As employers we are torn between losing the productivity from an employee who is sick and having them come to work and infect other employees, thus causing more problems. This is an everyday issue that becomes worse in the flu season. It becomes even more of a concern when a potential pandemic is identified.
MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of these people died.” The World Health Organization and the CDC are concerned, the latter because as of this writing two cases have been identified in the US and they are trying to track down approximately 500 people who may have been exposed to these ill people.
Are companies at risk of having infected employees?
If you are a company that has employees that travel to the Arabian Peninsula then you certainly need to have a heightened awareness. The CDC is not recommending canceling a trip to the Middle East but they are encouraging caution. As they say:
“The current CDC travel notice is an Alert (Level 2), which provides special precautions for travelers. Because spread of MERS has occurred in healthcare settings, the alert advises travelers going to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula to provide health care services to practice CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected cases and to monitor their health closely. Travelers who are going to the area for other reasons are advised to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.”
Here are some precautions that those travelers should take:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
- In reality these are good precautions to take with any disease situation, especially the flu.
Do you have a plan?
What happens if you get a wide-spread health problem in your work place, such as MERS or a pandemic flu? Do you have a plan? You should! Both the CDC and OSHA offer guidance on dealing with a pandemic in the workplace. You can find the CDC guidance here and the OSHA guidance here.
At minimum every work place should have a sick leave policy that covers what employees should do. OSHA recommends the following: “Develop a sick leave policy that does not penalize sick employees, thereby encouraging employees who have influenza-related symptoms (e.g., fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, or upset stomach) to stay home so that they do not infect other employees. Recognize that employees with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them.”
Have a backup plan to replace critical workers who may contract MERS or any other illness that might keep them out for an extended period.
Even if you don’t have employees who travel to the Middle East you never know who they come in contact with. Pay attention to employees who develop symptoms of fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Encourage them to visit a doctor immediately. Naturally, if you have an FMLA policy pay attention to who is suddenly out for over three days and start that process.
Photo used from Wikipedia Presentation © 1996 Warner Bros. Pictures, Tim Burton Productions and Industrial Light & Magic