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Emergency-response plan helps employees get back to productive work

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SAN FRANCISCO — Employers should implement crisis-response plans that include a support component to prevent employees from becoming distracted and compromising workplace safety, experts say.

Crisis management isn't just for large-scale events, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or Superstorm Sandy, Les Kertay, Chattanooga, Tennessee-based chief medical officer for crisis management firm R3 Continuum, said during Disability Management Employer Coalition's 2015 conference in San Francisco.

Mr. Kertay spoke during a Tuesday session about curbing presenteeism and absenteeism when business operations are disrupted. The company supports organizations in instances that range from company downsizing to a robbery of the business to a longtime employee dying.

“Those are everyday events,” Mr. Kertay said. “Why is an employer bringing us out to talk to their people when a beloved colleague dies unexpectedly? They're doing it for two reasons: One reason is they want to take care of their people; they're also interested in people being and staying productive or getting back to productivity as quickly as possible.”

Employers that do offer crisis-response counseling also are taking steps to provide employees with a safe workplace, which can protect employers against litigation later, Jeff Gorter, Wyoming, Michigan-based vice president of employee assistance program corporate relations at the Crisis Care Network, said during the session.

Workplace safety is a main reason many employers in high-hazard industries, such the energy industry, provide post-crisis support, Mr. Gorter said. A worker who's distracted even briefly could have an accident or put other workers at risk, he added.

“Everyone is an expert on their last disaster,” Mr. Gorter said. “Everybody knows what to do for the one that just passed.”

What employers should do is develop an “all-hazards approach” that includes universal strategies to return employees to productive work, he said.

At Optum Inc., each office has an emergency-response team that helps other employees during a business disruption or a disaster, such as an earthquake, Ruth Kenzelmann, San Francisco-based vice president of employee assistance programs and worklife services at UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s health services platform, said during the session.

Each Optum office practices its emergency-response plan yearly, she said.

Citing 2013 research by Aberdeen Group Inc., Ms. Kenzelmann said one hour of downtime due to a workplace disruption costs $8,581 for small companies, $215,638 for medium-size companies and $686,250 for large companies.

“There's value in doing something to move people forward,” she said.