Experts say this flu season is shaping up to be the worst in nearly a decade, and it’s not over yet. Some small companies are getting hit so hard it’s difficult to keep the doors open. Others are faring ok but feeling the pain with employees out sick and trying to keep up by working from home.
No matter your company or policies, I think we can all agree that when an employee is sick, it’s best for everyone they stay home!
What does that mean for employers that have basic paid time off policies? How do you encourage employees to stay home and use that day of PTO instead of coming in and “powering through,” thus exposing the entire team, company, office, and everyone that comes in contact with them along the way to the dreaded virus? Who are then going to be doing the same thing? Someone has to put a stop to the vicious cycle.
Also, what are the employee rights if there is no paid time off available? Can they apply for leave under a state or federal program? Do they just call out and go unpaid, risk losing their job, or unable to pay their bills? Or are they forced to take precious vacation time to stay home and get well?
From a legal perspective, only a few states require employers to offer Paid Sick time. Georgia is not one of those states, so decisions to provide paid sick leave are really up to each employers’ practice and policy.
From a federal perspective, under FMLA job-protected leave, the common cold, flu, and other everyday illnesses would not qualify. These illnesses on their own do not meet the definition of a serious health condition under the ruling and would not be eligible under FMLA leave.
As an employer, what can you do to prevent the flu from disrupting your entire business and losing valuable work hours and productivity from your employees? As a general rule, I recommend that employers focus on the things they can control within the company, which means policy, practice, and culture.
There are the usual practices to stay healthy, like encouraging plenty of handwashing and sanitizing, providing tissues and a clean, sanitary workspace, and maybe some healthy snacks in the breakroom. If you are looking to do more for your business and employees, consider these more effective options:
- Develop policies that encourage employees to stay home when sick. Offer paid time off for employees to stay home as needed to either get well themselves or care for a sick family member. It doesn’t have to be a separate sick policy. It can be a Paid Time Off or PTO policy covering sick, vacation, personal time, or any time needed out of work.
- Create a culture that supports employees taking time off when ill. Leaders should practice what they preach, stay home when you are sick! If an employee is out sick, make sure they know not to return to work until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours. Also, don’t make employees feel even worse for missing time. Please give them the support to take time as needed and come back when healthy.
- Support practices that allow employees to work from home, as needed. Many companies have the capability to enable employees to work virtually or from home, but they just haven’t done it. Make the change and support work from home or virtual working capability.