Employers are being urged to put staff contingency plans in place as freezing weather conditions continue to grip the UK at an estimated cost to the economy of £1.2bn a day.
The staggering estimate by leading global insurer RSA comes as a separate study of 250,000 staff showed that one in ten workers was off work today.
Absence management firm FirstCare, which collated the findings, said the figure was the highest on record for this time of year and attributed almost half the number to the bitter cold spell.
Aaron Ross, FirstCare CEO said the issues commuters faced with transport on Monday and Tuesday had convinced employees to stay at home and not head into work today, which had lead to the second highest absence rates of the year so far.
And with the snow, ice and freezing temperatures set to continue into the weekend, employers could face scaled down workforces for days to come.
"With only Thursday and Friday left this week we are expecting the absence levels to increase further," Ross said. "The message for employers is clear; if your staff haven't made it in over the last few days they probably won't be in at all this week."
Ross also urged HR departments to communicate with staff about their operating plans given the icy conditions. "We had a case today where an employee travelled for four hours to make it into work in London only to find that the employer had shut the office. On the way home she slipped on ice and sprained her ankle; now she is likely to be absent for a week," he said.
The Confederation of British Industry has warned that employers should take a "common sense approach" to staff not coming into work and, where appropriate, allow them to work remotely from home when bad weather makes travelling too difficult or dangerous.
David Greaves, director at RSA said the chilly weather could not have come at a worse time in the run up to Christmas. "If we lose just one fifth of our daily GDP through companies not being able to open and people cancelling spending plans on events and shopping we're looking at about £1.2bn every working day," he said.
The RSA advised business to take extra precautions including: encouraging staff to work from home, ensuring premises are salted and gritted and telling employees to plan alternative routes to work.