Introduction: Employers may incur costs related to absenteeism among employees who have chronic diseases or unhealthy behaviors. We examined the association between employee absenteeism and 5 conditions: 3 risk factors (smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity) and 2 chronic diseases (hypertension and diabetes).
Methods: We identified 5 chronic diseases or risk factors from 2 data sources: MarketScan Health Risk Assessment and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). Absenteeism was measured as the number of workdays missed because of sickness or injury. We used zero-inflated Poisson regression to estimate excess absenteeism as the difference in the number of days missed from work by those who reported having a risk factor or chronic disease and those who did not. Covariates included demographics (eg, age, education, sex) and employment variables (eg, industry, union membership). We quantified absenteeism costs in 2011 and adjusted them to reflect growth in employment costs to 2015 dollars. Finally, we estimated absenteeism costs for a hypothetical small employer (100 employees) and a hypothetical large employer (1,000 employees).
Results: Absenteeism estimates ranged from 1 to 2 days per individual per year depending on the risk factor or chronic disease. Except for the physical inactivity and obesity estimates, disease- and risk-factor-specific estimates were similar in MEPS and MarketScan. Absenteeism increased with the number of risk factors or diseases reported. Nationally, each risk factor or disease was associated with annual absenteeism costs greater than $2 billion. Absenteeism costs ranged from $16 to $81 (small employer) and $17 to $286 (large employer) per employee per year.
Conclusion: Absenteeism costs associated with chronic diseases and health risk factors can be substantial. Employers may incur these costs through lower productivity, and employees could incur costs through lower wages.