Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line:

I am a small business owner who employs fewer than 10 people in my office. We produce a large supply of merchandise and our office is busiest during the holiday season. I have one problem -- influenza. It seems when one person gets sick, the entire office shuts down because the bug circulates among my employees. I know we can't avoid the flu but is there a way we can maintain productivity during this horrible season?

Dear Reader:

Beginning in late November each year, the flu affects millions of us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it costs businesses nearly $10 billion in employee medical visits every year. Keep your employees healthy by maintaining a clean and productive work environment. It may seem counter-productive but maintaining a healthy environment means often times sending your sick employees home to recuperate faster and keep the office germ-free.

It can be a miserable season for some who continue to spread the germs from office to office. Here are some tips to help protect employees and customers as much as possible:

Acquire products that ward off germs. Hand sanitizers, tissues and disinfectants are all products that can aid employees in keeping the workspace clean. Make them readily available throughout your workspaces.

Advise employees to stay home. While sick employees may deem it necessary to attend work, their presence will only expose healthy employees to contagions. If employees are sick, they should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer show symptoms. Consider creating a leave policy that allows employees to work from home should they (or their children) fall ill.

Enforce good hygiene in the workplace. Institute the cleaning of shared equipment such as phones and computers, and wipe down common areas with disinfectant regularly. Remind employees of the importance of washing their hands, as well as covering their mouth when sneezing and/or coughing. Encourage them to "sneeze in your sleeve," rather than into their hands, to reduce the spread of germs.

Promote flu shots. Search for on-site flu shots through your local hospital, retail pharmacy or other health care provider, or consider reimbursing some or all of the cost for employees to receive the shot on their own.

Hold a health fair. Contact a hospital to see if they provide health fairs for employers. If your business isn't large enough, you can possibly team up with others in your building, office park or neighborhood. If you are in a retail location, you can invite the community, as well. You can also contract the coordination of an on-site health fair with a company specializing in the service.

Be the example. It is important for the employer to follow the same advice being given to the employees. As the boss, it may seem impossible to take a sick day, but it is just as important for you to stay home and keep your germs out of the office.

-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org.