Flu Pandemic: What to Do as an Employer

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration People Face Masks Virus Pandemic

During a pandemic outbreak such as the COVID-19, employers will need a contingency plan so that their employees can work from home and stay safe. However, if you work in an industry where this isn’t possible, you’ll need to carry out the correct measures to ensure that staff members are working in a healthy environment.

To help you discover the best steps to take as a business during a global pandemic, we’ve listed answers to your most pressing questions.

When Should I Send an Employee Home?

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace, you must separate them immediately from others and send them home to quarantine for 14 days, as recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). You must also instruct them to contact the health authorities for further guidelines.

For preventative measures, you should send anyone in the same workspace home to self-isolate for the recommended 14 days as they may also experience symptoms up to 12 days later. That said, if you have staff members that fall under a vulnerable category (pregnant or with chronic health conditions), then they should also be asked to self-isolate.

Symptoms of influenza typically include:

  • High temperature
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Headache

Would My Company Be Liable if an Employee Contracts the Virus at Work?

If an employee contracts coronavirus at work, your company won’t necessarily be liable if the company follows government protocol; however, you may need to cover your employee’s medical bills. You will need to check with your local laws and government policies to ensure that your company is adhering to the new rules and following all legal procedures. For example, if you have poor hygiene standards and staff members sitting too close to each other without respiratory masks, then you may very well be liable for your employee contracting the illness within the workplace.

Do I Notify Other Employees of Someone Carrying the Virus at Work?

While you don’t need to disclose the identification of the person that is carrying the virus at work, you do need to notify other employees and relevant parties that a contagious illness could be circulating your workplace. You must then take all precautionary steps advised by the Ministry of Health in your country. These measures would typically involve the temporary closure of the building to give it a deep clean. Your HR policy should also instruct that all employees working in that building should self-quarantine for two weeks to lower the risk of the virus spreading.

Should I Offer Sick Pay?

If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable coming into work at the time of a flu outbreak, they must bring this to their manager’s attention immediately and explain their reasoning. If they have been told by their doctor that they should self-quarantine or if they are caring for a sick family member, you could offer their contractual sick pay or statutory sick pay. That said, if an employee is healthy and still doesn’t want to come into work, they can be offered to take unpaid or annual leave. As a business, you must establish your own paid leave benefits and make any modifications before a pandemic strikes.

Should I Set Up a Work-from-Home Scheme?

If your employees can fulfil their duties from home, you should definitely move to a remote workforce until a vaccine has been found or until the pandemic is over. As recommended by the UK government and many others across the globe, unnecessary contact between people should be put to a halt – otherwise known as social distancing.

Furthermore, if you don’t already have a remote set-up, you should move fast to create a secure working strategy that will allow your staff members to work remotely until it’s safe to return to the office. That said, if you’re worried about the level of production, there are many ways to monitor your remote employees; you could install time-tracking software on their devices or request for a daily or weekly progress report.

During this time, it’s essential to keep the same level of communication with clients and employees by setting up a conference and video calls. While managing a remote team, you can also engage in web-based seminars and virtual team-building to keep morale high.

How Can I Protect Staff Members at Work?

Placing emphasis on personal hygiene is essential. Add posters in communal areas on cough and sneeze etiquette and provide employees with hand sanitizer, tissues and antiseptic spray to ensure a clean workspace. The CDC also recommends instructing ‘employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.’

Additionally, a deep clean should be performed daily ensuring all workstations, countertops, and doorknobs are disinfected. You could also provide protective wear such as disposable gloves and respiratory masks, and change the set-up of your workspace to ensure that all employees are at least three metres apart from each other. This will reduce the risk of infection within your work environment.

It’s also vital to keep staff updated on latest policies and guidelines during a time of crisis; you could do this by sending informative emails reassuring your team of the measures that the business is taking to ensure the safety of all employees and clients.

What Should I Do if I Need to Close the Workplace?

If you must temporarily close the workplace, you should communicate this with your staff as soon as possible and create a contingency plan. For example, if this is due to governmental instructions, then you will most likely be given a grant to pay your staff, or they will be able to claim through social insurance.

However, if this is a personal decision, you’ll need to stick to your contractual obligations and pay your employees as agreed. That said, as an employer, you have the right to tell staff members when to take paid time off. So, if you’re planning on closing the business for a few weeks, workers should use their holiday allowance during this time. However, you must give your employees enough notice; if you’re closing for three weeks, you must tell them at least three weeks prior to the closure.

Should All Work Trips Be Cancelled?

Travelling during the flu pandemic does not only place the employee that is travelling at risk but also those that they will come into contact with following their trip. For this reason, it’s necessary to cancel any work trips, and also encourage staff to cancel any personal travel plans. While you don’t have to offer any reimbursement for their cancellation, this is at your discretion. Alternatively, if staff members still decide to travel after you’ve issued a warning, you can ask them to self-quarantine and are not obligated to pay them their regular salary during this time.

You should regularly check the travel advice on the WHO (World Health Organisation) and your local authorities. Some countries may already have travel restrictions which may limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while they are out of the country. For this reason, it’s advised all trips to be cancelled until the outbreak is over.

Naturally, businesses will take a hit during a pandemic, especially if they are forced to close, meaning that employees too will suffer. However, what’s important during a crisis like this is to ensure that everyone stays safe and healthy, avoiding any unnecessary travel and contact with others.

infographic with advice to employers about coronavirus

What measures would you take during a flu pandemic? Get involved in the comment section below and let us know!