Every year in Canada, the flu causes an estimated 12,200 hospital stays and 3,500 deaths.
The flu season in Canada typically begins in November and lasts until March, peaking between December and February. In November 2022, concerns over the start of an influenza epidemic were voiced, after FluWatch found the number of hospital visits by patients with flu-like symptoms above the seasonal average.
Absenteeism, reduced productivity, interruption of service, and rising costs of health benefits can all have a significant impact on businesses. Workplaces must consider employee health and safety during this time and as part of their employer responsibilities, have a duty to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of staff.
Although the occurrence of influenza has many negative impacts at work, employers who follow best practices for flu safety in the workplace can help reduce its transmission and ensure employees stay healthy throughout the season.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by an influenza A or B virus.
Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, chills, fatigue, sore throat, muscle pain, and body aches. The flu is transmitted through respiratory droplets produced while coughing or sneezing and/or through contaminated surfaces.
Though most people recover from the flu within a week or two, the flu can cause life-threatening complications in those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.
What steps should I take for flu prevention in the workplace?
The safety measures to prevent the spread of both viruses are the same: social distancing, hand hygiene, getting vaccinated, and staying home when sick. Here are some tips on flu prevention in the workplace:
Advise your employees to get the flu vaccine
Employers who want to prevent flu in the workplace should encourage staff to get vaccinated against influenza. You could offer your employees time off to go get vaccinated or set up a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace. A flu shot takes two weeks to take effect and should be taken as soon as possible.
Though the flu shot may not be 100% effective, it will help make the flu symptoms less severe in case one gets sick. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization advises (NACI) states that everybody 6 months of age and older without contraindications should get the flu shot every year.
Review sick leave policies
Advise your staff to use their sick leave and stay at home in case they experience flu-like symptoms. You may want to offer extra sick leave to your employees or allow them to combine it with vacation leave to be able to get enough rest and recover fully before returning to work.
Encourage employees to self-monitor
COVID-19, the flu, and the common cold have several symptoms in common and it is impossible to tell them apart without testing. Educate your staff about the similarities between flu and COVID-19, how-to self-monitor, and the precautions they should follow.
Provide information about individuals who may be at high risk for serious flu complications, such as those with medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes, and pregnant women.
Continue following health and safety measures
Clean and disinfect common areas in the office, such as washrooms, kitchen, cafeteria, lobby, and high-touch surfaces, such as the sign-in kiosk, light switches, door handles, shared equipment, faucets, etc. You may want to continue following infectious disease prevention measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene.
Offer flexible work options
If the nature of your business allows for it, let your employees work from home if they need to look after family members or children who are sick from the flu.
How many sick days should employers allow off for the flu?
Sick leave in Ontario is unpaid job-protected leave. While you are free to offer more sick days or even paid sick leave to your employees, you cannot take away the minimum entitlements provided in the Ontario ESA. It is also illegal to punish or discriminate against your employees for exercising their right to take sick days when they need to.
Employers should note that sick leave in Ontario is also not pro-rated. This means if an employee begins employment halfway through a calendar year, they are still entitled to three days of sick leave for that year. Unused sick leave days are not carried over to the next year.
Do you need help developing HR and health & safety policies for your workplace?
Whether it is a policy on flu prevention in the workplace or flexible working, we’ve got you covered. Peninsula’s experts can help you create company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety or employment advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today: 1(833) 247-3652.