Preparing for Flu Season
As the last day of summer passes by and the temperatures drop, experts are increasingly concerned that flu season this year may be more serious than recent years. In particular, fears about a possible H1N1 pandemic have health officials around the world on alert. Experts are predicting that absenteeism rates could reach as high as 40%. Businesses should take the following steps now to prepare:
1. Create an H1N1 Preparedness Plan.
a. Designate a central communication team. Determine how and who will communicate to your employees if there are emergencies or closures.
b. Assess and plan for business interruption. Determine what threshold level of absenteeism would be disruptive to your business and develop contingency leadership/cross-training plans.
c. Evaluate leave policies. Focus on flexible, non-punitive leave for employees that get sick and prepare for employees to be out in multiple waves of outbreaks for 3-5 days or longer on average.
d. Evaluate telework and flexible scheduling options. Assess and update IT infrastructure to accommodate a large number of employees logging in from home. Establish teleworking parameters/policies. Consider flexible work hours and staggered shifts.
e. Consider alternative work forces, if necessary. Investigate temporary staffing agencies or other forms of temporary assistance in case a significant percentage of your workforce is unable to work.
f. Promote vaccination. Encourage your employees to get vaccinated from the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus when it becomes available. Many health insurance companies will come to your office to vaccinate employees.
g. Communicate with employees. Share your preparedness plan with employees. Help employees identify alternate modes of transportation in the event public transportation options are limited. Likewise, ask employees to help by developing their own contingency plans for dependent care if schools or day care programs are closed.
2. Put Workplace Precautions in Place
a. Stock your office with soap, water and alcohol based hand cleaners to help reduce the spread of viruses.
b. Clean common areas frequently.
c. Limit communal bowls of popcorn, pretzels or other foods that might spread germs around the office.
d. Encourage sick employees to stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever breaks, or if the strain should become more severe, at least 24 hours after all symptoms have subsided.
3. Identify Key Resources and Tools.
a. Establish communication lines with local public health authorities and community medical experts in advance. Timely information will be critical.
b. Utilize online resources, such as:
COLORADO’S NEW PARENTAL LEAVE LAW
In addition to flu season preparedness, businesses should also take note of the new Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act, signed by Governor Ritter on June 1, 2009, which requires employers who are covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (generally, employers with 50 or more employees) to provide unpaid leave to “non-executive” and “nonsupervisory” employees with children in grades K-12 in order to participate in certain academic activities.
The new law requires covered employers to allow parents with children enrolled in grades K-12 in public, private or home school to take up to 18 hours of unpaid leave each academic year to attend parent-teacher conferences, participate in special education services, or attend meetings related to dropout prevention, attendance, truancy, or other disciplinary issues. Employers may limit the leave to 6 hours per month and 3 hours per event, as well as require employees to provide written verification from the school. Additionally, employees are required to make a “reasonable attempt” to schedule the academic activities outside regular business hours, and if leave must be taken during work hours, employees should generally provide at least one calendar week’s notice. Either the employee or employer may elect to substitute paid leave for the new parental leave.
With flu season and the new academic year upon us, Colorado employers should plan for higher rates of absenteeism than normal, review and revise their leave policies, and train their supervisors and human resource professionals on H1N1 preparedness and the new parental leave entitlement.
For more information contact: Jackie Benson, Jennifer Gokenbach, or Ted White, Chair, Transaction Section at (303) 292-2900.
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