Reduce the impact of flu season: 7 workplace tips
Amy McAndrew |
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), seasonal flu causes employees in the United States to miss approximately 17 million workdays per year, at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity. The CDC further advises that we are in the midst of peak seasonal flu activity, which runs through February, and that the flu season can last as late as May. With this in mind, what steps can an employer legally take to minimize the impact of the flu this year?
1. Promote vaccination
Employees should know that it is not too late in the season for them to get vaccinated. Vaccinations may be covered by insurance.
2. Encourage sick workers to stay home
Review leave of absence, telecommuting and sick leave policies and adjust them, where necessary, to encourage employees to stay at home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. When sick employees come to work, they run the risk of infecting the rest of the workforce.
3. Display posters on good hygiene practices
Post signs that tell workers, visitors and clients the steps for proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette. This information can help limit worker exposure to germs and the spread of the flu. Posters are available on the CDC’s.
4. Make good hygiene easy
Make sure that employees have access to “no touch” wastebaskets for used tissues; soap and water; alcohol-based hand rubs; and disposable towels.
5. Keep the workspace clean
During the workday, and as appropriate, assign someone to clean commonly touched work surfaces, work areas, and equipment (e.g., telephones, doorknobs, lunch areas, countertops, copiers, etc.). In addition, provide disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to use to clean their work spaces and surfaces and to keep work areas clean.
6. Talk to your cleaning service(s)
They may be able to take additional steps to further sanitize your workplace(s)
7. Consider the legal impact of any policies, practices or flu-related leaves
In most cases, the flu will not be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers therefore may ask employees if they have symptoms of a cold or the seasonal flu because it is not a disability-related inquiry – but employers cannot make a more generalized inquiry regarding employee health. In addition, while most flu cases will not qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act leave, they may fall under state (such as New Jersey) or local (such as Philadelphia) paid sick leave laws.
Employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel with any questions regarding flu-related policies or practices. For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.
About the Author
Amy McAndrew is MEA’s Director of Member Legal Services and has over twenty years of experience as a labor and employment attorney.