Almost 80% of companies surveyed by the NI Chamber of Commerce plan to lay off some employees in the next week.
Leave is a temporary layoff, with the government paying 80% of wages for three months.
Almost a third of the companies surveyed said they intended to hire all of their employees.
The chamber questioned 300 member companies between April 1 and April 3 about the impact of the coronavirus.
Cash flow is the biggest immediate problem, with three-quarters of companies surveyed reporting what the board described as “a serious drop in revenue over a very short period of time”.
One in 10 companies that responded to the survey have no cash reserves, and 63% have less than three months of cash reserves.
Only 4% have more than 12 months of cash reserves.
Chamber general manager Ann McGregor said the figures were “alarming.”
“This cash flow problem is exacerbated by the slowness or non-payment and the difficulty of accessing different funds,” she said.
“Even where there is some activity in order books, companies are finding that customers are increasingly reluctant to pay quickly, which exacerbates the cash flow problem.
“Businesses may be able to benefit from rate relief and staff on leave, but they cannot survive without income and are concerned about increasing their debt in these difficult times. “
The government has said the leave program will be open to businesses that cannot maintain their current workforce because operations have been severely affected by the coronavirus.
He was not prescriptive on what “severely affected” means, but said he “recognizes that different companies will face different impacts from the coronavirus.”
He plans to set up an online portal for claims before the end of April.
Meanwhile, estimates for the UK as a whole suggest that the program could cost between £ 30-40 billion over three months, three times the size of the original estimates.
This is according to the analysis of the Resolution Foundation, using the latest figures on the adoption of the program by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
While early estimates from the Treasury suggested 10% use, new BCC figures suggest that many more companies are considering using it.
It revealed that almost a fifth of small businesses were planning to hire all of their staff.
And 50% of companies put most of their staff into the program.