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Business Preparations for a Possible H1N1 Outbreak: Foresee Severe Problems

Posted Sep 21 2009 10:14pm

A recent Harvard School of Public Health Survey  revealed concerns about maintaining operations if a significant or widespread H1N1 flu outbreak were to occur.   The concerns center around continuity of operations, absenteeism, sick leave policies, and other employee issues.  Highlights of the data   include:

  • Only one-third believe they could sustain their business without severe operational problems if half their workforce were absent for two weeks due to H1N1.
  • While 74% of businesses offer paid sick leave for employees, only 35% of businesses offer paid leave that would allow employees to take care of sick family members, and even fewer would allow paid time off to care for children if schools/daycares were closed (21%).
  • Just over half of businesses in the U.S. (52%) believe there will be a more widespread and more severe outbreak of novel influenza A (H1N1) in the fall. If such an outbreak does occur, 84% of firms are concerned that it will negatively affect their business.
  • Only a third of businesses believe they could avoid having severe operational problems for 2 weeks if 50% of their workforce were absent due to H1N1; less than a quarter (22%) of firms believe they could do so for a month.
  • Three-quarters (74% of businesses offer paid sick leave for at least some employees.  Fewer offer paid leave that would allow employees to take care of sick family members (35%) or to take time off to care for children if schools/daycares close (21%).

Employers will want to adopt strategies to limit contact between employees and between employees and customers and flexibility may help in some situations.  In a widespread outbreak, many people may have problems getting to see a physician (and obtaining a doctors note) due to the number of sick individuals.  Employees without sick leave who must take care of children, if they are sick or if schools and daycares, close may face financial troubles. 

Great leaders will plan for how their business will maintain operations and essential services.  This includes plans to slow the spread of H1N1 in the workplace and adjusting operations as absenteeism increases.

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