Employers urged to be ready for flu season

The St. Louis County Department of Health is urging employers to be ready for a potentially difficult flu season.

The combination of seasonal flu and the new H1N1 flu could result in high absenteeism and the department is asking employers to join the fight against the flu.

“There are many positive steps that businesses can take to help protect their employees and customers,” County Executive Charlie Dooley stated in a news release. “We are advising employers not to wait for an outbreak of seasonal flu or the new H1N1 flu to develop a plan for disruptions that might be caused by illness in their workforce.”

The health department is urging employers to start planning now for worker absenteeism during the approaching flu season — both because employees may become sick and because they may have sick children for whom to care.

“Employees who have the flu can infect other employees or customers and should stay at home until they are able to maintain a normal temperature for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever reducer,” St. Louis County Department of Health Director Dr. Dolores J. Gunn stated.

The health department recognizes that high absenteeism can be difficult for businesses to handle and advises that all businesses take basic precautions to keep their workforce healthy.

Restroom supplies should be kept fully stocked — both for customers and employees — and employees should have regular access to such facilities to wash their hands with soap and water. Alternatively, alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be made available for employee use. It also is recommended that all commonly touched surfaces be cleaned regularly to avoid spreading illness.

Employers are also urged to consider public health when establishing employee sick-leave policies.

The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention further recommends businesses and organizations consider the following:

• Reviewing or establishing a flexible flu plan and involving employees in developing or reviewing the plan.

• Knowing your company’s or organization’s normal seasonal absenteeism rate and monitoring for any unusual increases in absenteeism through the fall and winter.

• Allowing sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs.

• Developing other flexible leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or child-care programs close.

• Recommending that parents not bring their children to work with them if they are sick or while schools are dismissed.

For more information about the seasonal flu or the new H1N1 flu, visit the department’s Web site

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