Companies under pressure as hundreds take ‘swine flu sickies’

Hundreds of workers are taking ‘sickies’ and putting pressure on payroll departments as the swine flu panic sets in, according to the Institute of Payroll Professionals.

The news comes as the World Health Organisation raised the alert level from phase four to five and warned a pandemic was imminent.

Based on sickness rates from absence management company FirstCare’s database of 60,000 employees, more than 27,000 people nationwide took Monday off sick for cold, cough and flu symptoms -a figure 8.2% higher than would be expected for this time of year.

But the Institute of Payroll Professionals has warned that unauthorised absence can have a major impact on a business’s bottom line and a “ruinous effect” on a firm’s productivity.

The membership body for workers in payroll warned that some businesses would have to pay for overtime and provide wages for temporary cover, in addition to paying for staff who are off work.

Lindsay Melvin, chief executive of the IPP said: “Everybody gets sick and employers understand that the majority of absence is genuine. However, Monday’s absence figures, which coincided with outbreaks of swine flu being seen on the news were very alarming.

“Staff absence can cost employers considerable amounts of money and businesses need to put measures in place so that they can gain a true insight into absence patterns and manage them appropriately.”

Elsewhere, NHS Direct has banned staff from taking annual leave to deal with the influx of calls about swine flu.

Law experts have also warned that imposing travel bans or quarantines to protect employees from a swine flu pandemic could land HR in serious trouble as they would ignore privacy and employment law.

On Monday two cases of swine flu were confirmed in Scotland. Three cases in Redditch, North West London and Torbay have since been confirmed by health secretary Alan Johnson.

He said: “One of the best lines of defence against this potential pandemic is keeping people informed, so they are aware of the steps they can take to protect themselves and their families.”

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