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Almost 8.8 Million People Called Out Sick Earlier This Month, Exacerbating Labor Shortages

A record number of Americans are calling in sick to their jobs, as COVID-19 cases surge across the country.

Almost 8.8 million people did not go to work between Dec. 29 and Jan. 10 because they were sick or caring for someone who was sick with COVID-19 symptoms, Census Bureau data showed. This is the highest recorded number of workers calling in sick since last January’s peak of 6.6 million out, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Census Bureau has been tracking the pandemic’s effect on people’s live via its Household Pulse Survey, which collects and releases data from two-week periods. Recent results suggest that the spread of the Omicron variant is impacting workers’ ability to show up to their jobs. Jobless claims were also up at the start of the year. Initial claims for unemployment rose to 286,000 in the week ending January 15, up 55,000 from the week prior, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Overall, this national “sick out” is impacting multiple sectors, especially retail, which relies on staff members to keep stores open and running. Earlier this month, FN reported that Lululemon, Nike, Starbucks and Macy’s had all implemented new shortened hours in some locations, as retailers struggled to keep stores staffed during the pandemic.

Macy’s said it would temporarily shorten its hours for the month of January at all stores. And Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald said that limiting staffing and capacity constraints from Omicron impacted recent results for the company.

In addition to shortened hours, many retailers have implemented new safety and cleaning measures to keep workers safe — and their stores open.

Despite the challenges, some companies are going full speed ahead on their plans to bring their employees back into their offices. While some, like Nike, have delayed their official return to office for now, others have implemented hybrid work situations and are requiring vaccinations across staff.

According to a recent Gartner survey, which polled over 200 executive leaders across multiple industries, 22% of company leaders have delayed their return to office. 17% said they had decreased the number of people coming into the offices, and 34% said they had not made a decision regarding the return.

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