Public Health

On-The-Job Advice For Swine Flu

There's one thing no one can accuse the government of doing: neglecting swine flu.

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Stay out of my cubicle. CDC) hide caption

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Last week the administration issued guidelines for how schools should deal with the likely imminent return of the H1N1 virus. Now the feds have released guidelines for businesses. Coming soon: advice for colleges and universities.

One of the tips for employers is to ease up on sick-leave rules. Employees shouldn't feel that taking sick days will cost them their jobs.

Indeed, businesses should impress upon workers that they should stay home if they experience fever, chills, cough or other flu symptoms. Bosses shouldn't require workers to produce a note from their doctors afterward — that would overburden the health-care system, says Commerce Department head Gary Locke.

In addition, workplaces should be kept clean, and employers should consider protections for workers at higher risk of flu, such as pregnant women and people with some chronic health conditions. One step to take: make sure people at greater risk aren't working in close quarters with others.

Businesses should have plans covering how they'll operate if there's a lot of absenteeism, and not let employees go on business travel if they're ill. And of course, the government doesn't give any flu advice that doesn't include reminders that people should cover up their coughs and sneezes, and wash their hands frequently.

If the new virus starts causing more serious illness than it did last spring, the guidelines ratchet up. Businesses should consider actively screening employees for fever or other symptoms, encouraging people at high risk to work from home or elsewhere. Businesses could increase "social distancing" at the workplace — no group meetings, and desks placed farther apart. That's something employees might enjoy.

In fact, if there's a ban on meetings and we can't talk to the guy in the next cubicle, maybe nobody will notice us playing this cool simulator called The Great Flu, which tests how we'd do managing a flu epidemic.

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