Employers play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety. Employers must be ready to respond to a continuation of the current level of severity of influenza as was observed during the spring and summer of 2009 and a more severe outbreak.

This article provides both recommendations and general information for employers on pandemic readiness. Topics covered include:

  1. Communication strategies
  2. Infection Control
  3. Vaccination
  4. Increased absenteeism
  5. Child care closures
  6. Travel precautions
  1.  Communication Strategies
  • Organize and identify a central team of people to serve as a communication source so that employees and clients can have accurate information and an opportunity to express concerns.
  • Assist employees in managing stressors related to the pandemic. These are likely to include distress related to personal or family illness, life disruption, grief related to loss of family, friends or coworkers, loss of routine support systems, and similar challenges.
  • Provide employees with up-to-date education and training on influenza risk factors and instruction on proper behaviours (e.g. cough and sneeze etiquette).
  • Assuring timely and accurate communication is important throughout the duration of the pandemic in decreasing fear or worry. If present, Employee Assistance Programs can offer training and provide resources and other guidance on mental health and resiliency before and during the pandemic.
  1. Infection Control
  • Minimize situations where groups of people are crowded together, such as in a meeting. Use e-mail, phones and text messages to communicate with each other. When meetings are necessary, avoid close contact by keeping a separation of at least 6 feet, where possible, and assure that there is proper ventilation in the meeting room.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
  • Stockpile items such as soap, tissue, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and recommended personal protective equipment. When stockpiling items, be aware of each product's shelf life and storage conditions (e.g., avoid areas that are damp or have temperature extremes) and incorporate product rotation (e.g., consume oldest supplies first) into your stockpile management program.
  • Instruct employees to wash their hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Frequently clean all commonly touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
  • Reducing or eliminating unnecessary social interactions can be very effective in controlling the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Influenza viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes.
  1. Encourage Vaccination
  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated for 2009 H1N1 influenza when vaccines are available to them. Different groups are prioritized for 2009 H1N1 influenza than for seasonal influenza.
  • For information on groups prioritized for H1N1 influenza vaccine please see http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/indexeng. php.
  1. Increased Absenteeism
  • Develop policies that encourage ill employees to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.
  • Ensure sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guid ance and that employees are well aware of these policies.
  • Advise workers to be alert to any signs of fever and any other signs of influenza-like illness before reporting to work each day.
  • Do not require a doctor’s note for workers who are ill with influenza-like illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as doctor’s offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and may not be able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.
  • Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the work place is able to operate even if key staff are absent.
  • Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products. Be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g. identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations if needed).
  • Health Canada recommends that employees with influenza-like illness remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (37.8° C or greater), or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Expect sick employees to be out for about 3 to 5 days in most cases, even if antiviral medications are used.
  • Health Canada recommends that workers who appear to have an influenza-like illness upon arrival or become ill during the day be promptly separated from other workers and be advised to go home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (37.8° C or greater), or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Those who become ill with symptoms of an influenza-like illness during the work day should be: o Separated from other workers and asked to go home promptly. o When possible, given a surgical mask to wear before they go home if they cannot be placed in an area away from others.
  • Employees who are well but who have an ill family member at home with influenza can go to work as usual. However, these employees should monitor their health every day, and notify their supervisor and stay home if they become ill.
  1. Closure of Child Care Programs
  • Be prepared to allow workers to stay home to care for children if schools are dismissed or child care programs are closed.
  • Strongly recommend that parents not bring their children with them to work while schools are dismissed.
  • Although school dismissals or clo sures of child care programs are not likely to be generally recommended at the current level of severity, they are possible in some jurisdictions.
  1. Travel Precautions
  • Advise workers to check themselves for fever and any other signs of influenza-like illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are ill.
  • Advise employees who will be traveling or on temporary assignment about precautions they may need to take to protect their health and who to call if they become ill.
  • Employees who become ill while traveling and are at increased risk of complications from influenza and others concerned about their illness should promptly call a health care provider for advice.
  • See Health Canada’s Travel Website http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cpsspc/ advisories-avis/out-ext/indexeng. php for more information for travelers.