Preparing for Pandemic Influenza: Re-Thinking Employee Health & Wellness Before a Crisis Affects Your Workplace
An influenza pandemic could have a major effect on the economy and all areas of commerce and employment. Business planning for pandemic influenza is essential to minimize a pandemic's impact. In the event of an influenza pandemic, employers will play a critical role in protecting employees' health, safety, and overall well-being.
Responsible employers should take this preventative planning seriously and immediately begin preparing for the day when 40 percent or more of their workforce could be absent due to a pandemic or a similar crisis. Influenza planning should be based upon traditional infection control and industrial hygiene practices, plus non-traditional modifications to employee-related policies and procedures that will assist employees in maintaining their physical and mental health and/or recovery during a period of crisis. Employers need to think outside of the normal paradigms to consider which policies or benefits should be revised. This article outlines a few actions employers should consider in preparing for this scenario:
- Provide employees with free or discounted flu shots.
- Provide employees with free or discounted tetanus shots.
- Identify the occupational risk of exposure to employees.
- Educate and encourage employees to use good hygiene and infection control.
- Identify and implement other appropriate control measures.
- Review safety and health policies and practices.
- Identify minimum staffing needs, position reinforcements, and essential facility operations.
- Insure short-term disability and salary continuation programs.
- Revise attendance and leave policies.
- Revise vacation or paid-time-off policies.
- Revise "no loans" and "no pay advances" policies.
- Have a disaster and emergency communications policy and system.
- Revise telecommuting policies.
- Revise travel policies.
- Allow loans and hardship withdrawals from 401(k) plans.
- Establish an employee assistance program (EAP).
- Engage a professional health care provider, such as a company physician or nurse.
- Review policy statements, handbooks, contracts, insurance-related documents, and collective bargaining agreements for force majeure clauses.
These suggestions are just a few actions that employers should consider taking to prepare for a pandemic or similar crisis in the workforce. This brief list is not intended to be all-inclusive, and there may be other appropriate actions that particular employers should consider.
This article appeared in the 2009 Georgia Tech OSHA Fall Newsletter.