Halloween is here which means flu season is also around the
corner. Every year, millions of Canadians catch the flu, usually
between late fall and early spring. Most of these cases are mild.
Some can be very severe.
For employers, the flu cycle is a reality of Canadian winters.
While an Ebola pandemic or a zombie apocalypse might not be a real
concern for Canadian employers, significant flu variants have
resulted in lost productivity. This includes missing work to take
care of themselves as well as for their families.
How can employers prepare?
Encourage staff to wash their hands regularly. Provide signs
encouraging safe washing and coughing procedures.
Provide accessible alcohol-based anti-bacterial hand
Encourage employees to get annual flu shots. This might be done
by giving them time off with pay to attend a clinic or holding a
flu shot clinic at work. If you hold a flu shot clinic at work,
most physicians will require employees to sign a waiver prior to
getting a flu shot.
Consider whether you can make annual flu immunizations
mandatory. Currently, mandatory flu shots have only been upheld in
health care professions and health sensitive environments. If this
describes your organization it might be possible to make flu shot
Encourage staff to stay home if they are sick. Consider
incentives to stay home when ill such as offering limited sick pay
or easing attendance policies during flu season and upon receipt of
confirming medical information. Remember, employers have a duty to
provide a safe workplace and employees have the right to refuse
work that is unsafe. Allowing a staff member to attend at work when
they are visibly ill could result in workplace health and safety
Allow employees to work from home if they are ill.
If a staff member is visibly ill direct them to go home.
Prepare an emergency response plan to deal with medical
emergencies. While you hope this will never be necessary, it should
be part of your emergency planning. Management should be familiar
with it. In today's interconnected world a strong flu strain or
other communicable diseases can spread quickly and businesses will
need to react accordingly. An emergency response plan should:
appoint a staff member as an information point person who will
be responsible for monitoring information about the medical
emergency such as notices about the strain of flu;
address expectations to staff during a medical emergency
regarding attendance, client contact, travel restrictions,
address who and how you will communicate with key clients and
maintain crucial business activities; and
generally consider how a large-scale medical emergency will
affect your business (for example, how will you cope if airports
are shut down?).
While these steps won't protect against zombies, they will
help employers manage the effects of the flu and other seasonal
illnesses in the workplace.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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