ABSENCE | Managing sickness during the flu season

As we say goodbye to the summer, attention is now on common autumn and winter illnesses.

These illnesses can be very disruptive as they cause absences and can leave employers scrambling to redistribute work amongst others in the team or finding last minute cover. The most obvious that springs to mind is the flu.  

Considering how highly contagious the flu is, it’s not surprising that it continues to be one of the key reasons for short-term sickness absences. Its symptoms, including fatigue, aches and pains, high temperature and sore throat, can leave employees needing a week or two off work and employers in the lurch.

Tackling the flu in the workplace

One way to deal with the flu is promoting excellent hygiene standards in the workplace.  This involves encouraging staff to wash their hands properly and regularly, cover their mouths when they cough and wipe surfaces and door handles to get rid of germs.

Another way to manage the outbreak of flu is to encourage employees to not come into work. If they do come into the workplace with the flu, there is a considerable risk that they will spread it to the rest of the team, causing more absences. It can also delay their own recovery if they have not taken enough time to rest and recuperate. This is often called presenteeism.

A popular way that many employers consider is to offer staff the flu vaccine.  It essentially aims to protect those who are at risk of flu. A HR specialist will be able to advise how to help with this benefit.

Is there a legal duty imposed on employers to provide the flu jab to employees?

Generally, the answer is no. However, the NHS recommends that front-line health and social care workers should get the immunization vaccine, as well as pregnant employees, those over the age of 65 and those suffering from medical conditions, for example, chronic asthma, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

Many employers offer all their employees the jab in order to reduce absences and keep employees fit and well. You may decide to reimburse the cost of an annual flu jab as long as the employee presents the receipt. Or you could arrange a trained nurse to visit your workplace to administer it. It is up to you whether you will allow employees to take time off during working hours or pay them for this time off.

To discuss how to tackle short-term absences, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can guide you.