Although the swine flu outbreak appears to have peaked (for the time being), employers should nevertheless remain vigilant and take the following proactive steps to deal with a potential full blown pandemic:
- Monitor updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") and follow the CDC's guidance;
- Advise employees that the company is dedicated to providing a safe and healthy work environment;
- Require employees suffering from flu-like symptoms and employees who care for or reside with others suffering from flu-like symptoms not to report to work until the symptoms subside;
- Consider whether to require medical clearance before employees return to work after an absence triggered by their or someone else's illness due to flu-like symptoms;
- Implement restrictions, consistent with CDC recommendations, on non-essential travel to Mexico; and
- Consider requiring employees who travel to Mexico to work from home for up to seven days, the approximate incubation period for the swine flu, after their return from Mexico.
This outbreak provides a timely reminder that employers should also implement a disaster preparedness plan for responding to a pandemic or, more generally, a natural disaster (such as an earthquake). Through such a plan, employers can identify those functions critical for the business that must continue even if most employees are absent from work, provide a contingency plan to maintain those critical functions, and establish protocols to facilitate communication between the employer and its employees.