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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
THINKHR RESOURCES: If you are a ThinkHR customer, log in to your Workplace to find resources including courses in Learn and a comprehensive, up-to-date chart in Comply that shows paid and unpaid sick leave laws by state and locality, as well as other resources including sample policies and best management practices. If you’re not with ThinkHR, learn more about our products and talk to your insurance broker.
SHARE: How did the flu impact your business? What were your biggest flu wins or fails? What lessons did you learn? Share your story with ThinkHR Content Editor Rachel Sobel to be featured in a follow-up blog post about the flu.