When a bedbug infestation recently hit Buzzfeed's New York City headquarters, the chief communication officer ordered employees to work from home. The office was open a short time before fumigation to allow employees to grab their laptops, but employees were cautioned not to take items that had been on the floor.
Bedbugs, tiny parasites that feed on human blood at night, are usually found in homes or hotels, where people sleep, but not in the workplace. However, they can hitch a ride to work in purses, briefcases, or on clothing.
The removal is tricky because even if they are exterminated in the workplace, unless the source is found and stops re-introducing them into the work environment, the problem can reoccur.
The other challenge is managing the employee (if this can be determined), who has brought the infestation to work, without undue embarrassment and creating liability. Some employers, experts report, offer paid leave to allow the employee to deal with the problem in the home.
Employers must address a bug issue to avoid worker's compensation claims, based on an infested workplace or negligence claims a third-party might file based on the physical or psychological detriment of exposure. Dana Wilkie and Allen Smith "What to Do When Bedbugs Bite at Work," www.shrm.org (Jun. 28, 2017).
So, the question for our readers is: What would you do if your workplace became infested?
Please let us know what you think in the comment section or take the poll. Here are some opinions of some of the McCalmon editorial staff:
Jack McCalmon, Esq.
I don't believe any employer can source an employee as the cause of an infestation, unless the employee admits to being the source. The pests could have come from another office, building, or visitor. To accuse an employee or suggest an employee is the cause of infestation could lead to charges of slander or discrimination…so just don't go there.
Another source of liability is if an employer becomes infested, and employees take the infestation home. Who is responsible for the harm to the employees and their families? Most likely, the employer shares the responsibility at least in a workers' compensation claim for the employee, but in negligence as to the employee's family members.
This can spiral out of control fast, so I suggest "go heavy" on prevention, including a pest treatment plan, but also enforce your hygiene policy. (If you don't have one, go to the Knowledge Vault on this platform and view the model appearance and hygiene policy in the Leadership2™ Model Employee Handbook.)
So, if my workplace became infested, I would evacuate and would not allow any employees to come back until the issue has been resolved. Treat pest infestations like the discovery of mold in your workplace.
Kirstin Heffner, Esq.
Of course, immediate action should be taken no matter what type of "bug" infestation. If wasps, bees or something else poses an immediate risk of harm, evacuate first, talk later. I would call a professional exterminator no matter how immediate the risk. From there, your course of action depends on the "bug." Requiring employees to work remotely, addressing accountability issues, advising them on suggested health measures, and educating your workforce on how to keep the "bugs" from reappearing are all on your to-do list.
Never embarrass an employee even if you know he or she is the source of the bedbugs, lice, etc. I would educate the entire workforce on steps they must take at home before coming back to work and the risks associated with not taking these steps. If this strategy doesn't appear to be alleviating the risk, talk to the potential source in private.
You can provide a comment on what you would do or answer our poll. Please note any comments provided may be shared with others.