Businesses foresee problems in widespread H1N1 flu outbreak

BOSTON — In a national survey of businesses that looks at their preparations for a possible widespread H1N1 outbreak, Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that only one third believe they could sustain their business without severe operational problems if half their workforce were absent for two weeks because of H1N1.

Just one-fifth believe they could avoid such problems for one month with half their employees out, according to the survey released in September.

The survey also found that while 74 percent of businesses offer paid sick leave for employees, only 35 percent of businesses offer paid leave that would allow employees to take care of sick family members, and even fewer — 21 percent — would allow paid time off to care for children if schools/daycares were closed.

The survey is part of an ongoing series about the country's response to the H1N1 flu outbreak undertaken by the Harvard Opinion Research Program at HSPH. The polling was done July 16 to Aug. 12.

"Businesses need to start planning how to adjust their operations to account for greater absenteeism and to slow the spread of H1N1 in the workplace," said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at HSPH.