As of a couple of day ago, there were 43 reported cases of swine flu–what is now being called "H1N1"–in Iowa.
Given the continued spread of this virus, employers would be wise to develop plans to deal with H1N1 issues that could affect their employees and their workplace. The Des Moines Register published an article today (link here) about the choice many employees make between staying home or going to work when they are sick. The article suggests that employees who lack paid sick leave are more likely to show up at work when they are sick, thus raising the risk of infection by co-workers and customers.
What should an employer do to protect the health of its employees and customers, while at the same time making sure to comply with employment laws? The first step is to be informed. The website pandemicflu.gov provides lots of helpful information and tips to stay abreast of the virus and its spread.
In addition, the EEOC has recently published two articles to assist employers in dealing with H1N1 issues. The first, ADA Compliant Employer Preparedness for the H1N1 Flu Virus provides guidance on dealing with employee absenteeism and infection control in ways the comply with the disability discrimination laws. According to the EEOC publication, employers are permitted to gather personal information from employees in connection with pandemic preparation so long as the employer asks broad questions that are not limited to disability related inquiries. The EEOC even provides a sample questionnaire that complies with the ADA. In addition, employers may implement common sense infection control procedures without implicating the ADA.
The second EEOC document, entitled Employment Discrimination and the 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus (Swine Flu), cautions employers about national origin discrimination in light of the fact that the h1N1 virus is believed to have originated in Mexico. The publication also provided helpful links concerning pre-employment physical exams and disability related questions to employees.
We will continue to keep you posted on developments in this area.