The next month or two will certainly be interesting around the workplace.  The H1N1 Virus continues to spread around the country, a new vaccine is ready to be rolled out that experts hope will stave off further infections.  And employers are, in some cases, holding their collective breath that the vaccine wins out so as to avoid mass disruptions in the workplace.

Because things may get dicey over the next few weeks, it’s important for employers now to make sure that they understand some of the legal guidelines to follow when dealing with such an illness in the workplace. 

The EEOC has some guidance on the H1N1 virus (it’s been around since May) that is worth revisiting.  Indeed, it has a FAQ section with some key questions.  For example:

  • During a pandemic, may an employer require its employees to adopt infection control practices?  Yes. Requiring infection control practices, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and tissue usage and disposal, does not implicate the ADA.
  • May an employer encourage or require employees to telework (i.e., work from an alternative location such as home) as an infection control strategy?  Yes. An employer may encourage or require employees to telework as an infection-control strategy, based on timely information from public health authorities about pandemic conditions. Telework also may be a reasonable accommodation.

Beyond that, the CDC has prepared updated guidance and materials for employers to use when communicating with employees. The entire toolkit is available here.

Several employers have already decided that they will have a more liberal absence policy if the "swine" flu starts spreading within the workplace. That’s not a bad option to consider. Encouraging sick employees to stay home (even with pay) may prevent many others from become absent as well.

Practicing good health habits is another way to prevent the spread of the virus as well.  While this video below may not be the best for your workplace, it certainly gets the point across.