Ebola in the Workplace… What Would You Do?

Should employees beyond the healthcare industry be concerned about an Ebola outbreak? If an employee calls in with related symptoms, what to do...



If you work in the healthcare industry, chances are you recently went through or are scheduled to attend Ebola Prevention training. But should employees beyond the healthcare industry be concerned? With the recent outbreak in West Africa (and the largest Ebola outbreak in history), social media has been trending with both panic and rationale that has made employers of all industries ask themselves what they would do if an employee suddenly displayed Ebola-like symptoms at work.

As with any illness, companies should always promote good personal hygiene with frequent hand washing, coughing/sneezing into arms, and other basic methods to avoid germ transmission. If you have an employee that calls in sick, particularly with Ebola-like symptoms (fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, unexplained hemorrhage - bleeding or bruising), encourage that person to stay home. To stay on the “safe side” of things, you may want your sick employee to work from home for a few days. This may help reduce coworker anxiety, particularly if that employee has been exposed to infected areas/people from travel or other means.

In anticipation of this situation, now may be a good time to review your paid sick leave policy, which will encourage your sick employees (regardless of the illness) to keep their germs to themselves. You may also want to ensure that your remote working capabilities allow your otherwise healthy employees (who have been exposed to the infection) to keep working while not spreading fear to your staff. As a reminder, all non-exempt employees must be compensated when working, regardless of where the work is performed.

All organizations should work with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in preventing an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.  According to Willis, a global insurance broker, the risk of Ebola spreading is highest among healthcare/lab workers, first responders, airline workers, law enforcement, morticians/funeral arrangers, humanitarian workers, and waste disposal employees. Proper personal protection equipment should be used for each line of work, paying particular attention to infection control methods. Any person who may have been exposed to Ebola, particularly travelers coming from an infected area, should immediately report symptoms to the Center for Disease Control.

Now for the good news: Ebola can be contained. Nigeria recently was declared Ebola free after going 42 days without any situation reports. Although Ebola is a worrisome disease, it isn’t worth shutting down business operations because of fear. For updates about Ebola, please visit the CDC website.


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