Uptick in Respiratory Illnesses Hinders Attendance, Productivity

Leah Shepherd By Leah Shepherd November 17, 2022
sick lady blowing nose

​The rapid spread of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 and the common cold this fall is causing a big wave of employee absences, with many staying at home to care for sick children or cope with closings in day cares and schools.

We've collected a group of articles on the topic from SHRM Online and other trusted news sources.

Employees Miss Work

More than 100,000 Americans missed work last month because of child care problems, an all-time high that's even greater than during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It means missed paychecks, disruptions at home, and staffing shortages that erode productivity growth and increase business costs, according to Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG.

Hospitals nationwide are at capacity because of RSV and other respiratory viruses. Workplaces are reporting unfilled shifts and lost revenue as employees call out for extended periods of time. Worker productivity posted the sharpest plunge on record in the first half of this year.

(The Washington Post)

Higher Rates

Estimated illnesses from flu this season roughly doubled over the week ending Oct. 28 to about 1.6 million, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while hospitalizations rose at a similar rate to 13,000 and estimated deaths hit 730. Although COVID-19 cases are currently low, compared to this time last year, other respiratory viruses are beginning to strain health care systems that are still recovering from pandemic burnout.

RSV hospitalization rates this season have already reached levels not typically seen until late December, when hospital admissions normally peak, according to CDC data. Young children are being hit hardest, with kids younger than six months seeing the highest hospitalization rates.


Schools Closed

At least 26 of Kentucky's 171 school systems have closed or gone remote because of widespread illness so far in November. Schools and districts in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin have had similar closures in recent weeks.


Paid-Leave Laws

The United States is one of only 11 countries with no national paid sick leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. Internationally, about half of countries allow caregiving leave for sick children; thirty-nine percent of nations allow it for adult relatives like spouses or parents.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently offer paid family and medical leave. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently require paid sick leave.

(The New York Times and National Conference of State Legislatures)

Be Prepared

Employers should anticipate that they will periodically face epidemics, pandemics and other biological threats, and take proactive steps to protect their employees and their organizations. SHRM offers a toolkit that provides a road map for managing an epidemic in the workplace, including preparing for the threat, implementing preventive measures, getting through the flu season, and managing business recovery post-epidemic.

(SHRM Online)



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