Flu Season Could Cost Employers $17 Billion

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Flu season is here, right on time to bring headaches and misery not only to millions of people but to their employers as well. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that this year’s flu season will cost U.S. businesses some $17 billion in lost productivity.

In 2018, nearly 49 million Americans caught the flu, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of that total, about 32.5 million were over the age of 25. That was the worst flu season since 2009, when nearly 61 million people were sickened by the H1N1 virus.

Challenger estimates that 20 million U.S. workers could take four eight-hour days away from work this year as a result of the flu. Based on a current employment-population ratio of 60.6%, and an average hourly wage of $27.48, the cost to U.S. businesses could top $17 billion.

Andrew Challenger, vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said, “As last year’s highly severe flu affected people across the country, the nation’s employers would be wise to start discussing prevention measures with their workforces.”

This year’s potential productivity loss is lower than the $21 billion that Challenger predicted for the 2018 flu season because the incidence of flu since late last year has been lower than it was in late 2017.

“Even if this season is less severe, which is difficult to say at this point, the impact of losing workers during the flu season is considerable, especially for smaller and mid-size firms that may not have the resources to cover absences without disrupting services to clients and customers,” Challenger added.

Challenger offered eight tips for employers to help prevent the flu from spreading:

  • Encourage getting a vaccine early and provide the information on where to get one nearby. It is never too late to protect yourself, but the earlier you receive the shot, the better.
  • Increase the number of shifts. This will reduce the number of people working in the office at one time.
  • Limit meetings. If there is no need to gather large groups of workers in a confined space, then do not do it. Conduct meetings via conference calls or video conferencing.
  • Expand telecommuting. Determine who can work from home or another location. This will keep people off of public transportation and out of the office.
  • Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs.
  • Institute flexible leave policies to allow parents to care for a sick child or one who is home due to school closures.
  • Provide no-touch trash cans, hand-washing stations, soap, and hand sanitizer.
  • Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently, avoid handshakes, and take other hygienic precautions, such as disinfecting workplace surfaces, like phones and computers.