This blog was authored by Lisa S. Charbonneau.

Flu season is upon us again. This year hospitals across California have reported unusually high numbers of patients with flu-like symptoms  and news outlets say this flu season is on track to being the worst in 10 years.   What, if anything, can employers do to manage and minimize the effects of flu season on employees?

Employees Should Take Advantage of Their Available Sick Leave

Many employees come to work sick or fall ill at work but do not leave. Employees who are sick in the work place may cause the sickness to spread to other employees, leading to productivity loss.  To best promote the use of sick leave when employees are sick, employers should clearly inform employees that they are expected to use their sick leave when necessary and if they experience symptoms at work, they should go home – and stay home until they have recovered.  Importantly, managers who come to work sick set a poor example for their supervisees.  Therefore, managers should be similarly advised not to come to work while sick or displaying flu-like symptoms.

Send Home Employees Who Show Visible Signs of a Contagious Illness at Work

An employer can require an employee to go home if he or she is showing signs of a contagious illness – even if the employee does not want to leave work. The best practice is to take this action when an employee shows extreme signs of illness, e.g. loud and repeated coughing, hacking, or sneezing.  When sending an employee home due to visible illness, employers must ensure they are acting in a non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory, and neutral manner.  Employers should consider establishing policies or procedures with language confirming the right to remove sick employees from the workplace.

Employees May Use Sick Leave to Care for Family Members with the Flu

California’s Paid Sick Leave Law provides that employees may use up to one half of their annual accrued sick leave to care for their family members. The definition of family members is quite broad; the term includes children, parents, spouses, domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parent-in-laws.  Employers cannot deny an employee the right to use protected paid sick leave and are prohibited from retaliating against employees for using such leave.

The Flu Could Trigger FMLA/CFRA Entitlements

If the flu constitutes a “serious health condition” under the FMLA/CFRA, an affected employee would be entitled to avail themselves of their FMLA/CFRA rights, including by taking protected leave for their own flu or to care for a family member with the flu (assuming all other legal requirements are met). The flu may be a “serious health condition” if the employee is unable to work or perform other regular daily activities for three consecutive calendar days and the employee requires treatment from a healthcare provider twice within thirty days and/or requires continuing treatment under the supervision of a health care provider.

Although employers cannot escape influenza season, employers do have tools to address the effects of contagious illnesses in the workplace. For more information on leave entitlements for California employees, including California’s new Protected Paid Sick Leave Law, please visit the LCW Liebert Library here:

And don’t forget to wash your hands!