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Weathering the Flu Season in the Workplace

It goes without saying that the flu is bad for business! The CDC says that the direct cost for flu-related hospitalization and care each year is around $10.4 billion! Further, the flu can hit productivity even harder, as sick workers are forced to take time off. A flu season as bad as the 2009 swine flu pandemic, for example, could see lost productivity worth as much as $21 billion. You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to reduce the likelihood of the flu striking your workplace. The answer is yes!

First, encourage employees to get vaccinated.

Although it’s generally recommended that people receive their flu vaccination around October – when the first cases of the flu will start arising – the season can actually last into April or May. It takes a week or two for the vaccine to become effective, but it can still offer protection during the worst months of flu season. As the CDC writes: “An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza and its potentially serious complications. There are many benefits to vaccination, including reducing the risk of flu illness, doctor’s visits, hospitalization, and even death in children. Flu vaccination also has been shown to reduce severity of illness among people who get vaccinated but still get sick.”

Second, encourage sick employees to stay home.

Often, employers promote transmission of the flu by implicitly or explicitly pushing workers to come in even if they’re sick. However, that will hasten the spread of the virus throughout your workplace, and instead of losing a week of productivity from one worker, you might end up losing productivity from half the office. “Sick workers may think they are doing the right thing by ‘toughing it out’ and coming into work when they feel ill,” says Andrew Challenger of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, a consulting firm. But “they are only likely to spread their illness, potentially further interrupting optimum business operations.”

If you don’t offer sick days, consider offering some kind of flexible leave or remote working policy that would allow sick workers to feel that they can stay home without sacrificing job security. Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says, “Workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms [should] stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius), without the use of medication.”

Third, encourage healthy employees to practice good hygiene in the office.

Still, workers may come in even when they are sick. The flu is notorious for striking suddenly, but people who catch the flu can be contagious before the worst of the symptoms hit. They might come into work in the morning feeling fine, maybe a bit under the weather, and end the day sick as a dog. However, if they practice good etiquette like covering their mouth when they cough, sneezing into a tissue, washing their hands, etc., they can minimize the spread of germs. Employers can help by providing ample supplies of tissues, hand soap, antibacterial hand wipes or lotion, etc.


CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.