Unions -- in particular the National Nurses United in the wake of recent events at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas -- have been vocal about the importance of protecting workers from exposure to Ebola (and, long prior to Ebola, to other infectious diseases, though unions have also opposed mandatory flu vaccines). Unions representing nurses and other healthcare workers will no doubt continue to be vocal to the extent they perceive management is not providing workers sufficient preventative training, equipment or other support. Employers should remain attuned to employee concerns, whether expressed formally or informally, being especially sensitive to issues such as:
- Are employees expressing concern about how transparent the facility is being about risks and efforts to address those risks?
- Is there sufficient communication about training, protocols, and the facilities’ plan for addressing an Ebola diagnosis or other future contingencies?
- Are employees expressing that they don’t feel like they have a forum to express their concerns?
Failure to do so may provide a union with an opportunity to exploit actual or perceived weaknesses in your employees and to use the fear of Ebola as the “hook” to prove how unions can benefit employees.
If you already have a union at your facility, you may be curious how and if you need to consult the union(s) prior to making any changes to Ebola protocols or policies. It depends, of course, on the specific language your collective bargaining agreement but employers would be well-served to communicate early and often with union leadership on Ebola-related issues.
Communication is key to minimizing misunderstandings and making clear to employees (and their bargaining unit representatives) that the employer is taking appropriate steps to safeguard employees while providing high-quality patient care.
The issues surrounding Ebola continue to evolve and are fact-specific. Employers should consult their legal counsel to discuss specific situations and strategies.