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Preventing Flu in the Workplace
Working together

Flu season costs employers more than they might realize. Influenza leads to missed work days when employees stay home to recover or care for their children's illnesses. There's also the problem of 'presenteeism' when an employee comes to work sick and is less productive, exposes other workers to illness, and even risks injury due to inattentiveness while working. Read more about when to stay home.

There may also be legal consequences to having the flu at work. Depending on your type of business, having infected employees expose clients and customers may be a liability risk. Food service workers, daycare workers, customer service providers and people in health care settings are in daily contact with large numbers of people and face many potential chances to spread influenza (such as handling food and money). Infections caught in a medical setting have led to high-profile lawsuits and media attention.

The following suggestions may help reduce the spread of influenza in the workplace

  • Encourage all employees to get a flu vaccination.
  • Make sure employees know they should stay home when sick.
  • Employees who become ill at work should go home promptly.
  • Encourage frequent hand washing and good respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes).
  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated for seasonal influenza when vaccine is available.
  • Be sure surfaces that have frequent hand contact are cleaned regularly.
  • Consider displaying or distributing posters like "Cover Your Cough” in your facility.
  • Designate a person to monitor public health announcements about the flu and pass that information along to employees.
  • Distribute information to employees through newsletters, memos, websites, bulletin boards, e-mails and public-address systems.

Some helpful business practices for flu season

  • Arrange for an on-site flu vaccination clinic for employees and their families.
  • Provide employees with options for working from home, if possible.
  • Provide customers and the public with hand sanitizers, tissues and trash receptacles.
  • Discourage employees from using others’ phones, desks, offices or other work tools and equipment.
  • Frequently disinfect work surfaces, telephones, computers and other office equipment with sanitizer wipes.
  • Promote healthy lifestyles, including good nutrition, exercise and smoking cessation; overall health affects a person’s ability to fight off or recover from infectious diseases.
  • Caution employees to avoid close contact with their coworkers and customers.
  • Consider installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards, to protect employees who interact with customers.
  • Consider reconfiguring shared or clustered cubicles so barriers separate workspaces.
  • Advise employees to avoid shaking hands during flu season and always wash their hands after contact with others.
  • Use teleconferencing, e-mail, conference calls and text messages to communicate.
  • When in-person meetings are necessary, avoid close contact by keeping a separation of at least six feet and minimize the time spent meeting. 
  • Consider providing or expanding Internet or phone-based services, drive-up windows or home-delivery customer service strategies to minimize face-to-face contact.
  • Consider flex scheduling to reduce the number of employees in the office at the same time.
  • Work with your employees regarding transportation issues and child care concerns.
  • Establish separate policies for sick-leave and family medical leave absences unique to a pandemic.
  • Establish policies on sending home employees with influenza symptoms, and when people can return to work.
  • Work sites with on-site child care should plan for whether facilities will remain open or will close, and the impact of such decisions on employees and the business.
  • Consider limiting access by customers, visitors (including family) and the general public.