Everyone in Northeast Ohio knows that the the second nurse to have contracted Ebola flew into Akron/Canton airport a couple of weeks ago, visited Cleveland, where she began to exhibit symptoms of the disease, and then flew back to Dallas out of Akron/Canton. There has been a lot of local concern about the risks involved for those who were on one of her flights, who were in the airport at or around the same time, or who flew on one of the planes after she did but before the diagnosis was made. It seems like every time I turn around, I hear another connection to the nurse, no matter how attenuated. How should employers respond to these concerns?
Say you have an employee who was on one of the flights. Or whose spouse was on one of the flights. Or whose sister passed through the airport shortly after the nurse. Employees may be concerned. Leaving those concerns unchecked can breed distrust and negativity. Here’s my advice:
1. Communicate to employees that you are aware of the concerns and are addressing them. Include some facts about Ebola, such as how it can’t be spread without contact with bodily fluids (look at the CDC website for this info).
2. Talk to professionals – call the CDC and explain the connection to the nurse; ask for their opinion on the risk level.
3. Relay what you heard – i.e., there is no risk and the employee with the attenuated contact is cleared by the CDC to come to work (or something along those lines).
4. Take extra care with employees who work closely with the person in question. They want to be assured that they are not at risk.
5. Also take extra care with the person in question. Don’t treat him or her like a pariah. Instead, communicate openly and frequently with him or her.
The glue that holds these points together is respect. Respect your employees’ fears. Don’t simply ignore them. Address them in a systematic way, and with compassion.