With a new wave of swine flu (H1N1) predicted to hit in the upcoming weeks. the Centers for Disease Control released new updated guidance yesterday for employers with recommended actions for businesses to take. (H/T Ohio Employer’s Law Blog)

The guidance can be found in two documents: 

At the outset, the CDC acknowledges that trying to balance various interests will be difficult for businesses, depending on the severity of the flu outbreak:

All employers must balance a variety of objectives when determining how best to decrease the spread of influenza and lower the impact of influenza in the workplace. They should consider and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: (a) reducing transmission among staff, (b) protecting people who are at increased risk of influenza related complications from getting infected with influenza, (c) maintaining business operations, and (d) minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.

The guidance then has a variety of action steps for employers to take right now. Some of these are not new; indeed, if you’ve been following this topic you’ll see that some of the suggestions (such as an influenza pandemic plan) have been suggested before. But now that the context of the flu outbreak can be seen, these recommendations may make sense a little more.

  • Review or establish a flexible influenza pandemic plan and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan;
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected before flu season;
  • Have an understanding of your organization’s normal seasonal absenteeism rates and know how to monitor your personnel for any unusual increases in absenteeism through the fall and winter.
  • Engage state and local health department to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information;
  • Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs;
  • Develop other flexible leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or child care programs close;
  • Share your influenza pandemic plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them;
  • Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts; and
  • Add a “widget” or “button” to your company Web page or employee Web sites so employees can access the latest information on influenza: www.cdc.gov/widgets/ and www.cdc.gov/SocialMedia/Campaigns/H1N1/buttons.html

The guidance has much more information in detailed fashion about steps to take when the illnesses start occurring at work (and suggestions if the pandemic increases in severity).  It is well worth reading to stay up-to-date on this ever changing area.

(For local reaction to the CDC’s new guidance and what employers are doing in Connecticut, the Hartford Courant has this report.)