Learn What Absenteeism Is

sick woman in bed talking on the phone
••• Tom Merton / OJO Images / Getty Images

What is absenteeism? Absenteeism is defined as a pattern of missing work in which an employee is habitually and frequently absent from work. Absenteeism does not include excused absences, where an employer has actually granted an employee permission to miss work. 

Absenteeism from Work

All employers expect employees to need some time off from work occasionally, and many employers have company policies that provide for paid leave under approved circumstances. Other employers don’t provide pay but do allow employees to take time off if and when they need it. However, employers are not obligated by law to give time off for vacation or for sick days other than under those conditions mandated by the ​Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Absenteeism is costly for both employees and employers. The employee may not be paid for taking excessive time off or may even lose their job for calling in sick or for other absences. In fact, under some circumstances, an employee can be fired for no reason. Unless you are protected by a union agreement or a specific contract, you run the risk that your employer will decide to replace you permanently if you miss too many days of work.

Absent employees impact an organization’s productivity, revenue, and costs.  Absenteeism contributes to employee turnover, increased labor costs when replacement workers need to be hired, and to other management and hiring costs. The Integrated Benefits Institute, which represents major employers and business coalitions, reports that absenteeism ascribed to poor employee health costs the U.S. economy about $576 billion a year.

Excused Absences

Most employers will excuse absenteeism for certain reasons, such as vacation, medical leave, jury duty, military work, or bereavement. Proof of your leave (a jury duty notice, a doctor’s note, an obituary, etc.) is usually sufficient documentation for an employer to excuse absenteeism. However, employers can spot trends and may keep track of how often an employee is absent and what their reasons are.

Occasional Absences

Most employers provide a certain number of days in which an employee can be absent. These days can be allocated as flexible days to be used for any reason or as vacation or sick time.

Some employers require that Paid Time Off (PTO) be used when an employee is sick. This is meant to encourage employees to come in whenever possible. However, employees often feel obligated to come to work while sick and end up spreading germs and illness further to their coworkers.

This can develop into office-wide absenteeism and low productivity.  Absenteeism becomes an issue when an employee uses more than their allotted time off or misses work more frequently than others at the organization.

Chronic Absenteeism Disciplinary Actions

Chronic absenteeism does not include occasional excused absences such as unexpected health or personal issues. Absenteeism can be a violation of an employer’s contract and may lead to job suspension or termination. When a person is absent from work on a regular basis, it is considered chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism is often an indicator of poor employee performance, poor morale, workplace hazards, a medical condition, or psychological problems. Some causes can include personal or family illnesses, injury, family or personal obligations, harassment in the workplace, an onerous, heavy workload, bullying, depression, lack of commitment, job searching, or family circumstances. However, the main reason cited for absenteeism is illness or injury.

Solving Absenteeism Issues

Absenteeism can be solved by employers and work environments in many different ways. Performance Improvement Plans teach employees to be self-aware and accountable for the work they have missed and how they have contributed (or failed to contribute) over the past quarter or year.

One-on-one performance reviews give the employer an opportunity to address absenteeism issues, offer the opportunity for employees to self-evaluate their productivity, and can create a positive dialogue between the employee and the supervisor. Performance reviews and other types of employee meetings can resolve obstacles, and lay the groundwork for decreased absenteeism in the future.

Creating clear sick leave and excused absence policies helps to eradicate any gray area surrounding taking days off. Incentive plans can also help increase morale and encourage employees to come to work every day.