Sept. 9, 2009 -- A new survey shows that most U.S. businesses are concerned
that swine flu will have a negative effect on business if cases are widespread
and severe this fall and winter.
The survey, conducted in July and August by the Harvard Opinion Research
Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, included key decision makers at
1,057 U.S. businesses, most of which offer employees at least some paid sick
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When participants were asked how likely they thought it was that swine flu
may be "much more widespread and possibly more severe" than it was this spring,
about half -- 52% -- said that was at least "somewhat" likely.
If that scenario happened, 84% of participants said they would be "very" or
"somewhat" concerned that it would negatively impact their business.
Nearly all participants -- 96% -- agreed that it's better for sick employees
to stay home. And 49% said they would consider changing company policies to
make it easier for workers to stay home when sick or when they need to care for
sick family members.
Most companies said they could handle some swine flu absenteeism, but not
without major problems if a lot of workers were affected.
For instance, 73% of participants said their company could avoid severe
operational problems if 20% of their workers were absent for two weeks.
But if a third of their employees were out for that long, only 44% of
companies said they could handle that without having severe operational
problems, and only 33% were as confident about their ability to cope if half of
their workers were out for two weeks.
Two weeks may be longer than what most swine flu patients need to
In August, the CDC issued
guidelines for businesses about how to handle swine flu. Those guidelines
note that businesses should "expect sick employees to be out for about 3 to 5
days in most cases, even if antiviral medications are used."
People with flu-like symptoms should stay home from work (or school or other
activities) until they have been free of fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit), or
signs of a fever, for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing
The new survey, which was funded by the CDC, has a margin of error of 4.2