Now that many companies have reduced staff to bare bones, the world is bracing itself for the H1N1 virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects that employers should plan for between 30% and 50% absenteeism, for up to six weeks.
Determining what measures employers can take is wound around a number of conflicting regulations. The General Duty Clause of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires that employers’ workplaces are “free from recognized hazards” that may cause serious injury or death. This regulation may apply if the H1N1 virus is present in the workplace and would require that the employer take some measures to control exposure.
OSHA recordkeeping requires employers to record work-related illnesses as well as injuries. If an employee transmits H1N1 to another employee and time-off or medical treatment is necessary, then it may need to be recorded on the OSHA 300 Log.
Illnesses contracted in the course of work are covered by workers’ compensation which makes it important to learn how and when the virus was contracted. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is also a factor to consider if the employer and employee meet the requirements.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discusses the impact of the American with Disabilities Act and a pandemic in a report on their website: [http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html](http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html). The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) has received more questions regarding H1N1 in the past six weeks than any other work related question.
Employers are not panicking, but they are preparing. Many sources recommend creating a task force to run hypothetical scenarios about business continuity should the company experience a high rate of absences for a period of time. Executive management, human resources (HR) information technology (IT) and operations should be involved in the process.
This same task force needs to establish policies to prevent the company from discrimination. Many of the questions asked by employers have a general answer, if you apply the policy to everyone generally you may:
* Send employees home if they show symptoms identified in the policy.
* Encourage employees to telecommute as an infection-control practice.
* Require employees to use good infection-control practices such as hand-washing, proper sneezing and coughing etiquette.
There are a number of things that employers cannot ask, such as medical conditions that may make the employee more vulnerable. Websites are full of answers. The task force needs to explore them; then determine and document what action the company plans to take.
Pandemic Contingency Task Force To Do List
* Stay informed: [http://www.pandemicflu.gov](http://www.pandemicflu.gov) and [http://flu.gov](http://flu.gov)