Sick Time: A Proactive Approach

By Glenn A. Duhl, Esq. & Angelica M. Wilson, Esq.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the 2012-2013 flu season started four weeks earlier than in recent years and–as of the week ending March 9, 2013–flu activity remained high across the country. The CDC admits the timing of flu activity is unpredictable, but has said substantial activity could occur as late as May.

This extended and potent season has caused increased absenteeism and increased health care costs for employers. Under the Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Act, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide paid sick leave annually. Under the Act, an employee may use paid sick leave for his or her own illness or the illness of a child or spouse. As this is the first official flu season since the passage of this new law, it is important to be aware how your business has already been affected this year and to prepare accordingly for the remainder of this season and for next year.

Undoubtedly, some of your employees have been sick, and others may still get sick. Absenteeism can become rampant as sick employees opt to stay home. In reality, absenteeism has a larger impact on your business than a temporary decreased workforce. It results in lost worker productivity and paid sick leave to those absent employees, which end up costing your business more in the long run. Proactive steps can be taken, however, to reduce the impact of the flu, the common cold and other viruses on your business.

Enhanced cleaning services limit the spread of viruses in the workplace. Germs can survive on surfaces for a period of a few minutes to 48 hours or more, depending on the type of surface and the temperature and humidity of the environment. Cleaning buildings and communal spaces more frequently during cold and flu season cuts down on the transmission of viruses between employees. The slight increased cost of these enhanced cleaning services is more than offset by the benefit and cost savings derived from a healthy (and present!) workforce.

You may also cut down on illness-related absenteeism by educating and assisting employees in fending off cold and flu viruses by:

  • putting mats at the doorways to prevent tracking in salt, dirt and other debris that may carry germs into the workplace
  • encouraging frequent hand washing and sanitizing
  • encouraging employees to cover their mouths and noses when sneezing and coughing

Hand washing or sanitizing kills most germs, making it a top priority in the workplace. Posting friendly reminders in the restrooms and providing hand sanitizers are excellent ways to stay ahead of the game. While an employer cannot force employees to take these preventative measures, a little encouragement goes a long way.

While prevention is ideal, it is important for sick employees to stay home in order to prevent the spread of infection to others in the workplace. Encourage employees to stay alert for signs of cold and flu and to keep from potentially spreading germs to the rest of your workforce.

Glenn A. Duhl and Angelica M. Wilson are management-side employment and litigation lawyers at Siegel, O’Connor, O’Donnell & Beck, P.C. They represent management in preventive employment law and litigation of all employment matters. Please visit www.siegeloconnor.com. 

The information contained in this article is general in nature and offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered and should not be construed as legal advice.