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 being hit so hard it’s hard 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, when an employee is sick, it’s best if they stay home!
But, 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 as opposed to 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, then exposed, are going to be doing the same thing.
And, 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, risking losing their job, or being unable to pay their bills? Or are they forced to take precious vacation time to stay home and get well?
From a legal perspective, there are only a few states that require employers to offer Paid Sick time. Georgia is not one of those states so decisions to offer paid sick leave is 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 qualify 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? I recommend as a general rule, employers focus on the things they can control within the company. This means policy, practice and culture.
Aside from 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, there are other things that employers can do to reduce the impact of the flu and other contagious illnesses on your business.
- 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. This doesn’t have to be a separate sick policy, it can be a Paid Time Off or PTO policy that covers sick, vacation, personal time or any time needed out of work.
- Create a culture that supports employees taking time off when sick. 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. And, don’t make employees feel even worse for missing time; Give them the support to take time as needed and come back when well.
- Support practices that allow employees to work from home, as needed. There are so many companies that have the capability to allow 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.