Swine flu: research shows virus has caused absenteeism in two-thirds of firms

A survey of HR professionals conducted by law firm Eversheds shows swine flu is already within two-thirds of their organisations, and that most are increasing sanitation and putting in contingency plans for the expected autumn swine flu resurgence.

Eversheds’ survey of more than 420 HR professionals across the UK indicates the majority (72%) have already suffered absenteeism due to swine flu. The vast majority (87%) have introduced sanitation measures such as instigating extra cleaning and offering anti-bacterial products to workers.

In addition, 86% are using some HR measures to protect their organisations, such as planning increasing provision for flexible/home-working and committing to spreading key worker skills and knowledge.

Looking ahead, the findings reveal widespread concern over the potential future implications of employee absenteeism, with 38% of businesses believing they will lose revenue and 21% indicating they expect to have to close or part close premises. However, perhaps as a sign of the economic times, nearly half of all respondents (49%) said that swine flu was only one of a number of priorities their organisation faced.

Martin Warren, head of employment law at Eversheds international law firm, says: “Our survey of HR professionals at the coal face of UK businesses reveals that the majority of organisations are already feeling the impact of swine flu and are planning for a further escalation this autumn.

“Clearly there are practical measures to help keep swine flu at bay. All organisations should have a contingency plan in place that addresses the risk of swine flu and tackles business continuity issues should the virus take hold. At a micro level, this may include the redeployment of staff, hiring additional agency labour, increasing stand-by cover for key operational roles, and the temporary shutdown of infected workplaces.

“Ultimately, only those organisations that are fleet-of-foot in their preparations for a future escalation of the pandemic stand to be best protected if the flu takes hold this autumn. Given how quickly the illness can strike and spread, deciding to only tackle the problem when it becomes apparent could debilitate many organisations, particularly those with smaller workforces.”

Key survey findings:


  • 87% of businesses have introduced general sanitation provisions
  • 75% are distributing information leaflets
  • 61% are using antibacterial sanitisers
  • 22% have implemented a new or revised hygiene policy
  • 13% have introduced no such provisions.

HR measures

  • 86% have already put in place HR-related measures to address the issue
  • 70% requiring employees to stay away from work when infected
  • 28% introducing increased home and other flexible working
  • 20% offering paid leave for employees to contain an infection
  • 14% have put no HR policies in place.


  • 49% see the threat of an escalation in swine flu as one of a number of priorities
  • 26% view the threat as a high priority
  • 25% view swine flu as a low priority.

Future plans

  • 38% have committed to increasing home and flexible working
  • 30% will spread key worker skills and knowledge
  • 22% will ban on non-essential travel
  • 16% may shutdown of infected workplaces temporarily
  • 25% have committed to no measures.

About the survey

  • 429 UK businesses from a wide variety of sectors with between one and more than 3,000 employees took part in the Eversheds research during July and August 2009.

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