The New York Times has an excellent column today by an infectious disease specialist who has attempted to draw some lessons of our experiences with the H1N1 pandemic flu. It was just one year ago today that the first person died from a known case of H1N1 flu. 

We know a lot more than we did when news of the new strain broke. My first post on the subject reflected the uncertainty we all felt when the news came out. 

And despite the lower numbers, the H1N1 flu pandemic is still not over. Indeed, earlier this month, the CDC reported a rise in H1N1 cases in several southeastern states

For employers, there is much to be learned from the experience.

No doubt, employers are better prepared than they were a year ago. Policies have been updated and procedures tweaked to deal with incidents such as this one.

Even so, there are still some employers that are at a loss on how to proceed from here.  The government’s flu website has gotten a huge renovation in the months since the start of the outbreak and is a must read for employers dealing with this. Go to Flu.Gov for the latest

So what can employers continue to do now?

  • If you don’t have a pandemic flu plan, develop one. Involve employees and review it and then communicate it with your employees.
  • in that plan, figure out ways to allow sick employees to stay home without risk of losing their jobs. "Presenteeism" or having employees come into work sick, can be a leading cause of further infections in your workplace and may ultimately cause more absences. 
  • Similarly, ensure that your infrastructure is in place to allow employees to work from home and that you have a business continuity plan to deal with mass absences.  Consider cross-training employees in critical functions. Once a pandemic occurs, you may not have the time to bring everyone up to speed.
  • Consider purchasing low-cost supplies that prevent the spread of infection in the workplace, such as alcohol-based hand rubs. If their around in the workplace, employees are more likely to use them. 

Most importantly, use your position as an employer to communicate with your employees. They will be looking to you for some guidance. Even if you don’t have all the answers, try to be the lighthouse in the fog with as much information as you can get from others.