Is your business prepared for a pandemic?
The Zika virus, among other emerging health risks, is worrying public health officials worldwide. Employers should take steps to inform and protect employees and their families from these risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus has been found in more than 33 countries, with at least 52 travel-associated cases identified in the United States. The World Health Organization recently declared the virus a global public health emergency.
What is the Zika virus and how does it pose risks for businesses?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus associated with birth defects and Guillian-Barre, a potentially severe neurological disorder in adults. Mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus also carry other viruses, including dengue and chikungunya.
It is not yet clear how easily the Zika virus can spread from personal contact. However, it is clear that pregnant women can pass it to their babies, putting them at risk of microcephaly and developmental problems. Fear of contracting the virus, for which there is no vaccine, may prompt employees to avoid travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading. The growing number of cases in the United States, especially in Florida and Texas, may make some employees and customers stay home, rather than venture out in public or to the workplace. In the event of a pandemic involving the Zika virus or other easily transported viruses, it is likely that many businesses would have to halt their operations, at least temporarily.
What can employers do to help keep employees and their families safe?
Employers have a duty to protect their employees’ health, safety and well-being. Failure to do so can expose the employer to liability for negligence. Other employer risks include loss of productivity and reduced employee engagement. Employers should:
- Keep employees and their families informed of health risks.
- Supply information on how to mitigate the risk of exposure to the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne viruses. Insect repellents and covering exposed skin can reduce, but not necessarily eliminate the risk.
- Ensure that policies on employee travel do not adversely affect specific groups. Policies, however well intended to protect pregnant women, for example, must comply with federal and state laws and avoid employment practices liability.
- Review business continuity plans and revise them, if necessary.
- Consider business travel accident insurance or review existing coverage designed to protect employees traveling abroad. Such programs may need to be amended for the Zika virus or other emerging health concerns.
Have questions on these or other risks? Talk to Hylant. We are ready and able to help you manage risks relating to your people and your business.