How would your business operate if half your workforce were out sick? Would your business continue to function if several of your top key employees died? How many employees are cross-trained in other positions?
A recent study showed the threat that most preoccupies the world’s business leaders is a global influenza pandemic. This is why you need to start asking these questions now so your business can be prepared for a possible bird flu pandemic. A bird flu pandemic will not discriminate. Everyone from the janitor to the CEO would be affected. The worst-case scenario could leave millions sick and anywhere from 5 million to 1.5 billion people dead around the world.
The World Bank, which has estimated that a bird flu pandemic lasting a year, could cost the global economy up to $800 billion. The economic toll on the world economy will be catastrophic. There would be major economic losses due to worker absences and interruptions in supply and delivery chains. Even a mild pandemic would have lasting effects on your business. Because a global flu pandemic is such a threat, current business and disaster response plans may not be adequate to deal with it. What steps should you start to take now to prepare?
As with any worst-case scenario, you should be aware of the risks and have a contingency plan in place before you need it. By planning now you will help keep your business running, your employees safe and head off possible legal issues. Some steps you may want to consider are:
Establish a pandemic coordinator or team with responsibilities for preparedness and response planning. Provide current avian influenza information to all employees. Identify and make available information on community resources.
Identify key essential areas and current employees responsible. Cross-train other employees in those areas, so they are able to fill in for sick employees. Have written documentation for those employees filling in for others.
Identify key suppliers and alternative sources for critical materials and supplies. Increase raw material inventories to keep production going for several months. Plan for just in time inventory shortages. Products and inventory from Asian countries may not be available if Asian factories are shut down due to illness.
Play “what if?” What if Joe in accounting was out sick for a month? Or Sam in IT died? Who could fill in, how would the business run? It is estimated that between 30-60% of the workforce will be out sick.
Maintain a healthy work environment. Encourage hand washing, offer hand sanitizers, consider quality air purifiers. Limit face-to-face contact with employees and customers. Limit large group meetings, shared workstations, and public events. Limit or eliminate non-essential business travel. Make use of conference calls and video conferencing.
Review employment policies to see if you can require employees to stay home if they are sick. Establish new sick time policies. Check employee agreement clauses for business closure plans, hours of work, and position changes. Establish policies and procedures for sending staff home, staff leaving work on their own, unauthorized absences, and returning to work. Plan to offer additional sick time pay or wage and salary advances to staff unable to work. Plan for family member illness, community quarantines, school/business, and public transportation closures.
Offer telecommuting options to as many employees as possible. Offer flextime and other creative job options.
Back up essential files off-site, provide access to a network of key employees.
Establish a communication plan for employees and business contacts. Include key contacts and tracking for employee status. Employees will be hungry for up to date information about their business, jobs, and co-workers. Good communication with your employees is essential to avoid rumors, panic, and misinformation.
To encourage employees to stock up on food and supplies for an extended homestay, purchase supplies for them in bulk to take advantage of discounts, offer the savings to employees. Or offer them a SAM’s Club or Costco membership at no charge.
Taking these steps today will help your business be prepared for a possible bird flu pandemic, survive for the duration, and return to business as normal faster than those who are not prepared.