News Column

For Businesses, Sick Days Aren't Always an Option

Jan. 19, 2013

Marjorie Hernandez

sick days, business

Jan. 19--In a business where dozens of customers come in and out daily, Loretta Cabuyado makes sure she and her employees at Kopy King have protection that comes in a clear bottle.

Customers in the Simi Valley copy center and U.S. Postal Service branch are greeted not only by Cabuyado and her staff but also a huge bottle of hand sanitizer that sits on the main counter.

It's one of the small, but important precautions Cabuyado has taken to ward off germs that could turn into the common cold, or worse, the flu.

When you are a business owner with a staff of four, calling in sick is not an option, Cabuyado said.

"We all had a little bit of the common cold right after Christmas because we were so busy, but luckily no one came down with the flu," Cabuyado said. "Having hand sanitizer there for our customers and staff is definitely beneficial since we come in contact with people all day."

Ventura County Public Health officials say the flu has hit the area, with cases gradually increasing. Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County Public Health officer, said he has seen more cases of respiratory illness.

"I do expect our county to follow suit with the rest of the nation in the next coming days or weeks," Levin said, referring to the flu epidemic elsewhere. "It's important to take action now to prevent these flu-like symptoms from spreading."

Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen made free flu vaccines available for employees in the fall, said company spokeswoman Kristen Davis.

"We also have posted tips on ways to avoid the flu in our staff newsletter and have digital signage throughout the campus to raise awareness," Davis said. "We also have hand sanitizer dispensers in lobbies and other public areas throughout the campus."

For smaller businesses, taking extra precaution is key.

Camarillo Councilman Kevin Kildee, owner of Bob Kildee Clothing on Las Posas Road, said he already gotten his flu shot.

With only three people on his staff, including himself, Kildee said staying healthy is a necessity.

"They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and when you come across so many people on daily basis, it behooves you to be prepared," Kildee said.

Levin said employers can take steps to keep a healthy workplace environment. If possible, workers should stay behind a glass enclosure when directly dealing with customers or stand about three feet away from people who might be showing flu-like symptoms.

During meetings in an enclosed room, employees should leave plenty of space between each person.

For many small businesses, taking a day off because of an illness is sometimes not an option, leaving business owners and employees with some tough decisions.

When the flu hit the entire Kopy King staff a few years ago, Cabuyado kept the store open despite feeling sick.

"Since I have a contract with the United States Postal Service, I am contractually obligated to stay open," Cabuyado said. "If any of my employees feels bad, I tell them to go home ... but when three of your employees are students, they also say they can't afford not to come to work."

Economist and CSU Channel Islands professor Sung Won Sohn said that while the negative economic impact of the flu outbreak has not hit Ventura County, employees are often placed in a difficult predicament.

During tough economic times, employees might feel that taking time off will hurt their good standing at their job.

"Either you don't want to miss work because you want to be a good employee, or oftentimes, you just won't get paid if you miss work," Sohn said. "It's a powerful incentive to keep working, but it has a cost."

Levin said the greater cost means infecting other employees. Employers have to make sure their workers understand their jobs are secure if they have to stay at home to recuperate, he said.

"While it does cause great economic hardships for companies to have employees out, it is an even greater hardship when you have an employee infecting other employees," Levin said.

Related article: Flu vaccine harder to find in Ventura County

On the Net: http://vchca.org/2012-seasonal-flu

Avoiding the flu:

Get a flu vaccine every year. Getting vaccinated is the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease.

If you get sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Fevers should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

Practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to prevent the spread of germs.

Wash hands regularly.

Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.

Who should get vaccinated:

Everyone at least 6 months of age should get the vaccine.

It is especially important for pregnant women; people 65 and older; and people with certain medical conditions or those who take care of someone who has complications such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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