The business of flu: What can employers do to prepare?

Flu season is officially here, and that means more coughing, sneezing and runny noses, both at home and in the workplace. (Germy keyboards and cash registers, anyone?) With both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu — also known as swine flu — causing people to get sick and miss work, it’s important for businesses to be ready for flu.

To keep businesses up and running during emergencies, such as when a lot of workers are out sick with the flu, employers need to create a business plan. As luck would have it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have created materials to help you, the employer, prepare.

So where to start? CDC recommends you take a look at how many staff are out sick normally and watch for an increase in the number of workers who are taking sick days in the fall and winter. Have a back-up plan to keep things running in case a lot of employees are home sick. And be prepared if schools close because of an outbreak, as that means parents may need to leave early to pick kids up from school, stay home with sick children or take them to the doctor. The best plan? Think ahead and stay flexible, says CDC.

And even though running your business is vital, it’s important that sick employees stay home, say the helpful folks at CDC, especially if they have a fever. CDC recommends that people with H1N1 flu stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication. It’s up to you, the employer, to let staff know it’s okay to stay home and that they won’t get in trouble if they do so. Otherwise, your whole office, store or restaurant staff could end up out sick. And then who would run the place?

Businesses can also do their part by stopping the spread of the flu in the workplace. Providing a clean environment is a good step, as is offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers in public areas such as lobbies, kitchens, cashier lines and restrooms. A lot of sick employees? Consider having some of them work from home for awhile, if possible.

Another tip from CDC: Stay in touch with state and local public health partners so you can receive timely and accurate information about the flu. Consider offering free flu vaccinations at your workplace. Your employees will think you are the best boss ever. And who knows? The next case of flu you could prevent could even be your own.

Has your employer developed a plan to deal with an outbreak of H1N1 flu? Tell us about it by offering a comment.

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