OHS Canada Magazine

How to manage the flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic

Workplaces should have proper screening procedures in place


Employers can implement various policies to better protect their workforce. (Pixel-Shot/Adobe Stock)

With winter approaching, flu season will soon be one more thing businesses have to deal with.

While Canada remains in the throes of the pandemic, discerning whether symptoms of sickness are due to a common cold, flu or COVID-19 is impossible without a test, according to Hope McManus, head of health and safety at OHS consultancy firm Peninsula Canada.

As a result, businesses will be more likely to experience work refusals, absenteeism, as well as staff shortages while workers self-isolate to wait for test results.

There are several things employers can be doing this flu season to help prevent employee illness and consequences to their business, she says.

Implementing screening procedures

Workplaces should have proper screening procedures in place to ensure that no symptomatic staff are coming in to work, says McManus.

“Since there is no simple way to tell the difference between flu, cold and COVID-19 symptoms, all staff who are experiencing related symptoms should be sent home immediately to prevent the spread of illness in the workplace,” she says.

“As cases of COVID-19 are still high, every business needs to play their part in preserving public health.”

Provide education, training

This goes hand in hand with providing education and training to staff on how to self-monitor and identify symptoms. Staff should be informed of expectations should they begin experiencing signs of illness, says McManus.

“Workers should know what to do if they start experiencing COVID-19 symptoms at work, including who to notify and that they should immediately self-isolate,” she says.

“Additionally, staff should be trained on proper respiratory and hand hygiene such as wearing personal protective equipment, coughing or sneezing into their elbow and sanitizing hands frequently.”

Ensuring all team members have received training and are following health and safety procedures at all times will also lessen worries individuals might have about interacting with co-workers.

Build wellness, resilience at work

Another way employers can support workers’ health during flu season is by building a wellness program to get staff in the habit of building personal health and improve resilience.

Stress, a sedentary lifestyle and burnout are common workplace concerns that can lead to poor physical and mental health.

“Providing staff with an excellent benefits package is a worthwhile investment,” says McManus.

“Free or discounted gym memberships and fitness classes are important benefits for supporting workers’ physical health. Reminding staff to practice self-care, get fresh air, take short breaks throughout the workday, eat well and get enough sleep are other ways employers can encourage well-being and demonstrate to workers that their health is a priority.”

Improve employees’ access to health care

Encouraging and reminding staff to get their flu shot this season will also minimize their chances of getting the flu and having to miss work.

While there is no way to prevent COVID-19 except through health and safety best practices, the common flu can be prevented with vaccinations, says McManus. Setting up a flu clinic at your workplace is a convenient way for employees to get vaccinated without having to make an extra trip.

Virtual clinics are an additional option employers can suggest employees make use of to broaden their access to health care.

This option also reduces the risk of exposure to the flu and COVID-19 during travel and waiting in line at in-person clinics.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.