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 https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/its-peak-flu-season-heres-what-employers-should-do-now?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the flu cost U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings. Read this blog post to learn how HR departments are convincing their employees to get a flu shot.


Elizabeth Frenzel and her team are the Ford assembly line of flu shots: They can administer about 1,800 flu shots in four hours.

Frenzel is the director of employee health and wellbeing at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and with 20,000 employees, she is no stranger to spearheading large flu shot programs. The center where Frenzel administers flu shots has roughly a 96% employee vaccination rate. Back in 2006, only about 56% of employees got their shots.

“When you run these large clinics, safety is critically important,” she says.

Problems like Frenzel’s are not unique. Every fall, HR departments send mass emails encouraging employees to get vaccinated. The flu affects workforces across the country, costing U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings, according toThe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is not only a cause of absenteeism but a sick employee can put their coworkers at risk. Last year the flu killed roughly 80,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Even if an employer offers a flu shot benefit, the push to get employees to sign up for the vaccine can be a two-month slough, with reminder emails going unanswered. Moreover, companies often contend with misconceptions about the shot, such as the popular fallacy that shots will make you sick, running out of the vaccine, and sometimes just plain employee laziness.

In Frenzel’s case, increasing the number of employees who got flu shots weren’t just a good idea, but it was needed to protect the lives of the cancer patients they interact with every day. The most startling fact, she says, was that healthcare workers who interact with patients daily were less likely to get vaccinated.

“So that’s how we started down the path,” she says. “Really targeting these people who had the closest patient contact.”

Frenzel credits the significant increase in employee participation in the flu shot program to several factors. They made the program mandatory — a common move in the healthcare industry — but Frenzel says their improvement also was related to flu shot education. The center made it a priority to explain to staff members exactly why they should get vaccinated. Frenzel made it more convenient, offering the vaccine at different hours of the day, so all employees could fit it into their schedule. They also made it fun, offering stickers for employees to put on their badge once they got a shot. Every year, she says, they pick a new color.

Employers outside of the medical industry are focused on improving their flu shot programs, including Edward Yost, manager of employee relations and development at the Society for Human Resource Management, who helped organize a health fair and flu shot program for 380 employees.

Yost says onsite flu shot programs are more effective than vouchers that allow employees to get vaccinated at a primary care doctor or pharmacy. The more convenient you make the program, he says, the more likely employees will use it.

“There’s no guarantee that those vouchers are going to be used,” he says. “Most people aren’t running out to a Walgreens or a CVS saying, please stab me in the arm.”

Besides the convenience, employees are more likely to sign up for a shot when they see co-workers getting vaccinated, Yost says. If a company decides to offer an onsite program, planning ahead is key. Sometimes employees will not sign up in advance for the vaccine but then decide they want to get one once the vendor arrives onsite. Yost recommends companies order extra vaccines.

“Make sure that you’re building in the expectation that there's going to be at least a handful of folks who are more or less what you call walk-ins in that circumstance,” he says.

Incentivizing employees to get the flu shot is also important, Yost says. Some firms will offer a gym membership or discounted medical premiums if they attend regular checkups and get a biometric screening in addition to a flu shot. He recommends explaining to employees how a vaccine can help reduce the number of sick days they may use.

“Employees need to see that there’s something in it for them,” Yost says. “And quite honestly, being sick is a miserable thing to experience.”

Affiliated Physicians is one of the vendors that can come in and administer flu shots in the office. The company has provided various employers with vaccines for more than 30 years, including SourceMedia, the parent company of Employee Benefit News andEmployee Benefit Adviser. In the past 15 years, Ari Cukier, chief operating officer of the company, says there’s been an increase in the amount of smaller companies signing up for onsite vaccines. HR executives should be aware of the number of employees signing up for vaccinations when scheduling an onsite visit.

“We can’t go onsite for five shots, but 20-25 shots and up, we’ll go,” Cukier says.

Cukier agrees communication between human resources departments and employees is crucial in getting people to sign up for shots. Over the years, he’s noticed that more people tend to sign up for shots based on the severity of the previous flu season.

“Last year, as bad as it was, we have seen a higher participation this year,” he says.

Brett Perkisonassistant professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, says providing a good flu shot program starts from the top down. The company executives, including the CEO and HR executives, should set an example by getting and promoting the shots themselves, he says.

It’s also important to listen to employee concerns. Before implementing a program, if workers are taking issue with the shot, it’s best to hold focus groups to alleviate any worries before the shots are even being administered, he says.

Some employees may even believe misconceptions like the flu shot will make one sick or lead to long-term illnesses, he says. Others may question the effectiveness of the shot. Having open lines of communication with employees to address these concerns will ensure that more will sign up, Perkison says.

Regardless of the type of flu shot program, the most important part is preventing illness, SHRM’s Yost says. While missing work and losing money are important consequences of a flu outbreak, having long-term health issues is even more serious, he says. Plus, no one likes being sick.

“Who’s going to argue about that?” he says.

This article originally appeared in Employee Benefit News.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C (24 October 2018) "HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/hrs-recurring-headache-convincing-employees-to-get-a-flu-shot


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.

Source:
Kaiser Health News (22 January 2018). "5 things to know about this year’s flu" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2018/01/5-things-know-years-flu/

Flu hitting younger and middle-age adults hardest this season

Originally posted February 20, 2014 by Steven Ross Johnson on http://www.modernhealthcare.com

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.

 


6 wellness tips for flu prevention

Originally posted on benefitnews.com

The flu costs businesses approximately $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and out-patient visits for adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to encouraging workers to get immunized, employers can further minimize employee sick days and slow the spread of illness by communicating best practices in wellness and nutrition. Share these six preventive tips from Dr. Bruce Underwood, a certified nutrition and preventive care specialist with Healthy Futures, Inc., to keep workers and their families healthy this season.

1. Sufficient sleep

No matter whether an individual decides to get immunized for influenza, primary prevention should be their priority for avoiding illness. Dr. Underwood explains that a good basis for our immune system is to get a good night’s sleep, generally between six to eight hours every night.

2. Regular exercise

The surgeon general recommends all adults walk at least 10,000 steps or about 4 miles every day. If we over-exercise, then our immune system is weakened for a few days, explains Underwood. However, if we don't exercise at all our immune system is also weak.

3. Vital nutrition

As the following three slides prove, we need vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids for our bodies to work well. Overall, Underwood recommends eating a wide variety of foods in amounts that allow you to maintain an ideal body weight.

4. Vitamin C

One of the most important vitamins for immune health is vitamin C. The upper safe limit for Vitamin C is 2,000 mg for adults, according to the National Institute of Health. Underwood and other experts recommend 1,000 mg of the vitamin as a good daily dose. Dietary sources of the vitamin come mainly from fruits and vegetables, but can also be found in certain cuts of meat, especially liver. Studies have shown that our bodies expend Vitamin C to mitigate toxins such as cigarette smoke and pollution. The antioxidant has also helps relieve the physical and psychological effects of stress on people.

5. Zinc

The mineral Zinc is also necessary in stressful situations. By ingesting 10 to 40 milligrams of Zinc each day, individuals can also help build up their immune system. Underwood advises people to keep their daily dosage under 100 mg per day, however, as too much of the metal might cause fever, coughing, stomach pain, fatigue, and many other problems. Meats, seafood, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains offer relatively high levels of zinc.

 


More adults need vaccines, and not just for flu: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Source: http://www.reuters.com
By David Beasley

The flu isn't the only illness adults should be immunized against, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday, as a new study found current adult vaccination rates in the country "unacceptably low."

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that a "substantial increase" in adult vaccinations is needed to prevent diseases including pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis, shingles and whooping cough.

"Far too few adults are getting vaccinated against these important diseases, and we need to do more," said Dr. Howard Koh, an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2011, there were 37,000 cases of invasive pneumonia in the United States, and most of the 4,000 people who died from the illness were over the age of 50, Koh said.

The CDC, a federal agency, recommends that older patients at risk for pneumonia receive vaccinations for the disease, he said.

Adults who don't get vaccinated can put others, including children, at risk, Koh said. In 2012, 9,300 adults were diagnosed with whooping cough out of a total of 42,000 cases.

"When the source is identified, four out of five babies who got whooping cough caught it from someone in the home, a parent, sister, brother, grandparent or babysitter," he said. "These are just examples of why adult vaccines are critical to the public health of our country."

Some vaccines, such as flu shots, are recommended for all adults, the CDC said. Others are suggested based on a patient's age and overall health.

"We are encouraging all adults to talk with their health care providers about which vaccines are appropriate for them," Koh said.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)