The flu season and you

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Businesswomen With ColdH1N1 is to 2009 what El Niño was to 1998. Granted, H1N1 is more serious and seems to be an actual issue to care about, but because we’ve been hearing about it since early spring, we’re almost numb to the issue. Whether or not you decide to get the vaccine for you or your child or if even if you’re perfectly healthy, you can’t ignore that the flu is something we’re all going to deal with this season. Whether we get sick or someone at the office or in the family does, it’s going to be an issue for a few more months. Both the regular, seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu. And just like any season filled with sniffles and contagions, you’ll inevitably find yourself wondering, “Do I go to work even though I’m a little under the weather? Or do I stay home and use up a sick day?”

Maybe the dilemma’s not even that easy. Let’s be honest, the job situation has people worried about getting laid off or fired for missing too much work. Some companies also classify sick leave and vacation days under the same pool of accrued time, so taking a sick day today means a shorter vacation in a couple of months. Or a sick day today means having to find a sitter when your child gets sick later this season. Unfortunately, the issue isn’t as simple as don’t go to work if you don’t feel 100 percent.

This article in the Chicago Tribune discusses how employers are trying to balance business needs with sick workers reluctant to stay home.

From the article:

Some employees have to ration their sick days carefully or may not have any paid time off. Others weigh the fear of making a bad impression against the risk of prolonging an illness and feeling worse.

“It’s very hard to take off of work at my job,” said Noor Aweidah, who works for the president of a marketing firm and helps bring in new clients. “Things being the way they are today, new business is a real priority. If I’m not there, meetings are not happening, calls are not taking place.”

Even with her concerns, Aweidah recently had to take a rare day off to keep some incipient flu-like symptoms from worsening. She canceled a client meeting and made sure the interns under her supervision knew their daily tasks, then lay down on her couch to watch bad movies and drink tea.

The client was understanding about needing to reschedule, she said.

“It’s hard being in a creative environment to not be on your A game, especially when you’re interfacing with clients,” Aweidah said. “But they don’t want to meet with someone who’s coughing or sweating.”

And on last week’s Harvard Business Ideacast, experts ask Is Your Business Ready for H1N1? (Even if you’re not an employer, it’s worth checking out to hear what companies are doing for their employees and what they want to see happening in workplaces.)

When you’re deciding whether or not to come in to the office, or even if you’re not sick but are wondering what you’ll do if you do get some form of flu this season, here are some tips:

  • Talk to your boss now.
    Find out what the company’s doing about the flu this year. Is it the same policy as last year or are they asking you to take different precautions?
  • What are your work-from-home options?
    If you have the kind of job where working from home is possible, see what the policy is. Do you need permission before doing it or can you call in one morning and say you need to work from home? Does it count against your time off at all?
  • Do you need a note if you miss a certain amount of consecutive days?
    Let’s be honest, most of us don’t know the details of every company policy. Many employers require a doctor’s note for anyone who stays home for more than a certain amount of consecutive days, so you don’t want to show up after a week out and be told to go home until return with a note.
  • Do you  really need to go in today?
    If you’re in that gray zone where you  might be getting sick or you might just have a 24-hour bug, you could be wondering if you should go to work or stay home. There are pros and cons to both, and you might have your own reasons for wanting to go in. Just remember that if you are contagious and you end up getting the whole office sick, no one will be pleased with you, especially if it means half of your group is out and everyone else has to work twice as hard.
  • Do you have any other perks?
    Some companies pay for their employees to get the flu vaccine (the regular one, not the H1N1 vaccine, since it’s being offered free). If you want the flu shot, see if your company covers the cost or will reimburse you for it. Also see if they’ll be providing hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to people in the office.

Also check out this article from fellow blogger Rachel Zupek.

Have you dealt with any of these issues this flu season?

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