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How Employers Can Protect Themselves Against Ebola

The worst of the Ebola crisis in the United States appears, thankfully, to have passed us by. Many brave doctors and nurses helped to quash the threat early and effectively.

The aftermath, however, comes with many questions.

How do we best balance the rights of the individual versus societal concerns? What is the right way to screen people coming back from Ebola-ravaged countries?

And a question I have been asked a lot lately: What is the responsibility of employers in the face of a pandemic like Ebola?

There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But what I know for sure is Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas has become a “ghost town,” as described by people who work there. The loss of patients and work hours and possible litigation has already taken a financial toll with more likely to come.

Having practiced employment law for 10 years, I can confidently state that companies are always better off to have a plan in place before a crisis strikes. A clear set of guidelines not only helps keep employees safe but it keeps your business running smoothly.

What does this look like in practice?

Implement a health-response plan and appoint a coordinator for the plan. He/she becomes the contact person for all matters pertaining to the plan.
Present a clear set of guidelines for employees, requiring them to inform the company when they travel outside of North America and about any possible exposure to a contagious disease and requiring notice to the company within 24-hours if an employee is contacted by authorities about possible contact to Ebola or another infectious disease.
Have a clear plan for any employee with any possible exposure. Letting employees know in advance that they are expected to work from home but will be compensated creates peace of mind for both them and their coworkers.
This type of plan helps address the concerns of employees who want to come to work but are afraid of being exposed. This is how you allow your business to continue and help the rest of your workforce to feel confident and safe.

Now you may be asking “Do I need an Ebola policy?”

Recent events have reminded us that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Of course, if your company decides to implement a health-response plan, the smart course is to have it reviewed by an employment attorney prior to implementation. Seeking legal advice reduces the risk of violating state and federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and regulations enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the Department of Labor.

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