Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Swine Flu (H1N1virus) means big business to the lawyers

Due to havoc created by the media on Swine Flu most of the clients are seeking advice of lawyers from around the world and mostly in USA about what to do if the H1N1 virus surfaces in the workplace.  Could they mandate employee vaccinations? Could they require families of workers to be vaccinated? Did they have to pay workers sent home who lacked sick leave? Could they ask people to work from home if they are sick? What about workers who had to stay home and attend to sick kids?

The potential for an H1N1 outbreak puts pressure on businesses to plan and act prudently. They have an obligation to provide a safe environment and to address risks ahead on and in a reasonable manner. So It is advised to the businesses to have policies in place about missing work, working from home and tending to sick kids. This is also important to make sure that employees know what those policies are before they need to stay home to recover or attend to members of their family. The biggest concern about working from home, aside from  the logistics, is the issue of hours and getting paid for time worked. If you're in the office, it's easier to track the number of hours worked. For those working at home, employers need to instill in employees the need to keep accurate track of their time. Such detailed and well-defined policies provide a defense if legal challenges arise.  

There have been several deaths in the world this year due to the H1N1 virus and schools have been reporting higher-than-average absences due to flu-like symptoms. So public attention is focused on the pandemic flu. Employers have known for a while that they could face poor work attendance.

Sick employees need to stay home to protect the workplace, but what protections do these employees have for keeping their jobs? Corporate law interests, protecting employers, but where's the mention of protecting employees

Employers should post signs about the importance of hand washing and providing Lysol spray in bathrooms and antiseptic wipes for common use areas such as conference rooms. They are required to show flexibility with policies governing paid time off. They might want to pay for that day off, even if sick time is exhausted. I recommend giving employees an advance on their sick time and letting them pay it back later.

A lot of these decisions are driven by company culture. Some say they'll make sure workers won't lose pay, but others are more policy driven and if an employee doesn't have sick time, they won't get paid.

Employers also will face issues with employees who travel as part of their jobs, particularly those in sales. Airports and airplanes are notorious for acting as human petri dishes when it comes to the transmission of airborne diseases. The solution may lie in more teleconferencing and Web visits. You want to have those folks producing, but there's a lot of tension over travel.

The notion of working from home also is open to debate because not all job duties can be performed off site. Retail and manufacturing operations, for instance, need bodies on the floor. To guard against workforce shortages, many businesses have done cross training so they can get by with fewer workers for short periods.

It is submitted that employers need to treat people consistently because if employees are aware of what the rules are, they know the consequences if they miss work and there will be no surprises.

Dr.Tabrez Ahmad,
Associate Professor of Law,
KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, India,
Website: www.kls.ac.in, www.technolexindia.com
Profile: http://www.google.com/profiles/tabrezahmad7.
Blogs: http://www.blogger.com/profile/15337756250055596327
Research Papers: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1189281