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'Working from home could curb spread of swine flu'

Employers were urged today to allow staff to work from home in a bid to halt the spread of swine flu.

The call came amid fears that the pandemic could lead to absence rates of 50%, at a cost to the economy of £50 billion.

Businesses believe the first wave of swine flu is likely to peak in late August or early September when staffing levels in offices and factories will be lower anyway because of holidays.

Computer specialist the PC Support Group said firms should take advantage of mobile and remote technology to allow employees to work from home and help control high levels of staff sickness.

Managing director Phil Bird said absence rates for most firms could be around 12%, but he warned the figure could be much higher for smaller companies.

"While 12% may not seem an extremely worrying percentage, you have to take into account that smaller companies only have a limited number of staff. They are therefore likely to lose much higher percentages, which in some cases could be up to 50%.

"Companies need to start preparing for soaring absentee rates before the peak of the virus hits the UK's business community.

"Swine flu can vary in seriousness and, in a number of cases, particularly towards the end of the illness, sufferers will be able to work although, due to being contagious, may still not be able to return to the workplace, extending their absence.

"For many smaller companies this loss could even lead to them going out of business if they don't plan ahead."

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