Dr. Vicki Bralow tells her employees to stay home, guilt-free. That is, if they’re sick.
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And this year, the odds are they’ll be taking her up on the offer. With the country suffering what’s being called the worst flu season in a decade, workplace productivity is being impacted at companies of all sizes.
The Centers for Disease control estimates that on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost American employers $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits. This does not account for lost productivity costs and absenteeism.
So far this year, out of 41 states reporting flu cases, 29 say the outbreak is at “severe” levels, according to a release from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The NY Daily News reported the number of cases throughout New York has reached more than 15,000, compared to just 4,400 reported cases throughout the entirety of last year’s flu season. The city of Boston has also declared a public health emergency, with 18 people reportedly dead from the flu, according to Massachusetts public health officials.
Bralow operates two practices in the Philadelphia area and has eight employees. The typical advice doctors give for prevention such as covering your mouth when coughing, washing hands frequently and not sharing items like pens or phones with those who are sick, should be distributed to your employees, Bralow said.
More importantly, drive home the fact that those who are sick should not be in the workplace, period.
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“We encourage people not to feel uncomfortable or worry that we are angry with them for being sick and staying home,” she said. “If someone is truly sick, they should stay home and not be penalized. The atmosphere should be that managers and supervisor should not be harsh on their employees.”
As both a small-business owner and doctor, Bralow has seen the impacts of this season on both sides of the job.
“We have been inundated this year with this terrible influenza virus lasting a good seven-to-ten days,” she said. “Managers need to realize these people cannot come to work.”
The CDC is also encouraging employers to host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace and also promote vaccination in the office.