August 26, 2009
On August 19, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season, a set of guidelines and information to assist employers in planning for the coming H1N1 influenza season. This blog post only summarizes some aspects of the Guidance, which is extensive and detailed. Before taking any action, review the entire Guidance and associated material at www.flu.gov.
The new Guidance stresses that employers should develop a flexible pandemic response plan which can be adjusted depending on the level of severity of the flu outbreak. The Guidance advises employers to key their level of actual response to advice from local public health authorities. As a baseline, the guidance stresses that “during an influenza pandemic, all sick people should stay home and away from the workplace, hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.”
If current flu conditions persist, the CDC’s recommended responses include: advising sick employees to go home; encouraging employees to get vaccinated; taking measures to protect employees who are at higher risk for complications of influenza (i.e. pregnant women, individuals with chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, immune system disorders and other chronic medical conditions); advising employees who travel frequently to take certain steps in advance of their business trips; and preparing for the possibility of temporary closure of schools and child care programs.
If, however, the 2009-2010 H1N1 flu outbreak becomes more severe than the spring/summer 2009 outbreak, the CDC recommends additional responses, including: actively screening employees who report to work for flu like symptoms (e.g. asking employees at the beginning of shift about symptoms); considering alternative work environments for employees at high risk of complications of influenza; considering “social distancing” in the workplace (the goal should be at least 6 feet of distance between people at most times); and canceling all non-essential business travel.
The Federal Government’s flu website, www.flu.gov, contains a wealth of additional information to assist employers in developing a plan and communicating with employees, including, a variety of helpful checklists and forms. The website will be updated continually throughout the coming flu season.