Fighting cold, flu season in the workplace

Cold and flu season is setting in and the close quarters of the workplace allow co-workers to easily trade germs. Better Business Bureau recommends that business owners take a few simple steps to prevent illnesses from spreading and promote productivity throughout the workplace.

According to the National Institutes of Health, every year there are more than 1 billion cases of the common cold in the United States. The flu also affects five to 20 percent of Americans every year with the peak season starting in late November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fighting germs around the office is about keeping employees safe and maintaining productivity throughout the peak cold and flu seasons. Encouraging proper hygiene and a liberal leave policy will help maintain a happier, healthier workplace.

BBB recommends taking the following steps to protect employees during cold and flu season:

Build up an arsenal to fight germs. Kleenex, hand sanitizer and products for cleaning work spaces are basic purchases employers can make for fighting germs around the office. Also consider investing in no-touch trash cans.

Encourage people to stay home. Sick employees may think they’re being dedicated workers when they still come into work but, the truth is, they spread germs to other employees and cut down on the overall productivity of the business. Encourage employees to stay home when they are sick at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or symptoms. Consider instituting a flexible leave policy -- and appropriate technology -- that allows employees to work from home if they or their kids are sick.

Promote good hygiene around the office. Remind everyone of the importance of hand washing and covering your mouth if you sneeze or cough. Encourage employees to regularly clean shared equipment such as phones and computers and wipe down common areas. Post friendly reminders around the workplace in languages that all employees can easily understand.

Encourage flu shots. Contact local hospitals to see if they provide on-site flu shots or consider reimbursing some or all of the cost for employees to get a shot on their own time.

Hold a health fair. Contact your local hospital to see if they provide health fairs for larger offices. You can also contract the coordination of an on-site health fair with a company specializing in the service.

Set a good example. Now that you’ve asked everyone to wash their hands regularly and stay home if they’re sick, it’s important as the business owner that you follow your own advice. When you’re the boss it can seem impossible to take a sick day, but stay home and keep your germs out of the workplace.

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in central Georgia and the central Savannah River area. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at (800) 763-4222 or