HR guidance development

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As a part of its response to the H1N1 pandemic, the University of Illinois Infectious Disease Work Group, comprising representatives from across the university, tried to articulate how university employers should handle employee illness in a pandemic.

An influenza pandemic poses potentially tremendous challenges on human resources management. For example, the Illinois workgroup was concerned that supervisors would have questions when they didn't know if an employee's symptoms were from seasonal or pandemic influenza, and employers would need guidance on how to respond to a healthy employee who wanted to stay home to avoid the risk of infection, said Robert Palinkas, MD, Director at the Illinois McKinley Health Center and a member of the work group.

"When we started we wanted to make it a policy," he said. "It became clear that wasn't going to happen-there were too many variables."

The work group drafted guidelines instead and encouraged units or departments to make their own decisions. The guidelines address topics such as whether employers could send sick employees home, how the Family Medical Leave Act applies and whether an employer could cancel an employee's vacation time in a staff shortage.

The work group began developing the guidance over the summer. By the beginning of October, an approved version was posted on the university's human resources web site.

Having a collaborative, inclusive process was helpful, Palinkas said. For instance, before Illinois posted the guidance, the staff human resources point person sat down with all of the unions (more than 15) to get their buy-in and hear pushback right away.

"When it was done, everybody seemed to be pretty happy with it," Palinkas said.

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