Employers and the Swine Flu Outbreak: Four Ways to Be Proactive
With the escalating number of reported swine flu cases reaching pandemic status, employers should be taking steps to prepare for the impact of this development on their workplaces and to ensure the well-being of their employees. What follows are several precautions that employers should consider as part of a proactive response.
Minimize Risks of Exposure
Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene, such as readily accessible tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizers and disposable towels to clean work surfaces. Make available personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks or respirators. Provide employees with up-to-date information and training on influenza risk factors and protective behaviors. Schedule work tasks in a way that minimizes exposure levels by reducing the number of employees who must be at work simultaneously or in one specific location, such as flexible work arrangements; staggered shifts; and greater usage of telecommuting. Consider postponing nonessential travel to locations with high illness transmission rates.
Address Instances of Illness or Possible Illness
Send employees home who are showing flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose) and encourage them to stay home until they provide medical certification clearing them to return to work. Require employees to report if they (i) are experiencing flu-like symptoms; (ii) have been diagnosed with any communicable illness; (iii) believe they may have been exposed to a person so diagnosed; or (iv) recently have visited a location where there has been a significant outbreak of swine flu. Inform employees that such information will be kept confidential to the extent possible, but that full confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Avoid penalizing sick employees.
Plan for Large-Scale Absences and Other Workplace Disruptions
Identify your essential functions and the individuals who perform them, and cross-train employees to ensure resiliency in the event of large-scale absences. Update your employee home phone and address list. Also, plan for interruptions in essential government services, supplies and deliveries.
Develop a Communicable Illness Response Program
Consider developing a comprehensive communicable illness response program that encompasses the proactive steps outlined above. Such a program should also include assigning responsibility to one or more individuals to maintain and implement the program; assuring that all applicable governmental regulations and guidelines are followed; and informing and educating employees about communicable illnesses generally and swine flu in particular.
While the extent of the swine flu outbreak is not yet fully known, it is not too early for employers to begin preparing for the possible impact.