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Presenteeism worse than absenteeism

Posted On: Sep. 29, 2009 12:00 AM CST

“Presenteeism,” or employees working when they are not healthy, is worse for employers than a high rate of absenteeism, according to a report from a medical market research company.

The cost of employees working while sick has now reached $160 billion annually in lost productivity, estimates Kalorama Information. That means the cost of sick employees showing up to work is more than double the cost of the 425 million sick days taken in 2008.

It costs to access Kalorama reports, but a press release with some information is available here.

Presenteeism is worse than absenteeism because sick employees can spread disease to other employees, which multiplies productivity losses, according to Kalorama's report, "The Market for Wellness Programs and Their Impact on Pharmaceutical, Diagnostic and Device Product Markets."

Comp Time thinks Kalorama's findings raise questions about the wisdom of certain employer strategies, such as replacing sick-leave days with paid time off, or PTO, days.

PTO structures tend to encourage some employees to work through illness in order to save their off days for family vacations and attending their children's school activities.

Reduced staffs that employers are relying on to weather the recession also encourage workers to show up at the workplace with symptoms. Kalorama‘s report says other reasons employees show up sick at work include avoidance of co-pays, loss of income, and no time to see the doctor.

On another matter, The Pump Handle blog reports that OSHA is not likely to take a strong regulatory stance on combustible dust in the workplace.

The buildup of combustible dust of various forms has caused several deadly workplace explosions, including the 2008 explosion of an Imperial Sugar refinery that killed 14 and injured dozens of other workers.

Julie Ferguson at the Lynch Ryan Workers' Comp Insider blog recently reported that routine housekeeping at the Imperial refinery might have prevented the 14 deaths and 36 injuries.