If employers can take any lesson away from the recent events in southern California, it's that regardless of how well you think you're prepared, new emergencies and unplanned situations will always pop up. This is a lesson that many citizens in The Golden State are learning the hard way, as parents and children alike fight back against an unexpected measles outbreak.
Fortunately for most employers across the U.S., this recent instance of the measles has remained more or less localized, failing to become a national health hazard. But it can still provide a useful lesson to companies and managers who could benefit from reviewing their emergency policies to ensure they're in compliance with infectious disease regulations.
How to handle communication and reporting
Offices are exposed to communicable diseases all the time. Just poke your head into a workplace in the middle of flu season and you'll see the effect that maintaining close quarters with coworkers who are sick can have on a workforce. But there are a few ailments that are more serious, and that can pose significant health and safety risks to your staff and your customers. Ailments such as measles, severe acute respiratory syndrome and H1N1 flu have all been cause for public concern in the past several years. When these viruses rear their heads, how should employers handle the situation to both keep the workforce safe and protect individual privacy?
As the Society for Human Resource Management noted, this can be a sensitive subject to broach. It's important to inform employees that a coworker has contracted a contagious disease so that staff can protect themselves, but the source was quick to note that disclosing specific names is a bad idea – it can lead to potential unfavorable treatment of the employee in question and you may even end up with a lawsuit.
What about the administrative stuff?
Keeping employees abreast of health and safety concerns is one thing, but managers also have to consider potential HR and administrative ramifications of health crises. For example, is the illness in question one that's covered by worker's compensation? What about providing protection for staff members under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Managing a response in the face of a virulent outbreak is an endeavor that stretches across all facets of running a small business. Fortunately, executives can turn to PEO companies to help sort through information and prioritize a plan of action. These HR solutions provide necessary administrative services without having to break the payroll budget for in-house HR services.