Navigating the ‘Flu Season’ in the Workplace
The “flu season” is here and you want to be prepared! During this season your workplace can be a breeding ground for germs. The flu virus can spread through your office in a matter of hours. The viruses are quickly passed around when people touch and infect frequently used objects and surfaces, such as doorknobs, desktops, the coffee pot, and the microwave, among many others.
The timing of the onset, that is the peak and end of the flu season is unpredictable and varies from year to year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the seasonal flu virus can be detected year-round. However, seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue to occur as late as May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February. In the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the annual direct costs of influenza (flu) in the United States, such as hospital and doctor’s office visits, and medications, are an estimated $4.6 billion. The flu causes U.S. employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays, at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity.
In order to keep your employees healthy this flu season, the CDC recommends the following:
- Encourage all employees to get a seasonal flu vaccine each fall.
- Consider hosting a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace, if possible. Provide resources to employees about where they can get a flu vaccine in their community.
- Develop and review sick leave policies that encourage sick workers to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.
- Advise all employees to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
- Sick employees should be asked to go home. Employees who appear to have flu symptoms upon arrival or become sick during the workday should be promptly separated from others and asked to go home.
- Employees who have a certain underlying medical condition or who are pregnant should promptly call their health care provider for advice if they become sick.
- Provide resources and a work environment that promotes preventive actions to reduce the spread of flu. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, and/or hand sanitizer.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette by providing education and reminders about covering coughs and sneezes with tissues; and easy access to tissues and trash cans.
- Encourage hand hygiene by providing education and reminders about washing hands; and easy access to running water and soap or alcohol-based hand rub.