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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 your employee comes to work sick, she can infect the rest of the team by lunch time. It is important to have a long-term plan to protect your business during the flu season as well as in the event of a pandemic. It is also recommended that employers have a policy and guidelines that deal specifically with seasonal cold and flu season. Here are some of the things that should be in the policy include:
1. Your policy should require employees to stay home if they are sick with a cold or flu until they have recuperated and have a system to ensure they are not penalized for doing so. The policy should stipulate that if employees show up to work ill, their supervisors/managers have the ability to screen them and send them home to recover.
2. Requiring employees to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when necessary (list some examples). All dental offices should have hand-washing instructions posted near sinks in washrooms, the staff room and the lab.
3. If your office has paper based charts, employees should wash their hands after handling any charts. Think about how many times each chart has been contaminated when staff members are touching it with and without gloves.
4. Provide workplace etiquette on sneezing and coughing and hygiene practices
5. Encourage your employees to get the flu shot
In cases where it is discovered that an employee exhibits cold or flu-like symptoms, a supervisor or manager must provide the employee with the CDC or Health Canada list of cold/flu symptoms, must not solicit the nature of any medical condition from an employee. Release the employee from work and direct the employee to remain at home until 24 hours after there is no longer a fever, or signs of a fever, without the use of fever reducing medicines. As an employer, you must not pressure the employee to go to work despite being sick with the cold or flu.
6. Include a sick leave policy in your employee policies manual. The policy should mention that other available leaves (statutory leaves, vacation, and accommodation) will be utilized if and when sick leave is exhausted. In the event that sufficient leave is not available, employees who are released from work due to the seasonal flu will not be disciplined for being absent without leave. In fact, it would be required that the manager or supervisor approve the leave.
Employers are not generally legally required to pay an employee when the employee is sick and unable to work. Many dentists, however, decide to pay some form of sick pay to encourage the employee not to arrive at work and risk infecting other staff members and patients. In some offices, a salaried employee, like an office manager, receives her regular salary whether or not she is sick. Some dentists have a sick leave policy which states that each employee is allowed to use a prescribed number of paid sick days each year. Keep in mind that many employees will go to work when they are sick because of the financial loss they will incur. From an employer’s perspective, however, if you are paying a hygienist $35.00 per hour, and then you have to replace her with a temporary employee, the employer incurs and even greater expense since the dentist would have to pay the temporary worker as well as the worker who is off sick. If your office has a sick credit policy, then the policy usually defines the employee’s maximum entitlement. It is up to each employer to decide on the maximum entitlement. It is recommended that you define how much the sick credit will be by setting a daily limit regardless of what position the employee holds at your office, for example, $100.00 per day for a maximum of 3 days per year.
It is important to remember that human rights accommodation issues may be triggered as well if the flu is serious enough to be defined as a disability. If an employee denies having flu symptoms, and voluntarily indicates seasonal allergies or other conditions that may explain symptoms, the employee should be directed to remember the cough/sneeze etiquette and to wash hands frequently. It is important to keep in mind that managers and supervisors cannot solicit the nature of the illness or request additional information related to the illness. That information must be volunteered by the employee.
Having a sick time policy as part of your employee workplace policy manual will help your employees to know that you care about them and encourage them to stay well. Implementing a pandemic/influenza Business Continuity Plan is a very important element to be included in your overall health and safety program. If you wish to receive a sample pandemic planning checklist to be included with your health and safety program, please send an email to sandie@dentalofficeconsulting.com with the subject line “Pandemic/Influenza Business Continuity Plan”.

**** Special Notice *** Effective July 1, 2014, all Ontario employers will be required to ensure that all workers and supervisors have completed a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program. This mandatory training must be completed by July 1, 2014. For further information, please contact sandie@dentalofficeconsulting.com.

About author
Sandie Baillargeon is a leading authority on how to increase the effectiveness of medical and dental business systems. Ms. Baillargeon is author of two text books, Dental Office Administration and The Canadian Dental Office Administrator, published by ITP Nelson Canada. Sandie is the owner and operator of Dental Office Consulting Services, which specializes in dental business planning, staff development, consulting and continuing education seminars. Visit her website at www.dentalofficeconsulting.com or contact her directly at (905) 336-7624.
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