As an employer, you have a responsibility to protect your employees from health and safety hazards, and part of that responsibility includes being prepared to respond to unexpected threats. A communicable disease outbreak is one health and safety threat that your organization must be prepared to handle.
Your organization should develop a communicable disease policy in the workplace requiring employees to notify the company of any possible exposure to certain diseases. This will allow you to take proactive preventive measures against the spreading of the disease. As part of the policy, employees may be asked to work reduced hours, work from a remote location, and/or may be removed from nonessential job duties until they are no longer contagious. Other considerations for preventing the spread of communicable disease are as follows:
Travel and Quarantine Policies
Employee travel should comply with all advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of State. As a result, those who are traveling to areas with current communicable disease outbreaks should be required to obtain all recommended vaccinations and follow all health recommendations. If an employee travels to a region of the world for which he or she must be quarantined upon arrival back to the United States, he or she should notify you immediately to arrange for telecommuting or leave.
Social distancing may be of the highest importance when trying to prevent the spread of a communicable disease in the workplace. Employees may be subject to quarantine, maybe ill and need to stay home, or maybe home caring for sick relatives. As a result, these individuals should remain away from the workplace to reduce the likelihood of infecting others. Beyond this, other employees may fear that they will come in contact with a disease while being in the workplace and may consequently refuse to come to work. In response, consider devising policies to address these concerns and leave issues.
Leave policies should address the following issues:
Compliance with the directives of the CDC with regard to social distancing
Maintenance of company operations
Sustaining a functioning workforce to minimize the effects of employee absenteeism
Limiting unnecessary social interaction
Compliance with applicable laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and compliance with overtime stipulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for telecommuting employees
Address the following logistical concerns:
How employees should request communicable disease leave
Requirements for regularly reporting medical conditions
Whether leave is paid or unpaid
Whether benefits are provided or accrued during the leave period
If leave becomes exhausted, whether the employee will return to work
Other Legal Concerns
In addition to the laws mentioned above, there are other laws that may affect a communicable disease policy and its ramifications:
The Privacy Rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require employers to protect the privacy of all employee medical information. As a result, employers must determine what diseases employees must report, who will have access to this information, and whether reporting this information to public health officials is necessary. If other employees must be notified of a possible communicable disease case in the workplace, all necessary precautions must be taken to protect the privacy of the infected individual.
Under FMLA, employers with 50 or more employees who have worked for the company for 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours within that period, are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave due to a “serious health condition.” Most communicable diseases will likely be considered applicable under this legislation.
Employees who suffer permanent health problems affecting major functions of their daily lives may be entitled to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), employers must confirm that employees under their health plan receive an updated summary plan description (SPD) of the health benefits. If employees do not receive an SPD (or if an employer cannot prove that employees received a revised one), the provisions allowing the plan to change may not be enforceable.
Creating a Communicable Disease Response Plan of Action
Creating a communicable disease response plan is an effective way to communicate with employees clearly while also complying with local, state, and federal guidelines for pandemic responses. Plans should be concise, easy to understand, and effective in preserving the health and safety of all employees. Plans should include the following items:
The designation of a person within the workplace who is responsible for all disease planning and emergency actions
Communication of the policy and required steps for requesting leave
Development of protocol with regard to reduced job performances due to absence or quarantine
Development of a monitoring program to track employees who cannot return to work immediately due to illness
Development of social distancing strategies to limit transmission risks
Plan distribution timeline and format (online, hard copy, etc.)
In the very worst of situations, employers must be flexible and creative to continue to run their business while also protecting their employees and maintaining stability in the workplace. By expanding employee assistance initiatives, proactively creating applicable policies, and planning ahead, you can prepare your organization for a communicable disease outbreak.
Consider Sanitizing Your Workplace With Photocatalytic Air Purifiers
In addition to implementing mask mandates and work from home policies, you may want to consider adding Photocatalytic air purifiers to the equation. They are the only air purifier scientifically proven to eradicate airborne pathogens on surfaces and air simultaneously. They are arguably the best air purifier for COVID as their key claim to fame is the ability of the produce reactive oxygen species that bind to pathogens and render them harmless. As we try to get back to our regular way of living, we can safely do so with the use of photocatalytic air purifiers.
There is a host of communicable diseases that are scientifically proven to become eradicated by this technology. PCO purifiers are known to destroy viruses like influenza & COVID-19 among a host of other bacterial and fungal pathogens. Visit our Air purifier page to learn about the different types of purifiers that are able to be installed at home or at work.
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