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Measles epidemic – what employers need to know

Published 13 Sep 2019

Measles is a highly contagious illness as we can see from current news reports about the spread of the disease. Your workplace may well already be impacted by this disease, either due to employees becoming ill, being absent to care for family members or possibly due to the nature of the business i.e. care of young children or others at risk.

People with measles are infectious for a period of 5 days before any rash appears and for 5 days after. They may be unwell but unaware they are infected and this can mean they maintain regular contact with others until the more visual symptoms appear. This also makes it hard for you to identify any person who may be infected until it is too late.

As an employer you have a duty of care to your employees to provide a safe and healthy work place. If you are concerned about this type of issue your best approach is education. Making sure your employees know what the symptoms are and that they understand they should stay away from work.  You should also encourage vaccination. While people born before 1969 are most likely to be immune, younger individuals should have had at least one vaccination and two are recommended.  If any employee is unsure they need to go to their doctor and get another vaccination. You can offer staff vaccinations and/or testing, but you cannot force them to take it or undergo testing.

One option may be, if you believe an individual to be ill, is to isolate them and reduce the risk of spreading the disease.  The use of personal protective equipment may be a viable option as would the use of antibacterial products – soaps and getting employees to wash their hands frequently. Sending an employee home on sick leave is another option. Whatever option you consider reasonable must be discussed with the employee before any decision to take action is made. Sending employees home without pay is not a reasonable option in most cases.

If you believe there is a risk to the business or its customers, we recommend that you contact EAL before taking any action that may impact on your employees.