• Preparing Your Workplace for an Influenza Pandemic
  • June 23, 2009 | Author: Elizabeth Theobald Irvin
  • Law Firm: Miller & Martin PLLC - Chattanooga Office
  • While reports abound about the spread of swine flu across the globe of potentially pandemic proportions, what should you as an employer be doing?  Your company plays a key role in protecting the health and safety of your employees in the workplace.  In the event of an influenza pandemic, employers who have first prepared for such an event will be better able to protect their employees and lessen the impact of the pandemic on their operations.

    A pandemic is a global disease outbreak.  Notably, there is no current pandemic, but experts agree that it is not a matter of if, but when, such an event will occur.  There is no way to predict with certainty whether the swine flue will reach pandemic proportions, and it is important that employers refrain from allowing the circulation of inaccurate concerns in the workplace, which can cause unnecessary worry, stress and disruption.  Instead, employers should prepare for such an event, by first taking measures to keep informed about influenza through reliable resources, such as http://www.pandemicflu.gov/ and the CDC (www.cdc.gov/swineflu).

    H1N1, referred to as swine flu early on because many of the genes of the virus were similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America, is a new influenza virus causing illness in individuals across the globe.  Very similar to other more common types of flu, the virus is thought to be spreading from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing by people with the virus, or by touching surfaces infected with the virus.  With over 150 deaths and well over 1000 sickened by the virus in Mexico, recent reports have shown 226 cases in the United States, including one death attributed to the virus.  Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

    In the event of a pandemic, you can expect that as much as 40% of your workforce may be affected, resulting in absenteeism that would undoubtedly impact the way you do business.  Thus, you should develop a disaster plan that includes pandemic preparedness, which should, at a minimum, consider the following:

    Impact of a pandemic on your business:

    1. identify a pandemic coordinator and/or team for preparation of your response plan,
    2. identify business essential employees/positions, and prepare to cross-train other employees or develop ways to function in the absence of such positions,
    3. develop and plan for scenarios likely to result in an increase or decrease in demand for your products,
    4. determine potential impact on business-related travel,
    5. establish an emergency communications plan and revise periodically (including key contacts, chain of communication, and processes for tracking and communicating business and employee status).

    Impact of a pandemic on your employees and customers:

    1. forecast and allow for employee absences, revise leave and attendance policies,
    2. implement guidelines to modify the frequency and type of face-to-face contact among employees and between employees and customers (email, teleconferences, etc),
    3. encourage annual influenza vaccination for employees,
    4. evaluate employee access to healthcare services and improve services as needed,
    5. identify employees and key customers with special needs and incorporate their needs into the preparedness plan.

    Policies to be implemented during a pandemic:

    1. establish policies for employee compensation and sick-leave absences, including policies with respect to when a previously ill person may return to work,
    2. establish policies for a flexible worksite (e.g. telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g. staggered shifts),
    3. establish policies for preventing influenza spread at the worksite, for example, promote washing of hands, proper cough and sneeze etiquette, and encourage ill employees to stay away from the workplace,
    4. establish policies for employees who have been exposed to pandemic influenza, suspected to be ill or who become ill,
    5. establish policies and procedures for activating the company's response plan, altering business operations and transferring business knowledge to key employees.

    Resources to protect your employees and customers:

    1. provide sufficient and accessible infection control supplies (e.g. soap, hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment, tissues and receptacles for their disposal),
    2. enhance communications and information technology infrastructures to support employee telecommuting and remote customer access.

    Communication with and education of your employees:

    1. develop and disseminate programs and materials covering fundamental information about the pandemic, and steps for personal and family protection,
    2. anticipate employee fear and anxiety, rumors and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly,
    3. disseminate information to employees about the company's pandemic preparedness and response plan,
    4. develop resources such as. hotlines, and dedicated websites for communicating pandemic status and actions,
    5. identify community sources for timely and accurate pandemic information, and resources for obtaining counter-measures.