Despite the recent release of an H1N1 vaccine, millions of people could still be infected in upcoming months.
“Upwards of 35 percent of the population will likely get it,” says Richard Hamburg, government relations director for Trust for America’s Health. Such statistics make it highly likely that most operators will experience at least one employee with H1N1 this season, risking the health of the brand’s customers and other employees.
“Keeping ill workers out of the workplace is one of the primary ways of preventing transmission,” says John Halpin, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control.
He recommends developing an official policy that sends employees home from work if they come in with the flu.
According to the CDC, fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea are all symptoms that someone might have H1N1. If a crewmember with these symptoms comes to work, he should be sent home until 24 hours after the fever has disappeared without the help of fever-reducing medications (this usually occurs three to five days after symptoms appear).
Halpin says it doesn’t matter who has the responsibility of sending sick employees home—just that someone, or multiple people, are designated “flu coordinators.”
“It doesn't have to be someone with medical experience,” he says, “but that person should receive training under our guidance." A CDC toolkit for businesses is available at flu.gov under “Business Planning.”
At Pizza Fusion, the managers are responsible for asking sick employees to leave. Employees who are sent home aren’t allowed to return to work until they get clearance from a doctor to do so. The policy has been in place since Pizza Fusion’s inception, but the company is emphasizing its importance in light of concerns about an H1N1 pandemic.
“We have spoken to our managers and told them to be more attentive and to look out for these symptoms and then to react,” says John Puidokas, vice president of operations for Pizza Fusion. As of press time, no stores had sent employees home; workers typically called in sick on their own. Of course, this requires some leniency on the part of store managers.
Sometimes employees have called in sick without fully describing their symptoms, but Puidokas and the rest of the Pizza Fusion leadership would rather risk having an employee play hooky than have him work while ill.
“The most important thing is taking care of your team member,” he says. “At the end of the day, if you take care of them, they take care of your customer.”
Even if, like Pizza Fusion, a concept already has a policy about sending sick employees home, it might be worth revisiting.
“Every operation will have its own considerations,” says Sue Hensley, a spokewoman for the National Restaurant Association.
For example, stores with small staffs should prepare for the possibility that several of their employees could come down with H1N1 simultaneously, drastically reducing their available workforce.
“It’s best to plan in advance and not have to deal with things after they’ve already occurred,” Hensley says.