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CDC Releases New Flu Guidance for Employers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new guidance designed to help employers prepare now for the impact that seasonal and 2009 H1N1 influenza could have this fall and winter on their employees and operations.

According to the guidance, employers’ plans should address such points as encouraging employees with flu-like symptoms or illness to stay home, operating with reduced staffing and possibly having employees who are at higher risk of serious medical complications from infection work from home.

Be Prepared

It is not known whether the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus will cause more illness or more severe illness in the coming months, but CDC recommends that everyone be prepared for influenza. Because seasonal and 2009 H1N1 influenza pose serious health threats, employers should work with employees to develop and implement plans that can reduce the spread of flu, and to encourage seasonal flu vaccination as well as H1N1 vaccination when that vaccine becomes available.

Department of Commerce (DOC) Secretary Gary Locke suggested businesses set the right tone in the workplace. That means implementing common sense measures to reduce the risk of spreading the flu and encouraging workers who are sick to stay home.

“The president has mobilized the federal government to get America prepared,” Locke said. “But government can’t do it alone. For this effort to be successful, we need the business community to do its part.”

Making the right decisions will not only improve public health, also has the potential to protect economic productivity: Employees who are sick and stay home will not spread the flu in the workplace.

“This new guidance will help our private sector partners continue to prepare for the upcoming flu season to keep our economy functioning and our critical infrastructure secure,” said Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano. “Ensuring business continuity is important to our cooperative efforts to keep Americans safe.”

Take Action

The guidance notes the importance of using certain actions to help reduce the spread of flu, including regular and frequent hand washing and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.

“One of the most important things that employers can do is to make sure their human resources and leave policies are flexible and follow public health guidance,” said Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “If employees are sick, they need to be encouraged to stay home. If people begin to experience flu-like symptoms at work, they should be sent home and possibly encouraged to seek medical treatment.”

According to the guidance, employers also should:

  • Review sick leave policies and ensure employees understand them.
  • Try to make sick leave policies flexible for workers who may have to stay home with ill family members or if a child’s school is closed.
  • Consider offering vaccine against seasonal flu and encourage employees to be vaccinated against seasonal and H1N1 flu.
  • Consider canceling non-essential face-to-face meetings and travel, and space employees farther apart.
  • Allow employees who are at higher risk for flu complications to work from home or stay home if the flu is severe.

“Keeping our nation’s workers safe is a top priority,” said Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, who participated in announcing the guidance along with Sebelius, Napolitano and Locke. “Faced with a renewed H1N1 challenge during the coming flu season, we are developing tools that will help ensure America’s workers stay healthy and our businesses remain viable.”

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