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Dealing with the Flu in the Workplace

Human Resources

Dealing with a workforce hit hard by the flu or other viral illnesses can leave companies scrambling. Often the best course of action is taking steps to prevent the spread of the flu in the workplace and finding ways to adapt when more employees take sick leave. Advanced planning for a worse-than-typical flu season can help identify some best practices to follow.

Maintain a healthy work environment

To avoid spreading the flu in the office, it helps to stay vigilant when it comes to maintaining a healthy work environment. With the many different strains of active viruses circulating through the air, common-sense actions can help, including:

  • Cleaning all frequently touched surfaces, including keyboards, doorknobs, and phones;
  • Stocking the office with tissues and hand sanitizer; and
  • Encouraging frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with others who are ill, and scaling back on face-to-face meetings in favor of conference calls.

Sick leave policies

Many employees fear the repercussions of missing too much time from work when they're not feeling well. They may force themselves to come into the office rather than stay home. If necessary, employers should encourage employees who are sick to stay home from work. A more lenient work-from-home policy could also be implemented on a short-term basis.

Employees may fear the repercussions of missing too much time from work, but employers should encourage sick employees to stay home.

Another option to consider is a leave donation program. This allows employees to donate unused paid time off (PTO) into a pool that can be used by others in need of time off when they are sick. If a leave donation program is set up according to IRS rules, the employees donating unused sick or vacation days will not need to recognize taxable wages for their contributed PTO.

Creative solutions when managing a sick workforce

Small businesses in particular may feel a loss of productivity when widespread illness impacts the workforce. But smaller organizations may also have a greater opportunity to find creative solutions for administering sick leave policies. For example, one of Paychex HR generalist Monique Jennings's small business clients chose to set up a separate room that could be used by employees with small children home from school for non-viral illnesses or for work days when schools were closed. In addition to a workspace, the room contained a play area, snacks, and a TV. While this solution may not work for every company, it's a unique way to allow workers to complete their work and avoid the need to use PTO.

Share information and raise flu awareness

Posting information about the spread of the flu in the workplace can serve as a much-needed reminder to everyone in the office. Before the peak cold and flu season starts, companies should aim to communicate information about available immunizations to help prevent the flu. Some companies may consider hosting an in-house immunization clinic. If this isn’t feasible, you can offer information about community-run clinics to ensure that flu vaccines are available to those who would like them.

Strategies aimed at stopping the spread of viral illnesses and allowing employees who are sick to take time off can help companies through a worse-than-typical flu season. HR policies should be drawn up in advance and if the flu does hit, a well-thought-out plan can be put in place to maintain company productivity and keep everyone as healthy as possible. If your business needs assistance in developing HR policies, consider expanding your team with help from a dedicated HR professional.

This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.