The flu season arrived earlier than usual this past fall, and it has been widely reported as one of the worst in a decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest FluView report, influenza activity remains elevated in most of the country, with key severity indicators, such as hospitalizations and deaths, up significantly.
The CDC also estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost employers in the United States $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits, which doesn't even count the indirect costs due to lost productivity and absenteeism. The heaviest period of the flu season is upon us, so it may get worse.
So what's an employer to do?
— Show support to employees and provide options for how to manage sick time so ill employees do not have to fear that they will lose their jobs if they stay home.
— Examine policies for sick leave. Does the firm have a flexible, non-punitive plan so employees can stay home when sick? Generally, the sick employees think they are doing the right thing "toughing it out" to come to work, and some employers push them to show up. Yet this spreads the disease, which can further damage employers' abilities to meet their productivity goals.
— Examine your firm's attendance policies. Some firms reward employees for working so many days without an absence, but this can lead to some employees coming to work when they are sick.
— Provide wellness resources or host a flu vaccination clinic for employees. Many firms have used the CDC's resources (such as its "Communication Toolkit for Businesses and Employers") to remind employees about how to stay healthy during the flu season. Others have set up flu vaccine clinics to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated. Employers have to be careful about pushing employees to get the flu shot if they have allergies, or have other reasons (e.g., religious) for not getting vaccinations. Employers can also pay for or subsidize the cost of flu shots, or give workers time off to get the shots.