What to Do about the Flu
By Sally Weldin, Sr. Human Resource Specialist
Published February 13, 2018
The flu is very dangerous this season. Whether the strains are especially virulent or the vaccine not very effective, the spread of flu has closed public schools and caused many employees to call in sick.
Employers can aid in the containment of germs by ensuring that soap and water is available for employees to wash their hands; providing hand sanitizer; offering disposable paper towels instead of reusable; and putting out tissues. Some employers may pay for flu shots, or simply ask employees who have bona fide symptoms to leave the workplace to prevent spreading contagious germs to coworkers.
For additional assistance, OSHA offers guidance on “seasonal flu” prevention and treatment for healthcare and non-healthcare workers and employers.
One concern for employers and employees is how to treat employees who have the flu in terms of absenteeism. Many employers count days of absence due to the flu under sick day policies. Sick day policies (whether paid or unpaid) provide a limited number of days employees may use for short term illnesses. These policies are created by employers and usually grant on average between 8 – 10 sick days per benefit year (source: 2017/2018 Chicagoland Policies & Benefits Survey, Management Association). Once the employee has used his or her allotted sick days, additional absences could be met with discipline or warnings.
Can absences due to the flu be counted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Perhaps. The FMLA provides eligible employees up to 12 unpaid weeks off for the serious health condition of the employee or the employee’s child, spouse or parent.
FMLA regulations promulgated by the federal Department of Labor specifically address the flu:
Ordinarily, unless complications arise, the common cold, the flu, ear aches, upset stomach, minor ulcers, headaches other than migraine, routine dental or orthodontia problems, periodontal disease, etc., are examples of conditions that do not meet the definition of a serious health condition and do not qualify for FMLA leave. (29 CFR §825.113(d))
However, this provision is a bit misleading. If the flu otherwise meets the definition of serious health condition under the FMLA’s regulations (e.g., by involving inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider as defined in the regulations), then an employee may still be entitled to protection under the FMLA. Thus, for FMLA purposes, employers should treat flu-related absences as they would treat other health-related absences.
If an employer believes that an employee’s absence may qualify for FMLA, it can request that the employee have his or her health care provider complete the FMLA Certification of Employee’s Serious Health Condition and give the employee the FMLA Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities and Designation notices to document the leave.
FMLA forms, notices, poster, and sample policy can be found on the Management Association's website under the Member Resources tab. Members with questions on flu-related absences should contact the HR Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-448-4584.