It seems like we just got past the Ebola crisis, and along comes the Zika virus. The recent outbreak in Brazil is spreading rapidly through the Americas and raising health concerns across the globe. The virus is transmitted by infected mosquitoes, and it’s been linked to severe birth defects in babies and deaths of babies of mothers who were pregnant during travel. And so far, there’s no vaccine or treatment available for Zika.
It’s serious enough that on February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency due to the cases of microcephaly and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil as a result of Zika infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel warning for Puerto Rico, Mexico, Samoa, and other countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, especially urging pregnant women to postpone any travel to countries where the outbreak is occurring. WHO officials have estimated that three to four million people could be infected with the Zika virus over the next 12 months.
It’s the kind of outbreak that could be a blow to the hospitality and travel industries.
If people start canceling travel plans due to the Zika outbreak, the hospitality and travel industries could get hit hard. But will employers in these industries see an outbreak of workers’ compensation claims due to Zika?
Probably not, but only time will tell how Zika will spread and manifest itself, so it’s a risk you should be thinking about – especially if you have employees who travel, and especially if any of them are women who are pregnant. If you have an employee on a short assignment (30-60 days) in a country where she may be exposed to the Zika virus, an infection would likely fall under your workers’ compensation policy. If you send employees on long international assignments, you’re required to purchase a Foreign Voluntary Workers’ Compensation policy or an endorsement that covers endemic disease.
But the fact is, there are still many unknowns about this outbreak, the virus is being studied and monitored, and each case is being judged on its own merits.
What can you do to prepare?
No one knows how far Zika will spread, but here are a few steps you should be considering now just in case:
- Continue to monitor CDC and WHO alerts for Zika updates
- Provide staff and guests with information about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus, how it’s transmitted, and how it can be prevented
- Inform traveling employees of the risks and preventative measures, and if possible, restrict travel to affected countries, especially for female employees in the child-bearing age group
- Review your business continuity and pandemic plans
- Review your public relations policies and customer/guest cancellation policies to minimize any reputational damage
Finally, don’t forget to review any applicable insurance coverage. Talk to your insurance carrier about specifics with regard to coverage under workers’ compensation and your other business insurance policies.
Zika certainly isn’t the first and won’t be the last global infectious disease crisis we face. Make sure your business is prepared by staying up to date on public health information, giving your employees access to that information, and making smart risk management decisions.
For more advice on controlling the cost of California workers compensation insurance, download our free report, “Smart Work Comp Management – How to Reclaim Cash Flow.”