Organizations across the world are trying to understand the workplace implications of Ebola and come up with strategies to manage the risk effectively, their primary focus being:
- How to keep personnel safe;
- How to maintain continuity of business operations; and
- How to maintain compliance with federal, state and local laws.
The following 10 steps should help.
1. Assessing Risk
- Check whether you belong to high-risk industries (eg, healthcare industry, airline industry, border security/customs workers, emergency responders, humanitarian workers, and funeral or mortuary workers).
- Take stock of all the different activities conducted by your employees and figure out the extent to which these activities could create an exposure to Ebola.
- Draw up an exposure control plan depending on the type of industry (guidance below).
Click here to listen to a useful podcast discussing the legal and practical issues relating to Ebola (Jackson Lewis).
Read this Q&A to know what an Ebola response plan should cover (Mayer Brown).
2. Creating Awareness
- Create awareness among employees including managers and supervisors.
- Post general information in a common area to educate employees on Ebola.
- Make employees follow basic hygiene practices particularly with respect to Ebola (eg, washing hands frequently and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding body contact or contact with body fluids).
- Train employees to control exposure and follow cleaning and disinfection guidelines issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Read guidance for non-healthcare/non-laboratory settings published by OSHA.
Click here to know about the statutory obligation of an employer to protect its employees from recognized hazards.
3. Considering Confidentiality Obligations
- Consider privacy and medical confidentiality obligations imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- Sharing information related to a specific employee’s health or medical condition may lead to unintended liability, so any bulletins, advisories or notices to employees should be discussed and cleared with human resources personnel and legal counsel before posting.
- Make privacy and data security part of the planning and protect medical information from disclosure to avoid unnecessary litigation.
- Refer to the bulletin 'HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations' regarding privacy obligations in emergency situations issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, the agency responsible for enforcing HIPAA.
Click here to find a reference guide for employers on Ebola which highlights the importance of maintaining utmost care while handling medical information of employees (Ogletree Deakins).
Read the bulletin 'HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations' issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
4. Performing Obligations under OSHA
- Perform fundamental obligations under the OSHA.
- Check whether your employees are protected by OSHA’s blood-borne pathogens standards as this covers exposure to Ebola virus.
Click here to know the OSHA's blood-borne pathogens standards.
5. Consulting CDC Guidelines
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response have issued Ebola screening criteria and general guidance on Ebola for the healthcare community to ensure that all healthcare workers (including hospital workers, physician groups and emergency medical technicians) are able to detect and respond to the virus, as well as protect themselves and others from it.
Here are the CDC guidelines for healthcare workers.
6. Considering restrictions under GINA and FMLA
- Consider the restrictions imposed on employers regarding dissemination of medical information by the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
7. Issuing Updated Travel Guidance
- Consult travel information and advisories that are being issued from airports and the Federal Aviation Administration.
- Educate employees who engage in travel to be vigilant of symptoms and health-related issues.
- Circulate general guidance specifically with respect to travel.
Click here for updates from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Click here to know how air travellers can be safe.
8. Preparing Questionnaires
- Prepare questionnaires for employees/vendors to understand and confirm the extent of exposure they had to Ebola (eg, what kind of contact the person had, travelling information etc).
- All medical inquiries must be job-related and consistent with business necessity, and any medical information that is provided by an employee must be maintained as confidential.
Click here to find a crisis management plan published by the US Travel Association.
9. Setting up an Isolation Room
- Establish a plan for transporting sick employees to a hospital, disposing or cleaning infected materials and establish an isolation room.
Here is another Q&A for employers about the Ebola virus and its implications (Briggs and Morgan).
10. Revise Leave Policy
- If employees can work from home, they may be allowed to do so.