U.S. measles cases have officially exceeded the highest single-year record since the disease was eliminated in this country in 2000 – and we’re only a third of the way through this year! Despite hundreds of people in measles quarantine, that number is expected to rise.

It doesn’t matter what you think of the MMR vaccination controversy surrounding the outbreak. Nor can you ignore  the measles as a workplace issue just because the youngest patients are usually the most vulnerable. The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that your organization will be negatively impacted by the measles. Are you ready? Did you know that competency management can help you and your team weather the storm?

How Measles Affects the Workplace

As of mid-April, 22 states reported confirmed cases of the measles. The vast majority of measles cases are in unvaccinated children. But some people who received the vaccination have fallen ill, as well. For most people, measles is simply an inconvenience but complications from measles can cause long-term disabilities or even death.

So, as measles moves into your community, some employees will take leave to care for sick children. And employees who contract the virus, either because they are not vaccinated or because they are in the small minority for whom the vaccination didn’t work, will need time off to deal with the coughing, fever, runny nose and red bumps that break out on their faces and bodies.

Before they decide to stay home from work, infected employees may unknowingly spread the highly contagious disease  – well before anyone is aware that measles is a threat in your office. If you have one sick employee who works closely with others, you’re likely to have more employees fall ill.

How to Prepare

Preparing for a measles outbreak at work is similar to preparing for other hazards, such as natural disasters, fires, human-caused accidents or violence, or technology disruptions.

1. Assess your risk. Emergency preparedness starts with assessing your risk. How likely is it that your organization will be affected by a particular threat or event? In this case, monitor how the measles outbreak is progressing. Where are the concentrations of measles? Who is most affected? And…how do those risk factors map to your employees? Use your answers to shape your next steps.

2. Update policies. Now is the time to review and update your company policies. Are employees required to notify you if they or their child contracts the virus? Must you report cases of infection to authorities? To colleagues who may be exposed? Do your travel policies limit travel to higher-risk geographies in the U.S. or internationally? Does your company have any special obligations to protect pregnant women? Do you support work from home for people who may be exposed? Will you pull back employees who work at client sites, if they may have been exposed to the virus? There are no single set of “correct” policies, but your legal, HR, and business continuity team will need to think through how to continue providing a safe and secure work environment for all employees.

3. Train your leaders. When the policies are updated, train your leaders on any policy changes. Also be sure they are clear about what they can and cannot say. What they may or may not do. What they must do, in some circumstances. Some conversations can become tricky and it will be important that they navigate those situations with respect, without putting the company at risk.

4. Communicate with your workers. As a headline news topic, measles is already on the minds of your workforce. Employees will appreciate that your leadership is monitoring the situation, is planning ahead, and is ready to act, as needed. They also need to know their rights, roles, and responsibilities.

5. Prepare to act. Those who will need to act must be prepared, trained and supported to do so. Consider a “drill” exercise to practice difficult conversations, quarantine implementations, and coordinating with outside parties.

There is lots of information about the measles and emergency preparedness online. The Centers for Disease Control is monitoring measles cases in the U.S., for example, and updating the count weekly. Ready.gov is one site with good information about preparedness for businesses.

Competency Management Can Help

You’ll want to be ready if a few individuals are out sick for a few days. You’re also wise to prepare for an entire department to be out at the same time. You’ll need to quickly answer a series of questions. Which employees are affected? Which have essential skills and competencies? Who is available to step in?

Your competency management system can help you develop actionable response plans. Competency management systems like Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™  provide a convenient way to catalog employee skills and competencies.

Use your competency management system now to gauge where your essential skills and competencies sit in your organization. Check for skills that are core to serving your customers – as well as those you’d need to handle a disease outbreak or an emergency. If you’re finding a geographic cluster of essential skills, look for others outside the area who could step in. You’ll want to ensure that you have enough of the right people in the right places. Now is the time to close skills gaps by developing backup employees.

If you are hit with a measles outbreak, your competency management system can help you quickly analyze your losses, to inform the next steps in your plan.

Looking for Business Continuity planning tips? Read our Before Disaster Strikes: Building Your Crisis Management Plan From Your Skills Inventory white paper.  Or contact us to discuss how WebMentor Skills can help you prepare for and manage through a measles outbreak.

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