A communicable illness plan helps your business manage risks

By Karen Masullo

The goal of the plan is to ensure a healthy workforce so your business can continue to operate.

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Does your family business have a communicable illness plan? Unlike the disasters for which most companies are prepared, a pandemic will not primarily affect equipment and facilities, but rather the people companies depend on to produce products and services. Additionally, the current assumptions about a pandemic’s duration push the boundaries of most existing absence-from-work policies. Therefore, any company must thoroughly examine its human resource management practices and policies in order to refine and/or implement policies that address the long timeline of a pandemic event.

Pandemics pose a risk to businesses by threatening the employees organizations rely on to produce products and provide services. If your organization requires “employees in place” or customer traffic to function, it is susceptible to a pandemic.

History has taught us that during a pandemic, an organization’s workforce could be depleted by 40% or more at any given time. The estimated duration of pandemics gauges the impact and recovery period at 18 to 24 months. Leadership is tasked with pandemic planning oversight, direction, execution and response throughout the lifecycle of an event.

What is a communicable illness plan?
A communicable illness plan (CIP) focuses on describing expected actions of, as well as coordination among, your organization and locally based governmental and private sector entities, particularly those responsible for public health, health care and emergency response. Plan components should address:
• Awareness and communication
• Facility issues (e.g., visitors, social distancing, cleaning)
• Health and policy
• Specific actions, based on escalating scales of impact
• Continual learning
• Recovery

Issues that should be considered include whether or not a facility will be closed, or for how long, given unknown factors at the time of planning. Given the above, planning for and testing the viability of remote work in combination with social distancing become important aspects of any organization’s CIP.

Whether a facility will be closed, or for how long, is impossible to determine in advance because all pandemics are different in their scope and severity. However, communicable illness outbreaks often escalate in schools, and school closings are likely to happen early in a pandemic event. This creates childcare challenges and can cascade to employee absenteeism in all aspects of private and public business and services.

There could be significant disruption of public and privately owned critical infrastructure, including transportation, commerce, utilities, public safety and communications. Government agencies may have minimal resources available for on-site local assistance.

The heart of a communicable illness plan is to ensure you have a healthy workforce so your business can continue to run, no matter the crisis.

• What is your tolerance for absenteeism?
• At what point will absenteeism harm your business?
• How will you monitor an outbreak of absenteeism so that intervention can be made before your organization suffers?
• Do you have policies in place that will allow your business to operate continuously?

Visitor policies
Organizations must not only train employees but also keep in mind visitors entering and moving through facilities. A pandemic can last several weeks or months; how many visitors walk through your doors during that amount of time?

Can visitors be denied entry during a pandemic?
A business operator that is not normally open to the public can deny access during a pandemic. Prevention or delay of spreading a communicable illness may require companies to control both business and personal visitor access, in order to keep employees safe.

Can visitors be forced to wear masks?
During a pandemic, employers can ask their visitors to wear a mask, although many healthcare professionals may argue the merits of this practice.

Can visitors be questioned about previous exposure?
Visitors may be denied entry if they have traveled to an affected area within a specified time (period may vary, depending upon illness and condition) preceding their visit or if they have had close contact with a person who has been diagnosed with a communicable illness or if they appear symptomatic. Many organizations create a designated meeting room subject to stringent cleaning protocols.

Karen Masullo, chief marketing officer at i3 LLC, has experience in crisis management and has received certification from FEMA. i3 is a boutique private asset management family office (www.i3resources.com).

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