Swine flu just got personal

By: Fanny Marshall

Date: 21 July 2009

My three-year-old son is being treated for suspected swine flu. And this has really brought home how little we actually know about what to do in this situation.

Is it okay for my other son to go to his summer holiday club or his Tae Kwon Do class? What about myself and my husband going to work – will we be infectious? And how will our work colleagues feel about having us in the office?

In the absence of any official guidelines we’ve just used common sense. Of course we have to go to work – juggling looking after the sick child at home. And we’re keeping our other son away from other children as far as is reasonable for the next week or so until we know if he’s caught the bug too. But what advice is there out there and what do the rules say?

The Government and the NHS have issued some guidance on this and the National Pandemic Flu Service is due to be launched at the end of this week. But business owners should be thinking now about what they can do to lessen the impact of swine flu and how to control the spread of infection. People will be infectious soon after they develop symptoms so it makes sense to raise awareness among staff of the signs and symptoms and the need for people to stay at home if they think they may have caught the bug. It also makes sense to promote an environment at work where staff that do become ill can go home and stay at home until they recover. And good hand hygiene is a must.

You should also think about business continuity planning. With the summer holidays upon us you may find yourself very low on staff if half the office are away on holiday while the other half are at home with swine flu or looking after a dependant with the virus. The Gov.uk has advice on general business continuity planning as well as specific information on planning during a flu pandemic.

Re-visit your policies on sickness absence and SSP. If you don’t currently have a policy in place for sickness absences now would be a good time to write one and make sure all your employees are aware of what is required of them, especially in the event of a swine flu outbreak among your staff.

Visit the Business Link.gov website for more information on your responsibilities as an employer and the legal requirements for record keeping. You can also download an Employer Helpbook for Statutory Sick Pay (PDF) from the HM Revenue and Customs website.

If your business hasn’t yet been hit by swine flu it is probably a matter of time. If you are well-prepared you can minimise the impact of staff absences and help prevent further spread of the virus.

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