Monday, August 24, 2009

Pandemic Preparedness~ Work & School primer

So many businesses these days have very strict attendance policies. Point systems, or "incidents" are tallied, and a certain number of them will get you fired-- no matter if you are a top-notch star employee, and have an otherwise excellent work/attendance history. My workplace has such cut & dried, hard & fast rules & I have seen people get fired, even when they are actually being responsible, such as not coming to work with a highly contagious disease.
No matter. You breach the policy, without getting FMLA (family medical leave) medical documentation, you're fired.

This is a huge concern as we head into flu season, in the midst of a H1N1 Swine flu pandemic.
Literally, employees may be having to choose between life & a job, under these kinds of strict attendance rules.

The CDC has posted guidelines for Employers & Schools, that advise revising their policies to address the needs of those who are sick to take time off, and those who are at high risk (with other chronic medical conditions, and or compromised immune systems), to be allowed to take additional time off work, to avoid exposure, should an outbreak occur.

Will employers with these strict guidelines respond appropriately?

From the CDC Flu page:

Plan now to determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in sick workers, those who stay home to care for ill family members, and those who must stay home to watch their children if dismissed from school. Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible workplace and leave policies for these workers.

Actions Employers Should Take Now

Review or establish a flexible influenza pandemic plan and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan;
Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected before flu season;

Have an understanding of your organization’s normal seasonal absenteeism rates and know how to monitor your personnel for any unusual increases in absenteeism through the fall and winter.
Engage state and local health department to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information;

Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs;

Develop other flexible leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or child care programs close;

Share your influenza pandemic plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them;
Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts; and
Add a “widget” or “button” to your company Web page or employee Web sites so employees can access the latest information on influenza: and

Important Components of an Influenza Pandemic Plan

Be prepared to implement multiple measures to protect workers and ensure business continuity. A layered approach will likely work better than using just one measure.
Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed tools to determine if your employees are at risk of work-related exposures and, if so, how to respond - (click to see OSHA link).

Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws (for more information on employer responsibilities, employers should visit the Department of Labor’s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s websites. 

Allow employees to stay home if they are ill, have to care for ill family members, or must watch their children if schools or childcare facilities close.

Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), when possible, to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if local public health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies. Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple workers who may be able to work from home.

Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations. Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted.

Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s response plan, altering business operations (e.g., possibly changing or closing operations in affected areas), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local health officials to identify these triggers.

Plan to minimize exposure to fellow employees or the public if public health officials call for social distancing.

Establish a process to communicate information to workers and business partners on your 2009 H1N1 influenza response plans and latest 2009 H1N1 influenza information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.

Over the past several years, HHS, CDC, DHS, OSHA, EEOC, and other federal partners have developed guidelines, including checklists, to assist businesses, industries, and other employers in planning for a pandemic outbreak. Review these resources to assist in your planning efforts. 

In closing, some workplaces may be ill prepared to allow extra precautions during a pandemic. 
If your employer is already very strict about attendance, know that you may have additional rights to protect yourself & your job, during a deadly pandemic. 
Employees should not have to choose between caring for kids, or being severely ill, and worried about keeping your job. 
If you know you will need to be out for a while, cover your ass & apply for FMLA paperwork to care for you or your immediate family. 
No one needs to be worrying additionally, about losing your job while dealing with a medical crisis. 

They also have published guidelines for Schools ~
  Higher Education &  K-12. (click to get to the link).
Which also includes revising attendance policies, and allowing high risk employees & students to modify attendance accordingly. 

Of course this is all common sense & humane-- but let's face it, corporate workplaces & institutions sometimes fail to be humane and or use common sense. 

Know your rights!


Anonymous said...

corporate workplaces & institutions sometimes fail to be humane and or use common sense

You are such a kind and gentle woman, Fran. :)

"Sometimes"... Yeah. LOL.

I listened to the CDC (I think it was) preparation guidelines for the flu season to be implemented by the corporations and businesses all over the country -- and couldn't stop laughing.

"Let your employees stay home as long as they need to recover" -- that was funny, in a decidedly non-funny way.

I can just see the bleeding heart bosses telling Joe Shmoe, "Sure, Joey, take as much time as you need. Stay in bed, darling, and drink plenty of honey-lemon tea. We miss ya, but we'll try to manage without ya as long as it takes. Take care of yourself, OK?"

That is, if Joe Shmoe can even afford take a day off in today's economy.

(Yes, I am that cynical. Or realistic, rather.)

Fran said...

Welcome Martha! Thank you!

Elizabeth~ I am either kind & gentle or a smart ass- you decide!
Truth be known many corporations have VERY strict and therefore very inhumane attendance policies.
You miss X amount of days & you'd be fired so fast your head would spin.

So I'm glad to see they are involving the Dept of Labor, because this could be a real catch 22-- you r kid's school is closed & by law you are required to have an adult watching the kid & day care centers are closed as well.... you may have to stay home-- and if that employee has now been potentially exposed (if the chid is sick), you really don;t WANT them to come to work & infect the other employees.

But you have the edgy humor going on....
Yes Corporations will arrange to send Echenacia tea, and Hot & Sour soup, juices & a fruit basket to help assist in the healing process, while encouraging the employee to take as long as they need.

Yea right!

Which planet would that be on?????

* Apologies to any companies that actually DO have a heart & will be understanding.