Dealing with H1N1 Flu in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know

By SHRM Online staff Sep 28, 2009
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Government officials estimate that up to 40 percent of the workforce will be affected by the H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, this fall. Employers can expect high absentee rates as workers call in sick or stay home to take care of ill family members or children who must stay home from school. Take steps now to promote good health, get ready for reduced staffs and take care of workers who catch the flu.

Take Care of Employees

  • Encourage workers to practice good cough etiquette and hand hygiene and to clean shared work areas—computer terminals, phones, conference rooms, etc.
  • Take particular care of employees with known serious health conditions, as they are more susceptible to the H1N1 virus. Consider allowing them to work separately from others or from home during an outbreak to minimize exposure.
  • Keep an eye on employees. If someone shows flu symptoms (see below), ask them to go home. Don’t pressure them to return to work before their fever has broken.
  • Know who to contact if one of your employees is ill. The company may choose to inform others in your work area that they may have been exposed to the H1N1 virus.
  • Be a good role model. If you are sick, stay home.
  • Stay in periodic contact with ill workers who are at home.
  • Don’t discriminate against people who might have H1N1 flu or have been exposed to the virus.
  • Know your company’s leave policies so that you can explain them to your employees. Apply them consistently to all of your employees.

Keep Business Moving

  • Identify critical functions and the skills needed to complete them.
  • Inventory your employees’ skills. Who has the skills to complete critical functions?
  • Cross-train workers so more employees can complete more critical functions.
  • Identify which workers can serve as substitutes for others.
  • Keep an eye on absentee rates. If they appear to be rising, get ready to move your employees into their cross-trained roles. If any of those roles require certification or other preparation, make sure the cross-trained employees are up-to-date before moving into their new roles.
  • Consider virtual meetings instead of face-to-face gatherings. Try to limit contact among employees to halt the spread of the virus.
  • If possible, allow employees to work staggered shifts to reduce the number of people in the workplace. Allowing workers to commute outside of rush hour can also help reduce contact with potentially ill people on mass transit.
  • Find out if you are authorized to make decisions about activating emergency plans.

Stay Informed

Look for These Symptoms

  • Fever
  • Coughing and/or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting (in some, not all, cases)
  • Diarrhea (in some, not all, cases)
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