Understanding the Steep Business Costs of ‘Everyday’ Illnesses

According to the American Lung Association, the average American suffers from between two and four colds per year. Often called the “common cold,” the illness causes symptoms like a runny nose, congestion, sneezing and a cough, and normally resolves fully within a few days.

When you consider biorisks that threaten your enterprise, you may not think of the common cold first. COVID-19, avian flu, or SARS might come to mind more readily. But what about the “normal” diseases that have been around forever? When costs are tallied, these everyday illnesses can pose an enormous threat to your enterprise by costing you time, money and productivity. In order to gain a competitive edge, it’s crucial to take these diseases and their prevention in the workplace seriously, too.

Minor illnesses can cost you major time and money

When your employees are out sick, your enterprise pays a price. More people are staying home sick now than ever before – more than 1.5 million Americans called in sick in December 2022 alone. And that’s a good thing.

It’s best that employees stay home when they’re sick. They need rest to recover, and their coworkers need a virus-free workplace. Company policies should continue to encourage sick employees to stay home, as workplace outbreaks of even minor diseases can have extensive costs.

In 2020, CNBC reported that the common cold costs the US economy around $40 billion each year in terms of missed work and school days. In 2003, the University of Michigan Health System reported that parents were missing an average of 126 million workdays to care for kids who had colds. Employers also pay for common illnesses in other ways: for instance, the common cold results in around 100 million yearly doctor visits, which contribute to higher healthcare costs for businesses.

The bottom line? Your enterprise can expect to lose a significant number of work hours when employees call out with colds, coughs and sore throats. Pressuring them to come in to work sick, however, is not the solution.

How sniffles and sore throats can slash productivity

“Sniffles and sore throats,” we aren’t talking about infections like Strep A, RSV and influenza. These illnesses can be much more serious than the common cold, and when your employees are suffering with that level of illness, they generally don’t feel well enough to report to work.

The cold, however, can leave employees feeling miserable but technically able to struggle through the workday. Sadly, employees’ anxiety about calling in sick has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many workers worry about how sick days will impact their career in the long run, and they’ll often come to work without being fully present – a phenomenon known as “presenteeism.” According to the Harvard Business Review, “presenteeism” costs US employers around $150 billion each year.

The need for policies that mitigate risks of everyday illnesses

When employees don’t show up for work, you may end up paying more than just their wages. You may need to pay overtime or incentives to encourage other employees to take up the slack. The quality of your product may suffer, project timelines may have to change and decision-making meetings may have to be postponed. All of these setbacks can pose opportunities for your competitors to get ahead.

Sick employees in your workplace, however, will contribute to further disease spread. Is there any way to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism while promoting employee health at the same time? With strategic policy-making on your part, it’s possible to strike this delicate balance.

Workplace policies that actually work

With these challenges in mind, here are some policies and procedures that can effectively address common illnesses in the workplace.

Develop robust work-from-home capabilities

Work from home is on the decline. In fact, in one year’s time, the percentage of full-time workers at home has dropped from 32.4% to 27.2%. Should your enterprise participate in this trend?

Whether you require employees to work onsite or not, it’s important to maintain flexibility in this area. If you’re able to quickly pivot to a work-from-home setup for individual team members when needed, you’ll have a powerful tool to help minimize the spread of communicable diseases. And they can allow parents the ability to care for sick children and also tend to their work.

Create a work culture that promotes long-term wellness

If employees’ lifestyles are unhealthy overall, they’ll be more susceptible to contagious diseases. Stress, lack of sleep, an unhealthy diet and smoking can all take their toll on the immune system. While people with healthy lifestyles can still get sick, you can significantly reduce your employees’ risk by promoting their overall well-being with gym access, mental health services, stress management and nutritional counseling.

Creating a workplace that fosters autonomy, creativity and independent problem-solving can also have a real impact on your team’s overall health. In fact, demanding jobs that offer no sense of control are associated with a host of long-term health risks, like diabetes and heart disease, that can leave your employees more vulnerable to common illnesses.

Design common sense leave and schedule policies

Reducing the pressure on sick employees to come to work is one of the most crucial steps for limiting workplace disease spread. We recommend several proven practices for combating this issue:

  • Ask employees to stay home when sick, or leave work immediately if symptoms begin
  • Provide flexible leave and alternative scheduling options
  • Maintain adequate staffing and provide cross-training so that an employee’s absence does not hinder daily operations
  • Develop a culture that promotes employees staying out of the office when ill

Environmental disease control

We learned a lot about contagious disease from the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of those lessons can be applied to diseases like the common cold. Measures like social distancing, masking and disinfecting common areas can limit disease spread among employees. It is no accident that many of us had no colds during the time when we were masked in the office or working from home. Those measures, although they have downsides, definitely limit virus spread in the workplace. For a large operation that spans multiple sites, careful oversight and additional staffing will likely be necessary to effectively implement these policies.

During the COVID-19 era, we have learned much more about how effective, yet unobtrusive, improved indoor air ventilation and filtration can be. It markedly reduces COVID-19 spread, as well as spread of other common viruses like influenza and rhinovirus. It also is helpful when less common, yet dangerous, pathogens like measles arise in offices. In-room air filtration units with HEPA filters are low cost ways to make most workplaces safer. Exploring opportunities to add such filters or improve indoor ventilation can pay big dividends to creating a healthy workplace. Improved ventilation also has been shown to lead to improved productivity. These measures can be win-win situations for employees and risk managers.

Mitigate threats on every front with the PHC Pharos Platform

Your business needs robust policies and procedures in place to mitigate the threats posed by everyday illnesses. When it comes to colds and flus, the question is not if they will happen, but how you’ll meet the challenge when they do.

The same is true of emerging large-scale threats, like epidemics, pandemics and new diseases.The PHC Pharos Platform offers actionable insights and solutions to address biorisks that pose novel threats to your business. Relying on diverse data sets, AI and machine-learning technology, this tool enables you to assess biorisks and make timely, relevant recommendations to protect your organization. Watch our video or schedule a demo to learn more about PHC Global and the PHC Pharos Platform.

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Dave Komendat retired as the Vice President and Chief Security Officer for The Boeing Company, a role he held for 14 years of his 36 years within the security profession. Komendat was responsible for the company’s global security and fire protection policy and procedures, site security, executive protection, supply chain and aviation security, structural and aircraft fire protection, government and proprietary information security, classified cyber security, strategic intelligence, international security, business continuity and disaster preparedness, Global Security Operations Center, and security background investigations.


Komendat was also the lead Boeing interface for both national and international security policy engagement with numerous government and industry advisory groups. He represented Boeing as past co-chairman and current board member on the Domestic Security Alliance Council, past President of The International Security Management Association and served as a member of the Threats and Information Committee for the Overseas Security Advisory Council.  


Komendat is the founder and President of DSKomendat Risk Management Services, he also serves on several company advisory boards and holds board leadership roles with several non-profit organizations whose missions are to protect people globally, including Hostage U.S. and The International Security Foundation. Dave is also a Strategic Engagement Advisor for the Office of Private Sector within the FBI. In 2018, Dave was awarded the Director’s Award for Exceptional Public Service by FBI Director Christopher Wray.


Komendat graduated from California State University at Long Beach and also attended and completed the executive development program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Dr. Carter Mecher serves as the Medical Advisor for the Public Health Company. 


Prior to joining PHC, Carter served as a Senior Medical Advisor for the Office of Public Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In this position, Dr. Mecher played a key role in the COVID-19 outbreak response. 


From 2005 to 2011, he served as the Director of Medical Preparedness Policy at the White House Homeland Security Council and National Security Staff. He was a principal author of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan. In this capacity, he helped set policy and devise strategies to mitigate the consequences of a pandemic and promote pandemic preparedness. 


Before serving at the White House, Dr. Mecher was the Chief Medical Officer for the Southeast VA Network in Atlanta from 1996 to 2005. In this role he oversaw the healthcare delivery for veterans in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. 


Dr. Mecher is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War, an in-depth examination of the U.S. response to the pandemic. In addition, he is featured in Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition.


Dr. Mecher received his medical degree from Chicago Medical School and completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in critical care medicine at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.

Dr. Joe DeRisi is a Scientific Advisor to PHC. He is one of the early pioneers of DNA microarray technology and whole genome expression profiling; he is nationally recognized in the field of genomic epidemiology for designing a first-of-its-kind initiative for COVID-19. Joe currently serves as Co-President of Chan Zuckerberg BioHub and is a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at University of California, San Francisco. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford University.

Dr. Sumiko Mekaru is the Vice President of Research and Innovation at The Public Health Company. Dr. Mekaru is an epidemiologist operating at the intersection of traditional epidemiology and technology and leading cross-disciplinary teams to solve challenges in public health. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Mekaru was a Life Sciences Strategy, Policy, and Operations Expert at Booz Allen Hamilton where she recently led the development of COVID-19 forecasting models for disease transmission, resource utilization, and critical events for the Department of Defense. Dr. Mekaru has also led health technology teams at Epidemico and Boston Children’s Hospital, creating innovative health surveillance tools. She has published extensively on infectious disease outbreak monitoring, modeling, and surveillance. Dr. Mekaru holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University and a PhD in epidemiology from Boston University.

Justin McIntosh is an experienced professional with 10+ years in management and 8+ years in software engineering. Currently, he is the Vice President of Operations at The Public Health Company. His journey began in college when he co-founded Safe Site, a utility services company, which expanded to operations in three states with over 300 employees. After a successful exit, he founded Docusite, a construction risk management application, diving into software engineering. Despite challenges with Docusite, Justin’s passion for technology led him to various roles before landing at The Public Health Company.


In his current role, Justin is tackling the challenging task of improving operations in a remote environment. He is dedicated to his role and is always open to sharing experiences and insights. He is committed to nurturing effective teams, improving operations, and shaping innovative solutions. His focus is on creating a positive, growth-oriented environment and mentoring emerging leaders, reflecting his commitment to collective success.

Lori Sutton is the Vice President of Marketing at The Public Health Company. She is a strategic marketing visionary and global brand leader with 20+ years of progressive experience in B2B/B2C SaaS software marketing in large enterprise and SMB markets. She has expertise in leading strategy development, overhauling brands, launching products and driving growth in target verticals. Prior to joining PHC, Lori was the Vice President of Marketing and Growth at SMS-Magic, where she led the global GTM strategy, orchestrated a brand overhaul, developed new messaging and positioning and launched revenue generating campaigns. Lori held marketing and management roles at Model N, Bullet Point Network, Saba and other SaaS software companies where she focused on marketing strategy, business objectives and analytics to drive revenue.

Lori holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, an Executive Education in Corporate Strategy at Harvard Business School and continues coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Craig Katsuyama is the Vice President of Administrative Services at PHC. He brings extensive experience building companies from the ground up and was instrumental to the launch of IEX Group in 2012, which challenged the status quo of financial markets and created an entirely new stock exchange that works for all investors. Craig spent the last eight years at IEX where he built and oversaw the accounting and finance teams before transitioning to help establish IEX’s Event Stream business, a data messaging platform that applies IEX’s core technology to areas outside of finance. Craig graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Economics.

Dr. David Fisk is the Chief Medical Officer at The Public Health Company. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Fisk served as an Infectious Disease Specialist at Sansum Clinic.  He serves as the Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Cottage Health, leading the infection control team at Cottage, working with physicians and hospital leaders on the COVID Incident Command Center to ensure the highest level of preparation and care for patients. In early March 2020, before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Santa Barbara County, Dr. Fisk advised that the virus was already spreading locally before community members were observing symptoms.


Dr. Fisk completed his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Diseases fellowship at University of Michigan Medical Center. He is board certified in Infectious Diseases and a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Chris Latko is the Chief Technology Officer at PHC. He joined as a Principal Software Architect where he played a key role in building out the platform. He has over 25 years experience in the technology sector holding positions at companies he started, Fortune 500 companies, and a multitude of startups both in the United States and Japan. He has spent the last decade designing, refining, and reimplementing architectures for hypergrowth startups such as Boxfish, Paxata (acquired by DataRobot), Banjo, and Globality. Chris earned two patents for designing a streaming data ingestion/data normalization platform.

Kendall Burman serves as PHC’s General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining PHC, Burman held leadership roles at Alloy, a data and technology start-up for the progressive political market. Burman previously served as the Deputy General Counsel for Strategic Initiatives at the Department of Commerce and as Associate White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the President in the Obama Administration. She was also a counsel in the cybersecurity and data privacy practice at Mayer Brown and served as Chief Staff Counsel for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.


Burman is a graduate of Bowdoin College and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago where she was an editor of the law review. She was also was a fellow at both the New America Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Dr. Charity Dean is the CEO, Founder and Chairman of The Public Health Company, a venture-backed Silicon Valley technology startup. 


In August 2020 Dr. Dean founded PHC, envisioning a commercial-grade global biosecurity platform to empower enterprises to manage biorisk at scale. Dr. Dean’s obsession with building a new solution was born out of 24 years in public health and the recognition that Silicon Valley innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning could birth this entirely new capability. Two years later PHC PharosTM is a game-changer for numerous businesses providing real-time, dynamic risk management across their global footprint and assets. 


Dr. Dean founded PHC having served as the Assistant Director for the California Department of Public Health where she was part of the executive team under Governor Newsom running the COVID-19 pandemic response. She co-founded and co-chaired California’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force and under her leadership, California went from ranking last in the nation for testing to first in three months. In 2019, Dr. Dean served as Acting State Public Health Officer overseeing 4,300 staff with an annual operating budget of $3.5 billion. 


Before her move to statewide office, she served as the Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County and oversaw a myriad of disease outbreaks and biological threats; she also served as attending physician for TB, HIV, and homeless medicine at the Santa Barbara Health Care Centers. 


Dr. Dean was awarded Physician of the Year in 2018 by the Central Coast Medical Association and honored as one of the Women of the Year by the California State Legislature.


Dr. Dean is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War. Her work during the pandemic is the focus of Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition. Dr. Dean has shared her insights about the danger of biological threats and the changes we must make before the next crisis in a number of interviews and podcasts.


Dr. Dean holds a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine from Tulane University and a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Oregon State University.

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