5 things employers cannot or should not do while trying to prevent a pandemic in the office:
1. Mandatory Flu vaccines – Generally, the rule is that you cannot force any employee to obtain a vaccine. Indeed, some employees may have religious objections to obtaining a vaccine. Although certain vaccines may be mandatory for health care providers in some states, usually those mandatory vaccines do not include the flu. Voluntary flu shots may be offered by employers, however.
2. Put Employees in a Plastic Bubble — I have not seen employers literally do this, but have had employers ask if they can move a sick employee to a remote area of the office where they will not infect anyone else. First, although I am not a doctor, I think this is a little like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out. A sick employee has likely been contagious well before he or she demonstrates symptoms. Second, this can negatively impact employee morale and make the employee feel like a pariah.
3. Force employees to wear masks — Although wearing a mask may be a recommended means of containing an outbreak, employers forcing mask use are going to have similar employee morale problems as set forth above. Plus, as anyone who has done a home repair project and has donned one of these masks knows, after a while the mask is hot and uncomfortable. I can’t imagine making employees wear a mask helps with productivity.
4. Tell employees to stay away from a sick employee — This seems like a logical solution to preventing further contagion, but generally, employers should steer clear of disclosing employees’ confidential medical information. Plus, it is possible that you are wrong about why the employee is coughing during the workday. Imagine how that is going to look if you tell employees to not work closely with the coughing employee only to discover that the employee is coughing because they have Stage 3 lung cancer.
5. Refuse to Offer Paid Sick Time — Except in a few jurisdictions, there is no law that requires that employers offer paid sick time. We can certainly understand an employer’s position that employees utilizing too much sick time create productivity problems, but not allowing any paid time off also creates problems. Where employees do not have access to some reasonable amount of paid sick time, they will continue to show up deathly ill at work. They will then continue to infect multiple co-workers. Even if every infected person continues to come to work, it is highly doubtful that someone who is running a fever with the flu is going to be terribly coherent or productive at work.