Reduce the impact of flu season: 7 workplace tips
Flu season is upon us, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that anyone who is able to be vaccinated get their flu vaccine now. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) the annual direct medical cost of flu in the United States is an estimated $4.6 billion. In addition, the flu causes US employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays due to flu, at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity. With this in mind, employers should be thinking now about steps they legally can take to minimize the impact of the flu this year.
1. Promote vaccination
Display posters about flu vaccination in break rooms, cafeterias, and other high-traffic areas and/or send information regarding vaccines to employees in electronic communications. Note that vaccinations may be covered by insurance. Consider flexibility in policies that would allow employees to take time off work to get vaccinated.
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 website.
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.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.