Today I had this issue raised twice, once by an employer and the other by an employee (separate businesses in Anchorage). With the current concern about spreading Bed Bugs through the workplace, here in Alaska and elsewhere, how do employers handle the concern of Bed Bugs spreading through their business to other employees and the offices themselves? Like the question I addressed a few weeks ago on landlord / tenant Bed Bug issues, this question too is part science and part morality. Let me begin by saying that, while not impossible, the threat of an employee with Bed Bugs in their home bringing them to work may not be as high as many think. Therefore, I urge employers to consider carefully and consult an expert before taking too desperate of an action.
It is important to realize that although Bed Bugs are good travelers, the chances of them coming into the workplace are much less than via the hospitality industry or the home and guests. Since Bed Bugs do not cling to humans like a louse, they usually get transported by being caught in an article of clothing hastily put on, or another item that they may enter being picked up and carried. Hanging on for dear life, they wait until they stop feeling the motion and hastily retreat for a better hiding spot, preferably close to a blood source. In fact, it is not uncommon for initial introductions of one to a very few Bed Bugs to self resolve due to unnatural conditions of the new environment.
In both the cases I dealt with today, and these were by no means the first we have experienced, the decision was to not allow the employee to come to work until the Bed Bug problem at home was dealt with. In one case the employer is paying for administrative leave, in the other no compensation was offered. What I see is a frustration on the part of employers to protect other workers AND their properties. However, the financial cost and embarrassment factor from such decisions do not seem to match those concerns (in this expert’s opinion). In addition, I do know there are pending lawsuits that address this issue being decided in other areas of the country, so due caution is always in order.
Therefore, the best defense against a worker bringing a Bed Bug to work is to educate them on how to avoid accidental carry AND assist them to get proper assistance in eradicating the infestation at home. As for settling the concerns of the coworkers, educating them on the unlikelihood of A — one being introduced and B — that Bed Bug finding them (or going home with them) is not high. You may also want to consider some passive or active Bed Bug Monitors to set everyone’s mind at ease. That is what I did for one of those companies today.