Among the many responsibilities of any HR department is that of monitoring the health and wellness of their fellow workers. And workplace health issues are common.
Every year brings with it the "flu season" though influenza and other related diseases are not restricted to certain "seasons" or time frames. Then there are colds, seasonal allergies and even occasional outbreaks of other diseases, such as measles
While it is not in the power of HR personnel to ensure the health of the company's staff, it is important for them to be aware of best practices and preventative measures, especially in the face of possible outbreaks and other health hazards.
Dealing With Workplace Health Issues
Because flu season does come around annually, the need for encouraging employees to get current flu vaccinations comes up each year, as well. However, this can be an issue for some workers.
While it may be tempting to simply require that all employees receive vaccinations, especially in industries such as healthcare, or where there is high exposure to the public, this can be risky. Recently, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled a lawsuit with a hospital in Middle Tennessee that agreed to pay $75,000 along with other non-monetary penalties.
Citing the employers’ obligations under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to accommodate workers’ religious objections, the EEOC claimed that the hospital "violated Title VII by failing to accommodate a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs against receiving an annual flu vaccination."
Instead of allowing the worker, an employee of a third-party contractor, to wear a mask in lieu of a flu shot as it had in previous years, the hospital advised the contractor that he could no longer work in the hospital and the contractor discharged him. Though denying any wrongdoing, the hospital did agree to settle prior to trial and to modify its accommodating policy.
Employers should, therefore, be aware of their legal obligations to their employees’ religious beliefs when making policies around healthcare issues.
Avoiding "Epidemics" At Work
Sickness may inevitable, but steps can be taken to minimize the exposure of illness to the larger workforce. It's not uncommon, unfortunately, for entire departments to be crippled by large numbers of employees being laid up sick at home.
While you cannot force people to stay home when they believe they are ill and possibly contagious, there are ways to prevent sick employees from insisting on coming in to work.
Recently, a troubling outbreak of measles has a number of employers and their workers concerned. A post from the firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart noted the following,
"On May 17, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 880 individual cases of measles had been confirmed in 23 states across the country in 2019. According to the CDC, the current outbreak of measles represents the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since 1994 and since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000."
The article goes on to address a series of HR-related questions for preparing for and responding to the possible spread of measles. One of the questions asked can be applied to any number of particularly dangerous and infectious diseases, in addition to measles. The question asked is what should employers do if they learn that an employee has measles?
The author responded that employers should,
"Contact the state and/or local health department. The public health professionals in these departments can give guidance and support and walk employers through a lot of the health and safety issues. Plus, health departments need to be informed of situations in order to protect the community and state. State and local health rules and regulations are most likely to be applicable to situations with contagious diseases."
Keep in mind that confidentiality and anonymity are paramount when discussing and communicating any information regarding the employee in question. In addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) confidentiality provisions that cover these medical situations, it can also be a situation covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Keeping Sick Workers Home
Another issue that can come up for manager and HR personnel is the sick employee who insists on coming in to work despite being instructed not to.
Can you send sick employees home? Usually, yes.
HR Daily Advisor notes that,
"[E]mployers generally have the ability to keep their workplaces safe and healthy by sending apparently sick and/or contagious employees home or asking them not to report to work in the first place. If the employees are nonexempt, then they would not need to be compensated for time not worked... If the employees are exempt, then you also are permitted to require the use of PTO for the missed time. Do note that employers are generally not permitted to deduct wages from an exempt employee’s salary for absences due to sickness or disability."
In addition, it's important to communicate and emphasize to all employees that the measles are highly contagious and that their presence, if ill, can put a large number of employees at risk, endanger employees with complicating medical conditions, and can even affect business operations. The CDC also instructs individuals to call their healthcare providers first so that the providers can determine the safest way to assess the cases.
Be Informed and Stay in Compliance
Maintaining an updated and compliant paid sick leave strategy and policy will help your organization meet its obligations, as well as provide accuracy and timeliness. Understanding the law, automating sick leave tracking and calculations, and prioritizing accurate record keeping will make compliance a sure thing.
Another key step in maintaining HR compliance and increasing your company's cost-effectiveness is to consider outsourcing. A professional agency such as Accuchex can provide much-needed help with Human Resources needs and questions.
Accuchex is a full spectrum Payroll Management Services provider offering expertise in Time Management, Insurance and Retirement issues, as well.
If you are looking for reliable resource for your HR issues, we can help. And you can get your Free Download: California Paid Sick Leave Law to help you make an informed decision, or call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.