The media blitz surrounding the spread of the H1N1 (or swine) flu and the late arrival of a vaccine for the flu have many offices looking seriously at contingency plans for a possible pandemic. These plans range from giant corporations to small offices, like the one in which I work. The bottom line is that business must go on regardless of whether anyone in your workplace is affected by the H1N1 virus.
My office’s workplace contingency plan begins with awareness and prevention. Information regarding the symptoms and the treatment for the virus has been e-mailed to each employee. The e-mail communication also included links to our county’s public health department, the Centers for Disease Control and flu.gov, a Web site developed by the U.S. government to provide the most recent information on the spread of the virus. If government testing indicates the vaccine for this flu is effective, the vaccine will be offered to staff members at work. The H1N1 vaccine will be given in the same manner as the seasonal flu virus is available each year. A nurse will visit our office and give employees the vaccine at a discount price. It will not be free. It will not be required. Each employee is free to decide whether or not they want the shot based on advice from their individual caregiver or primary physician.
A possible vaccine isn’t the only prevention measures we’ve taken. Posters demonstrating and encouraging frequent hand washing have been placed in key places. Staff members are spreading the word that it is healthier to cough onto your sleeve, not your hands. Hand sanitizer is on virtually every desk and many tables. Tissues are also readily available. And the strategy is starting to work. I now use hand sanitizer virtually every time I stand up or sit down at my desk, in addition to all the standard times. I probably wash my hands an average of every 45 minutes.
Since we have a small staff, every employee is important. This year, though, supervisors have stressed the importance of staying home if you’re sick. Employees have been encouraged to stay home until their fever has been gone for 24 hours. Employees are also allowed to take sick leave to care for sick children as our local school system has a similar policy.
Our office has also developed and laminated phone chain cards, containing the home and cell phone numbers for all employees. This way, employees can let others know when they or a family member are sick. This could let managers plan up to 12 hours earlier than the standard calling in sick in the morning.
Employees are routinely cross-trained on equipment and practices, so operating on a skeletal staff would be possible. Several employees could do part of their jobs through telecommuting, but that will only be used in a worst-case scenario. Employees will be able to use vacation time if sick time is exhausted.
While we have thought about creating a special Web site or even a facebook page to share information, we have decided that our individual office will not, although many larger offices are taking this route. Should all of our employees become ill at once, the office would be forced to close and that fact would be communicated through our regular Web site. As long as one person is able to work, though, the office will remain open although the amount of business conducted would obviously be lower than usual.