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Impact of H1N1 and seasonal flu on hours worked

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November 2009

In November, 1.5 million employed people aged 15 to 69 reported they were absent from work as a result of the H1N1 or seasonal flu, representing 9.0% of workers in that age group. On average, these absent workers lost 19.6 hours of work each, for a total of 29.5 million hours lost.

In the same month, 600,000 people in the same age group put in 8.6 million extra hours at work as a result of the H1N1 or seasonal flu. The net effect was a loss of 20.9 million hours in November.

Canada and most of the world was hit by a pandemic H1N1 influenza virus last fall, along with seasonal influenza. The Public Health Agency of Canada commissioned Statistics Canada to assess the impact of pandemic H1N1 and seasonal flu on hours worked over a three-month period, starting in November, using the Labour Force Survey.

The impact of H1N1 and seasonal flu on hours worked was comparable to that of the Ontario-US power outage in August 2003. That outage cost 2.4 million workers in Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec, 26.4 million hours of work time. Including 7.5 million overtime hours, the net effect was a loss of 18.9 million hours.

In November, 10.5% of women reported work hours lost, somewhat higher than the proportion of 7.6% among men. However, there was no difference in their average number of hours lost.

The age group most affected was workers aged 30 to 44. In November, 11.8% of workers in this age group lost hours, on average 18.8 hours each.

Provincially, flu-related absenteeism was highest among workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, where 14.2% of workers aged 15 to 69 reported lost hours. The lowest rate was in Quebec (7.6%).

In terms of average hours lost per absent worker, those in Newfoundland and Labrador lost 24.7 hours, the highest amount. Workers in Prince Edward Island had the fewest lost hours (16.2).

In November, 12.4% of employees with children lost work hours as a result of the flu, nearly twice the proportion of 6.9% among those without children. Absenteeism due to the flu was highest among those with children aged 12 and under (15.0%). However, workers who had children lost 19.1 hours on average, slightly less than the national average of 19.6 hours.

With respect to occupations, workers in social science, education, government service and religion (12.1%) reported the highest rate of being absent from work due to the flu. Occupations unique to primary industry had the lowest rate (5.4%).

Workers employed in health occupations were the most likely to report working more hours in the month due to the flu; 10.5% did so, for a total of 2.0 million extra hours. The net impact on hours for health workers was a loss of 76,000 hours, the smallest net loss of all occupational groups.

Note: Data for this release were derived from four special questions added to December's Labour Force Survey (LFS) to estimate the impact on hours worked of the H1N1 and seasonal flu for November. These were: a) how many people lost work time; b) how many hours they lost; c) the number of people who worked overtime or extra hours and d) the amount of extra time they put in. The responses provided some measurement of the overall economic impact of H1N1 and the seasonal flu.

Work absence due to H1N1 or seasonal flu includes the respondent's own flu-related illness or that of their immediate family members, and includes any flu-related medical appointments.

Estimates of hours lost or gained due to the flu are based on questions referring to the entire month of November. Rates of absenteeism for Canada, the provinces, age groups and sex use estimates of hours lost for the month as a numerator, with a denominator based on the population employed during the November 2009 Labour Force Survey reference week.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3701.

For more information, or to order data, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-866-873-8788; 613-951-4090; To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Jason Gilmore (613-951-7118), Labour Statistics Division.