Zika Causing Business Travelers Pause

Posted August 20, 2016 by Mary McGinley

Whether traveling for business or for pleasure, the Zika virus has many reconsidering and even altering their travel plans.

Companies whose workers are required to travel both internationally and domestically are right to be concerned about the spread of the virus for those who work in high-risk types of jobs.

According to Suzanne Fahl, HR editor at ThinkHR, says that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are encouraging employers to educate themselves and their employees regarding the Zika virus through information provided at both agencies’ websites.

Fahl insists that the virus is not that scary. “There is so much fear in that four-letter word ‘Zika’ and there’s so much lack of knowledge,” she said, and insists that it is “less intimidating than the common flu.”

Only an estimated 20 percent of those who have contracted the virus ever show any symptoms that they’ve been infected. That can make stopping the spread difficult because there may be people who have the virus and simply are unaware of their condition.  Companies can help by not only educating their employees on prevention and what symptoms to look out for but also providing a Zika prevention kit to those employees who have to go into Zika affected areas. The kit could include such items as mosquito repellant or a bed net for them to use at night while sleeping.

Fahl also suggests putting important Zika information in an agreement, such as in a disclaimer or waiver. This can be used by employers to ensure that an employee acknowledges that they have been given all the information and understands the risks of traveling for business in Zika affected areas.

She also suggests the important follow up after the employee has returned from an area known to have the virus in order to ensure that they have come back Zika-free. For those whose tests do come back positive for the virus, there are precautions to ensure that it doesn’t spread to others. A male employee who is infected with Zika should abstain from unprotected sex for a period of no less than six months, while a female employee, on the other hand, should wait to become pregnant until she has spoken to her doctor and waited the appropriate amount of time before attempting to conceive.

According to Rebecca Bernhard, a labor and employment attorney with the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, said that while it’s important to educate employees and management on the Zika virus and employ preventative measures wherever possible, it is also a good idea not to overreact.

OSHA rules indicate that an employee may refuse to work due to safety concerns as long as those concerns are reasonable. However, according to Bernhard, fears of contracting the Zika virus probably don’t fall under reasonable concerns that would cause an employee to refuse to come to work.

So far, within the United States, only one neighborhood in one state has been affected by the Zika Virus.  The Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Florida has been affected, but so far it has been limited to just that area.

A concern for worker health is important to employees and employers alike. HR professionals can go a long way toward helping management teams and workers are informed and stay healthy through wellness and educational programs. At EinsteinHR, we pay close attention to the kinds of concerns that can affect the success of your business. We understand that protecting the health of your employees is a priority.

Contact EinsteinHR to find out how we can help. We will not only help you find the right candidate for open positions at your company, we will help you so that you can retain your precious human resource investment. We can also help you design a wellness and benefits program that is right for you and your workers.

Contact us today at 770-962-1700 and find out how we can help.