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Here there be Zika dragons - but how brave do employees have to be?

As quickly as the Zika virus is spreading, public health officials and businesses are struggling to keep up with warnings and policy changes. The Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of Health has issued a public health emergency for seven counties to date -- Broward, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Osceloa, Santa Rosa and St. Johns -- following 16 confirmed cases of the virus in the state. But what does that mean?

The virus is transmitted through the bite of the mosquito genus Aedes, for the most part. There have also been cases of human-to-human transmission, notably from pregnant women to their unborn or newly born babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

For those mothers and their babies, though, there is apparently more at risk than just a rash and a fever. Zika has been linked to an increased incidence of microcephaly in Brazil. A baby with the condition has an abnormally small head and, as a result, is at significant risk of having developmental challenges. Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious, albeit rare, autoimmune disorder.  

Governments can issue travel warnings, and states can declare health emergencies, but workers are wondering what their options are. In the travel industry, for example, the refusal of an assignment to a high-risk area may result in discipline or termination. For business travelers, too, the risk of infection may not be enough to turn down an assignment.

Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines has waived cancellation penalties for pregnant women whose scheduled trips would take them to affected locations. Carnival is also among the companies that are allowing workers to adjust their schedules to avoid affected areas. Please note that the policy extends to all workers, not just women of child-bearing age.

That's the travel industry, though. What about the rest of the business community? We'll continue this in our next post.

Source: Business Insurance, "Lawyers see limited legal options for workers sent in Zika's way," Thomson Reuters, Feb. 8, 2016

For updated information on travel, check the CDC's Zika Travel Information website.

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