NASE News

Small Businesses Should Prepare Now For Flu Season, Hearing Finds

The House Committee on Small Business recently held a hearing to explore the potential impact of the H1N1 influenza on small businesses and investigate the resources available to small firms.

Representatives from various government agencies as well as small business owners shared recommendations and resources for helping small businesses deal with the possibility of a pandemic.

“To maintain critical operations, small businesses should be prepared to change business practices as needed during an outbreak,” Dr. Anne Schuchat testified on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. “For instance, small businesses should prepare to identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some operations as needed.”

Many witnesses before the committee suggested that small businesses visit the government inter-agency Web site flu.gov and begin creating preparedness plans sooner rather than later. The Web site has many resources for small business owners, including agency guidance and helpful fact sheets for both employers and employees.

Small business owners were also encouraged to visit the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) preparedness Web site, ready.gov, for materials to assist with preparedness planning such as a sample emergency plan, worksheets to help inventory equipment and assets, and information on how to deal with employee concerns, facilities management and other issues. Bridger McGaw, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Private Sector Office for DHS testified that emergency preparation can help businesses “build resiliency into their broader business models and can increase their capacity to better withstand all hazards.”

Government agency representatives recommended that small businesses should:

  • Implement flexible sick leave policies allowing workers to stay home to care for sick family members or children and encouraging sick workers to stay home, keeping in mind that workers will likely be absent for 3 to 5 days with the flu and should not return to work until free of fever or symptoms of fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication;
  • Take action to stop the spread of germs by encouraging frequent hand washing, the covering of coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, frequently cleaning commonly touched surfaces, and considering spacing workers farther apart or work-from-home strategies;
  • And prepare for increased employee absences by cross-training employees and being prepared to change business practices if needed to maintain critical operations of the business.