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Are you ill prepared? 13 steps to stay ahead of the H1N1 virus

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

by Stephen R. Woods, Esq.

In the wake of April’s worldwide H1N1 virus pandemic scare, now is the time to make sure your organization has an effective pandemic plan in place. Although this spring’s immediate threat seems to have abated, public health officials warn that the virus could re-emerge in the fall.

There are 13 steps you can take to deal with H1N1:

1. Get informed. One of the most informative web sites about the H1N1 virus is www.pandemicflu.gov.

2. Create a pandemic contingency planning group.
Include representatives from HR, information technology, executive management and other critical parts of the business.

3. Assess your industry’s vulnerability.
Animal handlers, health care practitioners, transportation workers and employees working overseas are all at greater risk than the general public.

4. Assess your operations. How well positioned are you to respond to evolving, unpredictable threats?

5. Identify essential operations and employees. Business continuity is the primary goal in the event of a pandemic. Work to reduce the risk of disruptions in your supply chain and distribution network.

6. Run hypotheticals. Which employees can work at home? Who would need IT upgrades to make that possible? What lines of production or service could you shut down without jeopardizing the entire enterprise?

7. Think about replacement employees.
Cross-train employees. Form alliances with temporary employment firms.

8. Institute telecommuting. Assess whether your business could function if many employees telecommuted. Make sure you have a proper telecommuting agreement in place with those employees who do telecommute.

9. Establish backup communications systems. If employees must work from home, make sure you will be able to communicate with them. Password-protected company intranets are perfect for this purpose.

10. Plan to prevent the flu from spreading. In the event of a flu pandemic, the following policies and practices will be essential. (Even before such a calamity, they can help prevent the spread of a virus.)

  • Isolate and excuse employees who become ill at work.
  • Allow unscheduled and nonpunitive leave for employees whose households include people who are ill.
  • Set guidelines for when infected staff can return to work.
  • Report infection and provide medical surveillance for employees who contract the virus.

11. Keep complete records. Track the following:

  • Employees who take sick leave
  • Each employee’s up-to-date emergency contact information
  • All persons who visit the work site.

12. Form a relationship with local health care facilities. Health care providers are acutely aware of H1N1 risks and have been making plans for weeks. Employers that proactively form relationships with such providers have a better chance to be at the front of the line for help if a pandemic hits.

13. Train your employees how to help. Training should include, at a minimum:

  • How the flu is spread
  • Symptoms
  • Your process for reporting possible or actual infections
  • Preventive hygiene. This includes coughing and sneezing etiquette, proper hand washing, using hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes, cleaning work surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, phone handsets and elevator buttons) and wearing masks or respirators if necessary.

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Author: Stephen R. Woods is a shareholder in the Ogletree Deakins' Greenville, S.C., office. He represents management in all aspects of labor and employment law and has significant legal and professional experience in the field.

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