It’s estimated that influenza sent up to 400,000 people to the hospital with flu complications and caused an estimated 22,000 deaths in the United States in the 2019-2020 flu season. As more Americans return to their workplaces, employers can play an important role in flu prevention.
While experts aren’t exactly sure what the upcoming flu season will look like, relaxed COVID-19 preventative measures such as physical distancing, reduced travel, staying home and strict mask-wearing policies, will likely result in the return of seasonal flu. And because of a mild 2020-2021 influenza season, the 2021-2022 flu season may begin early and could be severe.
“All employers should actively promote healthy habits to help prevent the spread of flu, address barriers, and make it easier for employees to get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity,” says Albert Rizzo, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “Keeping staff healthy benefits not only individual workers, but employers too, making flu prevention not only an obligation, but a smart business strategy.”
As part of its Fend Off Flu campaign, the American Lung Association in partnership with Anthem Foundation is offering these tips to help businesses and organizations prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses in the workplace:
• Offer flexible paid sick leave policies to encourage employees who fall ill to recover without fear of lost wages.
• Offer telework policies that allow employees to stay home and care for sick family members.
• Advise employees to stay home if they feel ill. Individuals with the flu should stay home for at least four to five days after symptoms begin.
• Ask unwell employees to go home. Employees who appear to have flu symptoms at the workplace should be promptly separated from others and asked to recover at home.
• Provide facial tissue, no-touch trash cans, hand-washing stations, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitizer to promote preventive actions.
• Provide signage, such as posters and flyers, that explains healthy habits and employee policies.
• Help promote flu vaccination among your staff. Vaccination is the best way to help protect against the flu and over the course of over 50 years, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received routine flu shots. Build vaccine confidence by addressing employees’ questions and concerns and by sharing accurate scientific information and facts. Offer vaccination opportunities in the workplace or nearby in the community, as well as paid time off for vaccine appointments and recovery from illness. For more workplace flu prevention tips and insights, visit lung.org/fend-off-flu.
Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization, severe complications and death. Because people spend so much of their time in the workplace, employers have a special obligation and opportunity to help reduce employees’ risk for contracting flu.