Flu linked to record sick days, costing employers almost $10B

Employers across the country are getting pounded as this year’s flu season continues to rapidly spread, claiming a record amount of lives as well as sick days, which could cost businesses nearly $10 billion.

“Previous estimates pin the number of lost productivity to employers to about $7 billion, according to the CDC. We estimate the cost to employers will be over $9.4 billion, using wages and the number of employed,” Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement and executive coaching firm, told FOX Business.

The company said it arrived at its estimate by looking at the number of illnesses for those over the age of 18 in the previous flu season with the current employment population of 60.1% at the average hourly wage of $26.63.

“With over 11 million estimated employed adults missing four eight-hour shifts, the cost to employers could reach $9,415,586,823.84,” the company said in a statement.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said this year’s massive outbreak is a result of the dreaded H3N2, which is a particularly aggressive strain of the influenza that isn’t currently “very well-matched” with the vaccines that are being distributed across the country.

“In the making of the vaccine as it was being grown in eggs (which is the main way that we make vaccines), it got mutated a bit, so it drifted away from a really, really good match,” Fauci told FOX Business, adding that the overall effectiveness of the vaccines could only be around 30% this year.

Challenger said “the aggressive strain” could potentially take workers up to four sick days to recover causing the uptick in losses this year, but it could be even more as the estimate doesn’t take into account those workers who need to stay home to care for loved ones.

“The CDC estimated over 6 million children aged 0-17 had the flu in the 2015-2016 season, 2.2 million of whom were younger than 5 years old. The cost to employers could be much higher,” he added, urging employers to let workers with the flu stay home.

“Especially this year, with an aggressive strain spreading rapidly, workers should not ‘tough it out’ and try to go in to the office. Employers should discourage sick workers from coming in. This means companies will have to prepare for illness-related absences in advance.”

Fauci also warns that despite the potential ineffectiveness with vaccines, Americans should still get vaccinated because any degree of protection is “still better than no protection at all.”

Additionally, Challenger said employers need to be armed with information as flu season hasn’t even reached its peak yet, which will likely hit in February.

“One way to prepare is to make sure managers train staff on all responsibilities necessary to the functioning of the department in the event of team members’ absences. This will not only help prevent any lapses in work to customers and clients, but will also give employees the opportunity to increase their skill sets,” he said.

Here are a few other tips employers might want to consider this flu season.

• Increase the number of shifts. This will reduce the amount of people working in the office at one time. • Limit meetings. If there is no need to gather large groups of workers in a confined space, then do not do it. Conduct meetings via conference calls or video conferencing. • Expand telecommuting. Determine who can work from home or other locations. This will keep people off of public transportation and out of the office. • Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs. • Institute flexible leave policies to allow parents to care for an ill child or one who is home due to school closures. • Provide no-touch trash cans and hand sanitizer.