Companies Advised to Prepare for Swine Flu

Keep sick employees at home, advisory firm recommends

Employers should plan for the possibility of a swine flu pandemic and its potential impact on operations, employees and customers, say human resource professionals.

While the tally of people falling ill to the virus continues to grow, companies should discourage employees from coming to work sick, says Employment Law Analyst Brett Gorovsky.

"Employers need to discourage both the 'hero employee' -- and even more so, the 'hero boss' -- who try to muddle their way through the day when they shouldn't," says Gorovsky, of CCH, a division of human resources research and software solutions firm Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. "Employees are sensitive to the differences between what management says and what it means, and when they see their supervisors coming in sick, they're convinced that's what's expected of them also."

As part of developing a pandemic plan, CCH recommends that employers identify a pandemic coordinator or team with defined roles and responsibilities for preparedness and response planning; identify key employees and key work processes required to maintain business operations during a pandemic; establish or review an emergency communications plan; seek up-to-date information from local and state health and emergency management resources; and remind employees to get in the habit of washing their hands often and cover their mouths and noses when they cough and sneeze.

Dimension Data, a $4.5 billion multinational IT consultancy with offices in Mexico City, had to adjust operations to protect employees and customers during the swine flu outbreak in Mexico where 159 deaths have been attributed to the virus.

The company reported April 29 that in response to the Mexican government closing all schools at the end of last week, it allowed employees to work from home whenever possible, required all client meetings and internal meetings to be conducted via videoconferencing, required all employees to use mouth covers in the office, turned off air conditioners and imposed temporary travel restrictions to and from Mexico.

According to a 2007 CCH survey, few companies already have such planning procedures in place. Only 27% of companies reported that they had a plan in place in the event that a large percentage of employees become ill, according to the survey. That figure represented a 100% increase over 2006, when only 14% of companies surveyed had such plans, CCH reports

"In 2007, there was heightened awareness of the need for pandemic planning because of concern over a possible avian flu pandemic," CCH Workplace Analyst Heidi Henson says. "That outbreak never materialized; hopefully organizations have continued to develop plans in the meantime."

For more guidance, CCH recommends employers visit the U.S. government's Web site for pandemic preparation at www.pandemicflu.gov/ plan/businesschecklist.html or The U.S. Chamber of Commerce at www.uschamber.com/ issues/index/defense/pandemic/10steps.html or by visiting state Web sites by adding a state's name to the end of the following Web address: www.pandemicflu.gov/ plan/states/.

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