What Is Workplace Absenteeism?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2019
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Workplace absenteeism is a phenomenon that occurs any time an employee fails to appear at his or her job when scheduled to do so. It is possible for absences to be arranged for ahead of time, such as for vacations or medical leave, though unscheduled absenteeism also occurs. Significant levels of absenteeism can be very costly to a business due to losses in productivity and the need to pay overtime to other employees that have to fill in for the absent ones, so each company tends to deal with the matter differently. Many businesses develop some sort of absenteeism policy that spells out the number of days an employee can be absent and any penalties for abuse of the system.

The two primary types of workplace absenteeism are scheduled and unscheduled. Scheduled absenteeism refers to events that are planned well in advance, such as vacations, so the employer is able to make allowances for the absence. Some companies offer a specific amount of either paid or unpaid vacation time each year that can be used for these types of absences. In some cases employees are able to keep unused vacation days for the next year, though other companies reset the allotted time each year to prevent excessive workplace absenteeism.


Unscheduled workplace absenteeism is caused by events that cannot be planned out in advance. These absences are often caused by sudden medical or family emergencies, transportation breakdowns, or other unforeseen circumstances. Workplace policies differ in regards to unscheduled absenteeism, and employees may or may not be paid for this type of time off. Some employers offer a number of either paid or unpaid personal days that can be used to excuse these types of absences. In other cases, both vacation and personal days are combined into one pool that can be drawn on for either scheduled or unscheduled absences.

In addition to individual company policies, many governments also have laws that dictate how employers can treat employees in regards to workplace absenteeism. Each company tends to set up a framework that will minimize the financial costs of absenteeism, though those guidelines must conform to the local labor laws. In the United States, various laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) restrict the way that employers can deal with absent employees under specific circumstances. Other laws guarantee employees the right to scheduled absences for religious observances and jury duty, which are other factors that can lead to workplace absenteeism.


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