Fearing the worst, two government agencies and an association of small businesses are urging companies to plan now for the impending swine flu pandemic spreading across the United States.
According to a report released in August 2009 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, nearly 2 million Americans could be hospitalized by the novel H1N1 flu virus, which originated in Mexico in early 2009 and has swept around the world, killing and sickening many.
An Ounce of Prevention
“Small businesses play an essential role in our national effort to prepare for all disasters and emergencies—including the H1N1 flu,” said U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano in announcing the administration’s release of a flu preparedness guide in conjunction with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Federal officials say half of the nation’s private-sector employees work at small businesses. The government has already created plans for those attending schools and colleges and has urged those institutions to remain open and asked employees to telecommute if necessary.
"For countless small businesses, having even one or two employees out for a few days has the potential to negatively impact operations and their bottom line,” added SBA’s Administrator Karen Mills. “A thoughtful plan will help keep employees and their families healthy, as well as protect small businesses and local economies.”
Flu outbreaks are occurring nationwide and are expected to coincide with the return of seasonal flu during the fall and winter of 2009, according to a release from DHS.
The preparedness guide, a copy of which can be obtained here, provides information and tools to help employers plan for and respond to varying degrees of a swine flu outbreak. “Small businesses are often the backbone of private sector industries and their local communities,” Napolitano writes in the guide. “With this in mind, we must partner to ensure the wheels of the nation’s economy continue to turn, even if faced with absenteeism, restricted services, and supply chain disruptions. The most important thing you can do to prepare your business is to have a plan.”
Plan Now, Not Later
Employers are encouraged to put strategies in place now to protect their employees and their businesses in advance of the fall flu season.
Tips in the guide include step-by-step instructions on how to write business continuity plans; tips on how to keep colleagues healthy as well as keeping yourself healthy; FAQs about the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, and a list of additional resources that employers can access online.
· Identifying a workplace coordinator.
· Examining policies for leave, telework and employee compensation.
· Determining who will be responsible for assisting ill individuals in the workplace and who will be the “go to” person to contact when people become ill.
· Indentifying essential employees, essential business functions and other critical inputs.
· Sharing pandemic plans with employees and communicating expectations clearly.
· Preparing business continuity plans.
· Establishing an emergency communications plan.
For additional information, visit www.flu.gov. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has a complete list of resources for HR executives on its Swine Flu News & Resources site.
Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Study: Businesses Might Not Be Able to Cope with Flu Season, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, September 2009
As Swine Flu Grips India, HR Works to Calm Fears, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, September 2009
FAQs on Employment Laws and Flu, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, September 2009