Coping with Colds and Flu

Coping ColdsEspecially during the winter, employers spend time managing ill employees, dealing with their uneasy co-workers, and considering how to protect the health of visitors and customers. What are an employer’s responsibilities to the ill employee, the workforce, and those the business serves? What precautions should an employer consider in the workplace to help maintain good health?

Handling the Ill Employee
Employers may ask an employee about non-disability-related illnesses, such as colds and flu, and send symptomatic employees home. Encourage sick employees to stay home, and ensure company policies support that practice.

Consider allowing the ill employee to work from home to avoid exposing others. Let them know you will make efforts to protect their privacy. Requiring the employee be cleared by a physician before returning to work will help avoid the spread of illness.

If any of the organization’s paid or unpaid leaves of absence applies (i.e., paid time off, FMLA, etc.) or the Americans with Disability Act, advise the ill employee. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may also apply.

Protecting Other Employees
If an employee diagnosed with a contagious disease was contagious while in the workplace, notify their colleagues, maintaining privacy as much as possible. Do not identify the infected employee by name.

Educate co-workers on ways to reduce spread of the disease by providing information on symptoms and complications.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on specific diseases and preventive measures. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment provides information on diseases occurring in the area. State or federal health regulations may also apply, depending on the type of illness and industry.

Also, mention the company’s policies and procedures for reporting symptoms, using sick leave and returning to work, and any required preventive work practices. Some employees may be at higher risk for contracting the disease than others. Suggest employees with personal concerns contact their own doctors.

Other Steps to Take
Research recommended infection control practices and implement them in the workplace. Make sanitizer, tissues, and disinfectant soap abundantly available. Maintain a clean workplace by cleaning commonly touched areas frequently, especially shared workstations and equipment (phones, copiers, doorknobs, elevator buttons, computer keyboards, faucets, break areas, countertops). Instruct cleaning staff to do likewise. Discourage employees from sharing offices, computers, and phones. Plan ahead by addressing possible work backlog.

For questions about handling situations of ill workers see the MSEC website for Safety and Health information at www.msec.org or contact MSEC.