Sick EEWe’ve all been there. You open your eyes, and know you’re sick. The headache, stuffy nose, body aches.  You knew you’d eventually catch the “bug” that’s been going around.   But you’re a dedicated employee, so you take some colds meds and head into the office.  You’ve got work to do, that project deadline is looming, and you don’t want to leave your coworkers to carry the load. However well intentioned, this is a huge mistake.

Flu season generally starts in October and peaks in February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of Americans get the flu every year, with hundreds of thousands hospitalized. During this time of year, many Americans with fevers, aches, and runny noses will face a question: Should they go into work?

When it comes to the workplace, the office environment is the ideal conduit for germs to spread, even when only a single person is sick. Consider the routine of office activity, commonly touched surfaces like door knobs, microwaves, phones, and the coffee pot.

Best health practices include:

  1. Avoiding contact with sick people
  2. Staying home when sick, and encouraging employees to do so
  3. Covering coughs and sneezes
  4. Proper hand-washing hygiene
  5. Disinfecting common surfaces.

As an employer or manager, you play an important role in encouraging your employees to adhere to these guidelines. You can reinforce good habits by prominently posting the CDC guidelines in common areas; providing supplies such as tissues, disinfecting wipes; and hand sanitizer; and even offering free or low-cost flu shots for those employees who wish to get vaccinated. Finally, encourage sick employees to remain at home until they are symptom free for at least 24 hours.

Note that many states and cities may require employers to provide a certain amount of sick leave, either with or without pay, to their employees. Make sure that your sick leave policy complies with any applicable state or federal laws and is clear in specifying the eligibility rules, whether sick leave is paid or not, how many days are provided each year, and any carryover provisions. Regardless of what is required and what you decide with your sick leave policy, you should include the policy in your employee handbook if you distribute one.

Remember: while it may be tempting to allow a sick employee to come to work in the name of productivity, an outbreak of influenza or other communicable disease can thwart the productivity of your entire workforce for days or even weeks-and that’s a cost no business can afford.