NEWS

Government Encourages Companies to Prepare for Flu Season

Sherry Harowitz

The idea that workers should be encouraged to tough it out and come to work even if they don't feel well is so 20th century. In the new millennium, with its pandemic flu threat hanging in the air, the government hopes that workers who think they may be coming down with something will stay home so as not to infect their coworkers. And the government wants companies to encourage that attitude with flexible sick leave policies, among other efforts.

That was among the main points of a government press conference held to encourage businesses to prepare for the upcoming flu season.

"Employers also might cancel non-essential face-to-face meetings and travel, and space employees farther apart," the press release on the government guidance notes. The guidance also suggests that companies might want to encourage at-risk employees to work from home if the circumstances warrant it.

Much of the advice is commonsense but because the practices go against what is routine in the workplace, it remains to be seen whether individuals and businesses will proactively try to adopt and adhere to them as preventive measures or whether the tendency will be to wait until there's a full blown outbreak, at which point such measures will be far less effective.

Among the recommendations in the full flu season preparedness guidance for businesses:

Actions Employers Should Take Now

  • Review or establish a flexible influenza pandemic plan and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan;
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected before flu season;
  • Have an understanding of your organization’s normal seasonal absenteeism rates and know how to monitor your personnel for any unusual increases in absenteeism through the fall and winter.
  • Engage state and local health department to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information;
  • Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs;
  • Develop other flexible leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or child care programs close;
  • Share your influenza pandemic plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them;
  • Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts; and
  • Add a “widget” or “button” to your company Web page or employee Web sites so employees can access the latest information on influenza: www.cdc.gov/widgets/ and www.cdc.gov/SocialMedia/Campaigns/H1N1/buttons.html

 

Related pandemic planning information is at flu.gov.

 

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