With the outbreak of swine flu in various parts of the United States, Mexico and elsewhere, and the World Health Organization saying that the worldwide outbreak is close to becoming a pandemic, it is important for a U.S. employer to be prepared for any impact that the disease may have on its own employees and business. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the "CDC") and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") have provided information on the swine flu, and how employers should prepare for it, on their own websites (here and here).
At a minimum, an employer should do the following:
-- Select a coordinator, or appoint a committee, to develop and oversee procedures and communications, described below, pertaining to any outbreak or potential outbreak of the disease.
--Identify essential employees, and identify critical services and supplies, and create a contingency plan for any of those employees being unable to work, or any of those services or supplies being interrupted, due to the disease.
--Set up an emergency phone number or email address and train supervisors and human resources for dealing with an emergency stemming from the disease.
-- Develop communications to employees pertaining to the disease. The communications should describe the disease, including the symptoms and how the disease is transmitted, and cover at least the following matters:
- Employees should be assured that the employer is following developments and is taking all steps needed to ensure their health and safety.
- Any symptoms of the disease-at home or at work-should be reported to the employee's supervisor or human resources.
- Employees should be encouraged to stay home if they have symptoms of the disease or if they believe that they have been exposed to the disease.
- If an ill employee must go to work, he or she should avoid close contract with other people to the extent possible.
- Employees must be reminded to practice hygiene, such as respiratory and cough etiquette, and thorough hand washing (the employer must make available adequate washing facilities and/or waterless hand sanitizers).
--Revise policies for leave of absence (e.g., medical leave or sick leave), and for working at home, as needed to accommodate employees who incur or develop symptoms of the disease or who may need time off to care for family members who have the disease.
--Develop a procedure for travel restrictions, to avoid areas where an outbreak has occurred.
--Review the health plan and underlying insurance policies to ensure coverage for the disease and any medical problems which the disease may cause.
--Take any steps needed to ensure that the workplace-e.g., desks, eating places, washrooms and ventilation system-is properly cleaned and, in the case of the restrooms, sanitized.
--Monitor applicable websites-e.g., the CDC, OSHA and the local health department-for updates and notices on the disease.