules for employees who are at higher risk for flu complications to reduce the possibility of getting sick at work. If this cannot be done, allow these employees to work from home, or stay home if feasible.
- Plan to minimize face-to-face contact between employees. Consider strategies, such as using e-mail, web sites, and teleconferences, canceling large meetings and gatherings, and encouraging flexible work arrangements (telecommuting or flexible work hours) to reduce the number of employees who must be at the work site at the same time or in one specific location.
- Provide guidance to employees who are traveling overseas on what to do if they become sick. Also provide information about possible travel delays, health screenings, and other activities targeted towards travelers.
By taking proactive steps and dealing quickly and efficiently with any illness that does arise, the flu season's effect on you, your employees, and your workplace will hopefully be minimal.