Employers may have legal obligations to sick employees, law firm says
HOUSTON In light of the current concerns over swine flu, employers may have legal obligations to limit worksite exposure to the virus, which could include keeping employees suspected of having the flu home and requiring medical certification that the employee is not contagious before allowing them to return to the workplace, the law firm of Epstein Becker & Green stated in a press release Friday.
“Employers often encourage sick workers to come to work, and sick workers often want to come,” stated David Barron, an attorney at Epstein Becker & Green. “However, when it comes to a pandemic, this type of reaction could spread illness and create devastating economic and medical havoc.”
Employers may want to keep employees home who have recently been to Mexico — or have been otherwise exposed — until it is conclusive that they are not infected, Barron said. “This is perfectly lawful and, in fact, employers have a legal responsibility under federal safety laws to provide a safe and disease-free workplace.”
Barron said that many clients have asked about the legality of testing employees who exhibit symptoms in the workplace: “An employer has a right to require fitness for duty testing if an employee could pose a safety risk to him or her self or to others – this means that an employer could require a medical certification that an employee exhibiting flu-like symptoms is not contagious before allowing re-entry into the workplace.”
While ensuring worksite safety is an employer’s responsibility, employers can require employees not to wear facemasks, the law firm stated.
“If an employee who is not sick comes to work in a mask, the employer may decide that this image is not good for business and could scare off customers,” Barron said. “In that situation, an employer could require the employee to remove the mask or place the employee on leave until they are comfortable working in the employer’s desired uniform.”
Convenient Care Association set to provide ‘first line of defense’ against illnesses
PHILADELPHIA The Convenient Care Association, the retail clinic industry’s member-based organization that has more than 1,200 member clinics in 30 states, has announced that its members are prepared to help patients in light of the spreading risk of the swine flu, as well as ongoing incidence of seasonal flu.
“Convenient Care clinics provide a first line of defense against illnesses such as the flu,” stated Tine Hansen-Turton, executive director of the CCA. “They are accessible and responsive to the public, and are equipped to contribute to the broader public health response around the country.”
Those nurse practitioners, physician assistants and physicians working within retail-based clinics are available to answer patients’ questions; provide diagnosis and treatment; write prescriptions for such anti-viral medications as Tamiflu and Relenza, as clinically necessary; and triage patients to other sources of care. At some clinic locations rapid testing for type A influenza is available.
Clinics are working with local health officials and receiving updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization. Clinicians adhere to CDC infection control precautions, including the use of surgical masks, gloves, and gowns, if appropriate, the CCA stated.
According to the CDC, the following recommendations may help prevent transmission of the flu virus: cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and then dispose of the tissue in the trash; wash your hands frequently using soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers; avoid contact with those who are sick and stay home from work or school if you think you might be sick; avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes.
The Natural Products Foundation promotes new program
WASHINGTON The Natural Products Foundation on Thursday sent out an e-mail blast encouraging donations to its new program, called Health Match, “that allows companies who manufacture vitamins, supplements, nutrition bars, personal care items and other natural products to directly contribute these goods to clinics and organizations that help AIDS victims, cancer patients, the malnourished and many others.”
“The current economic climate has been extremely difficult for many people,” wrote Tracy Taylor, NPF executive director. “All over the country, healthcare programs for the disadvantaged are experiencing an increase in patients needing services and a decrease in funding, creating a huge material disparity in these already stressed programs.”
The Healthy Match program will connect companies willing to donate products and the healthcare programs that need them, Taylor said.