H1N1 Influenza Guidelines: Practical Tips for Employers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the week of September 27 – October 3, 2009, influenza activity increased and is at higher than expected levels for this time of the year based on the following recent key indicators:

  • Visits to doctors for influenza-like illness continue to increase;
  • Total influenza hospitalization rates for laboratory-confirmed influenza are higher than expected for adults and children;
  • The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza based on the 122 cities Report has increased and now exceeds what is normal for this time of the year; and
  • 37 states are reporting widespread influenza activity at this time.

Can you sustain your business if a significant number of your employees are out sick? Are your employment policies too rigid to handle a possible outbreak in your workplace? What are you doing to help inform and educate your employees in order to prevent the accidental spread of illness?

Be Prepared

At a minimum, you should review your operations department by department to identify any areas that are compromised if a certain number of employees are out sick. This way, you can do some planning in advance as to how those job responsibilities will be covered. This may include cross-training or transferring staff or working in advance with an outside employment agency to secure temporary staff that is prepared to help you if necessary.

Be Flexible

You should review your policies to see whether or not they can accommodate any significant impacts to the workplace due to H1N1. Consider whether temporarily implementing new policies or amending current policies can help keep your business running smoothly. For example, because employee schedules may be disrupted either due to their own illness or those of a family member, consider temporarily implementing flexible scheduling or telecommuting policies if you don’t already do these things.

Additionally, you should review your policies regarding absences and use of paid time off benefits. If they are overly restrictive, you should review these in light of the current H1N1 pandemic so that employees aren’t disadvantaged due to illness or forced to make a difficult decision (e.g., come to work sick because they are 1 absence away from being subject to disciplinary action). The benefits of being flexible can help with keeping your business running without exposing healthy employees to employees who cannot afford to be sick.

Over Communicate

Set clear expectations with your employees as to how your organization is proactively dealing with H1N1. Now is the best time to educate your employees on how to best protect themselves before the influenza season gets any worse. This includes reinforcing common sense hygiene standards as well as what to do if they are not feeling well or experiencing flu-like symptoms. For your convenience, here are some links to the most current H1N1 information available:

Get ahead of this year’s influenza season by being proactive, prepared and flexible.

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