"The most important thing you can do to prepare your business is to have a written plan."

The federal Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), provides this advice to small businesses in its recently released, Planning for H1N1 Influenza: A Preparedness Guide for Small Business. The Guide suggests a seven step process for developing your written plan:

  1. Identify a workplace coordinator
  2. Examine policies for leave, telework, and employee compensation
  3. Determine who will be responsible for assisting workers who become sick at the workplace
  4. Identify essential employees, essential business functions, and other critical inputs required to maintain business operations should there be disruptions during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak
  5. Share your pandemic plans with employees and clearly communicate expectations.
  6. Prepare business continuity plans in case the H1N1 flu outbreak causes widespread absenteeism or other operations changes
  7. Establish an emergency communications plan.

The Guide also provides tips for maintaining a healthy workplace now and during flu season. These common sense recommendations include:

  1. Developing policies that encourage workers to stay home if they are sick or are needed to care for sick family members
  2. Providing resources and a work environment to promote personal hygiene
  3. Encouraging workers to obtain seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccines, if they are among the groups for which the vaccines are recommended by CDC
  4. Educating, training and updating workers on H1N1, its risk factors and its symptoms
  5. Planning practices to minimize face-to-face contact between workers if advised by local health departments
  6. Segregating and sending home workers who become sick while at work.

Interestingly, the Guide suggests that employers should encourage workers who are well but who have ill family member to continue to work while monitoring their own health. In addition, the Guide does not contain any suggestion to make H1N1 vaccines mandatory. At this point, some local health departments, such as the New York Department of Health, have recommended mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers with direct patient contact unless the vaccine is medically contraindicated for an individual. As of now, the Ohio Department of Health has not issued any specific guidance on the vaccination of healthcare workers. Its website, however, does link to the CDC website, which generally recommends the H1N1 vaccination for healthcare and emergency medical services personnel because infections among healthcare workers can be a potential source of infection for vulnerable patients. Also, increased absenteeism in this population could reduce healthcare system capacity.