This year’s flu sea­son is a rough one. Although the pre­dom­i­nant strains of this year’s influen­za virus­es were rep­re­sent­ed in the vac­cine, they mutat­ed, which decreased the effec­tive­ness of the immu­niza­tion. The flu then spread wide­ly and quick­ly, and in addi­tion, the symp­toms were severe and dead­ly. The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) report­ed that the 2017 – 2018 flu sea­son estab­lished new records for the per­cent­age of out­pa­tient vis­its relat­ed to flu symp­toms and num­ber of flu hospitalizations.

Younger, healthy adults were hit hard­er than is typ­i­cal, which had impacts on the work­place. In fact, Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas, Inc. recent­ly revised its esti­mates on the impact of this flu sea­son on employ­ers, rais­ing the cost of lost pro­duc­tiv­i­ty to over $21 bil­lion, with rough­ly 25 mil­lion work­ers falling ill.

For­tu­nate­ly, the CDC is report­ing that it looks like this sea­son is start­ing to peak, and while rates of infec­tion are still high in most of the coun­try, they are no longer ris­ing and should start to drop. What can you do as an employ­er to keep your busi­ness run­ning smooth­ly for the rest of this flu sea­son and through­out the next one?

  1. Help sick employ­ees stay home. Con­sid­er that sick employ­ees wor­ried about their pay, unfin­ished projects and dead­lines, or com­pli­ance with the com­pa­ny atten­dance pol­i­cy may feel they need to come to work even if they are sick. Do what you can to be com­pas­sion­ate and encour­age them to stay home so they can get bet­ter as well as pro­tect their co-work­ers from infec­tion. In addi­tion, make sure your sick leave poli­cies are com­pli­ant with all local and state laws, and com­mu­ni­cate them to your employ­ees. Be clear with the expec­ta­tion that sick employ­ees not to report to work. For employ­ees who feel well enough to work but may still be con­ta­gious, encour­age them to work remote­ly if their job duties will allow. Be con­sis­tent in your appli­ca­tion of your atten­dance and remote work rules.
  2. Know the law. Although the flu is gen­er­al­ly not seri­ous enough to require leaves of absence beyond what sick leave or PTO allow for, in a severe sea­son, employ­ees may need addi­tion­al time off. Con­sid­er how the fed­er­al Fam­i­ly and Med­ical Leave Act (FMLA), state leave laws, and the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act (ADA) may come into play for employ­ees who have severe cas­es of the flu, com­pli­ca­tions, or fam­i­ly mem­bers who need care.
  3. Be flex­i­ble. Dur­ing acute flu out­breaks, schools or day­care facil­i­ties may close, leav­ing par­ents with­out child­care. Employ­ees may also need to be away from the work­place to pro­vide care to sick chil­dren, part­ners, or par­ents. Exam­ine your poli­cies to see where you can pro­vide flex­i­bil­i­ty. Look for oppor­tu­ni­ties to cross-train employ­ees on each other’s essen­tial duties so their work can con­tin­ue while they are out.
  4. Keep it clean. Direct clean­ing crews to thor­ough­ly dis­in­fect high-touch areas such as door­knobs, kitchen areas, and bath­rooms night­ly. Pro­vide hand san­i­tiz­er in com­mon areas and encour­age fre­quent hand­wash­ing. Keep dis­in­fect­ing wipes handy for staff to clean their per­son­al work areas with.
  5. Lim­it expo­sure. Avoid non-essen­tial in-per­son meet­ings and trav­el that can expose employ­ees to the flu virus. Rely on tech­nol­o­gy such as video con­fer­enc­ing, Slack, Skype, or oth­er plat­forms to bring peo­ple togeth­er vir­tu­al­ly. Con­sid­er stag­ger­ing work shifts if pos­si­ble to lim­it the num­ber of peo­ple in the work­place at one time.
  6. Focus on well­ness. Offer free or low-cost flu shots in the work­place. If your com­pa­ny pro­vides snacks or meals for employ­ees, offer health­i­er options packed with nutrients.

Get it all

AGENCY RESOURCES: Get the lat­est week­ly flu stats from the CDC. Learn more about how the FMLA and ADA may be used dur­ing pan­dem­ic flu from the U.S. Depart­ment of Labor.

By Rachel Sobel

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed by