Absenteeism in the Workplace

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

Health-Related Workplace Absenteeism

NIOSH monitors absences specifically due to workers’ own illness, injury, or other medical issue among full-time workers in the United States. This is referred to as “health-related workplace absenteeism.” You can view the latest trends in health-related workplace absenteeism below.

Absenteeism in the Workplace


[*]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 seasons

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

¶Occupation classification based on subjects’ primary job

Monitoring health-related absenteeism among workers is especially useful for assessing the occurrence 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, many people will get sick, but not 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 absenteeism is strongly related to the amount of influenza-like illness occurring at about the same time.1-3 Because of this, absenteeism provides additional information to measure the overall impact of influenza outbreaks and pandemics.

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)external icon, 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 during flu season, NIOSH updates charts showing the amount * of health-related absenteeism among full-time workers, using CPS data from 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 a month.

We compare the amount of health-related absences from work for the current flu season to an “epidemic threshold,” a statistical threshold established using baseline absenteeism data from the previous five seasons, averaged by month. Because they are calculated using survey data, monthly absenteeism measures are estimates and each one has a margin of error. Absenteeism is considered significantly higher than expected in months when the lower limit of the estimate’s margin of error is higher than the epidemic threshold.

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

  • Geographic region
  • Age group
  • Sex
  • Occupational group

References

  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.external iconOccupational groups correspond to the CPS Major Occupational Group recodespdf iconexternal icon, which are groupings of Census Occupation Codes.
Page last reviewed: May 15, 2019