Each year, employers in the United States lose an estimated $7 billion due to missed work and lost productivity because of the flu. In fact, approximately 17 million sick days are attributed to this illness alone.

Flu season begins in mid-September and usually continues through the spring, and—in California—typically reaches its peak between late November and the end of February. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), flu symptoms include fever, cough, muscle pain, and difficulty breathing. There are several steps you can take to help keep this annual epidemic from spreading through your workplace. Those include urging workers to get a flu vaccine, frequently and properly wash their hands, and help keep the workplace clean.

The best defense is a flu shot

The CDC says early flu season (September/October) is the best time to get vaccinated—before flu activity really takes off. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to spur your immune system to build enough antibodies to avoid getting sick.

As an employer, you can encourage your workers to get the vaccine right away by giving them time off work. Or, if feasible, you can host a flu vaccine clinic at your workplace. You can also forward along information from your health benefits provider.

Good hygiene helps reduce the spread of flu

Frequent handwashing helps protect you from the flu.

Video: Your Hands May be Dirtier Than You Think

In addition to the flu vaccine, hand washing is another effective way to prevent the spread of the flu virus. Our video, Your Hands are Dirtier Than You Think, demonstrates the proper method for washing your hands. While at work, try thinking about how many other people have touched your office door. Think about how many touch the coffee pot handle, or the money you use to buy lunch. After watching the video, you’ll understand why the proper handwashing technique is so important.

If no running water is available, use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol. Rub the sanitizer all over your hands and under your nails until your hands are dry. Hand sanitizer is not a replacement for proper handwashing, but if you use one with 60 percent alcohol, it’s better than nothing.

It’s also important to remember, we are contagious with the flu at least a day before we develop symptoms. Maintaining good hygiene will help reduce transmitting the flu before you know you are sick. Here are some more steps to help prevent the spread of flu at your workplace:

  • Remind workers to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Keep tissue readily available and use it to cough or sneeze into. If tissue is isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve.
  • Keep desks and countertops clean. You can use disinfectant wipes to quickly clean up these areas and help minimize the spread of germs.

Ask employees with flu symptoms to stay home

If any of your employees come down with the flu, encourage them to stay home. The CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Most adults who become ill from the virus will recover in a few days. However, remind your employees to seek medical attention if they develop complications.

Encouraging your employees to get their flu shots and to take other precautions throughout flu season helps them avoid getting sick. Your employees and your workplace productivity will be healthier too.

The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.