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Significant fall in sickness absence at work

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The Office for National Statistics has published figures which show a significant fall in sickness absence in the workplace. In 2017, the average number of days taken off work due to sickness was 4.1 days. This is a significant reduction from the average of 7.1 days in 1993.

Levels of sickness absence in the workplace have been gradually decreasing since 1999, even more so since the recession. The UK’s increased life expectancy and improved lifestyles have all contributed to this decline.

A number of interesting points come out of the figures:

  • Workers in the administration, education and health industry have the highest rates of sickness absence


  • Workers are more likely to be absent due to sickness absence if a business employs more than 500 employees.


  • 25% of absences are due to minor illnesses such as a cold.


  • A significant and increasing reason for sickness absence for workers aged 50-64 is musculoskeletal problems


  • Mental health conditions have significantly increased as the reason for sickness absence for workers aged 25-34.

Sickness absence is a major problem for many businesses as organisations may not be able to afford being without a skilled or experienced member of staff for any period of time, let alone the expense of sick pay, overtime and recruiting replacements.

It is therefore essential businesses recognise they must effectively manage employees with sickness absence issues otherwise the employer could be exposed to a number of potential claims in the Employment Tribunal, such as unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal and disability discrimination.

If you have any concerns with managing sickness absence effectively, we can advise you on the process to follow, especially if you are in doubt as to whether an employee is genuinely unwell, together with sick and holiday pay considerations as well as integrating employees to the workplace when they return from long-term sickness absence.

Firms looking for advice on HR and employment law issues relating to sickness absence can speak to Miss Sally Morris via 01905 610410 or email