Achoooo… you’re it!

And with one fell swoop, the whole office is down for the count. It could be a patient, a staff member, a delivery person, a child – the worst little germ carriers of all – it takes no time at all for millions of unspeakable microbes to fill the air. They settle in on every possible surface: our doorknobs, telephones, keyboards, pens, magazines, lurking for the next victim.

As employees and managers of employees, we’re torn. You can’t use a sick day, if you’re lucky enough to have them, for every sniffle. Neither is it acceptable to come into the office while sick. You are seen as a pariah, and for good reason.
I’ve often heard it said that colds and flus are most contagious during incubation, even before symptoms set in. We’re all guilty of perpetuating the viscous circle (yes, it’s also vicious).

What to do? The expert answer appears to be prevention, avoidance and hand washing. I came across some useful tips in this blog excerpt from our friend Sandie Baillargeon, President at Dental Office Consulting Services.

Health and Safety Policies and Procedures during the Flu Season
It’s that time of year again when patients are cancelling appointments due to illness and staff are calling in sick. When one employee comes to work sick, the rest of the team can be infected by lunch time. It is important to protect your business with guidelines that deal specifically with annual cold and flu seasons. Here are some of the things that should be in the policy:

  1. Hand washing: Employees must wash their hands thoroughly and frequently using hot water and soap. Make alcohol-based hand sanitizers available at all times. All dental offices should have hand washing instructions posted near all sinks.
  2. Hand washing after any contact with paper-based charts. Think about how many times each chart has been contaminated by handlers with and without gloves.
  3. Workplace etiquette: Provide basic training on proper hygiene practices, especially for sneezing and coughing.
  4. Encourage your employees to get the flu shot.
  5. Educate your staff to recognize cold and flu symptoms using the CDC or Health Canada lists (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/phn-asp/2015/flu-grippe-1027-eng.php). They should be encouraged to stay home when they exhibit symptoms and risk infecting others.

While an employer must not solicit the nature of any medical condition from an employee, supervisors and managers should be educated to recognize cold and flu symptoms and ensure cough/sneeze etiquette is followed.

Employers are not generally legally required to pay an employee when the employee is sick and unable to work. As a result, many employees show up anyway to avoid the financial loss. A reasonable sick leave allowance can help minimize this. Many dentists offer some form of sick pay to help an employee recover stress-free and avoid infecting other staff members and patients. It can take the form of a specified number of fully paid sick days per year, or a flat-rate daily allowance.

Having a formal policy as part of your employee workplace policy manual will help your employees know that you care about them and encourage them to stay well. Implementing a pandemic/influenza Business Continuity Plan is another important element of your overall health and safety program. To request a sample pandemic planning checklist, simply send an email to sandie@dentalofficeconsulting.com with the subject line “flu season”.