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Office Risk Insights: Avoid Communicable Diseases

As a risk manager, it is important to be prepared for any number of events that could threaten the safety of your employees and/or cause severe business interruption. One of these threats is a communicable disease. Communicable diseases are ones that are easily transmitted among people, and include influenza, hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV and many others. If one of your employees contracts such an infectious disease or there is an outbreak in your local community, you need to be prepared to maintain as safe and healthy a workplace as possible.

Required Employee Disclosure

At the most primary level, organisations 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 the organisation to take proactive preventive measures against the spread 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.

Employee Leave Policies

Social distancing is one of the best methods to prevent the spread of a communicable disease in the workplace. Employees may be subject to quarantine, may be ill and need to stay home, or may be home caring for ill 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,  should consider devising policies to address these concerns and leave issues, including the following:

  • Maintenance of company operations, including backup options for essential supply chains, business functions and personnel.
  • Sustaining a functioning workforce to minimise the effects of employee absenteeism.
  • Limiting unnecessary social interaction. This may include avoiding in-person meetings and instead utilising email, telephone or other remote conferencing strategy.
  • Address the following logistical concerns:
  • How employees request communicable disease leave.
  • Requirements for regularly reporting medical conditions.
  • Whether leave is paid or unpaid.
  • Whether benefits (if offered) are provided or accrued during the leave period.
  • If leave becomes exhausted, whether employee will be required to return to work.

Communicable Disease Response Plan

Plans should be concise, easy to understand, and effective in preserving the health and safety of all employees. Plans should include the following:

  • 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 increased absenteeism and how to maintain a functioning workforce.
  • Development of a monitoring programme 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 disease outbreak situations, it is important that employers are prepared and remain flexible in their response strategies, in order to maintain critical business operations while also keeping their employees safe and healthy.

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The content of this Risk Insights is of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. It does not purport to be a comprehensive analysis of all matters relevant to its subject matter. The content should not, therefore, be regarded as constituting legal advice and not be relied upon as such. In relation to any particular problem which they may have, readers are advised to seek specific advice. Further, the law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly. © 2010, 2012-2013 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

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