In response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic, most employees at U.S. businesses say their company took measures to protect them from illness, such as encouraging sick employees to stay home, according to a national poll of employees by researchers from the Harvard Opinion Research Program at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
Smaller, but notable, percentages of employees reported that their company took other actions such as creating back-up systems for employees to cover each others' work and expanding leave policies.
The poll was conducted April 21 to May 13, 2010 among a nationally representative sample of 1,491 employees from private sector businesses outside of education and health who employ 20 or more persons.
"These results suggest that in a future contagious disease outbreak, many businesses will try to adapt their policies to mitigate the impact on employees, with most adopting protective precautions, such as encouraging sick workers to stay home, and a minority taking other important measures, such as expanding sick leave policies," said Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at HSPH and director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP).
Concerning responses recommended by public health officials, most employees (81 percent) reported that their companies provided hand sanitizer, alcohol-based hand rub or handwashing stations to reduce the spread of H1N1 at the workplace. A similar percentage (80 percent) said their companies encouraged employees to stay home from work if they were sick with flu-like symptoms.
Some 60 percent of employees reported that their company encouraged them to get the H1N1 vaccine. According to employees' reports, large companies, those with 500 or more employees, were more likely than medium (100 to 499 employees) or smaller (20 to 99 employees) companies to do this (66 percent v. 54 percent and 48 percent, respectively).
"Businesses can be a vital public health partner with health authorities during an outbreak," said Gillian K. Steelfisher, a research scientist in the HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management and a member of the polling team. "Public health officials at federal, state and local levels should develop plans that specifically bring educational materials and preventive measures into the workplace."
A majority of employees, 77 percent, said their company provided them with information about how to keep H1N1 flu from spreading between employees at the workplace. Again, large companies were more likely than medium-sized companies (100 to 499 employees) or smaller companies (20 to 99 employees) to have provided this information (83 percent v. 72 percent and 65 percent, respectively).
More than one-third of employees reported that their company provided them with information about changes to leave policies that would make it easier for them to stay home from work because they were sick (42 percent), because a family member was sick (38 percent), or because their children's school closed (36 percent). Similar percentages of employees reported that their company created a back-up system for someone to cover their work if they got sick (42 percent) or trained them to cover for someone else if they got sick or had to be absent due to H1N1 (36 percent).
Most employees (81 percent) reported that their company was prepared for the H1N1 outbreak (44 percent "very prepared," 37 percent "somewhat prepared"). Employees at large companies, with 500 or more employees, were more likely than employees at small companies, those with 20 to 99 employees, to say this (85 percent v. 73 percent).
Half of all employees (50 percent) say that this outbreak of H1N1 has made their company more prepared for a possible future outbreak of a serious, contagious illness.
About one in five (21 percent) employees got the H1N1 vaccine, mirroring rates in the general population. However, vaccination rates were significantly higher among employees whose companies encouraged them to get the vaccine than among employees whose companies did not do this (29 percent v. 9 percent).