Flu Prevention in the Workplace: An Employer's Guide

  • Workplace Health & Safety
Flu prevention in the workplace
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

In Canada, the flu is ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death and is responsible for an estimated 12,200 hospital stays and 3,500 fatalities every year. For Canadian employers, the annual flu season can bring significant challenges to the workplace, ranging from increased staff absences and reduced productivity to the rising costs of health benefits. 

To avoid major disruptions to business operations, employers should take a proactive approach to flu prevention. By implementing proper hygiene practices and health measures, you can stop the spread of flu viruses in the workplace, ensure employees stay healthy throughout the flu season, and avoid unnecessary service interruptions.

When is flu season?

Flu season in Canada generally peaks between November and March, with the highest flu activity occurring between December and February. However, flu viruses can circulate year-round, so employers should have proper preventative measures in place no matter the time of the year.

Common flu symptoms

Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by an influenza A or B virus. It shares some symptoms with the common cold, but flu symptoms are generally more severe. Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever: High fever, usually over 38 degrees Celsius, is a common symptom of the flu.
  • Chills: Many with the flu experience chills, often accompanied by shivering.
  • Coughs: Persistent coughing is a typical flu symptom. It can be dry or produce phlegm.
  • Muscle aches: Muscle aches or body aches are common with the flu and often create soreness throughout the body.
  • Malaise: Malaise refers to a general feeling of unwellness and discomfort. 
  • Tiredness: Feeling fatigued and excessively tired.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea: Some individuals, especially children, may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

How to prevent the flu in the workplace

Employers can implement a variety of health and hygiene best practices to help prevent the spread of flu viruses. Here are some of the most effective flu prevention measures you can include in your workplace:

Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine

One of the most effective ways to prevent influenza is by getting the flu shot. As an employer, you can provide information about the importance of flu vaccination and arrange for workplace flu shots. Although the flu vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, it will significantly reduce flu symptoms. 

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) advises that everyone 6 months of age and older without contraindications should get the flu shot every year.

Promote workplace hygiene practices

Promoting good hygiene practices among your staff can minimize the transmission of influenza. Encourage regular handwashing with soap and water and provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace. Distribute communications, posters, flyers, or emails on proper respiratory etiquettes, such as covering mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing.

Maintain clean work environments

Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, and shared equipment. You can provide disinfectant wipes or sprays for employees to clean their workstations and belongings. Another way to ensure a hygienic workplace is by keeping shared spaces such as break rooms, common areas, cafeterias and restrooms clean. This will reduce the spread of germs, viruses, and bacteria, which can also introduce other illnesses and diseases.

Implement flexible sick leave policies

Implement flexible sick leave and paid time off policies that allow employees to take time off without fear of repercussions. This not only prevents the spread of the flu but also promotes a positive workplace culture that emphasizes employee well-being. You should also communicate your sick leave policy clearly to your staff, so they know how to request time off and where to access health-related resources during the flu season.

Create an emergency response plan

Develop an emergency response plan to address outbreaks or clusters of flu cases in the workplace. This plan should include procedures for reporting, managing sick employees, facilitating remote work arrangements, and minimizing disruption to operations. Employers also have an obligation to provide health and safety training to employees so they know how to maintain a healthy and safe work environment.

Encourage healthy habits

Promote a healthy lifestyle among your employees to strengthen their immune systems and prevent them from getting the flu. Encourage physical activity, healthy eating, and adequate sleep. Consider offering wellness programs or activities like yoga classes or gym memberships to support employees’ health and well-being.

Promote a supportive environment

Create a culture that encourages employees to prioritize their health. Let employees know that it’s okay to take sick leave when needed and that doing so is essential for preventing the spread of illnesses. Employers can also support employees by sharing information about the types of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that are available, including treatment options, and when to seek medical assistance.

Provide self-monitoring resources and telehealth

Encourage employees to self-monitor for flu-like symptoms and report illnesses immediately. You can provide resources for self-monitoring, such as distributing thermometers to employees for temperature checks or self-assessment questionnaires. Alternatively, give employees access to health apps or platforms that provide information and evaluation tools for flu symptoms. You can also offer telehealth services so employees can consult with healthcare professionals remotely. 

Lead by example

As an employer, you can set an example for your staff by following the flu prevention measures you’ve implemented in the workplace. Demonstrating good hygiene practices, getting vaccinated, and staying home when sick send a strong message to your employees about the importance of flu prevention and staying healthy during the flu season.

How many sick days are employees allowed to take for the flu?

Ontario

Sick leave in Ontario is unpaid job-protected leave. While employers are free to offer more sick days or even paid sick leave to employees, they can’t take away the minimum entitlements mandated by the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA). It’s also illegal to punish or retaliate 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.

British Columbia 

Since January 1, 2022, employees covered by the BC Employment Standards Act (ESA) are entitled to a minimum of five paid sick leave days per year for illnesses or injuries. Employees are also given an additional three days of unpaid sick leave under the ESA, which means BC employees are entitled to eight days of job-protected sick leave, five of which are paid.

When an employee qualifies for paid sick leave, they must be paid at least an average day’s pay for each day of leave taken. An average day’s wage can be calculated by dividing the total wages by the number of days worked in a pay period. Employers can’t ask employees to take their three unpaid sick days first or decide how employees should take their sick leaves.

Alberta

Employees in Alberta can take up to five days of unpaid personal and family responsibility leave each calendar year. This leave is for taking care of personal health or family matters, which include sick leaves, medical emergencies, and caregiving responsibilities.

Employees must be employed with the employer for at least 90 days to be eligible for personal and family responsibility leave. Employees who have less than 90 days of employment may still be granted leave, but employers are not required to do this by the Employment Standards Code. 

Do you need help developing sick leave and flexible work policies?

Whether it’s flu prevention in the workplace, ESA compliant sick leave policy, or health and safety practices, Peninsula’s HR experts got you covered. We can provide actionable employer advice, create essential HR documentation, and help optimize work procedures. Get in touch with us today at 1(833) 247-3652 to find out more.

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