Vice President-Employee Benefits
As we gather with family and friends around the holidays, some guests and hosts will be better prepared than others. Those who are best prepared already took the most important step toward a happy and healthy holiday season.
They got a flu shot.
If you've already inoculated yourself against the flu, congratulations ... and thank you! You've not only greatly reduced your own risk of the misery and infirmary that come with the illness, you've also reduced the likelihood that those around you — family, friends, co-workers, even complete strangers — will get sick.
If you haven't received a flu shot yet, getting one now probably won't protect you and your fellow celebrants throughout the holidays, but there's a very good chance it will prevent the flu after the two weeks it takes for the vaccine's protective antibodies to go into effect. February is most commonly the peak month of flu season, so unless you're prohibited due to specific allergies or another medical reason, there's really no good reason not to get a flu shot ASAP.
If you or people who work for you do get hit with the flu, you may find yourself asking, "Is the common flu considered a serious health condition under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?," a question recently addressed by our friends at ThinkHR.
More on that in a bit.
Consequences of avoidance
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that "more than 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died from flu last season," despite the availability of vaccines that reduce the risk of catching the flu and lessen the severity of the illness when it does occur.
Why the disconnect? Because for a variety of reasons — procrastination, misinformation, fear — too many people who could benefit from a flu shot never get one.
Citing a survey by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), WebMD reported on Dec. 10, "Almost Half of U.S. Adults to Skip Flu Shot."
The most common reasons for not getting a shot, according to the survey:
- concern about side effects (36 percent);
- concern that the vaccine causes the flu (31 percent);
- a sense of invulnerability or belief the vaccine is ineffective (31 percent).
"Unfortunately, many people are still not getting flu shots due to broader misconceptions about the value of receiving a flu shot and concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines," NORC's senior vice president of public health research, Caitlin Oppenheimer, MPH, said in a news release.
Cost to employers
Businesses would do well to educate their employees regarding the truth about flu shots and to promote vaccination.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), "The flu causes U.S. employees to miss approximately 17 million workdays due to flu, at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity."
And, as the New York Times reported at the start of the last flu season, trying to work through the flu can make matters exponentially worse.
"Even if you can battle the flu by enduring a miserable week, it can be deadly for others, especially pregnant women, young children and older people. And no matter how many precautions you take, there’s no way to eliminate risk to people around you," the Times noted.
The flu and FMLA
Now, back to that question, according to ThinkHR — a subscriber resource of online documents, legislative updates, hotlines and more that Sylvia Group provides to Business Insurance and Employee Benefits clients — an employee with the flu may qualify under the Family Medical Leave Act, but only in which the flu is severe or produces complications.
Here's ThinkHR's complete answer about the flu and FMLA.
If you haven't done so already, please get a flu shot. Urge family members, friends and colleagues to do the same. And have a very happy, healthy holiday season.
About Julia Jennings and Sylvia Group
With more than 30 years’ experience as a health insurance professional, Julia Jennings is nationally recognized not only for her expertise but also for her service initiatives to improve the health insurance market. A Registered Health Underwriter (RHU) and Licensed Insurance Advisor (LIA) who has earned certifications in Long-Term Care (LTC), Consumer-Driven Health Care (CDHC) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Julie is a recipient of the National Association of Health Underwriters’ most prestigious honor, the Distinguished Service Award, for her lifetime commitment to her profession and her community.
Voted "Best Insurance Agency" in both years of the SouthCoast Media Best of the Best Awards program, Sylvia Group helps businesses and individuals protect their future by designing insurance, benefits and financial planning programs. We’re a locally owned agency known for our commitment to our clients and our community, as well for our industry expertise. Founded in New Bedford, MA, in 1950, headquartered in neighboring Dartmouth, and serving businesses and individuals throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and beyond, Sylvia Group is certified as a Woman Owned Business Enterprise with the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office and has the distinction of being the first six-time recipient of the Five Star designation awarded by the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) for all-around agency excellence.