(Okay) Swine Flu Risks for Employers

Swine Flu Risks for Employers

There could be claims in personal injury being brought by employees who say they contracted swine flu at work.

Despite initial hopes that the spread of the H1N1 strain of flu would not live up to the ‘pandemic’ label given it by the World Heath Organization, in the fall of 2009 it did, and the disease may be positioned for a comeback in 2010.

What employers can do to protect their employees from the virus and also deal with potential increased absenteeism?

Legal experts in England have warned that there’s a potential for lawsuits against employers who are not prepared to deal with their staff and any legal issues that arise from affected people. Section 10 of the Workers Compensation Act (and similar legislation in other provinces) however protects B.C. employers from this type of liability. Section 10 protects employers from liability for claims made by their employees and their families arising from personal injuries and illnesses which arise during the course of their employment, even if the employer was found to be negligent.

There are however other potential ’employer related’ legal obligations and costs, and the Province of British Columbia has published 10 Steps Businesses can take to Prepare for a Pandemic (https://www.gov.bc.ca/h1n1/attachments/fs_10_steps_for_businesses_to_prepare_for_a_pandemic_aug09.pdf) which contains a list of helpful precautions

1. Check that existing contingency plans are applicable to a pandemic, and that core business activities can be sustained over several weeks in the event of high employee absenteeism.

2. Plan accordingly for interruptions of essential governmental services like sanitation, water, power, and disruptions to the food supply.

3. Identify your organization’s essential functions and the individuals who perform them. Build in the training redundancy [i.e. cross-training] necessary to ensure that work can be done in the event of an absentee rate of 25-30 percent.

4. Maintain a healthy work environment by ensuring adequate air circulation and posting tips on how to stop the spread of germs at work.

5. Promote hand washing, and coughing and sneezing etiquette. Ensure wide and easy availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer products.

6. Determine which outside activities, such as transportation systems, are critical to maintaining operations and develop alternatives in case they cannot function normally.

7. Establish or expand policies and tools that enable employees to work from home with appropriate security and network access to applications.

8. Expand online and self-service options for customers and business partners.

9. Tell employees about pandemic influenza and the steps the organization is taking to prepare for it.

10. Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick to stop the spread of illness, and update sick leave, and family and medical leave policies. Concern about lost wages is the largest deterrent to self-quarantine.    1. See: September 17, 2009, “Swine flu pandemic hits Vancouver Island Aboriginal communities”, Vancouver Sun

   2. The Guardian (UK)

   3. 10 steps for a business to Plan for a Pendemic

   4. Flu Watch