It’s peak flu season, and your employees may not be feeling their best. Experts estimate that about 70% of people exposed to the flu will get it. Because it’s so contagious, it can knock out an entire office if not handled properly—which, in turn, will cost your business money.
Some states have paid sick leave laws, which allow employees to take a paid sick day without finding someone to cover their shift or give notice of their absence. While these laws are beneficial for the wellbeing of your employees, they can create issues for employers. Some laws prevent employers from asking their employees to disclose a medical condition or conduct a medical examination (which includes even taking an employee’s temperature). Employers also can’t require their employees to get flu shots.
However, there are plenty of actions employers can take in order to keep their workforce healthy through flu season.
Find out if employees are symptomatic
If an employee doesn’t appear to be feeling well, ask them if they’re experiencing flu symptoms. However, keep in mind that this type of action can’t be escalated to the level of a medical exam or a disability-related inquiry, according to the EEOC.
Advise sick employees to go home
If you observe an employee who is showing clear signs of the flu, you can order that employee to go home. While the EEOC does state that employers can’t make any disability-related inquiries, an illness like seasonal influenza doesn’t fall into that category—making this type of action, not only legal but advisable. Experts recommend that sick individuals should stay home until they’re fever-free for 24 hours without medication to ensure they are no longer contagious.
It’s important to note that it’s also essential to create a work environment that allows employees to take sick days without guilt or fear of becoming overworked afterward.
Encourage them to work remotely
If employees are wary about taking full paid sick days, you can encourage them to work from home when they’re not feeling well to minimize the risk of infection at the office.
You can also institute a flexible leave or work-from-home policy to allows parents to care for sick children without possibly carrying that illness back into the office.
Limit meetings when possible
Avoid gathering all of your employees in one space to limit spreading germs during flu season. Use email or hold conference calls to communicate the most important points.
Encourage healthy habits
While you can’t make flu shots mandatory, you can make them readily available by offering them for free for workers at the office (and administer them on-site if possible). Just kind in mind that the flu shot can take up to two weeks to become effective, so start early!
Clean shared workspaces with alcohol wipes—and encourage employees to clean their own spaces as well. Stockpile tissues, antibacterial soap, and other disinfecting products so employees have access to them whenever they may need.
Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently and avoid handshakes during flu season. Post signs in the bathrooms and break rooms reminding employees to wash their hands and include information about proper handwashing form and coughing and sneezing etiquette.
There may be laws limiting what actions you can take regarding keeping your employees healthy, so be sure to consult an employment attorney or work with an HR professional to create guidelines that will work best for your office.
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