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Play it safe on the job if a colleague is sick
[May 02, 2009]

Play it safe on the job if a colleague is sick

May 02, 2009 (The Miami Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- What do you do if that guy in the next cubicle is sneezing and coughing and you just can't help but worry that he might have swine flu? I took this question and others to Mark Neuberger, a labor lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Miami.

His answer? "You should not take any risk," Neuberger said.

"Report to management and management should have a plan designed to handle these scenarios." Q:What if the person that's coughing and sneezing is your manager? A: Go up the chain.

Q:As an employer, how do you handle it? A: Communicate that while coming in sick and the added level of diligence it implied was appreciated in the past, it is not appreciated now.

Q:What if you don't have paid sick days and the person doesn't want to go home? Perhaps he even shrugs off the sneezing as allergies? A: Pull the person privately into your office and suggest the employee go home. You can even say, "Go home and I'll pay you anyway." Or you can say, "Here's a laptop. Try to do what you can from home for a few days." Q:What if someone is so afraid they MIGHT get this new flu that they don't want to come to work? A: Try to have a rational discussion with them. Tell them no one in the office is sick, and their chances of getting it are remote. Say, "I encourage you to come to work." Or, you might want to let them telecommute. Maybe it's time to start thinking again about letting more of your workforce telecommute. In Mexico, people are working from home. With technology, it's fairly easy to do.

Q:What other advice do you have for employers? A: If you have emergency plans, start testing them out. Maybe those plans include letting workers telecommute. Let employees know the company policy. Tell them not to take a risk. If they are covered by insurance, use it. Also make hand sanitizer available and encourage frequent hand washing. Look at your company's cleaning and sanitation practices. Maybe there are things that can be done better. Be sensitive to where your workers are traveling, know where the hot spots are and consider canceling trips to those cities. The biggest part of it is staying on top of the news.

To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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