If a terrible influenza pandemic hits the United States, many workers may have a tough time calling human resources centers to find out whether they should go in to the office or telecommute.

Researchers at Buck Consultants, a unit of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., Dallas, have published figures supporting that prediction in a report on an informal Web survey of 199 large U.S. employers.

Although many employers say they have flu preparedness educational programs, “strategic preventative measures to minimize the potential impact of a pandemic are largely lacking,” the researchers write.

About 37% of the employers surveyed about flu preparedness said they have business continuity plans in place to support technology and communications systems, but only 24% have come up with a business continuation plan for human resources operations and only 17% have plans to continue sales activities.

Researchers also asked about the effects of 3 projected absence rates.

A 10% absence rate would cause severe problems for only 2% of the survey participants, but a 50% absence rate could cause severe problems for 89%.

Participants expect a pandemic to have a big effect on sick-pay costs, a substantial effect on health insurance and short-term disability costs, and a relatively modest effect on life insurance costs, researchers say.