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Business options to fight the flu

You've probably heard the basics for fighting the H1N1 flu by now: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze, and stay home when you are sick. But businesses have a few more things to consider.

Here is a primer for businesses based on information from the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

A common thread is that employers should act now, before the flu has reached its peak and businesses are crippled by absences, lack of supplies and other issues.

What should businesses provide for employees to help fight the flu?

Health officials suggest a company should provide the following to all employees:

■ Tissues.

■ Antibacterial wipes that contain bleach as a main ingredient.

■ Hand sanitizer.

Ideally, employees should clean off their workspace, including keyboards, desks and telephones daily with antibacterial wipes.

Now is the time to provide these items, which help contain the virus, before the flu spreads, officials say.

What about masks?

Providing masks might be an option if the number of sick people in a workplace is significant.

It's best for employers to seek a source of masks now, before the virus spreads, to ensure that the masks will be available when needed.

How can we make sure the business continues to run?

Prepare for the worst-case scenario by anticipating that 30 percent of your workforce might be absent at any given time.

If there are critical functions, such as payroll, that are done by a single person, make sure that someone is properly trained to take over if that person is out. Review non-critical functions that can be postponed if the virus hits its peak.

Health officials suggest reviewing how your business functioned during the 2003 ice storm in Central Kentucky and taking a cue from that crisis in preparing for this one.

Also, remember, even if your employees aren't sick, there might be school closings that could significantly impact your workforce.

Should employers consider telecommuting?

Yes, telecommuting, or working from home, should be explored when possible, officials say.

It might be a good option for those who have family members who are sick but are not sick themselves.

Ideally, people living with someone who is sick with the H1N1 virus should not be coming into a workplace, officials say.

Telecommuting should also be considered as an option for people at high risk for getting the disease, such as pregnant women or people who live with someone in a high-risk category.

Now is the time to provide any technical assistance that is needed to make telecommuting possible, officials say.

Should attendance policies be reviewed?

If performance and pay are tied to attendance, those policies need to be reviewed. Policies that encourage people to come into work when they are sick or that punish employees when they are absent should be suspended during the flu outbreak.

What about requiring a doctor's note for an absence?

Though the flu has yet to reach its peak, health officials are already suggesting that someone with flu symptoms should call their doctor to get antiviral medication to help lessen symptoms instead of going into the office. With doctors' offices and hospitals swamped with cases, it might not always be possible to get a doctor's note.

What do you do if someone comes to work sick?

If it's clear that someone should not be at work, ask them to go home to preserve the health of others.

When will H1N1 vaccines be available and what should businesses do?

A limited supply of H1N1 vaccine will be available in late October, officials say.

Certain groups, such as pregnant women and health care workers, will be given priority in getting that vaccine. After the needs of those priority groups are met, health departments may work with employers to provide on-site vaccinations. Employers should contact their local health departments for information.

Anyone with questions about the vaccines, including information about the possibility of scheduling a clinic in a workplace in Lexington, may call the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department flu hot line at (859) 288-7529.

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