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  • 12.16.14

    Last week’s NLRB Purple Communications decision about employee emails combine with the announcement by the National Labor Relations Board of the so-called “quickie elections” process, is going to stir up employers.

  • 12.15.14

    Andria Ryan’s article “Employee Theft – Protecting More Than Property” was featured on Hotel Executive on December 15, 2014.

  • 12.15.14
  • 12.15.14

    Rick Grimaldi and Lori Halber’s article “The Year Ahead May be a Bumpy One for Employers” was featured in Region’s Business on December 15, 2014.

  • 12.12.14

    Tracy Moon’s article “The New Frontier: Preparing for the Surge of Wearable Technology in the Workplace” was featured in EHSToday on December 12, 2014.

  • 12.11.14

    Josh Viau’s article “The Double Edged Sword of Severance Agreements” was featured on on December 11, 2014.

  • 12.11.14

    Andria Ryan’s article “What to Do About ‘Ban the Box’” was featured on The Fordyce Letter on December 11, 2014.

  • 12.11.14

    Lurking among the numerous considerations raised by President Obama’s “immigration accountability” initiative are the prospects that this action will result in more allegations by or on behalf of the affected individuals that they have not been paid in compliance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

  • 12.10.14
  • 12.9.14
  • 12.9.14

    Michael Mitchell’s article “Labor Lawyers: Let Professionals Serve Booze, Nix Mistletoe at Holiday Parties” was featured in Progressive Law Practice on December 9, 2014.

  • 12.9.14

    Myra Creighton’s article “Jerk Isn’t Disabled: However, Can They be Lawfully Terminated?” was featured in Legal and Compliance Excellence Magazine on December 9, 2014.

  • 12.8.14

    Usama Kahf and Brent Cossrow’s article “Texting and Using Personal Devices for Business” was featured in the Dec/Jan 2015 issue of Today's Corporate Counsel.

  • 12.8.14

    Danielle Urban’s article “U.S. Drug-Testing Rules Do Not Translate Overseas” was featured on SHRM Online on December 8, 2014.

  • 12.6.14
  • 12.5.14
  • 12.5.14
  • 12.4.14

    David Monk’s article “Top 10 Ways to Hold a Company Party — Without Getting Sued” was featured in Times of San Diego on December 4, 2014.

  • 12.3.14
  • 12.3.14

    Rich Meneghello’s article “OP-ED: Should Businesses Beware of Service Dogs?” was featured in DJC Oregon on December 3, 2014.

  • 12.2.14
  • 12.2.14

    Candice Pinares-Baez’s article “Buckle Up! Navigating the Legal Issues for Field Trips” was featured in The Edvocate on December 2, 2014.

  • 12.2.14
  • 11.30.14
  • 11.28.14

    We are again running a Biggest Loser Contest among our 31 offices and will award prizes, beginning at $1,000, to individuals who lose the most weight.

  • 11.26.14
  • 11.24.14

    Darin Mackender’s article “Five Tips To Excel As A New Laywer” was featured in Law Week Colorado on November 24, 2014.

  • 11.20.14

    Joe Shelton’s article “From “Hire” to “Fire” and All Points Between” was featured in the November issue of The Advantage magazine.

  • 11.19.14
  • 11.19.14
  • 11.17.14

    Although announced in the latter part of 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor rule changes affecting the companionship exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act are finally set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

  • 11.14.14

    Tracy Moon’s article “Wearable Technology and Its Potential Impact on the Healthcare Industry” was featured in Becker’s Hospital Review on November 14, 2014.

  • 11.11.14
  • 11.11.14

    John Thompson’s article “Voter Actions Undercut Federal Push for $10.10 Minimum Wage” was featured on TLNT on November 11, 2014.

  • 11.10.14

    Atlanta Partner, Bert Brannen worked with the Association of General Contractors (AGC) on a training DVD entitled "Diversity Rules:Harassment, Sensitivity & Correction Training for Construction Workers & Supervisors."

  • 11.10.14

    Rick Grimaldi and Lori Halber’s article “Celebrate What Makes Your Company Unique” was featured in Region’s Business on November 10, 2014.

    Aside from brilliant reputations, what do Michael Jeffries, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Walt Disney have in common? They created strong and unique cultures at their companies that drove meteoric success.

  • 11.7.14

    For those of us who work with employees in highly specialized fields, it is important to never lose track of the recurring issue of whether exempt classification of employees for overtime purposes is appropriate.

  • 11.6.14

    Tracy Moon’s article “Lawfully Monitor Employees Using GPS” was featured in the November issue of Construction Business Owner magazine.

  • 11.5.14
  • 11.4.14

    Shayna Balch was a guest blogger for the Phoenix Business Journal on November 4, 2014.

    Over the last decade, the threat of workplace violence and employees going rogue has become an all too familiar story for employers and human resources professionals. As everyday stress and social pressures continue to weigh heavy on employees and employers alike, implementing a plan to prevent and curb workplace violence is crucial when trying to keep your business safe.

    In the article, Shayna provides employers with three essential steps to help prevent workplace violence.
    1. Due diligence matters
    2. Draw a line the sand
    3. Have a plan
    To read the full article, please visit Phoenix Business Journal.
  • 11.3.14

    Jeff Weintraub’s article “The EEOC Over-reaches Again: the Agency’s Ongoing Interest in Employee Background Checks – Criminal and Otherwise” was featured in the November issue of HR Professional Magazine.

  • 10.31.14

    Employers just got a reminder from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that the minimum wages and overtime compensation required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act are to be paid on time

  • 10.29.14
  • 10.29.14

    Tim Murphy’s article “Rules for Effective Client Communication” was featured in The Recorder on October 29, 2014.

  • 10.28.14

    Mitch Baker’s article “OP-ED: When Hiring, Go On the Defensive” was featured in DJC Oregon on October 28, 2014.

    Employers are well served to develop a strategy for hiring. One strategy may be the “defensive hiring process.” Although the name sounds bad, the strategy itself is sound. Defensive hiring allows the company to identify the most qualified candidates for open positions and screen out those applicants who are unlikely to be assets to the organization.

    In the article, Mitch discusses the multiple benefits of defensive hiring, such as fewer employee relations problems, higher customer satisfaction, and higher productivity.

    Most employment lawsuits are caused by poor hiring decisions. Similarly, other employee discontent and morale issues are often related to employees who should not have been hired by the organization in the first place. Mitch believes that eliminating these employees before they are hired is the key.

    To read the full article, please visit DJC Oregon.

  • 10.24.14
  • 10.22.14

    1. What is Ebola virus disease?
    Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a death rate of up to 90%. The illness affects humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). 

    2. How do people become infected with the virus?
    In the current outbreak in West Africa, the vast majority of cases in humans have occurred as a result of human-to-human transmission. 

    Infection occurs from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people. Infection can also occur if broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person come into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles.

    Healthcare workers have been exposed to the virus while caring for Ebola patients. This happens because they may not have been wearing personal protection equipment or were not properly applying infection prevention and control measures when caring for the patients. 

    Additional transmission has occurred in African communities during funerals and burial rituals. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person have played a role in the transmission of Ebola. Persons who have died of Ebola must be handled using strong protective clothing and gloves and must be buried immediately. 

    People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. For this reason, infected patients receive close monitoring from medical professionals and receive laboratory tests to ensure the virus is no longer circulating in their systems before they return home. When the medical professionals determine it is okay for the patient to return home, they are no longer infectious and cannot infect anyone else in their communities. Men who have recovered from the illness can still spread the virus to their partner through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery. For this reason, it is important for men to avoid sexual intercourse for at least seven weeks after recovery or to wear condoms if having sexual intercourse during seven weeks after recovery.

    3. Who is most at risk?
    During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are:
    • healthcare workers
    • emergency responders
    • mortuary and death care workers
    • family members or others in close contact with infected people
    • mourners who have direct contact with the bodies of the deceased as part of burial ceremonies
    4. What are typical signs and symptoms of infection?
    Sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat are typical signs and symptoms. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. 

    Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts, and elevated liver enzymes.

    The incubation period, or the time interval from infection to onset of symptoms, is from two to 21 days. The patients become contagious once they begin to show symptoms. They are not contagious during the incubation period. 

    Ebola virus disease infections can only be confirmed through laboratory testing. 

    5. What do I do if I have an employee or student returning to the U.S. from an area where the Ebola outbreak is occurring? The CDC maintains Advice for Colleges, Universities and Students about Ebola in West Africa.

    As quoted below, the CDC does not recommend isolation solely on the basis of travel history, but that means that the organization must obtain certain information in order to make fact-based risk management decisions:
    • CDC is not recommending colleges and universities isolate or quarantine students, faculty, or staff based on travel history alone.

    • Colleges and universities should identify students, faculty, and staff who have been in countries where Ebola outbreaks are occurring within the past 21 days and should conduct a risk assessment with each identified person to determine his or her level of risk exposure (high- or low-risk exposures, or no known exposure).

    • You should first determine where the individuals (students and/or employees) visited.

      • Ebola has been reported in multiple countries in West Africa including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. On October 20, WHO declared Nigeria to be free of Ebola virus transmission. The CDC has issued a Level 3 travel notice for U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Conditions change, so one should monitor the most up-to-date travel updates. You can find more information on these travel notices at
      • CDC currently does not recommend that travelers avoid visiting other African countries. Although spread to other countries is possible, CDC is working with the governments of affected countries to control the outbreak. Some countries, such as Uganda, have substantial past experience working with WHO on Ebola matters and may be more prepared.
    • If they visited a country in Africa with an Ebola outbreak and traveled back to the U.S., the CDC’s current recommendations for employers and school administrators who are addressing this issue is as follows:

      • Returning Employees: For the first 21 days:
        • Returning employees should check their temperature daily and report any symptoms, including headache, joint/muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain or lack of appetite from the first day of their return from travel and for 21 days thereafter. For a complete list of Ebola symptoms, visit the CDC website.
          • In the event of an onset of a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher or any of the symptoms listed above, then the employee should not report to work.
      • Returning Students: If a student is coming back from an affected country, have the school nurse or an outside doctor go through the same questions and temperature test as above, and then monitor the student for 21 days from arrival, taking temperature. The CDC Guidance indicates that students can stay at school during this time if the organization’s objective risk analysis determines this response to be the appropriate response.
        • In the event of an onset of a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher or any of the symptoms listed above, the student should not report to school.
        • In response to concerns about a wide range of flu and other ailments, many organizations are instructing employees and students to stay home and/or seek medical care if they maintain any fever.
      • Review the Algorithms and questions recommended by the CDC and used in travel and other situations.
      • CDC diagnosis guidance explains how to evaluate the nature of potential exposure.
    6. How should I handle employees or students who may have been exposed outside of West Africa?
    • Apply the same sort of objective fact-based analysis employed for students and employees returning from West Africa. Learn from experiences and after-analysis, such as the travels of the exposed Dallas nurse.  
    • Stay attuned to the evolving approach of the CDC.  
    • Monitor EEOC and other regulatory guidance including the EEOC’s Pandemic/ADA guidance: Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC Guidance states that it deals with:

    This technical assistance document provides information about Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and pandemic planning in the workplace. It identifies established ADA principles that are relevant to questions frequently asked about workplace pandemic planning such as:

    How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick, in order to protect the rest of its workforce when an influenza pandemic appears imminent?

    • When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during a pandemic?
    • Does the ADA allow employers to require employees to stay home if they have symptoms of the pandemic influenza virus?
    • When employees return to work, does the ADA allow employers to require doctors’ notes certifying their fitness for duty?

    In one instance, to provide a complete answer, this document provides information about religious accommodation and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    7. When should someone seek medical care?
    If a person has been in an area known to have Ebola virus disease or in contact with a person known or suspected to have Ebola and they begin to have symptoms, they should seek medical care immediately. 

    Any cases of persons who are suspected to have the disease should be reported to the nearest health unit without delay. Prompt medical care is essential to improving the rate of survival from the disease. It is also important to control spread of the disease and infection control procedures need to be started immediately.

    8. Ways to prevent infection and transmission
    While initial cases of Ebola virus disease are contracted by handling infected animals or carcasses, secondary cases occur by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an ill person, either through unsafe case management or unsafe burial practices. During this outbreak, most of the disease has spread through human-to-human transmission. Several steps can be taken to help in preventing infection and limiting or stopping transmission.
    • Understand the nature of the disease, how it is transmitted, and how to prevent it from spreading further. (For additional information, please see the previous questions about Ebola virus disease in this FAQ.) 
    • If you suspect someone close to you or in your community of having Ebola virus disease, encourage and support them in seeking appropriate medical treatment in a healthcare facility. 
    • Frequent hand washing with soap and water is recommended after touching a patient, being in contact with their bodily fluids, or touching his/her surroundings. 
    • People who have died from Ebola should only be handled using appropriate protective equipment and should be buried immediately by public health professionals who are trained in safe burial procedures.
    9. Is it safe to travel during an outbreak? What travel precautions should I take? 
    While travelers should always be vigilant with regard to their health and those around them, the risk of infection for travelers is very low since person-to-person transmission results from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of an infected patient. 

    The risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing the disease after returning is officially  considered moderate even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported. Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, all of which are unlikely exposures for the average traveler. In any event, tourists are advised to avoid all such contacts.  Once again, every situation requires a fact-based risk analysis, and answers will vary.

    If you are visiting family or friends in the affected areas, the risk is officially considered moderate , depending on the facts, and , unless you have direct physical contact with a person who is ill or who has died. If this is the case, it is important to notify public health authorities and engage in contact tracing. Contact tracing is used to confirm you have not been exposed to Ebola and to prevent further spread of the disease through monitoring. Many organizations understandably recommend against travel to affected areas.

    10. How do I protect myself against Ebola?
    If you must travel to an area affected by the 2014 Ebola outbreak, protect yourself by doing the following:
    • Wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid contact with blood and body fluids of any person, particularly someone who is sick.
    • Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
    • Do not touch the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
    • Avoid hospitals in West Africa where Ebola patients are being treated. The U.S. Embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on medical facilities.
    • Seek medical care immediately if you develop fever (temperature of 100.4°F/38.0°C or higher) and any of the other following symptoms: headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding. 
    • Limit your contact with other people until and when you go to the doctor. Do not travel anywhere else besides a healthcare facility
    11. Is there a danger of Ebola spreading in the U.S.?
    Ebola is not spread through casual contact; therefore, the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. is very low. Furthermore, the U.S. does not suffer from many of the infrastructure deficiencies that have contributed to the transmission in West Africa. Note also the success of Europe, through which many West Africans travel.


    1. World Health Organization, Frequently Asked Questions on Ebola Virus Disease,, (last visited October 21, 2014). 
    2. Centers for Disease Control, Questions and Answers on Ebola,, (last visited October 21, 2014).
  • 10.22.14

    Many employers may be familiar with pandemic preparedness, having dealt with several serious influenza outbreaks and H1H1 virus over the past several years. The Ebola virus has brought the idea of a potential pandemic into public discussion again.

    Proactive Workplace Pandemic Strategy and Checklist

    The pandemic potential raises many questions and no easy answers. However, all employers should emphasize certain communication points in responding to an actual pandemic. First, you should immediately communicate with employees regarding the effect, if any, of the outbreak in their workplace, emphasizing the company’s willingness to take steps to protect their health. Second, employers need to reassure their employees that there is no need to panic based on a non-specific fear of disease exposure in the workplace. Legal problems flow from knee-jerk responses by employees and employers alike.

    Part of every employer’s strategy in dealing with a potential pandemic should include: (a) following the guidance from the CDC and other public health services, (b) designating specific individuals to answer all questions involving the outbreak (after consultation with medical and legal counsel) so that the company will act in a consistent and thoughtful fashion, and (c) plan ahead for potential disruption, reassignment of employees, and response to their concerns.

    The following is a checklist outlining actions employers should consider in preparing for a potential pandemic.

    Develop an Emergency Response Plan: A company’s emergency response plan should deal with both natural and man-made disasters. The primary goals of the plan are to protect the employees and ensure continued operations at the facility. Part of the plan will identify business-essential positions and the people required to sustain business-necessary functions and operations. Establish ways to manage and control operations and communication in the event the company is denied use of its main facility or corporate headquarters, or communications are disrupted.
    Analyze Business Activities: Certain activities may require revised written “Guidelines,” including procedures for (a) employees who must travel to affected areas, (b) response to employees returning from business or other travel to affected areas, (c) meetings, trade shows, and events scheduled in affected areas, (d) responding to employee concerns about traveling to affected areas, (e) a need to respond to coworkers who may worry about an individual who has traveled to affected areas or to individuals who may show symptoms associated with the pandemic.
    Review Safety Policies and Practices: More than ever, employers should strive to develop best practices which go beyond legal requirements. Immediate changes to prepare for a pandemic may include, education and communication programs, installation of additional hand-washing stations, eliminating or rescheduling meetings, or even spreading out employee workstations or other efforts to accomplish social distancing.
    Maintain and Test a Disaster Communications Policy and System: An employer must maintain a plan for communicating with employees in the event of an emergency. The exact communications system will depend upon the nature of the business and other factors, but should at a minimum have backup storage and communications systems, and alternative means of communicating with employees if it is not possible for them to come to work. Consider maintaining an alternative website along with phone blasts ready to activate in the event of an emergency. Test the system just as you would an evacuation plan.
    Engage an Employee Assistance Program: In addition to their normal services, EAPs can be especially helpful providing employees with professional counseling services and steering them to other community resources in the event of a pandemic or other crisis. Both the EAP and local public health departments can be useful to deal with unreasonable fears about coworkers and risks associated with infectious diseases.
    Revise Telecommuting Policies: Telecommuting will become a more attractive option. Employers should start to lay the foundation for telecommuting and teleconferencing by investing in hardware and software systems, as well as implementing necessary policies. It is essential that employers consider the heightened wage-hour exposure associated with telecommuting and remote work, and ensure that employees strictly follow procedures for recording all hours worked. Employers should also take steps to protect company confidential and trade secret materials.
    Revise Attendance and Leave Policies: Traditional attendance policies are designed to penalize employees who are absent or tardy. However, if there is a medical or biological crisis, employers may not want sick or infected employees reporting to work or they may not have the luxury of terminating employees who are absent, even for an extended period. Employers will need to revise their policies to anticipate such crises and to provide practical solutions to these unique problems.
    Revise Vacation or Paid Time Off Policies: Employers may consider adopting vacation or paid time off policies that allow employees to get advances of paid time off or to borrow against expected future benefits. Developing programs that allow employees to donate paid time off to other employees may prove beneficial in a pandemic. Revising the notice required before an employee takes vacation or paid time off may also be appropriate. Employers should also consider the financial effect if a large percentage of the workforce simultaneously seeks paid time off. Employers may need to revise policies to allow employers more discretion in times of crisis. Most PTO policies are unfunded and depending on state law may constitute a contract. Funded plans may be governed by ERISA.
    Revise “No Loans” and “No Pay Advances” Policies: Historically, employers had policies expressly prohibiting loans and pay advances to employees. Policies relaxing these prohibitions and setting specific limits and conditions on loans and pay advances may also be helpful.
    Revise Travel Policies: The experience with the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks a few years ago taught that in the event of biological outbreaks, employees may be prevented from entering or leaving a particular region. They may be stranded away from home. Employers should have polices and contingency plans in place to address the predictable travel restrictions and related issues that may arise in a pandemic.
    Prepare for How to Handle Employees Who Refuse to Travel or to Come to Work: Educate supervisors as to when such refusals may constitute a protected refusal to engage in an unsafe activity, or may be treated as protected concerned activity under the National Labor Relations Act.
    Develop a Relationship with an Occupational Healthcare Provider, or Consider Hiring a Company Physician or Nurse: Having a continuing relationship with a healthcare professional, such as a physician or nurse, or even having such a person on staff, can be helpful in dealing with all sorts of day-to-day issues. But, having such a professional up to speed with the employer’s business and available in a pandemic can be invaluable.
    Contact Vendors and Suppliers: It is important to know what your business partners are doing in the event of a pandemic. You need to know if they will be available. Maintain communications and be prepared to seek other suppliers. Similarly, communicate with your clients and ensure that they know that you are taking steps to maintain service.
    Allow for Loans and Hardship Withdrawals from 401(k) Plans: When out of work due to crises, employees may need to draw upon their retirement savings to pay their day-to-day expenses. To prepare for this contingency, employers should ensure that their plans allow for loans and even hardship distributions, and that employees know of these options.
    Buy an Insurance Policy for Short-Term Disability and Salary Continuation Programs: Many employers maintain short-term disability or salary continuation programs that are funded completely out of current assets. If 40 percent of the work force is absent for an extended period, the drain on these programs will be significant and companies may not be able to fund these benefits. Employers can transfer this risk by adopting insured short-term disability benefit programs.
    Provide Employees with Free or Discounted Flu Shots: Flu vaccines are intended to help people keep from getting sick. An additional benefit of giving flu vaccines is that, by keeping flu outbreaks to a minimum, we reduce the possibility that a normal flu virus that is not very virulent, but that is easily transmitted between humans, will mutate with a highly contagious, virulent strain of flu and cause a pandemic.
    Provide Employees with Free or Discounted Tetanus Shots: Unhealthy conditions caused by past natural disasters emphasized the need for employers in high risk areas or industries to provide employees with free or discounted tetanus shots.
    Stockpile Essential Items, but Do So Prudently and Lawfully: As an example, people will frantically buy dust masks and other items normally required for a host of company functions, so stock-up to avoid disruption. Should an employer obtain flu remedies and other medications, do so through a licensed medical professional and follow steps to insulate the employer from additional legal exposure.
    Review Policy Statements, Handbooks, Contracts, Insurance-Related Documents and Collective Bargaining Agreements for Force Majeure Clauses: Force majeure clauses relieve parties to a contract from the requirements of the contract in the event of an “act of God.” By way of example, an insurance policy may relieve the insurer of the obligation to cover an incident if it could be labeled an “act of God.” Such provisions could then be used to deny coverage to business or medical losses caused by a pandemic. Similarly, an employer with such a clause in its union contract may have the right to deviate from the contract or to make unilateral changes in the terms and conditions of employment. These clauses and the rights of the parties vary with each situation, but the bottom line is that responsible employers will review all documents to see whether such a clause should be included, deleted or revised.


    These suggestions are just a few actions that employers should consider taking to prepare for a pandemic or similar crisis. This above information is not intended to be all-inclusive and there may be other appropriate actions that particular employers should consider. We encourage you to contact your Fisher Phillips attorney about developing procedures for responding to a potential pandemic situation in the workplace. We encourage all employers to act in a measured fashion which reflects the needs of your company and industry.

  • 10.22.14

    Many employers may be familiar with pandemic preparedness, having dealt with several serious influenza outbreaks and H1H1 virus over the past several years. Ebola virus, however, presents a different type of challenge for employers. For one, based on current medical evidence, Ebola appears to be much more deadly (some sources reporting at least a 70% mortality rate) than other viruses to which employees are commonly exposed. Coupled with extensive media coverage of the Ebola outbreaks in the United States (two confirmed transmissions in Dallas to date), employers around the country are currently dealing with how to handle employee and customer questions and concerns about the spread of Ebola.

    The U.S. Government, including officials with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies are working closely with officials in countries where human cases have been identified, including Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, as well as with the World Health Organization.

    Background on Ebola Virus

    Employers should monitor CDC and other sources and remain knowledgeable about Ebola to help dispel inaccurate concerns which can fan public hysteria. According to the CDC, Ebola is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with:

    • Blood or body fluids (including, but not limited to, urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
    • Objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
    • Infected animals

    According to the CDC, Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come into contact with infected blood or body fluids of sick patients. During outbreaks of Ebola, the disease can spread quickly within healthcare settings (such as a clinic or hospital). Exposure to Ebola can occur in healthcare settings where hospital staff are not wearing appropriate protective equipment, including masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection.

    Ebola can only be spread to others after symptoms begin. Symptoms of Ebola, including fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising) may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is eight to 10 days. Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive clinical care and the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.

    Additional information about Ebola can be found at the CDC’s Ebola page, or the World Health Organization’s Ebola page.

    Addressing Workplace Ebola Pandemic Issues

    For most employers, protecting their employees during an Ebola pandemic will depend on two basic approaches: emphasizing “common sense” hygiene (cleaning hands and decontaminating surfaces) and practicing “social distancing.” Social distancing means reducing the frequency, proximity, and duration of contact between people (both employees and customers) to reduce the chances of spreading Ebola virus from person-to-person. Employers may take additional protective measures, including engineering changes, procedure changes, and requiring the use of personal protective equipment, based upon the specific occupational exposure risk of their job tasks and workplace. Use of respiratory protection (respirators) and barrier protection (facemasks) may be components of a comprehensive plan to prepare workplaces for an influenza pandemic, but employers must comply with applicable OSHA standards.

    To assist employers in preparing for Ebola, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided information regarding Ebola and the applicable OSHA standards for employers on its Ebola page. The EEOC has also prepared a technical assistance document designed to help employers navigate their response to pandemics with regard to their obligations under the ADA: Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this planning, employers should consider “non-occupational exposure risks,” such as commuting to and from work on public transportation (e.g., bus or train) or other community exposures, such as shopping.

    Critical employers, such as law enforcement, emergency response, or public utility employees should consider upgrading protective measures for their employees due to the urgent necessity of their services and the difficulty in replacing them due to extensive training or licensing requirements.

    Proactive Workplace Pandemic Strategy and Checklist

    The pandemic potential raises many questions and no easy answers. However, all employers should emphasize certain communication points in responding to the current Ebola outbreak. First, you should immediately communicate with employees regarding the effect, if any, of Ebola in their workplace, emphasizing the company’s willingness to take steps to protect their health. Second, employers need to reassure their employees that there is no need to panic based on a non-specific fear of Ebola exposure in the workplace. Legal problems flow from knee-jerk responses by employees and employers alike.

    Part of every employer’s strategy in dealing with Ebola and a potential pandemic should include: (a) following the guidance from the CDC and other public health services, (b) designating specific individuals to answer all questions involving Ebola (after consultation with medical and legal counsel) so that the company will act in a consistent and thoughtful fashion, and (c) plan ahead for potential disruption, reassignment of employees, and response to their concerns.

    If you are interested in a detailed checklist on how an organization should prepare for any potential pandemic, please visit our resource page.

  • 10.22.14
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