According to one scholarly paper, which examined the effects of employment on influenza rates, “the spread of the influenza virus is linked with higher employment, particularly in industry sectors with the highest levels of interpersonal contact.”
In effect, recognize that if an employee infected with the flu comes to work, he or she could infect others. Instead of losing productivity from the employee who brought the flu to your workplace, now you have lost productivity from other employees.
What can you do?
(The following is adapted and updated from a blog post 6 years ago.)
Encourage healthy workplace practices
Staying healthy is the first line of defense against the flu.
- Sanitize work surfaces. These include telephones, keyboards, and doors of refrigerators and microwaves. Provide sanitizing wipes for this purpose.
- Avoid sharing things, such as food, keyboards, and office telephones.
- Provide information on the flu to staff (e.g., importance of getting flu shots, which may be covered by your company’s medical plan).
According to a study by Accountemps, 90% of employees report for work even though they are ill with a cold or flu symptoms. Having too much work was the prime reason for showing up sick. But employers should recognize that:
- Sick employees are not as productive as those who are well.
- Sick employees can spread disease.
One of the best ways to do this is to pay for sick days. A growing number of states and cities have sick leave laws (Patriot Software has a list as of July 2019). But even if not required, it may be cost effective to pay for sick days to keep unwell employees from bringing infectious diseases into the workplace. My preference is for small businesses to pay for an unlimited number of sick days (some workers are ill only once every few years), with the understanding that responsible employees won’t abuse this offering (if they do, they won’t remain on the payroll).
Care for a sick child?
Even if an employee isn’t sick with the flu, the employee may need to stay home to care for a sick child. Review your family and medical leave policy; you may want to make changes. About 16% of private sector companies offer paid family leave. Keep these points in mind:
- Federal or state law may mandate this unpaid leave time. Federal law only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees.
- Some locations require paid family and medical leave. Looking ahead, federal law may require this in the near future. In December 2019, a new law expends paid family and medical leave to federal employees. Is a similar requirement for the private sector far behind?
- There’s a federal tax credit through 2020 for employers that pay for this leave where state or local law does not mandate it.
- You can allow employees to pool their paid time off (PTO) policy to allow them to use their days for vacation, sick time, or personal time.
- CDC’s information for businesses and employers
- OSHA’s workers guidance
- World Health Organization’s information on global influenza
Here are some wise words from an unknown source: “Give yourself whatever gifts of time and rest you need to feel better - and know that you're surrounded by caring thoughts and prayers and heartfelt wishes. Rest easy. Get well.”