The outbreak of the N1H1 virus (swine flu) in Michigan has employers examining their obligations to the workforce as the number of confirmed cases continues to increase.
Jon Kok, a labor attorney with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, recommends that open communication with employees is critical at this juncture because media coverage of the outbreak is so intense.
He said it’s important to let employees know that the company is trying to limit the spread of this and other infectious diseases. Employers should recommend that employees who are feeling sick—or who have family members who are under the weather—to stay home.
Kok said that employers have an obligation through OSHA to provide their workers with a safe, healthy workplace. Employees should be told they cannot come to work if they are sick, or they will be sent home. Then, managers and supervisors need to enforce this edict.
For employees who are exhibiting symptoms and need to work at home, Kok suggests that employers direct the IS department to set up telecommuting channels.
Additionally, employers need to communicate flu-prevention tips, such as washing hands after contact, coughing or sneezing into a tissue and then disposing of that tissue, avoiding contact with your eyes, nose or mouth, etc.
Some employers are taking the extra step of passing out hand sanitizers, cleaning their facilities, checking out the HVAC systems and other precautionary measures right now to limit the spread of the virus, he said.
Other steps to avoid spreading the virus include:
Limit large gatherings. Kok recommends postponing company-wide meetings or other non-essential large gatherings in the coming days and weeks.
Create a contingency plan. He said that he is working with several employers to put one in place, although there's no one-size-fits-all for businesses. He said that each business needs to assess its unique risks—international travel for a multi-national company or frequent public contact in a retail environment, for example—and then identify the basic functions and services that the business needs to provide. A good contingency plan will make sure the company has taken steps to ensure those functions will continue.