Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harvard Says You're Not Getting Ready

Two-thirds of more than 1,000 businesses surveyed nationwide told Harvard School of Public Health researchers they could not maintain normal operations if half their workforce was out sick, afraid to come to work or home taking care of sick loved ones during a pandemic this fall.

Four out of every five organizations admitted they would face severe problems if half their workforce was out for a month.

"What we found is that a minority of businesses have started some sort of emergency planning," said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and leader of the project sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Most, I don't think, have thought through the implications of something so widespread."

For four years we have been urging clients and prospective clients to prepare for a pandemic.

Pandemics come every 30-to-40 years and in the past century they have killed 35,000 Americans in 1968, 70,000 Americans in 1957 and half-a-million Americans in 1918. There is no way to know in advance what level of pandemic the next one will be. So, you have to plan for the worst and hope for the mildest.

The Harvard survey confirmed that about three-quarters of businesses offer paid sick leave for some employees, but almost none provide paid leave for employees to stay home and take care of sick family members. And almost 70% of all American businesses require a doctor's note when an employees returns to work.

The CDC is suggesting companies waive the rule about a doctor's note. We suggest organizations amend their HR policy to very narrowly define exceptions to "the doctor's note" rule. Otherwise, ignoring that policy during a pandemic could mean it could be challenged in future cases where an employee didn't have a doctor's confirmation of a real sickness.

Harvard conducted 1,057 telephone interviews with randomly selected businesses around the U.S. between July 16 and August 12. They sampled small businesses with 20 to 99 employees, medium size companies with 100 to 500 workers and large businesses with more than 500 employees.

There are other areas that organizations should be reviewing before a pandemic strikes, including health insurance contracts and all other contracts, as well as cash flow issues and employee and customer communication plans.

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