Want to discourage employees who have the flu from coming to work and spreading the virus to others in your workforce? Provide them with paid leave and the option of telework. That’s according to a study on work attendance during acute respiratory illness (ARI), which found that those provisions tend to keep sick employees away from the workplace and also help them retain some work productivity.

Billions in lost productivity

The flu can be a costly problem for employers. According to the study, “the annual economic burden of influenza in the United States, depending on the severity of the influenza season, ranges from $15 billion to $64 billion, of which lost productivity accounts for a substantial proportion (1). The annual economic burden of noninfluenza viral respiratory tract infections is estimated to be $40 billion (2). As a result of absenteeism and diminished work capacity, employees with medically attended influenza can expect to lose 69% of their usual workplace productivity and employees with noninfluenza acute respiratory illness (ARI) can expect to lose 58% of their usual workplace productivity during the week after symptom onset (3). With about two thirds of the US adult population participating in the labor force (4), workplace contacts can play a major role in the transmission of influenza (5). Influenza vaccination can reduce illness and work absenteeism associated with influenza (6), but fewer than one third of US adults 18–64 years of age were vaccinated in the 2017–2018 influenza season (7).”

Telework reduces exposure

“Respiratory etiquette, regular hand hygiene, and staying home for >24 hours after fever subsides can help slow the spread of seasonal and pandemic influenza (8). For employed adults, staying home when ill usually entails taking sick days or working from home. During a respiratory illness, some employees may have a telework option, whereby they are permitted to perform their usual work functions while staying at home (without having to use paid time off or sick leave benefits). Telework may be a good mitigation strategy during an influenza pandemic if ill persons work remotely and avoid exposing co-workers during the contagious period (9). About 24% of employed persons in the United States telework regularly, varying from 8% in production occupations to 34% in managerial and professional occupations (10). Teleworking options also tend to track closely with education; 13% of workers with less than a high school diploma report being able to telework, compared with 37% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (10).

Because infectiousness is greatest during the first 3 days of illness, preventing sick employees from coming to work during that time period is vital for reducing workplace-based transmission.

Click here to read the study results.

Authors of Paid Leave and Access to Telework as Work Attendance Determinants during Acute Respiratory Illness, United States, 2017–2018 are: Faruque Ahmed, Sara Kim, Mary Patricia Nowalk, Jennifer P. King, Jeffrey J. VanWormer, Manjusha Gaglani, Richard K. Zimmerman, Todd Bear, Michael L. Jackson, Lisa A. Jackson, Emily Martin, Caroline Cheng, Brendan Flannery, Jessie R. Chung, and Amra Uzicanin

Author affiliations: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (F. Ahmed, S. Kim, B. Flannery, J.R. Chung, A. Uzicanin); University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (M.P. Nowalk, R.K. Zimmerman, T. Bear); Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, Marshfield, Wisconsin, USA (J.P. King, J.J. VanWormer); Texas A&M University, Temple, Texas, USA (M. Gaglani); Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA (M.L. Jackson, L.A. Jackson); University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (E. Martin, C. Cheng)


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