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Seven Tips For Addressing Zika in the Workplace

I was outside with a friend when she suddenly slapped the back of her neck. "I think it was a bug," she said, looking at her empty hand. "Maybe it was a mosquito?" We both looked at each other. Oh, no. It's almost that time of year again: mosquito season.

Luckily, it wasn't a mosquito, but this might not be an average mosquito season. Just yesterday, the CDC increased its estimate of U.S. states with the Zika mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, from 12 to 30 states.

Still, a new poll finds 4 in 10 Americans know "little to nothing" about the virus.

We can all do more to understand the risks. Here are seven basic tips for thinking about the Zika threat in the workplace:

1. Look to minimize sources of standing water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, so check the perimeter of your building for places where water could accumulate easily, even in a misting rain. Buckets (including upside down buckets), saucers underneath potted plants, concave-shaped trash can lids, upside down food lids and discarded soda cans are all places where standing water can easily gather. Get in the habit of getting rid of it.

2. Provide mosquito repellent. Employers can't require employees to wear bug spray, but providing it is one way for employers to show concern for employee safety. This excellent Consumer Reports article breaks down the various mosquito sprays so you can see what's available.

3. Get back to nature. Do you know that lemongrass, geraniums and marigold plants are thought to act as natural mosquito repellents? Lemongrass is a main ingredient in citronella. Used coffee grounds can also be sprinkled around flower beds and in places where standing water has already accumulated. If you're repelled by what comes out of the office coffee maker, then mosquitoes will dislike it even more. It might be worth a try? Let us know if it works.

4. Analyze upcoming business travel. Can an employer require you to attend an international business conference? Can you as a manager pull a pregnant employee off a project that requires extensive travel to Zika hot zones? What if an employee refuses to travel somewhere because he's worried about Zika? Can you make employees get a medical checkup upon return? Read this article.

5. Wear clothing that covers you. It's summer, and you want to show off more skin at work! However, it may be wise to invest in summer-weight long pants, long-sleeve shirts and shoes that cover your feet. It's all in the name of greater skin protection. Look for long, loose, and light-colored clothing.

6. Educate employees. Some employers, such as Kimberly Clark, are taking the time to educate employees about the Zika virus. The CDC offers fact sheets and posters that can be downloaded and shared with employees. Knowledge is power.

7. Ponder contingency plans. How would the work get done if an employee were to contract the Zika virus? And how would management reassure worried co-workers? Take a few moments to think about how the company would work though these issues. With any luck, you won't have to put your plan into action but it's good planning to know what you would do beforehand.

This post is merely scratching the surface, but it's a start. Feel free to share your tips too, so we can all learn together. Take care, and have a happy, healthy summer.


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