Over the last decades, we have seen new infectious diseases appear, some of which could kill millions of people within days: mad cow disease, bird flu, SARS, Hantavirus, Ebola, dengue fever, and most recently, spread of the H1N1 “swine” flu. In 2009, the World Health Organization declared H1N1 a pandemic. As of November 15, WHO reports that H1N1 is present in over 206 countries and territories globally, and over 500,000 cases have been documented. The pandemic raises many HR issues, especially for global employers. Why?
The workplace is an ideal place for spreading disease, from the common cold to the serious swine flu, as people are in a close daily contact, sharing printers, telephones, eating together in the office’s kitchen, and, most of the time, breathing the same, re-circulating air. Every company strives to keep its employees healthy and safe, not only for their own benefit, but also to ensure its operations continue full force. Let’s highlight a few of the issues companies need consider when preparing a plan to address a global pandemic:
Go global, but do not forget local!
Companies can draft a global, standard pandemic plan, but you still need to account for different laws and regulations in the specific countries or regions where you operate. So make sure your company reviews any local employment and health laws before implementing the plan, in order to avoid potential legal issues and liabilities.
What’s in the plan?
Every global pandemic plan must address at least these issues:
- Communication – Procedures on how an employee must inform their employer of a disease and steps the company needs to take to ensure immediate safety for the sick employee and the other employees.
- Discipline – How the company should deal with employees who refuse to go to work for fear of getting sick, and measures for abusive and unfounded absences.
- Privacy – How the information about a sick employee or a sick family member must be managed, including required government reporting.
- Shut Down – If a shutdown of the company facility becomes necessary because of the spread of a contagious disease, the company needs to define, according to domestic laws, how employees will be paid and alternative ways to keep the employees working.
- Travel issues – Your plan should address issues related to employees traveling for work to risky locations. The plan should cover the conditions when travel should be deferred or suspended. It should also address how employees traveling for personal reasons should deal with a potential contagious disease in order to protect the rest of your workforce.
Adapt, adapt and adapt!
Once you have your broad global pandemic plan, consult a local or international lawyer to draft specific provisions and re-write any conflicting ones, just like most companies do for their other global policies, such as Codes of Conduct, discrimination and harassment policies.
Tell your employees!
Communication is key. Make employees aware of the implementation of a global plan by preparing presentations and/or training on the issues addressed by the plan. Use simple, common language to make sure employees understand the plan and are not alarmed by it. Be sure to communicate the plan in all the common local languages in each country. Encourage employees to take the information home and share it with their families.
Get Involved Now!
HR staff plays a key role in creating and implementing a plan to respond to a pandemic. In addition to helping draft the plan and organizing implementation of it, Global HR must also focus on:
- Education – Develop plans to educate employees in the prevention and spread of contagious and potential pandemic diseases in the workplace – signs, training, providing hand sanitizing, etc.
- Partnership with the Community – Work closely with local health departments and other officials to take advantage of their resources, and secure a role for your company in community prevention efforts.
- Awareness – Make employees aware of the resources available to them for prevention and cure under the company’s health care plan or clinic, national health insurance, and other resources.
- Policy Updates – Review and update sick leave policies to address a pandemic situation (for the employee and to take care of sick family members).
As you can see, there are many things to consider in developing a plan to address a global pandemic. I hope this article provides you with a good start in developing a plan for your company. Don’t forget that any global plan must be carefully prepared and reviewed by local or international counsel to avoid any liabilities for the company and risks for the employees.
Have you already developed a plan for responding to a pandemic? Share your comments to enrich the information in this post!
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