No matter if paid or unpaid, sick leave comes as a cost for the company. Reducing the number of days off related to sick leave is beneficial both for companies and employees, with the former getting more done and the latter being healthy and happy. This guide shows how to do so in the best way possible.

According to the analysis published by Calamari in the blog post about the costs of the leave management, in the company with the headcount of 100, there are usually no more than 3 sick leaves annually. If the number of employees reaches 500, there are 25 leaves on average. With such number fo leaves to handle, the leave management system becomes a must.

Reducing the number of sick leaves sounds counterintuitive - the sickness is by its nature unpredictable and unwanted. Yet the employer has much more options to follow that one may think.

This text covers:

  • Sick leaves in multiple legal frameworks
  • 7 ways to reduce the number of sick leaves in the company
  • Summary and final thoughts

Sick leaves in multiple legal frameworks

The employee's right to take the sick leave and the employer's obligations towards him or her during the absence differ significantly regarding the local law. There are multiple local variations regarding the number of sick leave paid days or the amount paid during the leave. Usually, the matter is regulated in the local employment legal framework and the company should consult the approach with a lawyer or a skilled accountant at least.

For the sake of this text, the key differences will be shown using the examples of the US and EU legislation.


Sick leave in the US

The US federal law shows no obligation to provide the employee with paid sick leave. Delivering more detailed legal frames is up to every state and can differ significantly. As of the end of 2021, there were fifteen states have mandated paid sick leave for some or all companies.

Yet there are some differences regarding the scope and the usage of the sick leave. For instance, some states entitle the employees to take a paid sick leave to take care of any member of their family while others limit this to only the closest family members like children or spouses.

According to the guide published by Indeed, calculating the sick leave in the US is usually hours-based, with an employee “earning” a sick leave hour for each period worked. For example, in California or Colorado, the rate is one hour per every 30 hours worked. In Connecticut, the rate is one hour per every 40 hours worked.

Also, every state can impose exclusions from the obligatory providing the employees with paid sick leave. For example in Maryland employers who have staff of at least 12 people working for longer than 12 hours per week need to provide the employees with sick leave hours. In ​Massachusetts providing paid sick leave is obligatory for companies with more than 11 employees while unpaid leave is obligatory for these employing 10 or less.

Sick leave in the EU

The situation is significantly different in the EU-based countries. According to the report issued by the European Union, the states generally provide benefits for employees during their sickness periods. The levels vary depending on the local approach toward the welfare, with countries having only the “quick return to work policies” and others providing the comprehensive rehabilitation and job resignation programs.

The payment for the sick leave is commonly shared between the state and the employer, with public social security schemes included and heavily interfering. Also, EU-based states come with paid sick leaves for self-employed workers, yet the level of protection varies.

How to reduce sick leaves in the company

The data delivered by the US Bureaud of Labor Statistics show sthat there were 7.8 million workers on an illness-related work absence in January 2022 only. Also 4.2 million people had to work part-time due to the illness instead of working for a full time.

The sick leave is considered an unplanned and unpredictable event that can be hardly managed and mitigated. While truth, it is hardly a whole truth. There are multiple ways the business owner can prevent the sick leaves in the company and maximize overall efficiency of the team without sacrificing the people’s right to be sick and get better at home.

Make sickness policy public and fully transparent

The details and the approach regarding the sick leave policy can get blurred or even forgotten over time. Having it available and always in the public place, for example in the company intranet wiki, may reduce the misunderstandings in the team and prevents the abuse done either unknowingly or on purpose.

Also, regular meetings like townhalls or information sharing can be a great place and opportunity to remind employees about the rules the company follows regarding the sickness-relates absences.

Last but not least, keeping the policy in public forces the company to be fair toward everyone and discourages turning the blind eye to abuses.

Look for patterns in the absences

The paperwork around the sick leaves have an unintuitive advantage - there is a clear record of all leaves in the company and the owner (or a HR department) can track it back to nearly any point given. If the company runs on a more sophisticated cloud based HR system like Calamari, the analysis can be done in a matter of minutes.

The patterns can be recognized regarding a particular employee, a selected group (for example parents or people placed in a particular city) or by comparing them in the time. Spotting the pattern can be used to identify some issues in the company, like:

  • The lack of time off in crucial time in the year
  • People who abuse the sick leave policy to get some time off
  • Early-spotting the absenteeism or the early signs of employee burnout

No matter the reason, the repetitive pattern in the sick leave is a clear sign, that there is some greater problem to tackle.


Be flexible regarding the non-sick leaves

On a flip side, a sick leave can be a tool of last resort, when the employee simply needs to be out of the office. There can be multiple situations where boeing out of work is just necessary - for example if there is a fire in home, the child in the day-care got ill or a parent has got injured and needs to be visited in the hospital.

Sometimes granting more non-sick leaves can be less harmful for the organization than making the employees sheme to abuse the policy or trick the people analytics software for their own benefit. This is important especially in the US. Currently 28 million Americans have no paid vacation or paid holidays - a thing unseen in any other advanced economy. Providing the employees with the way to deal with some unexpected events in any other way than getting a sick leave.

Pay attention to burnout and stress levels

It can be hard to swallow, yet one of the reasons behind the sick leaves can be the work itself. The pandemic has brought the topic of burnout and work-associated stress to the public at the levels unseen before.

The study published by BMC Public Health has shown that there was a significant correlation between the stress levels and the sick leaves. The high stress due to conflicts and indistinct organizations was reported by 21% of employees surveyed and 45% reported high level of stress due to the individual demands and commitment. Also, 36% of employees weee on a sick leave for 15 days or more during 12 months after baseline.

The study has also found that perceiving high stress due to both the indistinct organization and conflicts quadrupled the odds of sick leave.

Considering that, a highly effective way of reducing the sick leaves is to make the company a friendly, welcoming, and safe place to work.

Be vary of presenteeism

Presenteeism is a term that refers to the employee coming to the office despite being unable to work, either due to the poor physical or mental condition. The situation comes with multiple drawbacks including: The employee is unable to work, so the work is not done:

  • If he or she is sick, the sickness will last longer and further hamper the productivity
  • If the sickness in contagious, the rest of the team can get infected and unproductive, coming as a greater crisis to manage.
  • If the employee is struggling with some mental crisis, a burnout, anxiety or depression, forcing him or her to go to the workplace can worsen the conditions

Considering that, presenteeism comes with no advantages while quietly devouring the productivity and morale. The study done by the Nottingham Business School shows that presenteeism costs up to 4000 BGP per employee yearly. Some employees claim that they achieve no more than 20% of their full productivity while being sick.

With a transparent sick leave policy and the safe and welcoming workplace, taking a sick leave will be a better pick for the employee than presenteeism.

Encourage and support work-life balance

Following the logic of presenteeism - “being at work” is not actually working and working doesn’t mean “being at work”. According to the Stanford University study, working longer hours usually hampers the productivity of the employee.

The study has shown that the productivity drops significantly if the employee works more than 55 hours a week. The drop is so significant that one working 70 hours weekly does the same amount of work as the employee who works 55 hours weekly.

Also, working long hours results in both physical and mental health issues. The study published by the University of Columbia shows that sitting for long hours can be equally hurtful as smoking. Also, the mental health suffers. According to International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, people working overtime were more vulnerable to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Considering that, the way to reduce the sick leaves is sometimes forcefully push the employee out of the office. The problem can be tackled someway by introducing the hybrid work environment paired with a human resource software to automate as much paperwork as possible.

Remember to be grateful to your employees

Last but not least - showing gratitude is one of the best ways to support building a welcoming and safe working environment. Paying is not the only way to show the employee that he or she is important. And “being important” in the company makes the difference.


Sick leaves are the challenge the company needs to tacke anyway. Yet the way of approaching it determines whether the problem will be solved or get worse. Putting a grater pressure on the staff and building the culture of fear will only build up the problem and result in an unengaged staff actively avoiding work.

If you wish to talk more about the ways the leave management software can reduce the number of sick leaves and boost productivity by altering its culture - don’t hesitate to contact us now!


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