It’s peak flu season. Here’s what employers should do now

Employers can expect to see an influx of coughing, sneezing, and germ passing at the office this time of year. Read this blog post to learn what proactive steps employers can take to keep the workplace healthy.

The U.S. is in the height of flu season, which means employers are likely to see an influx of employees coughing, sneezing and spreading germs in the office. Aside from passing a box of tissues, employers may be wondering what they are legally permitted to do when their workers get sick.

One benefit that is becoming increasingly relevant is paid sick leave. Several cities and states — including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago and others — have paid sick leave laws on the books. But while many companies offer paid sick leave as a benefit, there is no federal paid sick leave law. Paid sick leave laws may remove some incentive for sick workers to report to work, making the illness less likely to spread to the rest of the workforce.

But paid sick leave laws do place limitations on employers. For example, companies cannot make taking a paid sick leave day contingent upon the employee finding someone to cover their shift. Depending on the law, employees don’t always need to give notice of their absence before their shift begins, which could make scheduling difficult. Some laws limit an employer’s ability to ask for a doctor’s note.

Employers do, however, have some latitude when it comes to requiring employees to stay home from work or sending them home if they show signs of illness. Employers just need to be careful not to cross any lines set by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or a state fair employment statute. This means steering clear of conducting medical examinations or making a disability-related inquiry.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers should avoid taking an employee’s temperature. This is considered a medical examination by an employer, which is generally prohibited except in limited circumstances.

They should also avoid asking employees to disclose whether they have a medical condition that could make them especially vulnerable to complications from influenza or other common illnesses. Doing so would likely violate the ADA or state laws, even if the employer is asking with the best of intentions. Employers also cannot require workers to get a flu shot, according to the EEOC.

Employees could have a disability that prevents them from taking the influenza vaccine, which could compel them to disclose an underlying medical condition to their employer to avoid taking the shot. Additionally, some employees may observe religious practices that would prevent them from taking the flu vaccines. Thus, requiring an employee to take a vaccine could lead to a violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 in addition to the ADA.

Beyond these limitations, employers can take these proactive steps to keep the workplace healthy.

Ask employees if they are symptomatic. In determining who should go home or not report to work, employers may ask workers if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. This would not rise to the level of a medical exam or a disability-related inquiry, according to the EEOC.

Advise workers to go home. Employers can order an employee to go home if they are showing signs of the flu. The EEOC says that advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness is like seasonal influenza.

Encourage workers to telecommute as an infection-control strategy. But keep in mind that the company could be establishing a precedent for telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation in other circumstances, such as for an employee recovering from major surgery who cannot come to the workplace.

Encourage flu shots. Employers may encourage — but not require — employees to get flu shots. For example, a company can invite a healthcare professional to the workplace to administer flu shots at a discounted rate or free.

Employers may require its employees to adopt certain infection-control strategies, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, proper tissue usage and disposal, and even wearing a mask.

The ADA, Title VII, state fair employment laws and paid sick leave statutes are also incredibly nuanced. Moreover, it’s important to balance the mandates of OSHA, which require employers to maintain a safe working environment. Before taking any significant actions, employers should consult with an employment attorney or HR professional for guidance.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Dominguez, R. (4 December 2018) "It’s peak flu season. Here’s what employers should do now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?

A recent study by law firm, Farah and Farah, states that one in four full-time workers receive between 1 and 5 sick days. Continue reading to learn more.

It’s not just a matter of whether they feel well enough to work, or whether they have sick days. The boss’s attitude about whether workers should take sick days or not can determine whether they actually do stay home when they’re sick, or instead come to work to spread their germs to all and sundry.

A new study from law firm Farah & Farah finds that even though it can take a person some 10 days to fully recover from a cold, approximately 10 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. get no sick days at all (part-timers don’t usually get them either), while more than 1 in 4 have to make do with between 1 and 5 sick days. Just 18 percent get enough sick time to actually recover from that cold—between 11 and 15 days.

The amount (or presence) of sick time varies from industry to industry, with government and public administration providing the most (an average of 12.1) and both hotel, food services and hospitality and manufacturing providing the least (an average of 5.4 for the hospitality industry and 5.1 for manufacturing). Some lucky souls actually get unlimited sick days, although even then they don’t always use them.

Regardless of industry, or quantity, just because workers get sick days it doesn’t mean they use them. Workers often worry that they’ll be discouraged from using them, with employers who may provide them but not encourage employees to stay home when ill. In fact, 38 percent of workers show up to work whether they’re contagious or not. Sadly for the people they encounter at work, the most likely to do so are in hospitality, medical and healthcare and transportation. Plenty of germ-spreading to be done in those professions!


And their employers’ attitudes play a role in how satisfied they are with their jobs. Among those who work for the 34 percent of bosses who encourage sick employees to stay home, 43 percent said they’re satisfied with their jobs in general. Among those who work for the 47 percent of bosses who are neutral about the use of sick days, that drops to 21 percent—and among the unfortunate workers who work for the 19 percent of bosses who actually discourage workers from staying home while ill, just 12 percent were satisfied with their jobs.

When it comes to mental health days (no, not that kind; the ones people really need to deal with diagnosed mental health conditions), fewer than 1 in 10 men and women were willing to call in sick. Taking “mental health days” when physically healthy, however, either to play hooky or simply have a vacation from the office, is something that 15 percent of respondents admitted to.

SOURCE: Satter, M (5 October 2018) "Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

Original report retrieved from

5 things to know about this year’s flu

The nation is having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad flu season.

Flu is widespread in 46 states, according to reports to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nationally, as of mid-December, at least 106 people had died from the infectious disease.

In addition, states across the country are reporting higher-than-average flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Hospitalization rates are highest among people older than 50 and children younger than 5.

In California, which is among the hardest-hit states, the virus struck surprisingly early this season. The state’s warmer temperatures typically mean people are less confined indoors during the winter months. As a result, flu season usually strikes later than in other regions.

Health experts aren’t sure why this season is different.

“We’re seeing the worst of it right now,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician who is leading Kaiser Permanente-Northern California’s anti-flu effort. “We’re really in historic territory, and I just don’t know when it’s going to stop.” (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Here are five things you should know about this flu season:

1. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years.

The H3N2 influenza A subtype that appears to be most prevalent this year is particularly nasty, with more severe symptoms including fever and body aches. Australia, which U.S. public health officials follow closely in their flu forecasting — in part because their winter is our summer — reported a record-high number of confirmed flu cases in 2017. Another influenza B virus subtype also is circulating, “and that’s no fun, either,” Bergen said.

Flu season in the U.S. typically starts in October and ends in May, peaking between December and February.

2. This season’s flu vaccine is likely to be less effective than in previous years.

U.S. flu experts say they won’t fully know how effective this season’s vaccine is until the it’s over. But Australia’s experience suggests effectiveness was only about 10 percent. In the U.S., it is 40 to 60 percent effective in an average season. Vaccines are less protective if strains are different than predicted and unexpected mutations occur.

3. You should get the flu shot anyway.

Even if it is not a good match to the virus now circulating, the vaccine helps to ease the severity and duration of symptoms if you come down with the flu.

Children are considered highly vulnerable to the disease. Studies show that for children a shot can significantly reduce the risk of dying.

High-dose vaccines are recommended for older people, who also are exceptionally vulnerable to illness, hospitalization and death related to the flu, according to the CDC.

“Some protection is better than no protection,” Bergen said, “but it’s certainly disappointing to have a vaccine that’s just not as effective as we’d like it to be.

Shots may still be available from your doctor or local health clinic, as well as at some chain drugstores. Check the Vaccine Finder website for a location near you.

4. Basic precautions may spare you and your family from days in bed.

As much as possible, avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

Masks aren’t particularly effective in keeping you from catching the flu, although they may help keep sick people who wear them from spreading their germs further.

If you are sick, cover your cough and stay home from work if you can, Bergen said. Remaining hydrated, eating nutritious foods and exercising can also help strengthen your immune system.

Because elderly people are so vulnerable to the flu, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities may limit visitors and resident activities, depending on the level of illness.


5. Don’t mistake flu symptoms for those of a common cold.

The hallmarks of flu are fever and body aches that accompany cough and congestion, Bergen said.

If you feel as if you’re having trouble breathing, or if your fever can’t be controlled with medication like Tylenol, check with your doctor. It’s even more important for patients to see a doctor if they have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease, or if they are young or elderly.

Kaiser Permanente doctors now are being advised to prescribe antiviral drugs like Tamiflu — given as a pill or, for kids, an oral suspension — even without a lab test for influenza, Bergen said. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, however, Tamiflu supplies are running low.

And Bergen cautioned that these medications are only partly effective, reducing the time of illness by just a day or two.

Read the original article.

Kaiser Health News (22 January 2018). "5 things to know about this year’s flu" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address

7 tips to prepare your workforce for flu season

Since seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October, the time to prepare is now. While the vaccine is one of the most efficient ways you can protect your employees, there are other actions you can take to brace your workplace for the upcoming flu season. Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of wellness vendor, TotalWellness, offers these tips:

1. Educate employees

Educate employees about flu symptoms and how the influenza virus is spread.

2. Step up hygiene

Step up your office’s hygiene practices. According to a 2012 study, the dirtiest places in the office include break room sink faucet handles, microwave door handles, keyboards and refrigerator door handles.

3. Review policies

Review your policies for PTO/sick leave and telecommuting.

4. Create a communications plan

Create a communications plan for flu season, from the signs and symptoms to flu shot myths, sick time policies, wellness reminders and flu shot clinic dates and times.

5. Develop a contingency plan

Have a contingency plan in place to help maintain normal business operations in the event that key employees are out sick or other disruptions occur.

6. Communicate health plan details

Ensure that employees are aware of health insurance plan details and that they know who to call with questions.

7. Host an on-site clinic

Host an on-site flu shot clinic or participate in a voucher program so that staff can easily get vaccinated at a local pharmacy.


Flu hitting younger and middle-age adults hardest this season

Originally posted February 20, 2014 by Steven Ross Johnson on

Younger and middle-age adults make up the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from influenza this season, matching rates not seen since the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, federal health officials said Thursday.

Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show people between ages 18 and 64 have accounted for 61% of flu hospitalizations since September through Feb. 8. That's almost double the average rate of 35% over the past three seasons, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“Influenza can make anyone very sick, very fast, and it can kill,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.

Frieden urged healthcare providers not to wait to treat patients with flu symptoms. “It's important that everyone get vaccinated,” he said. “It's also important to remember that some people who get vaccinated may still get sick, and we need to use our second line of defense against flu: antiviral drugs to treat flu illness. People at high risk of complications should seek treatment if they get a flu-like illness. Their doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs if it looks like they have influenza."

The H1N1 strain of the virus, which the World Health Organization said was responsible for about 18,000 deaths worldwide in 2009, has resurfaced this year.

The CDC said deaths from influenza this season are following similar patterns from those observed during that pandemic. As in 2009-2010, about 60% of flu deaths in the past five months have been people between ages 25 and 64.

Flu vaccinations have been effective this season, reducing a person's risk of seeking medical help by about 60%, according to a second report this week in the MMWR.


2013 Flu Season Hitting Workers Hard


Data from the BLS Current Population Survey indicate absences were higher in January 2013 than in any month since February 2008.

More than 4 million American workers were working part time in January 2013 or were out because of their own illness, injury, or medical appointment, and this number was the highest for any month since February 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Feb. 19. The chart accompanying the brief report showed how the numbers tend to spike during peak flu season each year.

The data come from the BLS Current Population Survey. It showed 2,853,000 people were out part time because of their own illness, injury, or medical appointment, while 1,202,000 did not work at all during the survey reference week because of illness or injury.

"The number of workers with an absence because of their own illness, injury, or medical appointment shows a regular spike during the months of December through March. Although not all absent workers who supplied this reason were sick with a cold or the flu, it is likely that the increase in absences during the winter months is related to the seasonal illnesses that are typical during this time of year," BLS noted. Its report is an update of "Illness-related work absences during flu season" by Terence M. McMenamin in Issues in Labor Statistics, originally published in July 2010.

Workers are classified as at work part time if they worked fewer than 35 hours during the survey reference week.


Flu Season Turns Corner, But Challenges Remain

Source: United Benefit Advisors

Although the height of the flu season looks to be waning, employers can expect the effects of the annual wave of sickness among the U.S. workforce to linger for a few more months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently predicted that high flu activity will hang around for a few more weeks and then start to drop in late February or early March, except in the West, where the flu arrived later this year, according to USA TODAY.

"We're not at the end but we're nearing the end," said Michael Jhung, an epidemiologist with the CDC.

This year's bout of flu hit the East in December, nearly a month earlier than usual, the CDC reported. That quick start to the flu season means the virus is already running its course in most areas of the country.

The early emergence and ferocity of this year's outbreaks (CDC reported that this year's virus is sparking more severe symptoms than in past years) has rekindled the debate over mandated paid sick time for employees.

The topic is especially hot in New York City, which is pondering a sick-time ordinance under the shadow of a tight municipal election, according to The Associated Press. Two likely mayoral candidates are pressing for the City Council to decide on the measure, which has languished for nearly three years.

While the topic makes for good politics, many employers worry that mandates on employee sick time could be devastating to their businesses. Michael Sinensky, who saw four of his seven bars shut down after Hurricane Sandy, told the AP that his business simply can't afford "additional social initiatives."

Many employers, though, are starting to re-evaluate the public health benefit of containing diseases compared with short-term costs of paid sick leave, said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "Right now, where companies' incentives lie is butting right up against this concern over people coming into the workplace, infecting others and bringing productivity of a whole company down," Challenger told the AP.

For now, an employer's best defense against a flu-ridden workforce is to protect employees before they fall ill, according to online posts by Smart HR Manager and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, which cite some tips that businesses can implement to stave off productivity-killing outbreaks:

  • Make flu vaccination a priority. It might be too late to help much this season, but employers can start making plans now to prepare for next year.
  • Be prepared to educate employees about the importance of vaccinations and ways to stay healthy, such as regular hand-washing with soap.
  • Find out what your employees want and expect from an immunization program.
  • Be flexible in allowing employees to go off-site to get flu vaccines.
  • Encourage workers to not share phones, computers or equipment unless absolutely necessary.
  • Keep common areas in the office clean.


Fighting over the flu


By Kathryn Mayer

I feel like we’ve been debating to the point of excess recently. Right now, we’re all about the gun debate. And the debt ceiling. And abortion. And Lance Armstrong.

And maybe it’s partly the industry I cover that’s so prone to getting people fired up about things that I feel it even more—what’s causing rising health care premiums? Can the government really tell us we have to buy health insurance? Whose fault is it that we’re getting so fat? Should we raise the Medicare age?

Sure, I like a good debate as much as the next person, but it makes me a little worried about our quick reaction to cry controversy when it’s over the flu.

We’ve heard a lot about the flu season so far. Even though it’s still early in the season, we’ve heard the words “epidemic,” and “widespread” being thrown around a lot, so it doesn’t sound good.

Of course, it’s not something to take lightly: It’s highly contagious, it costs businesses and employers millions of dollars and it takes tens of thousands of lives a year.

So it’s not really a surprise that we keep getting reminded—from our doctors, from insurers, from the CDC—to get our flu shots to help prevent the flu season from getting worse. And that’s where the debate comes in.

There are a ton of people who simply refuse to get the flu vaccine. But it’s been the health care workers who have refused it who’ve been making headlines. As one example, an Indiana hospital fired eight employees—including three veteran nurses—after they refused mandatory flu shots. It sparked the debate over employee personal rights or patient safety.

Mandatory flu vaccinations for health care workers are becoming more and more common—a number of medical organizations—including the CDC—have recommended it, citing patient health and well-being as a top priority. It’s no surprise as to why: People who are most at risk are already in the hospital. Within a few years, I’m sure it will be less common for hospital and health care workers not to have the mandated vaccine—and it’s a good idea.

Of course, there’s ton of excuses floating around for not getting it: egg allergies (the FDA has approved an egg-free vaccine); fear of needles (there’s a nasal flu vaccine), being so healthy they won’t get the flu (vaccines often work best in healthy people), and religious beliefs (which is so vague, it’s almost the perfect excuse).

This doesn’t even address the irony that these are the same people promoting healthy living and the vaccines themselves. I’m all for personal rights, but when it directly affects the health of other people, I get concerned.

This isn’t about more government mandates or whatever haters want to call it; it’s about social consideration.

No vaccine is ever guaranteed—and the flu shot is one of them. It’s only prevents getting the flu 60 percent or 70 percent or so of the time. But we also know that even for those who get the flu after the vaccine, it significantly slows down the virus.

This debate has as much relevance for me as arguing over washing our hands—which, if you haven’t heard—is a good thing to do, too.

Bad Flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is predicting a particularly nasty flu season this winter. Health officials detected a jump in influenza cases in five Southern states in early December. Luckily, people seem to be better prepared this season, with more than a third of Americans already being vaccinated, CDC officials said

Fighting Off the Flu at the Office

By: Claire Suddath

lot of people have the flu right now. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 29 states are currently experiencing high levels of influenza infection, mostly in the eastern half of the country. More than 2,250 people had been hospitalized as of Dec. 29, the most recent date for which the CDC has data. Boston mayor Thomas Menino, amid a sickness rate that’s 10 times higher than last year’s, has officially declared a public health emergency.

Chances are there’s a flu-carrying sniffler somewhere in your general vicinity right now: in the elevator, across the boardroom table, or—if you take public transportation to work every day—gripping the same subway railings as you with their snotty hands. How can healthy workers successfully stay healthy in during this unusually treacherous flu season?

The easiest way to avoid catching the flu is, of course, with a flu shot. (Do you really need me to tell you this?) There are three types of the virus—Influenza A, B, and C, which mutate independently of one another—and a new vaccine is created every year to guard against that season’s most virulent strands. Health officials recommend that people get vaccinated in the fall so they’re protected all winter, but if the severity of this year’s flu worries you, the FDA says not to fear: There’s still time to get a flu vaccine. Because the flu is constantly changing, the expected success rate of the vaccine is 60 percent to 70 percent any given year.

If you already have the vaccine or for some reason (health problems, procrastination, fear of needles) neglect to get it, there’s little else you can do except wash your hands regularly and hope for the best. The CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people, so if you work in an office, embrace your social anxiety issues and shut the door.

Unfortunately, people who work in so-called open floor plans are out of luck. Not to mention the flight attendants, teachers, retailers, and other professionals who’re forced to interact with the public every day. “It’s so hard to take a day off, what with the substitute plans and playing catch-up when you’re back that most teachers just power through it and come to work feeling terrible,” says Jennifer Orr, a first-grade teacher in Virginia. Orr’s been teaching for 15 years and says there’s no way to avoid catching her students’ colds, especially during flu season. “I carry a hand sanitizer in my pocket at all times just in case I get sneezed on,” she says. “That’s about all I can do.”