Absenteeism in the Workplace
Workplace absenteeism refers to time taken off work due to illness or other reasons, such as childcare or transportation issues. 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. We present the data below in a series of dashboards. These dashboards make it easy to note trends that may be occurring in workplace absences. Understanding patterns of workplace absences can be useful for public health.
The following dashboards show the prevalence of worker absences due to health-related reasons. Increased absences could mean that workers in certain industries, occupations, or demographic groups are experiencing more illness than usual. This information can be used to help guide workplace interventions.
[*]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
The data for these visualizations are available in an Excel workbook [XLS – 48 KB]
The data for these visualizations are available in an Excel Workbook
Health-related absences from work are important because they provide additional information to measure the overall impact of influenza (flu) outbreaks and pandemics. These absenteeism data add to CDC’s traditional flu surveillance, 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 flu-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 flu 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 a flu 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).
Each month, NIOSH updates charts showing the amount** of health-related absenteeism among full-time workers, using CPS data collected in the previous month. 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.
Our analysis compares the current amount of health-related absences from work to an “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. 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Related Publications and Resources
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.