Tips for keeping small businesses open during flu season



ATLANTA — With flu season reaching its peak, the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center offers these suggestions for keeping employees healthy and businesses open:

• Let workers know they won't get in trouble for calling in sick. Make sure your business has adopted policies that encourage employees to stay home without any fear of reprisals.

• Encourage employees to get a flu shot. If possible, provide employees time off to obtain the vaccine or consult with your benefits provider about offering the vaccine to employees on-site. The flu is not going away, so an annual flu shot program can provide a good return on your investment.

• Keep the workplace clean. Keep frequently touched common surfaces clean. For example, regularly wipe down telephones, computer equipment, and kitchen areas. Preventing the spread of germs can make a big difference in getting ahead of seasonal illnesses.

• Expect some unexpected absences. Even if an employee isn’t sick, he or she might have to stay home to care for a sick child or family member. Be ready with a back-up plan to ensure critical jobs are covered. Cross-train employees on key functions, so if someone is out sick, another employee can step in and cover the job. Permit telecommuting if possible.

• Know what the law says about paid sick leave. Subject to the provisions of your business’ vacation/paid time off (PTO) policies and any state laws; you can require an employee with the flu to use paid leave for any absence due to illness. If your business offers paid leave, and if the employee has exhausted the leave, you can generally dock a non-exempt employee’s paycheck for work missed due to illness. For exempt employees, if the exempt employee initiates the absence, the employer may dock the exempt employee for full-day absences. Finally, depending on the size of your business the employee might be entitled to leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, depending on whether the worker (or his or her family member) was sick for more than three days and sought treatment with a healthcare provider.

For more information, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly seasonal flu update (

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