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Businesses coughing up dearly for flu outbreaks

Red eye, sick, hayfever

The common cold is costing the business community big dollars each year, as debate continues to rage around the costs of paid sick leave versus presenteeism.

Presenteeism – coming to work while sick – is said to have cost the Australian economy $34.1 billion and 6.5 days worth of productivity per employee. And that study, conducted by health insurer Medibank, as conducted back in 2009-10, indicates the financial cost in 2018 is likely to be much higher.

A spokesperson for the Immunisation Coalition (formerly Influenza Specialist Group) said a large part of presenteeism is due directly to the flu, over and above the 1.5 million work days lost in actual sick leave.


“2017 had the biggest flu season on record,” the spokesperson told My Business.

In addition to sick workers operating at reduced capacity because of their illness, turning up at work while unwell can cause two main knock-on effects: spreading their germs to co-workers, and risking complications resulting in them becoming even more unwell.

Yet despite these risks, 90 per cent of workers admitting to attending work while suffering symptoms of the flu.

“The virus remains active for up to eight hours after touching something,” the spokesperson said.

Demonstrating this point, the Immunisation Coalition conducted an experiment using ultraviolet powder to recreate the spread of germs (see video below):



Business leaders have been criticised for taking a short-term view of the cost of employee sick leave, and fostering a culture where taking legitimate sick leave is frowned upon.

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016. 

The two-time Publish Awards finalist has an extensive journalistic career across business, property and finance, including a four-year stint in the UK. Email Adam at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Businesses coughing up dearly for flu outbreaks
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