Ebola – Another “Wake Up” Call for HR



The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is “a wake-up call” for HR professionals to take precautions with employees who travel to or are stationed in areas affected by the epidemic. The increasingly global economy is raising the odds that U.S.-based travelers will come in contact with persons infected with the deadly disease.  As of mid-September 2014, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were experiencing an Ebola epidemic, with cases also reported in nearby countries. More than 2,200 victims have been confirmed dead, and as many as 12,000 people have been infected. No infected persons were known to have brought the virus to North America inadvertently. The disease does not spread among humans as readily as some ailments, such as the H1N1 influenza virus that killed more than 12,000 Americans in 2009, because Ebola is transmitted by contact with bodily fluids, and not through the air. However, it is usually fatal and has taken root in the poorest nations, where sanitation and education are weak. Efforts to limit its spread have proven inadequate, and no effective medicine is available for widespread use. HR professionals have a duty of care for all employees and must comply with health and safety laws requiring that workers be protected from threats such as communicable diseases. So even employers who are not sending workers to countries where the Ebola virus is established should keep tabs on the outbreak. Some employers are likely delaying or shifting planned postings, and organizations are withdrawing workers already posted in or near the hot zone. Any employee who passes through West Africa and who experiences symptoms of illness must be quarantined. Even the slightest possibility of infection warrants having the employee stay away from the office for up to 21 days, experts say. If an employee refuses to travel to the Ebola hot zone for nonessential functions, an employer should bend over backwards to accommodate that request.

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