Litigation Value: Nada, but a close shave; it’s lucky Dwight is clumsy and didn’t manage to insecticide-bomb his co-workers.
Whoa, Mama. It’s been a rocky start to the New Year for the staff of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton office. With Jim working part-time and spending days on end in Philadelphia, Pam is struggling to cope with the kids (Cece and Phillip at home, and everyone else at work) all on her own. And things go from bad to worse when Cece comes down with a case of lice, which she spreads to Pam, who unwittingly gives the nasties to half the office.
Meredith is the first victim, and the entire office jumps to the conclusion that she’s to blame, while Pam guiltily keeps quiet about Cece’s condition. (Well — wouldn’t you assume it was Meredith?) Taking the bull by the horns, Meredith shaves her head, while Erin conducts a lice removal seminar for the rest of the victims (Angela, Oscar, Creed, Pete and Stanley) — leading to some hilarity as the infected group spends the day with mayonnaise on their heads.
I sympathized with Pam’s predicament, even more than usual because this is my first episode back from maternity leave. My baby daughter hasn’t encountered other kids yet, but the time will surely come when she’s bringing plenty of germs home from daycare and school, and I’m dreading it. I cringed when the office ganged up on Pam after her mom blabbed her secret culpability over speakerphone, although Pam certainly deserved a scolding for letting Meredith take the fall. (I do think my co-workers will be much more understanding if I bring kiddo germs to the office — they’re good people — but I’m going to try not to, nonetheless, and I’ll always come clean.)
Watching the Dunder Mifflinites freak out about their lice breakout, I started thinking about other germs and illnesses and how they run rampant through many offices. It’s predictable, really, especially during flu season. When people work in close quarters, they’re bound to share germs, despite best efforts at prevention.
This season is particularly bad for the flu (some cities have declared public health emergencies; my daughter’s pediatrician had 40 kids to see on the day of our last appointment), and companies would be wise to take preventative measures. While it may not be a litigation issue, it’s certainly a productivity issue; no employer wants half the workforce to be felled by a nasty virus.
— Some employers may choose to offer free or low-cost flu shots in the office, hand out bottles of hand sanitizer and free tissues, or provide disinfecting wipes for employees to clean their work spaces at the end of the day. Computer keyboards and telephones are particularly culpable in the spread of germs, and all employees should be encouraged to keep them as clean as possible.
— Employers also may consider being lenient with breaks to encourage employees to wash their hands frequently, since handwashing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs.
— And if an employee does fall ill, companies can permit liberal use of sick leave — even adding days or instituting a leave bank from which employees can “borrow time” if they run out — to encourage people to stay home as long as they’re contagious, rather than rushing back to work only to infect others.
Fortunately, since the flu season began early, we can hope it will end early. But there will always be more germs. It may not be lice, and it may not be flu, but employers would be smart to encourage their workforce to practice good illness prevention techniques at any time. And don’t go too hard on the parents who bring their kids’ germs into the workplace — unless, of course, they let you take the fall for them and you end up shaving your head as a result. Then all bets are off.