Employers must prepare now for more sick workers, new federal guidelines say
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Telecommuting, flexible work hours and even keeping employees 6 feet apart are all ways to reduce the spread and impact of H1N1 swine flu on America's businesses, government experts said in new guidelines issued Wednesday.
Above all, employers need to remain flexible as the fall/winter flu season approaches, because the extent and severity of the outbreak remains uncertain, according to the guidelines for businesses issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Companies need to plan for continuity of operations with a depleted workforce," Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said during a press conference Wednesday. "A little planning now will help ensure that our economy withstands whatever the H1N1 virus throws us this fall."
According to the CDC, more communities may be affected by both the H1N1 swine flu and the seasonal flu in coming months than last spring, and every business needs to have a swine flu action plan in place.
"Businesses play a key role in protecting employees' health and safety as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society, whether in regular flu season or during an outbreak of the H1N1," Locke said. Businesses can help by setting the "right tone" within their companies, he added. "That starts by letting employees know that if employees exhibit flu-like symptoms, they shouldn't come to work. If an employee shows symptoms during the workday, the CDC recommends that that employee be asked to go home."
Some of the key points for employers:
Of course, the H1N1 flu could be more severe than expected, and additional precautions might be advised then, the CDC said. This could include keeping sick workers home for a week after symptoms resolve. And it might also involve implementing a "six-foot rule," asking workers to maintain that distance from coworkers to help avoid transmission of the virus.
The new CDC recommendations follow on the heels of its guidelines for schools, issued earlier this month. At that time, experts stressed that the timely delivery of an H1N1 vaccine could help curb the outbreak. Vaccine trials have already begun in adults, and on Tuesday officials at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced that two clinical trials testing the effectiveness of candidate vaccines for children are set to "begin shortly."
Find out more on the new guidance for business at flu.gov.
SOURCES: Aug. 19, 2009, news briefing with Gary Locke, secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce; Aug. 19, 2009, Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Aug. 18, 2009, news release, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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