Employers fear that staff 'pulling sickies' could have cost business £1.75bn last year, with many firms concerned that up to 30 per cent of absence is not genuine.
An annual absence survey, by the CBI and AXA PPP healthcare published today, shows the cost of overall workplace absence remains worryingly high, despite the number of days lost falling to their lowest level in at least 15 years.
The survey reveals firms paid £11.6bn in 2002 to cover the salaries of absent individuals and resulting overtime and temporary cover.
This equates to an average cost of £476 per employee. The overall figure is only fractionally lower than the previous year, when companies paid out £11.8bn.
The number of working days lost fell by 5.7 per cent in this survey, from 176 million in 2001 to 166 million in 2002. That is 6.8 days per employee, or 2.9 per cent of total working time - the lowest figures recorded since the survey began in 1987.
The CBI believes rising labour costs are the reason why the total cost of absence remains high, despite falling absence levels.
John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: "Though employers believe most absence is caused by genuine minor sickness, there are serious concerns about the number of staff 'throwing sickies'. There are too many people who will happily spend the day off work at the expense of their employers and their hard-working colleagues."
The survey shows absence falling most significantly in firms where senior managers are responsible for absence management.
These organisations lose an average of five days per employee each year, compared with 7.6 where line managers have the responsibility.
Return-to-work interviews were found to be the most effective absence management tool.