With close student contact and often a lack of proper hygiene practices, schools are ideal breeding grounds for the spread of illness and disease. Much of this day-to-day germ sharing is inevitable, but in the event of a communicable disease outbreak, such as COVID or seasonal flu, schools need to be prepared to take further precautionary measures. School administrators are responsible for the health and safety of your staff and students, so it is essential to have the proper policies and procedures in place to respond to a communicable disease outbreak.
Educational and child care facilities must develop a communicable disease policy requiring staff to notify their supervisor of any possible disease exposure. This will allow officials to take proactive preventive measures against the spread of the disease.
In addition, district officials should require building staff to communicate with student guardians and students to ensure that student disease exposures and illnesses are reported immediately. This includes encouraging students that travel overseas to have the recommended vaccinations beforehand.
Since medical disclosures are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you must ensure that your policy meets the requirements of the ADA, including keeping employee health information confidential as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As part of the policy, employees may be asked to work reduced hours or may be removed from certain teaching duties until they are no longer contagious.
Social distancing is one of the best methods to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. Unfortunately, this is often not possible in a classroom setting. Encourage staff members and students to stay home when they are ill. In addition, during a disease outbreak, some employees may be forced to stay home to care for sick family members. To prepare for such a situation, your leave policies needs to address the following issues:
- Compliance with the directives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with regard to social distancing; this may mean staff being removed temporarily from teaching duties, sent home or required to work remotely or solitarily on paperwork and other similar tasks.
- Maintenance of school operations, including backup teaching plans for absent staff (combined classes, substitutes, virtual schooling etc.).
- Limiting unnecessary social interaction among staff members. This may include avoiding in-person meetings and instead using email, telephone or other remote conferencing strategies such as video calling.
- Compliance with applicable laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
- How staff should request communicable-disease leave.
- Requirements for reporting medical conditions.
- Whether leave is paid or unpaid.
- Whether benefits are provided or accrued during the leave period.
The following logistical concerns among employees should also be addressed:
Other Legal Concerns
In addition to the laws mentioned above, there are other laws that may affect a communicable disease policy and its ramifications.
The Privacy Rules under HIPAA require employers to protect the privacy of all employee medical information. As a result, employers must determine what diseases staff members must report, who will have access to this information and whether reporting this information to public health officials is necessary. If other employees must be notified of a possible communicable disease case in the school, all necessary precautions must be taken to protect the privacy of the infected individual.
Under FMLA (for employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius), employees who have worked for the company for 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours within the last 12 months are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave due to a “serious health condition.” Most communicable diseases will likely be considered applicable under this regulation.
Employees who suffer permanent health problems that substantially affect their daily lives may be entitled to protections under the ADA.
Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), employers must confirm that employees under their health plan receive an updated summary plan description (SPD) of the health benefits. If employees do not receive a SPD, the provisions allowing the plan to change may not be enforceable. Furthermore, if an employer cannot prove that employees and/or dependents did receive a revised SPD, then the employer may be required to provide higher benefits in accordance with previous SPDs.
Creating a Response Plan
Creating a communicable disease response plan is an effective way to communicate with employees clearly while also complying with local, state and federal guidelines for pandemic responses. Plans should be concise, easy to understand and effective in preserving the health and safety of all employees. Plans should include:
- The designation of a person within the workplace who is responsible for all disease planning and emergency actions.
- Communication of the policy and required steps for requesting leave.
- Development of protocol with regard to requiring ill staff members to stay home and filling the spots of sick teachers.
- Development of a monitoring program to track employees who cannot return to work immediately due to illness.
- Plan distribution timeline and format (online, hard copy, etc.).
- Student and student guardian education, including proper hygiene techniques such as thorough and frequent hand washing
In the very worst of situations, school officials must be flexible and creative to continue to keep their school open as long as possible while also protecting their employees and students. Many are offering virtual hybrid schooling to lessen the impact of the communicable diseases.
If you need help creating these procedures or additional insurance, please contact a member of our team.