Employers Without a Pandemic Plan are Ill-Prepared to Deal with Influenza A Outbreak, According to Hewitt Associates

    Plan or No Plan, Organizations Need to Communicate Human Resources
    Policies Clearly

    TORONTO, April 30 /CNW/ - The recent outbreak of influenza A in Mexico
and its spread to Canada has many employers wondering how they should prepare
for a possible pandemic and what, if anything, they should be telling
employees. Even though Canadian cases are so far mild, organizations without a
plan for dealing with serious health threats should act quickly to develop a
strategy or face possible business interruption, advises Hewitt Associates, a
global human resources consulting and outsourcing company.
    "Outbreaks of SARS in 2003 and, more recently, Avian flu have prompted
employers to develop pandemic preparedness plans," said Rochelle Morandini,
national organizational health practice leader with Hewitt. "We conducted a
short survey in June 2007 that revealed 25 per cent of Canadian organizations
had a complete plan in place, while 26 per cent had a plan they were working
on. While those figures have likely increased, there are still many
organizations that have no clear policy for addressing an influenza outbreak."
    With no contingencies in place, organizations may find "business as
usual" challenging if a large number of employees fall ill or stay home to
care for sick family members. "In today's economy, most employers can't afford
to lose business because they don't have the people they need on hand to do
the work," stated Brenda De Jong, a registered nurse and senior organizational
health consultant in Hewitt's Vancouver office.
    Most pandemic plans contain information regarding educating employees
about preventing the spread of infectious diseases, providing advice on
personal emergency preparedness, cross-training for essentials positions, and
communicating potential business impacts to stakeholders. "Developing such a
plan takes time and is a process that is obviously better completed in a
non-emergency situation," stated Morandini.
    Regardless of whether organizations have a pandemic preparedness plan in
place, there are steps they should take now in case the influenza A outbreak
escalates to a pandemic. "Employers need to do some research. They should
review their insurance contracts immediately and communicate any benefits
limitations to their employees," said De Jong. "For example, some policies
that provide out-of-Canada medical coverage will not reimburse expenses
incurred if employees travel to Mexico right now."
    In addition, employers need to ensure that any course of action they
adopt is based on the latest information from reliable Canadian sources. "At
times like this, a lot of misinformation is circulated and even reliable
information may be frequently updated," stated De Jong. "It's imperative to
get up-to-the-minute news from Canadian sources like the Public Health Agency
of Canada. The Center for Disease Control in the United States is also a
tremendous resource, but the significance of its "emergency" category levels
may not be clear to Canadian businesses. Approaches for dealing with a
pandemic may also vary from one country to the next, although the majority
follows the World Health Organization's pandemic alert levels to develop their
own national strategies."
    The information received will help employers with pandemic preparedness
plans know whether or not to trigger them. Even those without a plan should
discuss the issue with their workforce. "Effective employee communication is
critical in order to ensure minimal business interruption," said De Jong.
"Organizations will want to share information about influenza A with their
workforce - what it is, how it's spread, and how to avoid spreading it.
Employees will also want to know about travel restrictions, alternate work
arrangements, how to meet customer needs if the office is closed, and so on.
Employers with a pandemic preparedness plan in place will be at an advantage
as they will have already developed a strategic approach for dealing with
these concerns and other business continuity issues."

    About Hewitt Associates

    Hewitt Associates (NYSE:   HEW) provides leading organizations around the
world with expert human resources consulting and outsourcing solutions to help
them anticipate and solve their most complex benefits, talent, and related
financial challenges. Hewitt consults with companies to design and implement a
wide range of human resources, retirement, investment management, health
management, compensation, and talent management strategies. As a leading
outsourcing provider, Hewitt administers health care, retirement, payroll, and
other HR programs to millions of employees, their families, and retirees. With
a history of exceptional client service since 1940, Hewitt has offices in 33
countries, including Canadian offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary
and Regina, and employs approximately 23,000 associates who are helping make
the world a better place to work. For more information, please visit

For further information:

For further information: Marcia McDougall, Hewitt Associates, (416)
227-5713, marcia.mcdougall@hewitt.com

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