Calming the Ebola Fear | NY Benefits Broker

October 20th, 2014   |   by admin   |   in Wellness

By Suzanne Fahl, SPHR

iStock_000004099192SmallAs awareness of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in our world and specifically now in the United States rises, so does the rise of fear: Fear of how to prevent EVD exposure and how to manage any occurrence in the workplace. When we consider other communicable diseases — H1N1, HIV, hepatitis, and the common cold or flu — we know what to do and how to do it. So why is it that we suddenly become paralyzed by a new pandemic ailment?

All too often it is the fundamental concept of knowledge or lack thereof. What is EVD? How do you catch it? What is the treatment and how can one prevent exposure? While the news certainly creates a frenzy of fear, taking time to review the information about EVD from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a great first step to minimizing concern and fear within your workforce.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects individuals from discriminatory action, including those protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as it pertains to foreign travelers or workers that may have contracted the disease. While an infected individual with EVD would have a level of protection under the EEOC and the ADA, as well as protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers properly communicate potential exposure of transmissible diseases like EVD and others to ensure a safe working environment for all workers.

When any employee or an employee’s household member has traveled to a geographical region(s) where an outbreak of EVD has been reported in the past 21 days, it is recommended that the employee and household member seek a medical screening to verify negative EVD test results before reporting to work or potentially exposing the disease to others in any public forum. While this cannot necessarily be demanded, an employer can support the process and help an employee take protective measures from a position of responsibility and good health.

If an employee is determined to have been exposed and/or infected with EVD, employers should take action to properly and calmly notify all employees so that they may take appropriate action should any symptoms become apparent. Employers aware of any outbreak in their workplace should notify their workers’ compensation carrier for assistance in taking appropriate steps to communicate and notify all relevant parties.

We suggest taking a more proactive approach in removing the fear and reminding your employees that at this time of year, the common cold and flu are at the highest contagious level. With the recent awareness of Ebola, it’s all too timely to share a communication reminder.

The communication reminder should include symptoms to watch for that may be indicative of a contagious disease: fever, severe headache, weakness and/or muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, unusual bleeding or bruising, excessive coughing, runny nose, or congestion. You may want to include in your reminder that employees should seek medical attention when two or more of these symptoms exist to ensure they are healthy through this vulnerable season. Whenever possible, permit an ill employee to work from home to help minimize ailments in the workplace.

The highest risk factors of EVD are exposure to bodily fluid, including blood, saliva, vomit, and sweat, and contact with human remains. Therefore those working in the medical field tend to have the greatest exposure risk within the United States. Depending on your business and the potential for exposure to EVD, for example a frequent traveling workforce, you may want to include additional EVD information available on the CDC’s website at

Pushing fear out of the equation when it comes to Ebola or any disease is often accomplished through open communication and sharing awareness regarding how to prevent or limit exposure, identify symptoms, and seek early treatment. The important key is retaining a healthy, calm, and focused workforce.

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