Employers brace for H1N1
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Posted September 24, 2009 @ 2:00 PM
ROCKFORD, Ill. — After a flurry of activity in the spring, businesses are gearing up for a second wave of worry over the H1N1 virus.
Luckily, the outbreak earlier this year forced many local companies into action, and they now only need to dust off their plans as the winter flu season approaches.
At Rockford College, officials have urged staff and students to take preventive measures, including washing their hands and avoiding people with flu-like symptoms, said spokesman Chuck Brown. Hand sanitizers are available in well-traveled areas, such as the computer labs, the library and weight rooms.
“It’s a flu, it’s just a different kind of flu,” he said. “These (precautions) would apply to virtually any kind of flu that arrives on campus.”
Brown said the college’s emergency plans include a contingency for a flu outbreak, and those plans are being reviewed by staff now and will be tweaked as the need arises.
Officials with the city’s fire and human resources departments have been planning for an outbreak both citywide and within the ranks of public service employees, said Assistant City Administrator Julia Scott Valdez.
Along with offering flu shots to its employees — including one for the H1N1 virus when it becomes available — most of the city’s work is educational, she said.
“Overall, if you feel sick, go home. If you feel an employee is sick, send them home,” she said. “It’s not a huge shift from our previous policy, but we’re working on getting people home if they’re not well.”
The federal government last week warned small companies to be prepared to work with fewer staffers this fall should the so-called swine flu break out.
Small businesses such as manufacturers and retailers can be hard hit because employees can’t do the work from home. Owners may want to consider hiring temporary staffers to pitch in, and maybe hiring them for training days in advance so they’ll be ready to work when called in.
As a preventive measure, owners might consider staggering shifts if possible to limit the amount of contact employees have with each other, said Debra S. Squyres, a director at Trinet Group Inc., which also provides human resources outsourcing.
A concern for staffers is using up sick time. A worker with a week of sick leave annually and who already took time for the seasonal flu this year might be tempted to come in rather than lose pay. Under these circumstances, the answer might be for owners to be a little more liberal with sick time.
“Traditional sick day policies might not address this scenario,” Squyres said.