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Flu jabs and the workplace

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Sickness absence due to flu can be a major headache for employers as well as employees during the long winter months.

Flu is highly contagious, so once one employee has caught it, there’s every chance the virus will quickly spread to other staff across your workplace.

Heavy colds are unpleasant enough, but flu is a nasty, debilitating illness, which can leave even the healthiest of people feeling weak and unwell for up to two weeks. As well as being miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to contract it, flu can be damaging to a business’s productivity and smooth operation.

In vulnerable groups, including people aged over 65, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic liver disease, flu can be extremely serious and even fatal.

Anyone who has flu must stay off work to avoid passing it on to colleagues, although some staff might feel they should return before they’re completely well.  Make sure they know they must remain at home until they’re fully recovered.

The NHS provides free flu vaccination to those most at risk of developing complications, and to their main carers.  To protect themselves and the people they look after, frontline health and social care workers are also eligible for an NHS flu jab.  This year the number of people qualifying for free immunisation has reached 25 million, and for the first time, primary schoolchildren are being offered the vaccine in the form of a nasal spray.

Your employees who are eligible under the UK Government’s national flu vaccination programme will be invited to have their jab at their GP surgery. Those who don’t qualify will have to book and pay for a flu jab privately if they want to reduce their chance of catching flu.

Flu jabs for those who don’t  get a free one on the NHS, are relatively inexpensive, ranging in price from around £9 to £12.  They are available at high street chemist chains, as well as at local independent pharmacies and major supermarkets.  Many outlets request that customers book an appointment, which might be difficult if pharmacies’ available time slots fall within work hours.  If a member of staff is finding it difficult to make their appointment because of employment commitments, you could consider allowing them to take an hour off during the day to have their jab.

Some employers pay for their staff to be immunised against flu, greatly reducing the risk of a flu outbreak at work. They arrange for private health care companies to send a trained nurse to their premises to vaccinate employees, keeping disruption to a minimum. Many private providers also run voucher schemes with participating pharmacies for employers with smaller workforces.

Although the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective in every case, health professionals firmly agree that for most people, immunisation is advisable.  You can also help reduce the spread of flu – as well as infectious coughs and colds – by encouraging staff to practise effective office hygiene.  Keep shared equipment such as keyboards and phones as clean as possible, particularly during flu season, and promote thorough hand washing.  Good hand hygiene is essential in protecting against infection.  Soap and water are best, but you may also want to install hand sanitizers as an additional line of defence.

If, despite your health precautions, a member of staff does fall ill with flu, send them home. There are no prizes for presenteeism!

Do you need some help and or guidance on managing the flu season in your workplace, and promoting general good health at work, talk to us today on 01455 444222 and we will help you keep a healthy workforce.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.