Fighting the Flu at Work

Posted by JAN Tech on February 16, 2018 under General Information, Trending Topics | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist

The flu epidemic is sweeping the U.S. this winter season. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), influenza-like illness is reported as widespread across all ten regions of the U.S., with the proportion of outpatient visits to healthcare providers reaching 7.1%, which is above the national baseline of 2.2% (CDC). Region 6 – Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, and region 2 – New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have been most impacted this season. Understanding that the flu often results in symptoms that make it difficult for employees to go to work, this epidemic not only has health implications, but can also affect business operations as a result of employee absenteeism and lost productivity.

The onset of the flu is typically abrupt and can be followed by symptoms like fever, severe body aches, chills, fatigue and weakness, sore throat, cough, headaches, and chest discomfort, among others. The illness rarely allows time for one to prepare to be unable to work for several days, but on-the-job is not the place to be with active flu symptoms. Symptoms improve for most people within in a few days, but it can take up to two weeks to recover for those who are more severely ill. According to the CDC, complications of the flu can also be life-threatening and result in death.

We all do it, right? We go to work when we’re not feeling our best because we have piles of work to complete, deadlines to meet, clients to serve, or because we just don’t want to disappoint management or colleagues by being out. Sometimes we believe the pros of presence and being semi-productive outweigh the cons of falling behind or sharing with others whatever ailment has us down. However, when that fever spikes, we begin to recognize that the decision to go to work was maybe not well made. Employees who work while they are sick, particularly with influenza-like illness, can exacerbate the flu epidemic by spreading the illness throughout the workplace.

The modern workplace tends to take the shape of what we all know as “cube farms,” or open areas where employees work closely seated, without walls, often sharing common workstation equipment. Also, creative spaces are available where ideas incubate over employer-provided snacks and team building games. It’s likely that with all of this shared space and equipment, it’s not just ideas that are incubating in these spaces — cold and flu viruses thrive there too.

In an effort to reduce the spread of illness and improve employee attendance and productivity, employers may benefit from implementing pro-active solutions, accommodations if you will, to help keep the flu virus at bay. Consider some of these practical tips:

  • Disinfect regularly. We’re not just talking about coordinated cleaning of restrooms by the cleaning staff. Germs lurk in the most unsuspecting places. During cold and flu season, everyone can do their part to wipe down communal work surfaces, keyboards, mice, telephones, touch screens, chair arms, elevator buttons, breakroom appliances and food prep areas, copiers, printers, faucets, door handles, and so on. Consider implementing a policy or practice of having employees wipe-down their shared workstation after use. A supply of these germ fighting wipes can be made available for all employees to use.
  • Encourage sanitary behavior. Post signs in restrooms and food preparation areas encouraging employees to fight the flu and cold season with their own hands, literally, by washing their hands and using antibacterial hand sanitizer. The restrooms and food preparation areas can be stocked with antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Also, remind employees to cover their cough, provide tissues, and encourage good hygiene. Employees who wish to could be permitted to wear a mask or gloves to avoid exposure to cold and flu viruses.
  • Make it OK to stay home when the flu strikes. Create a workplace culture that discourages employees from attending work when sick and allows the opportunity to use an appropriate amount of leave to get well, without repercussions. Limiting the number of employees with cold and flu viruses in the workplace should decrease the likelihood of widespread illness. CDC recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  • Don’t hold hands. Levy a campaign for employees to avoid shaking hands during cold and flu season, in favor of a friendly fist-bump or wave hello. In all seriousness, employees might be encouraged to reduce the spread of germs by keeping their distance and using other appropriate greetings.
  • Don’t meet for the sake of meeting. Sometimes group meetings are unnecessary and the work that must be accomplished can be done so in an alternative way. Cold and flu season is an opportune time to prevent the spread of illness by limiting the number of meetings held, holding meetings of shorter duration and limited attendance, or meeting via conference call or an online video meeting service.
  • Be flexible. Some employees (with improved symptoms) may be able to complete job-related tasks at home, or in an alternate location (e.g., private work area), for a temporary period. Be flexible and consider modifying a policy concerning where work is performed to allow telework, or a workstation change, when reasonable.
  • Be a partner in good health. Provide information to employees about flu vaccination. Implement flexible leave policies that allow employees time away from work to be vaccinated in the community. Or, host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace. CDC recommends flu vaccination as the first step against fighting the flu.

These pro-active solutions may help improve attendance and productivity during cold and flu season, and may make the workplace a little safer for everyone. Taking part in the effort to fight the flu benefits workplaces and our communities. For more information about these types of workplace accommodations, contact JAN for assistance.

General Resources:

Service Dogs as a Workplace Accommodation for Employees with Diabetes

Posted by Kim Cordingly on December 5, 2013 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Trending Topics | Comments are off for this article

By: Teresa Goddard, Senior Consultant, Sensory Team

November was American Diabetes Month, so predictably JAN consultants received many inquiries about accommodations for employees with diabetes. JAN customers often ask about the most common type of accommodation for a particular condition. Anecdotally, I would say that a modified schedule, such as flexible start times and modified break schedules, is one of the most common types of accommodation we discuss during calls about diabetes. Other typical accommodation solutions include providing a space for the employee to store medication and food; policy modifications which allow an individual to eat at one’s desk; or procedural modifications related to travel reimbursement which may be needed to avoid passing extra costs related to food, and medication storage or other disability related travel expenses on to the employee. However, over the past few years, I’ve noticed the number of questions we receive about the use of service dogs by employees with diabetes seems to be increasing. I’ve also fielded numerous questions on this topic during presentations and trainings, as well as the day-to-day calls here at the office.

The number of calls we receive at JAN related to employees with diabetes who use service animals to assist with management of their condition continues to be relatively small in comparison to the total number of accommodation inquiries we receive about diabetes. However, we have seen a gradual increase since the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). Because of the ADAAA, individuals with diabetes are more easily able to show they are covered under the ADA.  One of the changes that occurred when the ADAAA went into effect is that major bodily functions now count as major life activities for purposes of determining whether or not someone meets the definition of disability under ADA.  In addition, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the ADAAA specifically mentions functions of the endocrine system as an example of a major bodily function that counts as a major life activity.  This is important for individuals with diabetes because the pancreas, which produces insulin, is an important part of the endocrine system.  While there is still no list of conditions that are always covered under the ADA, it is likely that most people with a diagnosis of diabetes will be able to show that they are substantially limited in the functions of their endocrine system.

The increased interest in service dogs as an accommodation for diabetes may have to do with their ability to alert individuals to blood sugar problems. Service dogs for individuals with diabetes are sometimes referred to as hypoglycemia alert dogs. In order to be considered a service animal as opposed to an emotional support animal, the dog has to be trained to perform some type of task. Hypoglycemia alert dogs are trained to prompt an individual with diabetes or episodes of hypoglycemia that their blood sugar levels may be dropping. The mechanism by which a hypoglycemia alert dog can detect a change in blood sugar is not fully understood.  A recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care (Dehlinger et al., 2013) did not support the idea that dogs use their sense of smell to detect changes in blood sugar. However, the sample size was small. The study also did not rule out the possibility of dogs using behavioral cues rather than scent to detect changes in blood sugar. Many more studies will be needed before we can fully understand how hypoglycemia alert dogs detect changes in blood sugar and the circumstances under which they can do so reliably. It is my understanding that not all dogs are able to do so.

Although hypoglycemia alert dog is a term that is typically used to refer to a service dog used by an individual with diabetes, some of our callers have reported that their dogs can also alert to hyperglycemia.  Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar whereas hyperglycemia means high blood sugar.  Different treatments are required for each of these conditions. Those who are prone to episodes of both may need to test their blood sugar level when alerted by the dog in order to know what to do next.

Dogs may alert individuals with diabetes to a change in blood sugar in different ways, but one common method is to nudge the individual who is experiencing an episode, or to vocalize in a manner similar to a whine or a whimper. To an outside observer, this may appear similar to a dog asking to go outside or for food, but the meaning is clear to the individual with diabetes. Some dogs may be trained to perform more complex tasks such as retrieving glucose tablets.

One issue that comes up frequently during calls about hypoglycemia alert dogs in the workplace is the fact that training methods tend to be different from those of other service animals. It is not unusual among users of hypoglycemic alert dogs for a pet that is already part of the family of the person with diabetes to undergo service animal training. This is different from the training of many service animals whereby the animal is trained through a specialized program (often with participation of the future owner) and then placed into service. Sometimes the individual may train the animal on their own with the support of a diabetes-related medical provider or support organization. This may complicate the process of providing medical documentation to an employer, particularly if the training is done by the individual with a family pet.

Over the years, service animals have taken on an increasingly important role as an accommodation option for people with disabilities to succeed in the workplace. For individuals with diabetes, hypoglycemia alert dogs can help mediate a potentially serious health condition so that the employee can continue to be a productive part of the workforce.

For additional information see:

Service Animals in the Workplace

Accommodation Ideas for Employees with Diabetes


Dehlinger, K., Tarnowski, K., House, J. L., Los, E. L., Hanavan, K., Bustamante, B., Ahmann, A. J., & Ward, K. W. (2013). Can trained dogs detect a hypoglycemic scent in patients with type 1 diabetes? Diabetes Care, 36(7), e98-e99.

Trending Topics – Nursing Mothers and the ADA

Posted by Kim Cordingly on June 4, 2013 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Trending Topics | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie Saab, Lead Consultant

JAN Consultants handle a wide-range of employment inquiries from people all over the country.  Every week there are issues that trend for one reason or another. For example, this week we fielded several inquiries from employers about accommodating nursing mothers. Employers asked what obligation they have to provide accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for mothers who either need breaks or a private space to express milk or nurse. What requirement is there under the ADA to provide accommodations for nursing mothers?

Under the ADA, a qualified person with a disability is someone who has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the ADA, lactation is a pregnancy-related condition but uncomplicated pregnancy and lactation are not disabilities covered by the ADA. Thus, an employer would not be required to provide accommodations for mothers who are nursing as a requirement under that statute.

However, in March of 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, “Affordable Care Act”) amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require covered employers to provide accommodations to nursing mothers under that law. The amendment requires employers to provide such accommodations as breaks and a private place, not a restroom, to express milk during the workday. In addition to this federal mandate, there are many state laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Federal requirements do not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees and so employers should become familiar with any state requirements.

The National Council of State Legislatures offers information regarding state breastfeeding laws. Also, the U.S. Department of Labor offers information about the accommodation requirements imposed on employers by section 7 of the FLSA. The following resources are available:

JAN’s quarterly ENews offers information about accommodation ideas for nursing mothers.

Contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division, for FLSA technical assistance at 866-487-9243 or 877-889-5627 (TTY).