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It’s the (Flu) Giving Season: Employer Responsibilities in Preventing the Spread of Seasonal Flu

Insight & Impact - Labor & Employment Newsletter Fred Gants, Kerry M. Mohan

ISSUE:

In addition to joy and cheer, the holiday season also brings the flu season and potential spread of this infectious disease in the workplace. The flu hazard has increased in recent years due to ineffective vaccines and the increase in popularity in the anti-vaccination movement. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") has re-issued guidance to remind employers to remain vigilant and take actions to limit the spread of the flu in the workplace.

Aside from limited circumstances in healthcare settings, OSHA has not promulgated regulations related to infectious diseases. As such, employers faced with the hazard of the flu must comply with Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("OSH Act"), otherwise known as the "general duty clause," and provide a workplace "free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm." 29 U.S.C. § 654.

For healthcare workers, OSHA recommends that employers: (i) encourage workers to get vaccinated; (ii) encourage sick workers to report an illness and stay home from work; (iii) train workers on safe work practices, such as hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and personal-protective equipment ("PPE"); and (iv) develop other workplace practices designed to limit the spread of the flu due to sick patients or employees.

For non-healthcare workers, in addition to encouraging workers to get vaccinated and stay home while sick, OSHA recommends that employers evaluate business travel and the potential hazards such travel can bring when employees visit areas with high illness rates.


Read more Insight & Impact from December 2018:


IMPACT:

During the flu season, employers should be prepared to take actions to prevent the spread of flu in the workplace. Although no protective measures can ensure 100% effectiveness, proactive measures will not only protect employees from the flu, but also keep employers off OSHA's radar.

For more OHSA information, contact your local Quarles & Brady attorney or