Recommendations for Surviving Flu Season in the Workplace

by | Jan 29, 2013 | Blog

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

It’s the time of year when one employee sneezes and the next thing you know, the whole office has caught the black plague.

Okay, maybe it’s not that serious. But it seems like everyone is coming down with something these days.

That got us wondering—is your company prepared for flu season?

Some companies feel that having a sick leave policy is enough. But sometimes those sick leave policies don’t take into consideration extenuating circumstances. For instance, what if an employee refuses to stay home even though he or she is sick (either because he/she doesn’t have the PTO time or is has too much work to take time off) and spreads the flu to multiple people in the department or office?

Not good.

At Integrity HR, we like to follow the trusty Boy Scout motto—Be Prepared! For what, you ask? For everything! When your whole office is out with the flu is not the time to update your procedures surrounding sick leave. It is always better to be prepared for anything and everything.

In that frame of mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of recommendations for surviving flu season in the workplace. Let’s get started

Recommendations For Surviving Flu Season in the Workplace

Promote Healthy Habits

This one seems like a no brainer, but it is better to be safe than sorry. You should instruct employees on healthy habits in the workplace. While we don’t want to treat our employees to kindergarten hygiene instructions, we do want to remind everyone of simple “housekeeping” rules to maintain, and also let them know what we as employers will be providing to help with germ control, such as disinfectants, disposable towels, disposable tissues, wastebaskets and hand sanitizer readily available throughout the facility.

Remind employees of the following:

1. Always cover mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. If one is not available, sneeze or cough into your elbow or shoulder, and not your hands. (This is contrary to what most of us were taught as children, and while it is more hygienic in terms of what germs will be left on hands, it will be a new habit to learn for most adults.)

2. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with a good scrubbing. (Humming “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” will pass the time.)

3. Actually use that hand sanitizer that’s sitting around, and use it: before and after preparing food and eating, after using the restroom, and before and after touching nose, eyes and mouth.

4. Use disinfectants and disposable towels to clean hard surfaces such as phones, keyboards, faucets, and doorknobs. A flu virus can live on hard objects for eight to forty-eight hours.

As the employer, you should stock up on tissues, soap, wastebaskets, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and disposable towels. In addition to securing a service or custodial employee responsible for housekeeping, encourage employees to do regular cleaning of hard surfaces throughout the day.

Develop Flexible Work Schedules and Work Arrangements

Regardless of how widespread this flu actually becomes – whether it’s a nuisance in your community or a full fledged epidemic – there’s no doubt that schedules and plans are going to be interrupted, either by the illness of your employees, customers, vendors, or their families.

Also, it is a very likely possibility that children of your employees will get sick, and then you will have a large number of employees who will be without childcare during the day and may or may not be able to make alternative arrangements.

During this time of crisis, it’s important to remember that our goal is to keep the company going by keeping our employees healthy and functioning, and this may mean providing additional time away from work without negative repercussion. The best way to do this, of course, is to provide an infrastructure that permits them to work from home whenever possible.

1. Telecommuting

Identify which employees/departments/functions can work from home and put tools in place to permit them to do so. This may require an investment in IT infrastructure as well as planning and procedures for reporting structure, but being proactive now will make the solution much more feasible when the time comes.

2. Flexible Work Schedules

Identify shift changes that may permit fewer employees to be in the facility at one time to limit face-to-face exposure. There are many positions that simply cannot be done remotely, so consider adding additional shifts or staggering shifts so that fewer employees are on site at a time.

3. Identify a Source for Temporary Workers

If your business is one that can utilize temporary workers, identify a source for those workers now so that you will be ready to call them in if the time comes. Develop a relationship with an agency that will be familiar with your needs so that there will be less ramp up time when you need workers on short notice.

Anytime there is a flu outbreak, it will feel like you are doing a balancing act between keeping a workplace healthy and upholding attendance requirements. However, if it gets really bad, giving a little slack on attendance will be a small price for keeping the rest of the workplace at work.

Update your Business Interruption Plan

That is, assuming you have a Business Interruption Plan in place. Now this may sound a little overdramatic, but now is the time to develop this plan. You shouldn’t wait for another H1N1 flu pandemic like back in 2009 because then it will be too late!

You want to be certain that the plan is current and has special considerations for the spread of contagious disease.

1. Confirm that all essential business functions have been cross-trained so that more than one individual in the company knows how to perform them.

2. Identify which operations are critical and which may be temporally shut down if employees and resources need to be realigned temporarily.

3. Determine your key suppliers and resources and maintain communication with them to stay current with their business continuity so that you can anticipate a loss or delay in services before it happens.

4. Audit each employee’s information to be certain contact information is current, including emergency contact information.

5. Establish a process to communicate information to workers and business partners on your pandemic flu response plans and the latest flu information.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also issued posters available for free download in multiple languages on its website that instruct employees on healthy workplace habits that will help to prevent the spread of the disease.

Educate Your Employees

Lastly, the most important step is educating your employees. We all know people tend to overreact when something is going around—whether it is the chance of snow or in this case, the flu.

You should meet with your employees, discuss your plan, and identify the truths versus the myths. (Is it true we will be fired if we take one too many sick days? What do we do if we use all of our PTO days and need to take time off?)

Let them know what you are going to do as a company during this time to protect the viability of the company and to support them as employees and as families. 

Regardless of the level of threat perceived, one thing rings true throughout all of the organizations working so diligently to protect the public during this flu season and that one thing is this: Be Prepared and Have A Plan.

So with thoughtful preparedness and surveillance and more than just a little luck, we can all hope this flu season will pass fairly quickly, and we will have practical efficient emergency plans in place that we never had to use (and who really wants to ever have to use their emergency plan anyway?)

Could your handbook be missing crucial policies? Download our Free Employee Handbook Analysis Toolkit and find out. 

Download Our FREE Resources

A list of our useful HR resources