Flu shots and Germ-X: How businesses cope with cold and flu outbreaks 

    As this winter’s flu outbreak intensifies, small business owners try to keep their companies from being overwhelmed by employee absences.

    At Gold Medal Wine Club in Santa Barabara, California, for example, any surfaces people are likely to touch, including the coffee machine, water dispenser and door knobs, are wiped down and there’s hand sanitizer on every desk. The 11 staffers are expected to sub for one another when someone’s sick, something that’s critical when orders for wine pour in.

    The flu can be devastating for small businesses. If a company with just a handful of employees has two or more out at once, it can be difficult or impossible to get the work done. So owners pay for flu shots and use disinfectants in hopes of keeping everyone healthy and urge sick staffers not to come to work.

    “Nothing harms our ability to hit deadlines more than a spreading flu through the ranks of our staff members,” says Alex Kehoe, co-founder of Caveni, a website design company that has 10 employees at its Philadelphia headquarters and more than 10 others who work remotely.

    When Kehoe’s staffers start having flu symptoms, he encourages them to stay home. Kehoe follows his own advice; he was working at home with a bad cold while being interviewed by phone for this story.

    This flu season started early this cycle and all but two states reported widespread outbreaks by the week ended Jan. 11, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 1982 to 2018, the flu most often peaked in February.

    But business owners often can’t require staffers to be vaccinated, says Rick Gibbs, a consultant with human resources provider Insperity. Some employees may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from requiring them to undergo medical procedures. However, people who work in health care facilities can be required to be immunized.

    Some staffers don’t want to stay home if they’re sick. Gibbs recommends owners appeal to staffers’ common sense—it’s better for them and their co-workers if they stay home. And if a staffer wants to work rather than lose pay, Gibbs recommends owners rethink their paid time off or sick leave policy; workers are more likely to stay home if they know they won’t lose pay. Read the full story. 

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