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“It’s been floating around quite a bit, starting mid- to late-November, very heavy throughout December, and we’re noticing it even now with people returning from holidays,” said Evans. “There’s definitely been a noticeable increase.”
Toronto Public Health confirmed 1,180 flu cases between Sept. 1, 2012, and Jan. 15, 2013 — a spike over a five-year average of 318 cases for the same time period. There have been 68 institutional outbreaks, compared to a five-year average of 16. Those figures exclude 2009/2010, when H1N1, or swine flu, was pandemic.
“We’ve had to be very competitive and lower pricing, and certainly our profit margins have taken a hit, so as a result we’re trying to be lean machines as well,” she said.
Mylene Beatty, office administrator at Kermodei Construction, said they’re juggling people between crews to make up for workers who are out sick.
“More and more people are being affected by it,” said Beatty, whose Scarborough-based company employs about 30 people. “You have to make arrangements for others to compensate for those who aren’t around.”
Private sector employees are less likely to take time off for sickness than government workers, according to a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Federal government employees took the most time off, at 15.2 days a year, while those working for private businesses with fewer than 20 staff took the least, just 6.7 days.
“If you have two or three employees, and one or two call in sick, the impact on the business and day-to-day operations is obviously enormous,” said Petkov. “(It) results in slower productivity and could impact the bottom line.”
South of the border, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu reached epidemic proportions last week.
Tips for businesses on how to manage flu outbreaks:
1. Communicate your policy on attendance when sick. Make sure employees are aware of the company’s attendance policy and identify a point person for questions. Give examples to illustrate when employees should stay home due to sickness.
2. Prepare for unexpected absences. It’s possible that schools and daycares could close due to illness, forcing parents to leave work to care for their children. Sick employees also should be sent home to avert spreading the infection. This may cause staffing problems. Be sure your company has a plan to meet staffing needs in such cases.
3. Good housekeeping equals good health. Regular surface cleaning minimizes germ exposure. Eliminate clutter on counters, especially around sinks and food preparation areas, to ease the job of wiping down these often germ-filled areas and promote quick drying.
4. Focus your company’s culture on health. This includes having a prevention program that offers annual flu shots, informs employees about ways to stay healthy and what to do to avoid infectious illness. Also, find prominent places to hang posters that remind people to wash their hands before meals, after sneezing or coughing, and when moving between tasks.