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Measles in the Workplace: What Employers Can and Cannot Do

Should one of your employees contract measles, does your company have a plan? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Most Hawaii employers aren’t prepared to deal with infectious diseases.

How to prepare for a measles outbreak at work

Here are a few ways to prepare a protocol for handling an infection diseases—like measles—that’s legally compliant before it’s needed.

Plan now

While the chances of an outbreak at the workplace may be low, you should develop a written outbreak preparedness plan and identify and train the appropriate personnel to manage and respond to a potential outbreak. This is especially true if your employees are regularly exposed to high-risk populations. Keep in mind that there are a number of employment laws governing how to handle an infectious disease outbreak in the workplace. These laws apply to measles as well as SARS, bird flu, and Ebola.

Educate your employees

When a new infectious disease rears its ugly head, the first step in your plan should be to educate employees about the virus, how it is spread, and what its symptoms are. The World Health Organization’s media center provides a library of fact sheets you can share. Informed and vigilant employees are more likely to be alert to symptoms and stay home if they are sick.

Encourage vaccination

If there is a vaccine for the virus, another best practice is to encourage vaccination. You can do this by educating employees about the benefits of immunization, having a third-party provider administer vaccinations on site, and even reimbursing employees who receive vaccinations.

Your company’s illness policy should be disseminated by both written and verbal means, so that employees understand their rights and proper protocol.

While employers can, in certain cases, make vaccinations a requirement of employment, mandatory vaccination is a heavy-handed approach that is likely to hurt morale and should only be considered after consulting with an attorney. There may be anti-discrimination and privacy laws (such as those laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) at play.

Send sick employees home

If an employee comes to work with symptoms of a condition which is being considered an epidemic, such as the current outbreak of measles, the employer should send the employee home and monitor any other employees with which they had come in direct contact. The employee should consult a physician and stay at home until the doctor has cleared him or her for return.

Communicate carefully

If you decide to inform your workforce that a fellow employee has contracted an infectious disease, do not identify the employee by name! Health privacy laws and possibly anti-discrimination laws protect employees’ rights. Employees on a need-to-know basis include supervisors and employees processing the medical paperwork and executing the protocol.

Take industry-specific precautions

There are several OSHA standards and directives relating to the protection of health care workers against transmission of infectious agents. These include bloodborne pathogenspersonal protective equipment, and respiratory protection.

File applicable paperwork

If an employee contracts an illness, there may be paperwork you will need to fill out, relating to:

  • Workers’ Compensation.  If an employee contracts an illness directly attributed to work and the illness requires above and beyond first aid or the employee is off for more than three calendar days, then the employer is obligated to file an “Employer’s Report of Industrial Injury/Illness” (WC-1) and ensure a claim is submitted with its workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
  • OSHA recordkeeping requirements. It is also important for employers to record and report the information using the OSHA 300 form (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses).

Remember, the best time to prepare for an emergency is before you face one.

Have a question for one of our HR experts? To learn more about this issue or to schedule a free consultation on the advantages of human resources outsourcing, contact simplicityHR.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.

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