Few companies have made preparing for a potential influenza pandemic a top priority. Perhaps more of them should. The World Economic Forum earlier this year put the adverse economic impact of an influenza pandemic at around $500 billion. That was before the recent outbreak of swine flu sickened more than 28,000 people world-wide, leading the World Health Organization on June 11 to declare its first pandemic in 41 years. While WHO officials emphasized that most of the people infected so far have experienced mild symptoms and recovered quickly, they say the outbreak could become more serious.
Much of the cost associated with a pandemic involving a more virulent strain of flu would stem from employee absenteeism. It is estimated that 15% to 30% of employees would stay home during such a pandemic due to illness, family-care responsibilities and fear of being infected at work. The result would be to cripple operations and disrupt global supply chains. As in the credit crisis, the fallout likely would spread rapidly because of how connected the world’s economies are.
The good news is that employee absenteeism—and its financial toll on employers—may be controlled to a large extent with adequate planning and stockpiling of antiviral medication, masks and gowns.
The bad news is that few companies have taken steps to protect themselves. A 2007 survey reported at a Harvard Business School conference on pandemic planning found that while 88% of companies seemed prepared to deal with a power disruption and 70% with a technological failure, only 13% were prepared for the kind of labor-force disruption that would come with a pandemic....
Being unprepared carries potential risks, even legal ones....read more here.