Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently announced new guidance for businesses to plan for and respond to the upcoming flu season.

The guidance, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is designed to help employers prepare now for the impact that seasonal and 2009 H1N1 influenza could have this fall and winter on their employees and operations.

Employers’ plans should address such points as encouraging employees with flulike symptoms or illness to stay home, operating with reduced staffing, and possibly having employees who are at higher risk of serious medical complications from infection work from home, according to the CDC guidance.

It is not known whether the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus will cause more illness or more severe illness in the coming months, but the CDC recommends that everyone be prepared for influenza. Because seasonal and 2009 H1N1 influenza pose serious health threats, employers should work with employees to develop and implement plans that can reduce the spread of flu and to encourage seasonal flu vaccination as well as H1N1 vaccination when that vaccine becomes available.

Locke suggested businesses set the right tone in the workplace. That means implementing common sense measures to reduce the risk of spreading the flu and encouraging workers who are sick to stay home.

“The president has mobilized the federal government to get America prepared,” he said. “But government can’t do it alone. For this effort to be successful, we need the business community to do its part.”

Making the right decisions will not only improve public health, it also has the potential to protect economic productivity: Employees who are sick and stay home will not spread the flu in the workplace.