Swine flu bill could hit £1.5bn a day for business if pandemic takes hold

A swine flu outbreak in the UK could cost employers £1.5bn a day, with up to a quarter of the country’s workforce potentially going off sick, Personnel Today has learned.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) told the magazine that if one in four staff were off work because of swine flu at any one time, as the government has warned may be the case if a pandemic takes hold, the predicted the cost to the UK economy would reach £7.5bn-per-week. The sum could be significantly reduced if companies act now to implement provisions for staff to work at home, including supplying laptops and back-ups of contacts lists, a spokesman said.

“Employers should keep in touch with the Department of Health, their GP practices and ensure contingency plans are in place to maintain contact with their banks, suppliers and customers,” he said.

Just hours after the first two cases of swine flu hit the UK, the Department of Health said a quarter of employees could be off sick at once, if the pandemic took hold here.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said employers must prepare for a swine flu outbreak. “In case of a pandemic, employers should formulate clear advice for staff on the symptoms of the virus and the importance of staying at home and seeking medical advice at the soonest opportunity.”

Yesterday the Department of Health published its Pandemic Flu: Guidance for Business which outlined what HR functions should do if the outbreak takes hold in the UK.

The department’s advice to employers included displaying signs telling those infected not to enter the building and reminding them of the importance of basic hygiene, considering alternatives to direct meetings, reducing interaction by staggering lunch breaks, and asking staff to maintain at a distance of one metre from other people.

The guidance said: “HR policies may wish to reflect the impact of a pandemic on departments and be sensitive to staff needs during times of caring for family members or even bereavement.”

The death toll in Mexico, where swine flu originated, has reached 150.

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