A highly publicized bird flu scare from last week should be a reminder to all employers that a potential pandemic can materialize at any time and we all need to be on alert.
On December 31st, a 39 year old bus driver died in the southern China city of Shenzhen from a bird flu strain known as H5H1. Genetic analysis indicated that the virus spread directly
from poultry to the victim. However, it was also established by a health agency that the strain of H5H1 bird flu that killed the Chinese man cannot spread among people and that H5H1 rarely infects humans and usually only those who come into close contact with diseased poultry. Nevertheless, scientists are closely monitoring the virus for any signs it may become more easily transmissible from human to human.
Although employers have learned some important lessons from the H1N1 flu from a few years back, it should be remembered that the workplace is a different place today where good hygiene practices are the norm. Workers today need to continue to be vigilant about hand washing, sneezing into sleeves rather than blowing germs out into the air, using hand sanitizers, and otherwise be more alert to avoiding sickness.
Also, today employers now encourage sick workers to stay home and offer liberal leave options to workers coping with flu-related absences. Also, some companies have expanded telecommuting opportunities both to keep employees working during the flu season and to keep them from infecting, or being infected by, others.
The best practices that many employers learned during the H1N1 outbreak include the following: (1) Place hand sanitizers in several locations and make sure employees understand the value of using it, (2) Place safe practice signs up in the bathrooms and bulletin boards, (3) Have written flu policies spelled out in employee handbook and on the company website, (4) Tell employees not to come into work if they don’t feel well; and (5) Promote good hygiene.
There have been a couple of issues that came out of the H1N1 experiences that bear further discussion. For one, what happens in the workplace if employees complain that a co-worker is sick and coughing and infecting the office? Out of this common problem came a policy to allow anyone to report a concern, that the concern remain confidential, unlike harassment claims, and management use the power of persuasion to get the sick employee home and out of the business of spreading germs at the office.
Another important consideration is attendance. Instead of telling people to just stay home and/or work from home without any time and attendance requirements, employers
have found they need to have good time and attendance policies that are clear and make practice sense. One issue that arose came from employers’ generous impulse to let employees, especially hourly employees, take liberal leave, coupled with working from home. The problem with this is having to deal with Fair Labor Standards Act wage and hour laws. If an hourly employee works for three days, for example, and you send him/her home and he/she uses two days of sick leave on his/her time card, that’s simple and okay. However, what if
that employee might actually work six or eight hours of work-from-home and then not put it on their time card. At some point in the future, you could have a potentially expensive wage and hour dispute. 01.03.2012