Your offices may be in the middle of America, but did you know, because of the Zika virus, that you may still have a specific obligation to your employees – particularly those who are required to travel for business?
The Zika virus is the mosquito-borne illness which may cause mild or even no noticeable symptoms in many adults, but does appear to pose a very real threat to the unborn children of women infected. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes there is a direct link between Zika and the increase in the numbers of infants being born with microcephaly (a neurological condition which results in abnormally small head size and underdeveloped brain). As a result, the CDC has issued travel alerts advising women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant against traveling to affected countries.
Of course, as with most health issues, our base of knowledge is ever-changing. There is no immunization currently available, although one is in development. The list of affected countries continues to evolve (for the most up-to-date list, visit wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information). Future research may reveal an equally relevant connection to the fathers of these unborn children. Fact is, we’re still learning.
So, as an employer, here’s what you need to know now. As part of your insurance coverage, there is a “Duty of Care with Emerging Risks,” which requires employers take all reasonable steps to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. At this point, with regard to the Zika virus, that means employee education, including known facts about the virus, its symptoms, potential complications and recommended prevention measures. Those US employers requiring overseas travel can take certain steps to ensure that their employees traveling to outbreak areas are provided a primer on the virus and its symptoms. Since transmission of the virus occurs overwhelmingly through mosquito bites, employers should remind employees of the CDC-recommended precautions for travel in such areas.
While it remains very unlikely that any of your employees will ever contract or suffer any complications from Zika, employee education provides important legal protection should workers’ compensation or labor law issues surface in the future. Even without any legal obligation, it just makes good sense to share what you know with those who work so hard on your behalf. And remember, unexpected business travel and new contacts happen all the time. Being proactive and armed with information in advance is always the best precaution.