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Prepare Your Workforce for Flu Epidemic

January 15, 2013
The 2012-2013 influenza season started early and is now an epidemic.  As a result, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that employers communicate with employees about the importance of getting vaccinated and reducing the spread of flu. The CDC advises employers to work with employees on reducing the spread of flu by urging those with flu-like symptoms and those with high risks of infection to telecommute.  In addition, the CDC encourages employers to prepare for school closures and child care issues in advance.  For the construction industry, this can be problematic since contracts are awarded and paid based on anticipated completion dates, and the possibility of reduced staff after a potential influenza outbreak may mean reduced production capacity. Although construction employers are limited in what they can do to stop the spread of influenza, the CDC has recommended action steps employers should take to help mitigate the impact of the epidemic.  Employers are advised to:
  • 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 site so employees can access the latest information on influenza.  Widgets and buttons can be downloaded at www.cdc.gov/widgets/.
Other CDC resources for employers include a toolkit for promoting the seasonal flu vaccine and posters and flyers that can be posted around the workplace.  Additional resources are also available in OSHA’s Flu Pandemic Guide.
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