SWINE FLU: Part 2 – Employers “play doctor,” employees in tough spot

Swine flu Part 2 — Already affecting employers through absenteeism and “playing doctor” in the workplaceBy Lisa Zahner

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — As reported in the Sept. 17 issue of our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963, the U.S. Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention declared a national Swine Flu pandemic this spring and further outbreaks are expected this fall. Currently, health department officials are no longer tracking the number of swine flu cases because the virus is so “widespread.”

One group already grappling with how to deal with the onset of the H1N1 pandemic is employers.

The Indian River County government, which employs almost 900 people, is in some ways typical of large employers. Human Resources Director James Sexton issued a memo to county employees notifying them that they would be sent home from work if displaying flulike symptoms and would be expected to stay home until they were better.

Sexton said employees are concerned about getting the swine flu and want their co-workers to stay home if they’re sick.

“I have people calling my office complaining that the guy in the next cubicle is coughing, so then I get on the phone with that department head or supervisor and they have make the person go home,” he said.

Sexton said this has puts his staff and his department heads in the “awkward position of playing doctor” on a daily basis.

Fortunately for county workers and employees of large companies, most have benefits such as sick days so being sent home is not taking money out of their pocket.

But small businesses and their employees are in a more precarious position. Many employers can’t afford to be without key employees for a week, and employees of small businesses may have neither insurance nor sick days available.

If the sick person is a child, that also could mean the need for a parent to stay home with that child for seven days while trying not to get sick themselves. In many family financial situations, an unplanned, unfunded seven- to 10-day “vacation” from work to nurse a child with the swine flu is a real hardship.For information about how our school system is dealing with the H1N1 pandemic, read Part 3 in Indian River County Top Stories.


SWINE FLU: Part 1 – H1N1 already stressing the healthcare system

SWINE FLU: Part 3 – H1N1 and our kids, how the school system is coping

SWINE FLU: Part 4 – What happens if the H1N1 pandemic gets worse?

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