Governors group offers workforce pandemic guidance for states

Feb 19, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The National Governors Association (NGA) today issued a report to help states protect their workforce and sustain key government functions such as law enforcement and water treatment during an influenza pandemic.

The guidance in the 13-page report was developed from regional pandemic preparedness workshops that the NGA conducted during 2007 and 2008, the association said today in a press release. Feedback after each of the workshops revealed that one of the states' leading concerns is developing worker policies to keep government running and protect key infrastructure during a pandemic.

John Thomasian, director of the NGA, said in the press release that state workforces represent the first line of defense in a pandemic outbreak. "Having smart policies in place that ensure they can continue their operations as smoothly and efficiently as possible will ultimately help save lives and restore normalcy to communities affected by the outbreak," he said.

Absences from illness, the need to care for family members, and fear of exposure create three main challenges during a pandemic: maintaining government continuity and the delivery of essential services such as law enforcement and firefighting, developing policies that protect state government workforce, and setting policies to address worker shortages.

Some of the toughest issues will involve state employees who work in institutional settings such as prisons or state hospitals or those who have face-to-face contact with the public, the report said.

The NGA guidance advises states to take three steps for developing government continuity plans:

  • Form multiagency, multisector work groups to identify key services
  • Determine which workers are needed to maintain the key services
  • Develop alternate workplace strategies for as many of these workers as possible

As an example of alternate workplace strategies that could be used during a pandemic, the report highlighted telecommuting and scheduling measures that Virginia, Washington, and Utah have used to reduce energy costs.

The NGA also advises states to assess if any leave policy changes are needed to maximize productivity while allowing workers to stay home if they are sick or need to take care of their families. To promote social distancing, states could consider enhancing their paid-leave programs, establishing leave policies that provide partial or reduced pay, incorporating donated leave programs, and ensuring that sick employees receive care.

To address workforce shortages, particularly in critical areas, the NGA urges states to identify ways to "backfill" certain positions. For example, states can cross-train employees now to ensure that key positions will be filled, and recently retired workers could help supplement the state workforce.

See also:

Feb 18 NGA press release

NGA report "Sustaining the state workforce: strategies for effective pandemic planning"

Oct 16, 2008, CIDRAP News story "Governors group identifies states' pandemic-preparedness gaps"

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