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Flu Season and the Workplace

Flu Season and the Workplace

It's hard to believe that it's already that time of year when employers need to start planning for flu season. Summer will soon be over and with the changing of the seasons, we'll soon be hearing sniffles and coughs. While it's hard to predict how bad the flu season (October through May) will be, it's important to have a plan in place to prevent and manage illnesses.

Many companies offer onsite flu vaccinations for employees and sometimes their families. While this can't be a requirement, it does make it very convenient for employees to stay well during the flu season. Most insurance plans cover vaccinations 100% and major pharmacies offer the vaccinations year round. Although the 2014 flu vaccine was only 23% effective, vaccines are still the number one way to prevent the flu according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It's a good idea to keep the office tidy. Encourage employees to stay germ-free by making disinfectant supplies available, stocking plenty of tissue, and putting fun soaps and anti-bacterial gels in restrooms. Posters in restrooms encouraging employees to wash their hands serve as a good reminder. Break rooms, copy rooms, and workstations can be stocked with disinfectant wipes. Remind and encourage employees to keep their workspaces neat and clean. How about clean your desk Fridays?

Employers should create a flu plan based on worst-case scenarios. Planning should include supplies, a review and understanding time off policies, procedures if key employees are off work due to illness, and how schools or daycare closings might affect your workforce. Flu symptoms generally appear very quickly and up to a full work week can be needed to fully feel back to normal. This could result in major setbacks in production, projects, or other necessary business.

Things to think about include a secondary signer or approver on checks, expense reports, time cards, contracts, work orders, purchase orders, business agreements, and more. Consider reporting structures for employees when their manager is out. Think about who will answer the switchboard, lock and unlock entrances, sign for packages, or greet customers if the receptionist is away. Having these answers identified and preparations or training in place early will ensure that nothing is overlooked or missed if an employee out ill.

Review your company's sick leave policy. Remind employees of the procedures for calling in sick to work. Managers must document and report absences so that further leave notices like Family Medical Leave or even Short Term Disability can be considered if needed.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers these tips to protect yourself during flu season:
  • Get the flu vaccination. 
  • Stay at home if you are sick. 
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Keep frequently touched common surfaces (e.g., telephones, computer equipment) clean.
  • Try not to use a coworkers phone or other work tools. If you must, clean it with a disinfectant.
  • Avoid coming in close contact with coworkers who may be ill.
  • Stay in shape. Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest.
  • Speak with your doctor if you are in the high-risk category for seasonal flu.

For more information on handling flu season at your company, please contact Nextep's HR team.

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