Go home! 10 tips for keeping the workplace healthy during flu season

With a persistent new strain of flu affecting workers nationwide, employers may need to be more assertive to help keep the workplace healthy at the height of flu season, according to CCH, a leading provider of human resources and employment law information and services and a part of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.

Based on a CCH Survey, about half of employers (54 percent) send workers back home if they show up for work sick. Other common approaches for discouraging sick workers on the job, according to the survey, include:

  • Educating employees on the importance of staying home when sick, used by 40 percent of organizations;

  • Fostering a culture that discourages employees from coming to work sick, used by 34 percent of organizations; and

  • Using telecommuting programs to allow workers to work from home, used by 30 percent of employers to deter "presenteeism," a term used to identify when workers come to work ill.

    "With 87 percent of employers reporting that sick employees who show up for work are suffering from colds, the flu, or other short-term illnesses that may be easily spread, it's apparent that companies have to get tough when it comes to telling employees to stay away," said CCH Employment Law Analyst Brett Gorovsky, JD.

    "At the same time, they have to provide options that allow employees to do the right thing, such as flexible absence control policies, educating managers on handling workplace illness and making sure employees know that showing up and infecting others -- whether colleagues or customers -- is not behavior that will get rewarded," he added.

    Among the suggestions CCH outlines for helping organizations maintain healthier workplaces include:

    1. Offer a flu-vaccination program: 66 percent of organizations CCH surveyed now sponsor flu-shot programs for employees, up from 61 percent in 2005.
    2. Tap your employee assistance program (EAP) and healthcare support services: Determine if they offer a hotline or Web site your employees can use to access FAQs and get guidance and information about healthcare issues.
    3. Establish and communicate guidelines: Help employees understand under what conditions they should stay home, and when it's safe to return to work. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that individuals who get the flu may be able to infect others from the day before their symptoms develop, to five days after becoming sick.
    4. Provide tips on how to avoid spreading germs. Information can be found on the CDC Web site. Use posters or offer the information on your corporate intranet.
    5. Ensure absence control policies are not counterproductive: Programs such as disciplinary action need to be assessed to ensure they don't unnecessarily pressure sick employees to report for work.
    6. Foster a healthy environment: Ensure managers are fostering an environment in which ill employees feel comfortable asking to leave the workplace or, better yet, not report to work in the first place.
    7. Set a good example: Managers should be urged not to come in sick as employees may then see the message to "stay at home" as lip service.
    8. Work with employees and your facilities group to keep common areas clean: Make sure these areas are cleaned regularly; this may even include cleaning conference rooms between meetings.
    9. Recognize helpful employees: Consider bonuses, rewards or other recognition for employees who step in to help do extra work for ill colleagues.
    10. Telecommuting: Consider using, but not abusing, telecommuting; making it an option for an employee who is improving, but is perhaps not ready to return to work full time.

    About the CCH Survey

    A total of 317 human resource executives in U.S. organizations were surveyed on issues related to unscheduled absences and presenteeism as part of the 2007 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey. You can read additional findings from the survey. The survey was conducted for CCH by Harris Interactive.

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