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What do I say about Ebola to my employees?

It is there everywhere you turn - in the headlines, the lead story on the evening news, on blogs and websites - Ebola. A real - if somewhat remote - health risk. And, suddenly, it is not quite so remote. People are concerned, including your employees. One way for HR professionals and managers to respond to employee concern is to leave it to the health professionals to address the issue. The better option - meet the challenge head-on and talk about it. Use the opportunity to remind employees about the practical health issues, the appropriate response and direct them to expert guidance.

First and foremost, we can remind employees about practical actions we can all take every day to prevent the transmission of disease, including colds and seasonal flu. The Centers for Disease Control offers this advice for those traveling to an area with an Ebola outbreak:"Practice careful hygiene. For example, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with blood and body fluids" - a simple precaution that everyone can easily take. Remind your employees about these precautions at every opportunity - through posters, email messages and any other communication vehicle you use. In addition, companies may consider providing hand-sanitizers for use by employees at high-traffic areas, including restrooms and employee break rooms.

The other important step HR professionals and managers can take is to direct employees to accurate information, not sensationalized news reports. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is regularly updating its website ( as the current situation evolves. 

For more complex questions, e.g., should I allow my employees to travel to regions with Ebola outbreaks, or how do I handle an employee who happened to be on the plane with the woman diagnosed with Ebola, we encourage you to contact your local health authority for the most up-to-date guidance. You can reach out to the CDC or, if you are located in a large metropolitan area, you likely have a state and city agency addressing the situation as well.

Practical precautions that are reinforced often within the workplace combined with timely and accurate information can lessen the panic factor, ease fears and potentially lead to a safer, healthier workplace.