As the H1N1 virus (formerly swine flu) continues to spread, it is important for employers to develop and implement company-wide policies that both protect employees and minimize any disruption to normal business operations. Prince Lobel has created this Alert to provide employers with the information necessary to create appropriate policies and to inform them of specific legal issues they need to consider.
According to CNN.com, H1N1 has spread to the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Israel, and the United Kingdom. The CDC reports that nationwide, there have been 109 confirmed cases and one death. While some of these cases have been mild, there are, to date, at least 152 confirmed deaths from the current flu outbreak. Click here to view an interactive map showing domestic and overseas cases, deaths and the evolution of this outbreak.
Since this epidemic is still evolving in scope and severity, we urge all companies to monitor and comply with the recommendations issued by the U.S. Government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Click on any of these links for information about symptoms, transmission, and advice about when employees should see a healthcare professional.
Immediate Actions for Employers to Consider
Given the increasing spread of the H1N1 outbreak, employers should consider immediately implementing the following company-wide policies and procedures:
1. Appoint a Designated Flu Coordinator
Designate an employee responsible for monitoring and disseminating information to the company about the H1N1 virus and about the company’s related policies. This coordinator should also be the "go-to" person for those employees who believe they are experiencing flu symptoms. Companies may also consider creating an internal "hotline" to the designated coordinator.
2. Create a Private Reporting Protocol
Consider creating and disseminating an official company document for those individuals who experience flu symptoms. This document would include who to contact and how to proceed if one becomes concerned of H1N1 infection. Companies may also want to consider requiring employees to report any recent travel to Mexico.
Note: When discussing an employee’s health condition or personal experiences, employers must be careful to comply with all applicable privacy laws. Any protocol that a company establishes needs to address the various privacy concerns.
3. Establish Travel Policies, Especially to H1N1 Hotspots
The CDC currently recommends that all individuals forgo non-essential travel to Mexico. Employers would be similarly well-served by creating travel restrictions to any other H1N1 hotspots as they may arise. Whenever possible, try videoconferencing, webcasting, or other technologies instead of travel. Click here to view the latest map of virus hotspots.
4. Implement Work-at-Home Protocols
Employers may want to consider allowing employees who are concerned about infection to work from home. However, it is important to make clear that any work-from-home determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis.
5. Certain Companies Should Make Immediate Plans to Obtain Temporary Assistance
Significant employee absences in certain types of organizations may create particularly worrisome situations. Hospitals, police departments, medical clinics, mental health organizations and other essential public safety organizations should create plans for backup assistance if a large number of employees contract the disease. Have someone gather real-time data on employee absences and come up with some "what-if" scenarios so management can ensure that there are enough employees on duty to adequately ensure the public’s health and safety.
Note: Employers should keep in mind that changing an employee’s work schedule or required work hours may implicate certain wage requirements under both federal and state laws. Prince Lobel employment attorneys can help you identify and comply with those legal obligations.
6. Encourage Preventive Measures
According to the CDC, people infected with the H1N1 virus are potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to seven days following the onset of the illness. To help prevent the spread of disease, employers should encourage employees to follow these recommendations:
Additional Legal Considerations
1. OSHA and Retaliation/Whistleblower Laws
2. Workers’ Compensation
3. ADA, FMLA, etc.
Click on any of the links below for up-to-date information about this outbreak:
We encourage you to contact the Employment Law Group at Prince Lobel to discuss the particular impact on your workplace of the H1N1 virus or other contagious diseases. We can help develop appropriate policies, procedures, and practices for ensuring the health of your employees while minimizing the business disruption.