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SHRM Poll: Few Employers Take Extra Flu Precautions

By Kathy Gurchiek  5/7/2009
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Beyond educating employees on flu prevention measures, developing an employee communication strategy and disinfecting common areas, organizations are not taking extra precautions against swine flu, according to a new poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Nor are they planning to do so, according to findings from the online poll conducted April 29 to May 5, 2009, with 462 HR professionals from SHRM’s membership.

Almost all respondents said their organizations are not taking steps such as recalling expatriate workers in locations where swine flu cases are confirmed or closing offices or units located in affected regions of the world or the United States—nor do they plan to do so.

As of May 7, 2009, 23 countries had officially reported 2,099 cases of swine flu, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That included 1,112 confirmed cases in Mexico, 201 in Canada and 73 in Spain. Mexico had reported 42 flu-related deaths, the United States two. The United States had 896 reported cases as of May 7, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak, and two-thirds of HR professionals polled said their organizations aren’t restricting or planning to restrict business travel to and from regions where there are confirmed cases.

Also, 79 percent have not asked—and don’t plan to ask—employees who have traveled recently to or from affected areas to see a medical provider before returning to the office.

The CDC’s recommendation to postpone nonessential travel to Mexico remained in effect May 6.

A May 6 memo from SHRM to staff indicated it would not send employees on business travel to a country that the CDC has recommended as restricted. In addition, SHRM directs those who travel to a restricted country on their own to remain at home upon their return for seven calendar days while the CDC guidelines are in effect.

Employees are encouraged to arrange, with supervisor approval, to perform work that can be handled from home or to take accrued time off if telework cannot be arranged.

Although the government has asked employers to consider stockpiling antiviral medications to dispense to front-line health care workers and other critical employees, as SHRM Online reported, only 11 percent of employers are doing so and only 8 percent plan to do so, according to the poll.

Other findings:

·       96 percent have not curtailed product shipments to or from affected regions of the United States or internationally and have no plans to do so.

·       94 percent are not recalling expatriates in international locations where there are confirmed cases and have no plans to do so.

·       83 percent are not limiting business visitors from affected regions and have no plans to do so.

·       72 percent are not restricting nonessential employee business travel in general and have no plans to do so.

·       64 percent are not implementing an alternative to business travel, such as videoconferencing or audio conferencing, and have no plans to do so.

·       54 percent are not setting up telecommuting options if there is an outbreak in their local area or region and have no plans to do so.

The results are contrary to other recent surveys that SHRM Online reported on May 6, 2009, which found organizations implementing changes to their business travel practices.

“If organizations have very few employees who travel or employees only travel a short distance for business, then they may not be concerned with creating strategies related to business travel,” theorized Shawn Fegley, SHRM survey research analyst.

Or perhaps it’s because most respondents in the SHRM poll (57 percent) don’t think swine flu will have a negative impact on their organizations’ overall business operations; 40 percent thought it would have a moderately negative impact.

Also, a majority said their organizations had a disaster preparedness plan in place, and nearly all said it included emergency communication and business continuity planning.

Organizations were nearly evenly divided about sending home employees who come in with flu- and cold-like symptoms—37 percent do that now, 30 percent plan to do so, and 33 percent don’t take that action and don’t plan to do so.

What They’re Doing

Actions organizations are taking, or plan to take: a swine flu-related employee communications strategy (71 percent); providing employees with preventive tools, such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants and masks (68 percent); disinfecting common areas frequently (69 percent); and educating workers on prevention measures (78 percent).

Thirty percent had a confirmed diagnosis of swine flu in their local area, and three people (1 percent) said there was a confirmed diagnosis of an individual in their organization.

Seventy percent of respondents are with companies located only in the United States, 49 percent are at privately owned for-profit organizations, and 41 percent are at organizations with 100 to 499 employees.

Almost all said they are monitoring, or plan to monitor, the situation by following guidance from organizations such as the CDC and the WHO.

Related Articles:

As Swine Flu Spreads, Expats Stay Put, For Now, HR News, May 6, 2009

Pandemic Alert Raises Communication Expectations, HR News, April 29, 2009

As Swine Flu Spreads, What Should HR Do? HR News, April 29, 2009

Related Resources:

Swine Flu News & Resources, SHRM Safety & Security HR Discipline

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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