Swine flu absence wake-up call for employers

Employers should brace themselves for swine flu staff absence rates of up to 50% for periods of between two and four weeks over the coming months, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned.

The recommendation comes as latest swine flu figures show a continuing fall in the number of people infected by the bug, with only 4,500 new cases in England in the week commencing 24 August.

However experts are still expecting a surge in cases as winter approaches, and the CIPD is urging UK businesses to consider a second wave of the outbreak in their contingency planning arrangements.

In joint guidance issued with the Business Continuity Institute, the HR body suggested employers provide cross-training of staff in critical areas so employees have the skills to fill in for absent colleagues.

They are also advised to consider remote working to prevent the spread of infection, and to increase customer self-service options such as telephone and online transactions.

The Risk and Business Continuity Management guidance also suggests keeping on top of government advice, following public health advice on efficient ways to contain the virus and providing a safe workplace by implementing rules on health reporting, office and personal hygiene, protective equipment, and working hours.

Ben Wilmott, CIPD senior public policy adviser, warned there was a “real danger” that senior management teams could ignore the threat to their business because the first wave of swine flu subsided more quickly than anticipated.

“Evidence shows that still only a minority of employers have an adequate contingency plan in place to deal with a flu pandemic, which is extremely worrying considering that staff absence levels could peak for some businesses at levels which will make business as usual extremely difficult,” he said.

“In the event of school and childcare closures, increased parent-worker absences could have a significant impact and increase employee absence rates in some areas well above the government estimate of pandemic-related staff absences of 12%.”

The CIPD report follows a swine flu guide published by Personnel Today at the peak of the outbreak in July.

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