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I recently spoke at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition in Chicago. My topic was  “Health Issues are Nothing to Sneeze at: Chemical Sensitivities, Bed Bugs, Zika and Flu Shots.”

SHRM had over 18,000 attendees. It was a great opportunity to discuss some of the legal issues employers face when trying to manage a disease outbreak and other developing issues impacting employee health. Below are my top takeaways for those of you who were not able to attend.

  1. Chemical Sensitivities:

Providing a fragrance or chemical free workplace is probably impossible to achieve.  There are still many steps an employer can take to assist and fulfill its obligation to engage in an interactive reasonable accommodation process.

Examples include: providing improved ventilation, possible work from home, eliminating the use of pesticides and toxic cleaning agents, offering employees masks and other protective equipment, requesting that coworkers limit their fragrance use, and training.

  1. Bed Bugs:

There is a bedbug problem in some workplaces and it is bad. Employers should take any bug infestation seriously. Educate employees and implement procedures to protect employees and visitors. An injury due to bed bugs should be reported to the employer’s carrier just like any other workplace injury. Some employers recommended paying for home extermination services where employees’ homes may have become infected as a result of a workplace infestation. One recommendation: asking employees whose homes have been infected to stay home until an exterminator confirms they are bug free.

  1. Zika:

Employers cannot assume a parental role over their employees. Employers may not prohibit pregnant employees from traveling to areas where any diseases (remember the Zika scare) exist. If a pregnant employee indicates that she is concerned about her safety or the safety of her fetus if she is required to travel into a Zika infected area, her employer needs to seriously explore reasonably accommodating those concerns.

  1. Flu Shots:

Mandatory vaccination policies are generally ok. They should include an escape procedure for employees who are pregnant or who object to being vaccinated for religious or medical reasons. Just because an employee objects does not mean that he or she is automatically excused from complying. However, the employer would need to analyze a number of factors before determining whether an exemption to the vaccine poses an undue hardship, even in a hospital or health care setting. Employers should still consider an employee’s exemption request, even after the deadline for asserting it has passed.

Navigating healthcare issues in the workplace is “nothing to sneeze at” and the above topics are only a few of the scenarios that employers face daily. It is a good idea to consult with legal counsel to make sure the healthcare policies and procedures you have in place help protect you from future HR “headaches”!