A workplace epidemic can bring the operations of the business to a halt. If the
mail clerk comes to work with the flu and gives it to every secretary, three
days later most of the secretarial force may call in sick. If the doughnut vendor
gives everyone hepatitis A, the onset of the disease will not be simultaneous,
but the disease will last long enough that at some point many workers will be
absent. In years past, it was common to close the elementary school for an
epidemic of a childhood disease. High-technology service industries that are
dependent on skilled personnel are particularly vulnerable: “Between August
18 and December 25, 1987, 116 employees at the three futures exchanges in
Chicago developed clinically diagnosed mumps. Three cases subsequently
occurred in household contacts of affected exchange employees. Twenty-one
persons developed complications; nine were hospitalized.” [Mumps in the
workplace—Chicago. MMWR. 1988;37: 533–538.] The direct medical costs
were over $56,000, with the total work loss probably in excess of 700 days.
The potential tort liability was significant: the mumps virus induced premature
labor in a pregnant employee. Fortunately, the labor was arrested, preventing
a premature birth with the attendant liability for possible injury to the infant.
The report of this epidemic does not discuss whether any of the infected men
were rendered sterile. This corporate epidemic was costly and completely
preventable. Yet like most other employers, the futures exchange did not
recognize communicable diseases as a workplace issue.