Absenteeism in the Workplace

General Workplace Absences

Workplace absenteeism refers to time taken off work due to illness or other reasons, such as childcare or transportation issues. Studying patterns of workplace absences can be useful for public health.

Health-Related Absences

NIOSH monitors absences reported by full-time workers due specifically to their own illness, injury, or other medical issue. This is known as health-related workplace absenteeism.

You can view the latest trends in health-related workplace absences below.

Designed by Free H, Mobley A, Groenewold M, Luckhaupt S, Marovich S

[*]Defined as working fewer than 35 hrs during the reference week due to illness, injury or other medical issue.

[†]Defined as employed persons aged 16 years or older who usually work 35+ hours per week at all jobs combined.

[‡]Expected values based on monthly averages for the previous 5 years.

[§]Defined as working fewer than 35 hrs during the reference week for non-economic reasons.

[¶]Occupation and industry classification based on subjects’ primary job using the CPS major recodes for occupation and industry.

The data for these visualizations are available in an Excel Workbook

Monitoring health-related absenteeism among workers is very useful for assessing the impact of some illnesses, such as influenza. Health-related workplace absenteeism data add to the traditional influenza surveillance conducted by CDC, which is mainly based on disease reporting from doctors and laboratory testing.

During flu season, people will get sick, but not all go to a doctor. Often, people who are sick won’t go to work, which is why absenteeism data can be a good resource for monitoring outbreaks. We know that the amount of health-related workplace absenteeism is strongly related to the amount of influenza-like illness occurring at about the same time.1-3 Because of this, health-related workplace absences provide additional information to measure the overall impact of influenza outbreaks, and epidemics or pandemics caused by other diseases.

Monitoring trends in health-related workplace absenteeism across the U.S. can also help:

  • Doctors, other healthcare personnel, employers and workers be more informed about disease occurrence and severity during an influenza pandemic and during seasonal epidemics.
  • Public health authorities better target prevention messages and evaluate how well pandemic control measures work.
  • Emergency responders prepare for future pandemics.

NIOSH uses data on workplace absences from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a nationally representative, population-based, monthly survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Each month, NIOSH updates charts showing the amount** of health-related absenteeism among full-time workers, using CPS data collected in the previous month. CPS considers a full-time worker to be anyone who usually works at least 35 hours a week. For a particular week each month, a sample of full-time workers are asked how many hours they actually worked. If they worked less than 35 hours, they are asked about the reason for their absence. These 1-week measures are meant to represent absenteeism for all weeks in the month.

Absenteeism is estimated each month using CPS survey data; each estimate has a margin of error. Absenteeism is considered significantly higher than expected when the lower limit of the estimate’s margin of error is higher than the epidemic threshold. The epidemic threshold is calculated using baseline absenteeism data from the previous five years, averaged by month, and information about the  likely variation of these baseline data.

We present health-related absenteeism for all full-time workers combined, and by:

  • Geographic region††
  • Age group
  • Sex
  • Occupation and industry group‡‡

**The amount of health-related workplace absenteeism is calculated as the percentage of full-time workers who worked less than 35 hours because they were ill, injured, or had another medical issue

††Department of Health and Human Services regions

‡‡ Occupational groups correspond to the CPS major occupation and industry recodes, which are groupings of Census occupation or industry codes

  1. Groenewold MR, Konicki DL, Luckhaupt SE, Gomaa A, Koonin LM. Exploring national surveillance for health-related workplace absenteeism: Lessons learned from the 2009 influenza A pandemic. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 2013;7:160-166.
  2. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Sickness absenteeism among full-time workers in the US, August 2009. NIOSH eNews. 2009;7:6.  Accessed December 30, 2011.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Issues in Labor Statistics. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2010. Illness-related work absences during flu season. Accessed December 30, 2011.Occupational groups correspond to the CPS Major Occupational Group recodes, which are groupings of Census Occupation Codes.

Groenewold MR, Burrer SL, Ahmed F, Uzicanin A, Free H, Luckhaupt SE. Increases in Health-Related Workplace Absenteeism Among Workers in Essential Critical Infrastructure Occupations During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, March–April 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:853–858.

Groenewold MR, Burrer SL, Ahmed F, Uzicanin A, Luckhaupt SE. Health-Related Workplace Absenteeism Among Full-Time Workers — United States, 2017–18 Influenza Season. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68:577–582.

Groenewold MR, Konicki DL, Luckhaupt SE, Gomaa A, Koonin LM. Exploring national surveillance for health-related workplace absenteeism: Lessons learned from the 2009 influenza A pandemic. Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2013;7:160-166.