For businesses to best manage their employee absences, it’s vital that they have an idea of as many reasons their employees might be absent as possible.  This allows you to plan accordingly and put measures into place that ensure you aren’t caught short-staffed.

Though you may have a plan for most common reasons, such as holiday allowance and sick leave, you may not have a strategy or policy in place for others – which could result in being caught off-guard at the least convenient times.

With that in mind, here is a list of reasons your staff could be absent from work, broken down into authorised, unplanned, and unauthorised absences.


Annual Leave

Annual leave is the most common reason for staff absence. Fortunately, these are arranged ahead of time so they’re also the easiest to plan for. On the other hand, because employees taking holiday is such a common occurrence, without a streamlined system in place, such as a centralised employee leave tracker, dealing with annual leave can needlessly take up a lot of HR’s time.


Employees will occasionally need time off for their professional development. Often, this might entail actually coming to work but being unavailable for their usual responsibilities.


Your staff will routinely need time off for appointments they can only take during the workday, such as medical and dental appointments. You need to decide in advance how this will be recorded and administered. For example, will time be deducted from their annual leave allowance or recorded as a different type of absence.

Maternity/paternity leave

This is also arranged far in advance so your company can make the necessary arrangements, namely who’s going to take over the departing employee’s workload.

Sabbatical/career break

These typically last a few months to a year and are unpaid. Common reasons for requesting a sabbatical include wanting to travel and needing time off to study. Often, however, employees can arrange to use their remaining annual leave allowance as part of their sabbatical, so HR needs to have accurate records of how much they have remaining – including any TOIL they’ve accrued or dates they’ve carried over.



Alongside annual leave, sickness is the most common reason for employee absence. As your employees falling ill at some point is inevitable, it’s crucial to have a plan in place for managing sickness absence, in order to minimise disruption to your business.

Additionally, there are other reasons for absence that can also fall under ‘sickness’.

  • Long-term sickness
    • This is characterised by a member of staff being absent for over 4 weeks and there being little indication as to when they’ll return.
  • Injury
    • Often, injuries are treated in the same way as sickness but it’s possible there’s an underlying reason for your employees hurting themselves. If you’re recording the right information, you might spot a trend that could prevent further harm to your workforce. For instance, if your employees routinely report back problems, you might want to look at their seating arrangements. With injuries, the root cause could be something that you have influence over.
  • Stress
    • Sometimes, it will be your employee’s mental health that’s suffering, as opposed their physical wellbeing, and stress is the most common reason for this. Eventually, this could lead to burn out and them requiring time away from the office to recuperate.
  • Working from home
    • Often, instead of completely taking the day off, it’s possible for an employee to work from home. In such instances, it’s important to have a procedure in place for keeping track of who’s working from home and letting their colleagues know they’re still available.

Travel disruption

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too frequently, as when it does it can result in significant staff absence. It’s caused by one of two things: transportation issues (usually trains) or weather conditions (usually snow).

Bereavement/Compassionate leave

This type of absence is permitted to an employee that suffered a personal loss, such as the death of a loved one. Compassionate leave has to be handled sensitively and it’s often difficult to determine how long an employee will be absent.

Closely related to absence due to bereavement is family medical leave, whereby a worker needs time off to take care of a relative.

Jury duty

On occasion, a member of staff might be summoned to serve as a juror in a court case, requiring them to be absent for up to a few weeks! This can often tricky for businesses as they’re under no obligation to pay their employees while they’re on jury duty. It’s up to you to decide how to handle this ahead of time so you’re ready whenever it occurs.


On occasion, it’s necessary to suspend an employee for misconduct, resulting in their absence. In such cases, you need to have a process in place for handing off their work and minimising the disruption caused by their absence.


Unauthorised leave, also known as being AWOL (absent without official leave) is a situation where an employee hasn’t shown up for work. This is a pretty serious problem, as there are very few circumstances where a member of staff is unable to let you know they’re not coming in, even if it’s just a quick and short text message!


Now, although this post covers the main reason for staff absence, it is by no means an exhaustive list. ScheduleLeave allow you to configure your own leave types so you can record, track, and manage any kind of absence – no matter how unique the circumstances.