<em>Legally</em> <strong>Speaking</strong>


Presenteeism: a gift from loyal employees—or not?
Jim Juliano - Spring 2007

Sick employees who drag themselves to work may cost more than you think, according to several studies done in recent years.

Presenteeism—the presence at work of employees who are sick—is the opposite of absenteeism. Studies suggest presenteeism may cost more than absenteeism.

Included in the studies are various situations that you might expect—employees coming to work sick, injured, hung over, intoxicated and on drugs. Also mentioned are workaholic situations—long hours, excessive business travel and refusal to take vacation and holiday time.

The effects of presenteeism may include diminished productivity while working, contagion to other employees and poor morale.

Tips for avoiding presenteeism

  Foster a healthy work

  Offer flu shots.

  Keep things clean.

  Provide guidelines for staying healthy.

Various attempts have been made to quantify the impact of presenteeism on businesses and the economy. One survey, by the Cornell Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, concluded that between 20 percent and 60 percent of the dollars lost by employers attributable to common health conditions result from on-the-job productivity losses. At the higher end of this range (closer to the 60 percent), the cost of presenteeism exceeds the cost of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits.

A 2006 study by Commerce Clearing House (CCH), a respected research firm that specializes in legal issues, took an interesting angle by asking employees why they do not stay home to recuperate from illness. The most common answer was too much work/deadlines to meet (66 percent). Other reasons: no one to cover the workload (56 percent), preserve vacation time (50 percent), concern for disciplinary action (46 percent), preserve sick time (41 percent), company loyalty (36 percent) and company culture discouraging sick days (25 percent). CCH found that 97 percent of the employers had disciplinary programs to control absenteeism.

I found no article that concludes that an employer should send all sick employees home. These studies raise questions about how much it really costs when a sick employee drags through an unproductive day and infects other staff members at the same time, leading to more absenteeism.

Tips for dealing with presenteeism—at least tips that make the most sense—center on first keeping employees healthy. Examples: Offer flu shot programs, foster a healthy environment, keep things clean and give some guidelines for staying healthy (for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the flu is contagious from the day before symptoms develop to five days afterward).

Other ideas include combining all paid time off—vacation, sick, personal—into a single annual allowance, with the ability to carry forward some of the unused time from year to year.

The Healthy Families Act (HFA), which would require employers to offer a minimum of seven days of sick time per year and give workers time off for preventive health care and for when they are contagious, was introduced to the 108th Congress (2003-2004) and then again to the 109th Congress (2005-2006) It is too early to tell if the current Congress will produce a bill similar to the HFA.




This website contains general information that should not be considered legal advice or legal opinion concerning individual situations. Legal counsel should be consulted for specific advice.

Copyright 2007 by L. James Juliano Jr.
Legally Speaking® is a registered trademark of the law practice of L. James Juliano Jr.