Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Swine flu threat looms

Shropshire companies are more likely than ever to see swine flu in their workplace this winter – and bosses are being urged to make sure they don’t pay the price. New figures show that with swine flu at its current level, experts say it’s probable that employers will encounter at least one case on their premises.

And Tina Chander, a Solicitor in our Employment Law Team, has warned that if companies do not take precautions, they could be held responsible for spreading the disease.

“Employers have a duty of care to protect their staff from reasonably foreseeable dangers, and contracting a contagious disease can fall into this category. But even if another employee did catch swine flu after coming into contact with it at work, they wouldn’t automatically be able to bring a claim against your business.”

Tina said the infected person would need to prove that they did actually contract the illness in the workplace, and that the company failed to prevent this from happening.

“But of course, this would be difficult to do – if they use public transport to get to work, or a family member has the virus, this obviously introduces another possible source of infection. And if you’ve put sensible measures in place to reduce the infection spreading, they will struggle to argue that it was your fault that they caught it.”

If the virus does strike your workplace, Tina said there were a number of steps to take to minimise the risk of further infection.

“If someone starts showing signs of swine flu, send them home straight away, and insist they stay there until they’ve recovered or a medical diagnosis confirms they’re clear of the illness. Increase cleaning procedures and use antiseptic wipes where possible, and remind your staff how important it is to wash their hands and dispose of tissues properly. You could also suggest short-term flexible working arrangements with employees working from home if possible.

“Taking measures like this will strengthen your position if anyone does try to claim against you, as they will have to prove they caught the virus at work and that you failed to stop the infection spreading.”