09 July 2019

Employee absenteeism can heavily affect your company's operations and financial situation.

As an employer, you should be aware of the potential causes of absenteeism and try to reduce it in your workplace. You should also be able to handle the situation if an employee is absent from work without prior notice.

Your employee may file an unfair dismissal claim against you if your absence policies are unfair and you dismiss them without a valid justification.

In this guide, we'll discuss what employee absenteeism is, the different types and causes of absenteeism, and how to manage it in your business.

What is employee absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism is the habitual absence of employees from their work.

While missing work occasionally due to illness or an emergency is common, absenteeism becomes problematic when it keeps happening.

Employee absenteeism is a serious challenge that can lead to productivity loss and low employee morale. This is especially true when it affects more than one employee.

Different types of absences in the workplace

Employee absences don't always fall into the same class. As an employer, you should gain more insight into the type of absenteeism that happens the most in your business.

If you identify the type of absenteeism you're dealing with, you may be able to devise a strategy to manage and fix it straight away.

Generally, there are three main types of absenteeism in the workplace:

Authorised and planned absences

These absences are any time off that your employee has arranged with you.

It could be holiday leave, personal leave, compassionate leave, medical appointments, maternity or paternity leave, etc.

When your employee submits and you approve their request for time off, their absence shouldn't be a problem. If your employee correctly plans their tasks, any work and responsibilities can be scheduled around their approved absence.

Unplanned but genuine absences

Life doesn't always go as planned, and your employees may need to take time off work for a variety of reasons.

There are many forms of unplanned absences that might have an impact on your business. Having solutions in place for an unplanned absence in your company will allow you to spot any trends and better support your staff.

Unauthorised absences (AWOL)

Unauthorised absences happen when your employees take time off without informing you. This isn't always related to illness or injury; it's just that they don't want to go to work that day for personal reasons.

These absences can be detrimental to your business. The reason is that they're unexpected and can become frequent, and they cause all of the same issues as other types of absences.

If this becomes common, it may indicate that you have much more severe problems to cope with than just the occasional lost day.

What causes absenteeism?

There are many reasons why absenteeism may happen in the workplace. Employers can avoid excessive absenteeism from happening in their company by taking preventive measures if they are aware of the causes in advance.

The following are some of the main causes of absenteeism in the workplace:


Any type of physical health or mental issue that happens to employees, including the common cold, fever, migraines, and stomach cramps, falls under the category of illness.

While your employees can't always control when they become ill, they should notify you as soon as possible. They should follow your absence policy to help make workplace absenteeism easier for you to manage.

Man sat with his hands on the back of his head.

Workplace bullying or harassment

In the workplace, bullying and harassment can involve any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel uncomfortable, scared, insulted, or upset. This attitude can have a negative impact on business profits as well as the victim and the entire team that works with them.

Bullying in the workplace can contribute to increased absenteeism, reduced employee loyalty, low morale, reduced productivity, and a hostile work environment.

Mental health issues

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or other disorders can cause employees to call in sick. For employers, absences of this sort can not only be difficult to manage but also amount to a costly loss of productivity.

Poor mental health can be brought on by personal issues, life changes, traumatic life events, smoking, substance abuse, and many other factors. Employers must provide themselves with the knowledge and skills necessary for managing absenteeism in these situations.

Family emergencies

While some employers advise their employees to keep their personal matters at home, in practice, it's not always that simple. Employees may need to leave work to attend emergencies as a result of difficult circumstances.

When a family member falls ill, childcare-related issues, and divorce are a few examples of these situations.

Approved leave

Approved leave belongs to the approved and planned absences category and is usually much easier to handle. This covers bereavement leave, paternity leave, maternity leave, paid holidays, and so forth.

Commuting difficulties

A daily trip to the office can go wrong in a variety of ways. Bad weather, delayed public transportation, car trouble, or accidents can all cause your employees to miss work hours and raise the absenteeism rate.

Employers who allow their employees flexible working hours lower the amount of time they spend commuting. This can not only help decrease absenteeism rates but also benefit employees' health and allow them to spend their personal time in a productive manner.

Management issues

There may be times when your employee doesn't appreciate or agree with you as their manager, or when they are upset as a result of poor interaction.

In these situations, they may disengage and skip work to avoid the event or related stress. This results in decreased productivity and more absenteeism.

The harmful impacts of absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism leads to lost productivity, which reduces output. Employees who are unable to work due to frequent absences cannot contribute to the growth and success of your business.

If the work of those absent cannot be covered by other employees, the purpose for which they were hired creates a gap in your workforce. Even if their task is taken up by others, this produces more work for those staff, perhaps leading to burnout.

Other harmful impacts of absenteeism include the following:

  • Poor quality of work from overworked employees covering for those who are frequently absent.
  • Added strain for managers dealing with absent employees.
  • Low morale among staff members covering for absent employees.
  • High costs of paying absent employees when they're not working.
  • High administrative costs of dealing with absence.
  • Overtime pay for employees who work longer to cover for absent employees.

In conclusion, excessive absences not only harm you and your employees, but they can also have a negative impact on the employee's family, the industry, and society.

Man sat with his laptop.

How to manage absenteeism in the workplace

If any of your employees are absent from work without prior notice, you should first try to contact them to discover the cause.

A lack of contact from a dependable employee without any past unexcused absences may indicate a problem rather than a deliberate unauthorised absence.

If you're unable to contact absent employees during their absence, you should discuss it with them as soon as they return. You should manage the situation based on their explanation.

You should always evaluate each case of unauthorised absence on its own merits, as the circumstances may occasionally require a more tolerant and mature response. For example, if a close relative died unexpectedly or if the employee was in a serious accident.

If an employee is unable to provide an adequate reason for their absence or lack of contact, you may need to consider formal disciplinary action against them.

An unauthorised absence from work (AWOL) can be considered a misconduct offence. Most businesses would include AWOL in a non-exhaustive list of examples of misconduct offences in their disciplinary policy.

How employers can reduce absenteeism

Considering the serious harms of absenteeism, employers should take steps to prevent regular absences from work and reduce employee absenteeism.

It's important to create a positive work culture in which your employees feel supported and implement procedures that protect their rights in addressing workplace issues.

As an employer, you should understand absenteeism and identify the root causes of habitual absences amongst your workforce.

The following tips can help you reduce absenteeism in your business:

  • Implement a clear absence policy: Implementing a clear absence policy can help you with measuring the rate and types of absences in your workplace, as well as minimising absenteeism.
  • Conduct performance reviews: Conduct quarterly or monthly performance reviews along with an annual audit of your employees' overall progress. This can increase employee success by helping them in identifying their needs, desires, and challenges.
  • Foster healthy working habits: Try to optimise your processes so that your employees have a better work-life balance. You can do this by detaching your strategic and cultural objectives into specific goals and desirable actions.
  • Reduce stress in the workplace: Stress can always have a significant impact on an individual and dampen their productivity. Try to take a proactive approach towards wellbeing and offer corporate wellness programs to reduce workplace pressures.

Can you dismiss an employee for an unauthorised absence?

No, unauthorised absence doesn't always amount to justification for dismissing an employee. The decision for dismissal depends on the actual situation, such as the duration of absence and any further explanation provided to you.

The employee may have some valid reasons for being absent. Although failing to report absences may call for disciplinary action, possibly even dismissal. This also depends on their length of service and individual circumstances.

You must ensure you conduct a thorough and fair investigation if you are considering dismissing an employee for an unauthorised absence from work. The investigation should be carried out to identify the facts behind their absence and any failure to notify you.

If your absence procedures are unfair, your employee may file an unfair dismissal tribunal claim against you.

Get advice on absenteeism from Peninsula

There are various causes of workplace absenteeism, which can have a major financial and operational impact on your business. As an employer, you should take reasonable measures to reduce absenteeism and treat absent employees fairly.

If your absence policies are unfair and you dismiss employees without proper justification, they can file an unfair dismissal claim against you.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR professionals.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3687 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.


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