DHS Announces H1N1 Preparedness Guide for Small Businesses

The Department of Homeland Security released a guide to help cost-conscious businesses prepare for an outbreak of the H1N1 virus, most commonly known as swine flu.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today joined Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Influenza Division Deputy Director Daniel Jernigan to announce a preparedness guide to assist small businesses in planning for the H1N1, or swine, flu.

Napolitano said small businesses play an essential role in the national effort to prepare for all disasters and emergencies-including the H1N1 flu-and the guide will help the country's small businesses "maintain continuity of operations and resiliency" as the fall flu season approaches.

The preparedness guide offers small business employers tools and information to help them plan for and respond flexibly to varying levels of severity of an H1N1 outbreak-which may lead to increased absenteeism and, if the outbreak becomes more severe, may include restricted service capabilities and supply chain disruptions. Additional preparations may be necessary if a more serious outbreak evolves during the fall and winter.

The DHS warned that outbreaks of H1N1 flu are occurring now across the country and will likely coincide with the return of seasonal flu this fall and winter.

Mills said small business owners should take the time to create a plan, talk with their employees and make sure they are prepared for flu season. "For countless small businesses, having even one or two employees out for a few days has the potential to negatively impact operations and their bottom line," she said. "A thoughtful plan will help keep employees and their families healthy, as well as protect small businesses and local economies."

Employers are encouraged to put strategies in place now to protect their employees and their businesses in advance of the fall flu season. Included in the preparedness guide are tips on how to write a continuity of operations plan, steps for keeping employees healthy, frequently asked questions about the 2009 H1N1 flu and a list of additional resources that employers can access online.

The guide encourages small businesses to identify an workplace coordinator who will be responsible for dealing with 2009 H1N1 flu issues and their impact at the workplace, including contacting local health department and health care providers in advance and developing and implementing protocols for response to ill individuals. They would also examine policies for leave, telework and employee compensation, and review these with all employees so they are up-to-date on sick leave policies and employee assistance services that are covered under employee-sponsored health plans.

Other suggestions include sharing the company's pandemic plans with employees and clearly communicating expectations, preparing business continuity plans in the event there is significant absenteeism, and establishing an emergency communications plan, which includes identification of key contacts (with backups), chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating business and employee status.