Employment law experts in America and abroad are raising the red flag about possible legal risks associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the spreading virus that has killed nearly 600 people worldwide.
They warn that the SARS epidemic could raise employers' obligations to protect workers' health and safety to a new level, particularly among companies that employ workers globally or who require business travel.
Latest example: A Canadian unit of Hewlett-Packard became the first business in that country to execute a mass employee quarantine. Reason: A probable SARS patient came to work at its offices, ignoring an order to remain quarantined. Within hours, 102 employees and 95 visitors were sent home for 10 days. To make sure quarantined employees didn't come in to work, HP deactivated their security passes and arranged for telecommuting.
Lesson: Because the company had an emergency plan in place before the problem arose, it prevented further exposure without closing.
What should you do? Consider new limits on overseas travel. Make sure your disaster plan addresses the issue of communicable disease. And communicate with staff on the company policy. For more details on SARS and advice from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on limiting exposure at work, go to www.osha.gov/dep/sars