The outbreak of swine flu has prompted the UK Government to issue guidance on sneezing, tissues and germs to every household, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
In addition to this guidance, employers may wish to remind their employees about good etiquette, and possibly take steps to provide additional facilities to increase the efficacy of good respiratory etiquette. This may include the provision of: antiseptic hand-gels at work stations; special bins to dispose of used tissues; and disinfectant for frequent use on kitchen surfaces, door handles and taps. Whilst not all these measures may be necessary, employers should consider carefully how they may be able to stop or reduce the spread of the virus if it enters their business.
Employers are under an obligation to protect the health and safety of their employees whilst at work. In light of the Government's campaign to stop the spread of swine flu, most employees should already be aware of the dangers which swine flu poses to them personally, and employers arguably do not have to provide training on how to prevent the spread of the virus. However, an employer should consider providing additional training in order to help protect the continuity of its business.
Once an employee has contracted swine flu, his or her presence at work will present a risk to other employees and, therefore, the employer's business as a whole. In most cases, employees who contract swine flu are likely to be too unwell to work. However, if an individual who has contracted swine flu wants to come into work, you may wish to prevent them from doing so in order to comply with your health and safety obligations to other staff. Sending an employee home without pay may not be possible, unless you have got a right to do so under the employee's contract of employment or he or she is certified as being unfit by a doctor.
Even where an employer has the right to send an employee home, it may be difficult for employers to distinguish the early symptoms of swine flu from those of a common cold, unless every employee with symptoms is tested. Therefore, respiratory etiquette may represent the most workable solution to keeping your business operational during the swine flu pandemic. If your business does suffer an outbreak, then you may also wish to consider allowing employees to work from home if this can be accommodated.
Finally, the likelihood that employees will stay at home because they fear that coming to work may pose a risk of infection is likely to be reduced if employees are educated about the measures which an employer has taken to stop the spread of the virus.