By: Jack McCalmon
Here are the facts:
One person has died from the Ebola virus in Dallas, Texas, after contracting it in Africa. Two health care workers who treated that patient have tested positive for the virus. Both are being treated, and both are stable.
However, according to reports, one nurse who had been treating the Ebola patient traveled to Cleveland by commercial plane, despite having a low-grade fever. According to the same reports, the fever did not rise to the level necessary for contagion, and the CDC cleared her to fly. The passengers were notified of the incident and are being interviewed as a precaution.
Ebola is not an epidemic and has not spread beyond those who treated the patient who died in Dallas. The virus is not expected to go beyond those who had contact with the first victim.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Ebola virus is transmitted human-to-human through body fluids. Blood is the most common means by which Ebola is transmitted. The nurses who treated the first patient did wear protective gear, but were in contact with the victim when he was the most contagious.
Unfortunately, social media rumors are running rampant, conspiracy theories abound, and political finger-pointing is causing concern, if not outright fear, in some people.
If your employees each have a pulse, you can guarantee that they are discussing Ebola, and some may be very nervous about it.
So, what should you do?
At this point, stay calm and carry on.
Ebola is not an epidemic in the U.S., and the fact is more people die from complications from the flu than will die from Ebola in this country.
Yet, staying calm does not mean doing nothing.
If you have employees scheduled to travel to West Africa where Ebola is present, you should consider whether to cancel that travel.
If you have employees in West Africa, you should consider whether you want to keep them in West Africa, especially if this country imposes a travel ban.
If your organization has no connection to West Africa, you should continue to stress employee hygiene, like washing hands properly, not for the sake of Ebola, but to keep your workforce healthy and increase employees’ confidence that you consider their health a priority.
If employees or other workplace participants are ill, you should send them home, not because of Ebola, but because it keeps illness, like the flu, out of your workplace.
You should make frontline management aware that employees may have concerns about Ebola, and that those concerns should be communicated to executive management and not be ridiculed or ignored.
If an employee comes to you and wants to work at home because he or she is afraid of Ebola, you should establish dialogue and consider the request, but involve your counsel to make certain you are considering all the risks and whether, by granting that request, you can manage additional requests that are sure to come.
Finally, and importantly, you should set up a contingency plan that allows you, should the unlikely happen, to continue to function if an epidemic occurs, including how to manage refusals to travel from employees, travel bans from the government, absenteeism from no shows, and requests to work from home.
Preparing for the worst is not panicking, it is smart risk management.