A few months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that influenza wouldn’t be particularly severe this winter. Now it’s clear this flu season is much worse than expected.
If large numbers of your employees haven’t been laid up yet by the flu, chances are they will be soon.
The CDC reports that influenza is “widespread” in 40 states. A CDC statement said, “High flu activity is likely to continue for several weeks.” The CDC’s advice: “If you have not gotten your flu vaccine yet this season, you should get one now.”
Alarmingly, the H1N1 flu—which sickened 60.8 million Americans in 2009—accounts for 65% of infections this winter. In 2009, H1N1 mostly infected older people. This year, it’s targeting young and middle-age adults—in short, your employees.
It’s time to implement plans to keep the flu from shutting down your business. Many of your employees will get sick and miss work. Your workplace itself could become a source of contagion. Your plan should address three key concerns:
1. Limiting the spread of disease. Require employees with flu symptoms to stay home until they are better. Flu is generally communicable as long as symptoms last.
Remind employees: Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw out used tissues immediately. Wash hands frequently, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
2. Ensuring business continuity. Assume attendance problems. Work with IT and managers to set up alternative work arrangements. Encourage telecommuting to prevent spreading the flu and give employees flexibility to care for loved ones. Prepare to institute flexible schedules or staggered shifts to deal with.
3. Maintaining flexibility on leave and other benefits. Be prepared to voluntarily extend your time-off policies. If you don’t normally offer paid sick time, consider doing so, if only temporarily. Knowing they won’t lose pay could persuade sick workers to stay home.
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