Avoid confrontation with the SARS virus

Employers are understandably concerned and confused about how to react to
SARS – a virus that had killed more than 200 people worldwide and infected
almost 4,000 at the time of writing.

By the time you read this, the situation might be very different. It could
have turned into the first global epidemic of the 21st century, or there could
be signs of containment.

The UK has so far had only six probable cases of infection and no-one has
died. We have one of the most advanced disease surveillance systems in the
world and early detection is vital. Inevitably, doctors and nurses are most at
risk, but the scale of the threat is still very much unknown.

At times like this, decisive policy making and clear communication come into
their own. HR professionals should avail themselves of all relevant information
and be at the forefront of clarifying the business position on SARS to fellow
directors, all managers and employees. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and
World Health Organisation websites offer guidance.

Communicating a calm, but clear message to staff is key. As our front page
coverage explains, the advice is to discourage staff from travelling to
infected areas and to ensure they stay away from work for up to 10 days if they
have returned from the hotspots.

In an age of flexibility and teleworking, it should not be difficult to find
ways of keeping people occupied at home for the incubation period and continue
to pay them in full. While there is no major UK outbreak, it makes no sense to
engage in protracted disputes and legal wrangling with individual staff. Good
employee relations depend on a responsible employer approach built on trust.
Personnel Today would like to hear examples of the way companies are dealing
with this problem.

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