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5 tips for preventing the spread of influenza in the workplace

By Medisys on September 04 2019 | News, Physical Health

Millions of Canadians are impacted by the flu. Thousands die annually from flu complications. For most healthy people flu symptoms typically go away within a week, but many individuals report feeling weak for several days longer1. The flu represents a significant challenge for employers, with about 1.5 million workdays lost annually in Canada because of the flu, resulting in about $1 billion in healthcare and lost productivity costs2. Infected individuals are typically contagious beginning one day before any symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. Because individuals can spread the flu before even knowing that they are sick, the flu travels rapidly from employee to employee working in close proximity.

In a survey of more than 3,700 employees about work and illness, the majority of respondents (72%) reported going to work when sick. 55% of respondents reported feeling guilty when calling in sick, even though fifty three percent reported that they have become ill because of sick co-worker3.


Want to prevent the spread of flu this season in your workplace? Follow these helpful tips: 



  • Encourage all employees to get the flu vaccine each fall.
  • Keep work desks, conference rooms, washrooms, and common areas stocked with hand sanitizer and tissues.
  • Provide flu information and prevention tips in employee washrooms and common areas (eg. how to recognize the first signs of the flu, the difference between the flu and the common cold, the importance of frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding close contact etc.).
  • Provide information to employees with specific needs or risk factors as it relates to the flu (eg. pregnant women or employees caring for young children or elderly parents).



  • Before the flu season begins, ensure employees understand the importance of staying home when sick and are aware of the company’s policies surrounding employee illness and sick days.
  • When an employee comes to the office with flu symptoms, remind them to go home and get well, and to stay home until symptoms have subsided.
  • Encourage employees with a fever to stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone (without the use of feverreducing medications).


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  • Pandemic flu is different from season flu and it is uncommon, with the last pandemic flu occurring in 20094. However, many experts believe the next pandemic flu is inevitable.
  • A pandemic flu could affect as many as 40 percent of the workforce and has a major impact on the general public, businesses, and the economy. Employees may be absent due to their own illness or to care for sick children.
  • Plan for the direct business impact of a pandemic flu (eg. financial, logistical) as well as the direct impact on employees and their families.



  • Flu season typically begins in the fall, yet many will procrastinate getting the flu shot until the middle of winter, after noticing their friends and colleagues fall ill. By hosting an on-site flu vaccination clinic at your office before the end of October, you can ensure employees get the maximum benefit of vaccination and optimize flu prevention.
  • The inconvenience and stress of travelling to and from a doctor’s office or clinic during a busy workday prompts many to delay their annual flu shot or forgo it altogether. With an onsite flu clinic, employees don’t need to travel, prompting higher employee vaccination rates.
  • When considering the broader flu-related costs to employers such as absenteeism and lost productivity, on-site flu vaccination clinics save businesses money by both reducing employee time away from work to get vaccinated and reducing flu related absenteeism.
  • Onsite flu clinics, like other employee health and wellness programs, help boost employee morale by making employees feel cared for.



  • Encourage managers to get vaccinated and to lead by example. Get managers involved in promoting the company’s onsite flu clinic and other flu-prevention measures, having support from senior management will help boost participation.
  • Provide flu posters and pamphlets about onsite flu clinics in high-traffic areas (eg. break rooms, elevators, cafeterias etc.) and provide this information digitally (employee intranet, company emails) to maximize staff awareness and participation.
  • After each flu season, solicit feedback from employees about the effectiveness of the company’s flu-prevention and vaccination program and garner recommendations for future years’ programs. 
  • Get creative – try hosting a contest where employees in different departments compete for the highest flu vaccination rates for a prize that fosters team-building.


1. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/stay-home-cold-flu
2, 3. https://www.benefitscanada.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/influenzaatwork-2012-e1.pdf
4. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/resource-center/freeresources/graphics/seasonal-vs-pandemic-flu-infographic.htm