Thousands of employers have been forced to cancel workplace flu shot clinics because they have no vaccine, and many are bracing for a costly increase in sick days once the flu season starts, reports USA Today.

Unscheduled absences have already hit a five-year high and cost an average of $610 per employee, according to CCH, a provider of employment law information.

Many of the nation's scarce remaining flu shots will be shipped directly to pediatricians, nursing homes and other places that care for high-risk patients, under a plan between the government and maker Aventis Pasteur.

The impact is already being felt:

  • Atlanta-based BellSouth, which has given employee flu shots since the early 1990s, sent a notice about the shortage to employees. They have not been able to give any flu shots this year.

  • Home Depot has contracted with a third-party provider to give flu shots but so far has been unable to offer the immunizations because it has no vaccine. The program is on hold until further notice.

    Flu vaccination and wellness programs can save companies up to $12 billion annually. Some companies are rationing vaccines only to workers in high-risk groups, but many simply have no vaccines to give.

    Productivity losses can also come because workers who have children or elderly parents with the flu often have the right for time off to care for them under federal law, says David Raizman, a Los Angeles labor lawyer.