Labour Research November 2004

Health & Safety Matters

UK level of sick leave is below European average, says study

UK workers take less sick leave than those in most other European Union (EU) countries, according to a major new study.

A report in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that the UK was in the bottom five for sick leave, with just 11.7% of workers taking any days off. On average, 14.5% of workers in the EU took at least one day off sick in 2000, the year covered by the study.

Only in Italy, Ireland, Greece and Portugal did fewer workers go sick than in the UK. Greece had the lowest rate of absenteeism at 6.7%. Workers in Germany (18%), the Netherlands (20%) and Finland (24%) take the most time off in Europe.

The study looked at absenteeism and ill health in the 15 countries that were EU members in 2000. It classified sickness absence as at least one day off work in the preceding 12 months because of occupational injury or other health problems.

"This study provides the first scientifically valid description of sickness absence across EU countries," said lead researcher David Gimeno.

However, Professor Mika Kivimäki of Helsinki University has suggested that the figures in the study underestimate the actual level of sickness absence in the EU, since they are based on self-reporting rather than organisations' absence records; he points to other studies in Finland and the UK which have recorded far higher absence levels. Nevertheless, he supports Gimeno's recommendation for further research to be carried out.

David Gimeno and others, "Distribution of sickness absence in the European Union countries", Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 61, pages 867-869, 2004