Communicable Disease: What protection can employers offer high risk employees during flu season?

Oct 16, 2015
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Employers should establish policies and procedures to protect all employees from communicable disease, although they should understand that the risks may be greater for certain workers such as older workers and pregnant women. Employers must be open to discuss employee concerns and listen to their ideas and suggestions for ways to help them stay healthy. Employers can encourage employees who are at high risk to talk with their health care provider to determine what, if any, additional measures they should consider to keep themselves healthy and safe at work. Employers should strongly consider doctor's accommodation requests for high-risk workers.

Listed below are some of the suggested policies, practices or protections that employers may consider as part of their preventive measures during an influenza pandemic, as discussed in OSHA's Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic:

  • Establish policies to encourage employees who feel ill to stay home.
  • Encourage employees, especially high-risk employees, to telework.
  • Allow employees to work flexible work schedules to limit the number of workers in the same work area or work site.
  • Reduce face-to-face contact (e.g., conduct conference calls rather than traditional meetings).
  • Post reminders on proper handwashing and coughing/sneezing practices.
  • Ensure work surfaces are cleaned regularly, especially in public areas and between shifts in shared areas.
  • Make hand sanitizers and tissues available throughout the facility.
  • Install clear plastic sneeze guards between employees and customers in face-to-face customer-focused industries.
  • Provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, goggles and respirators.
  • Allow employees to use PPE as another protective measure, especially as an accommodation for high-risk workers, or require it in more severe pandemic situations/areas.

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