The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its pandemic alert level after increased human-to-human transmission of the swine flu virus.

Employers have duties under occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation to protect and promote workplace health and safety. Since pandemic influenza is a danger to employee health, duties of employers under OHS laws may be engaged in the event of such an occurrence, including the duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of an employee.

Employers also have an obligation to provide information and instruction to their employees about hazards present in the workplace. As the swine flu outbreak expands its reach, employers should arm themselves and their employees with information about this highly contagious disease. It is in the interest of employers to take steps to plan for a potential pandemic to protect the health and safety of their employees and ensure business continuity.

At this early stage, employers should provide general information about symptoms and prevention to their workforce, and also encourage employees who are ill with flu-like symptoms to stay home to recover and limit exposure. Some employees may not stay home due to concerns of lost wages or production time. Employers should ensure that their sick and medical leave policies are communicated to employees, and where appropriate make attempts to provide remote access to the company's online systems to allow employees to work from home.

We have prepared the following sample notice to employees which you may wish to distribute to your employees:

NOTICE

To all employees:

Based on recent reports of the swine flu outbreak, all employees are advised to carefully monitor themselves and their families for signs of illness, and to follow precautionary steps to avoid possible infection.

Watch yourself and your family for the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • dry cough
  • severe fatigue
  • chest discomfort
  • muscle aches
  • chills
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • headache  

Follow these precautionary steps to avoid possible infection:

  • avoid close personal contact with people who exhibit flu-like symptoms
  • frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with warm water and soap
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • if you do not have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm
  • if you exhibit flu-like symptoms, stay home, avoid public transportation, and telephone your health care provider.