The three types of workplace absences and how to manage them

6 min read  |   19 July, 2022   By Laura Sands

A man is feeling unwell and has taken his temperature. He is wearing a scarf and a blanket whilst calling his work to tell them he is sick.

Although there are many reasons for an employee’s absence from work, these will typically fall under one of the following three categories:

  1. Authorised absence
  2. Unplanned absence
  3. Unauthorised absence

In this article, we will look at examples which fall under each of the three categories. As we will see, these require different handling and management as they present very different challenges and varying levels of administration to ensure they are dealt with properly.

'Life happens’ and there often very good reasons for unplanned and unauthorised absences. However, absences may also be a warning sign that something is not right with one or more employees in terms of their health, their engagement and even a company’s own culture. Careful and accurate absence management is a must.

1. Authorised absence

This category is the most easily explained and these absences are easiest to manage. They are, quite simply, pre-agreed and pre-scheduled absences organised between an employee and their manager. The most common absences which fall under this category are:

Annual leave

This is, by far, the most common type of agreed absence. All employees are entitled to annual leave and it is important that they take this in order to relax and recharge. This is key to physical and mental health, helping people stay rested, happy, well-motivated and productive. Managing and documenting holiday requests can be time-consuming even in businesses with relatively small teams, especially if people are taking time off at different times throughout the year.

It is, of course, very important to keep track of holiday in terms of ensuring people do not exceed their annual leave allowances. However, it's equally important to encourage people to make full use of this. Using a system like Breathe makes this quick and easy as it includes dedicated annual leave management functionality. Use our holiday calculator to work out holiday entitlement.

Maternity and paternity leave

Maternity and paternity leave are almost always pre-agreed with an employee, providing you with time to organise cover as they spend time with their new child or children. Again, this needs careful management, with the dates on which an employee left to go on leave and the date they will return to work being pre-agreed.

Medical appointments

Many people will need to take time off for medical appointments during the course of a year. Appointments may be for themselves or for others that they care for. Sometimes people can plan ahead and arrange appointments days, weeks or months ahead; at other times these could be due to emergencies, in which case they will fall under the unplanned absence category.

Time off in lieu

Time off in Lieu (TOIL). This applies when an employer provides extra time off to an employee who has, for example, worked outside of their usual working hours to complete a task or project.

Training days

Ongoing training is an important aspect of learning and development. Employees may need to attend courses out of the office and it's important to record details of their absences. 

Working from home

Increasing numbers of employers allow people to work from home on either a permanent or hybrid basis, where they combine homeworking with pre-agreed periods of working in their workplace. Either way, it’s important to keep tracking of when and where people are working at all times.

2. Unplanned absence

Life doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes people need to take time off for one (or more) of a variety of different reasons, the most common of which is sickness. Recent sickness absence figures have been high - the CIPD found that nearly one in ten organisations lost more than 25% of working time due to Covid-related absences during 2021. 

Even with Covid absences falling, sickness absence will continue to be a factor for employers. With unplanned absences comes the challenge of documenting these and keeping a permanent record, ensuring you can see how many days per month, quarter, and year an employee has taken time off due to illness and the reasons for this. Patterns and trends could emerge which will indicate if support is required and if there are persistent and even underlying problems which need to be addressed and discussed with an employee.

As much as employers have a duty of care towards their employees, accurately recording sickness related absences is key to planning extra cover for absent employees while they are away.

There are many different types of physical and mental illness, some of which are more serious than others. There will be times when an employee may need  extended time off work. Documenting this in addition to any information an employee has provided about the condition and treatment they are receiving is important. This can help form the basis of programmes such as Employee Assistance Plans (EAP) and occupational health support.

Stress, Long Covid and long-term conditions

The number of people who have reported stress, anxiety and other symptoms of mental health has increased during the pandemic and there are predictions that we will see a growth in employees who are diagnosed with long terms conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Long Covid. Both will need very careful and sensitive management as we move forward. Our guide to mental health in the workplace is full of information to help support employees and SME leaders.


Time off due to injury is also a common reason for unplanned absence. People sustain injuries at home and at work and these need to be recorded, taking into account any steps which should be taken to help people recuperate in line with medical advice. This could be used to form the basis for the development of an EAP or occupational health programme.

Be aware of presenteeism

As difficult as it can be to manage employee absence, employers must also keep an eye out for presenteeism. Presenteeism – or working when unwell – happens when employees feel a pressure to work despite not being at their best. As well as spreading illness in the workplace, presenteeism affects productivity and can indicate problems with your workplace culture.

3. Unauthorised absence

These are potentially the most worrying types of absences. Here, an employee essentially goes ‘off-radar’ for a short or longer period of time without providing a reason.


Lateness is the most common type of unauthorised absence. We’re all late from time to time often due to travel issues and other minor setbacks. On the other hand, if someone is late to work on a regular basis, this could indicate more serious issues, such as poor engagement, a lack of commitment, stress or other health issues. In some circumstances, disciplinary action may be necessary. In other cases, people may need support if there is an underlying reason for being late on a regular basis.

Virtual unauthorised absences

These may also be a cause for concern. These are when someone who is working remotely is either absent from a pre-arranged online meeting via a platform such as Zoom or MS Teams or absent but invisible, having switched off video, audio or both. This could be because they are attending simply to listen-in on a meeting or it could indicate a lack of engagement. It's just as important to record these absences and check in on these people if the number of virtual unauthorised absence increases. As with 'regular' unauthorised absence, there may be underlying issues to address.

Effective employee location management

With many businesses adopting hybrid working practices which combine homeworking with time spent in a company's workplace, it is increasingly complicated to keep track of where people are working.

Using a system like Breathe which includes dedicated location management functionality can help this make life easier. It’s important to remember that keeping track of team members’ whereabouts isn’t just good management practice, it is also important from a health and safety perspective. You need to know where someone is working at any given time so you can contact them quickly and easily whenever the need arises.

Breathe also includes many other features for managing absences alongside the means of storing documents related to company policies and employee records. 

We provide a free 14-day trial of Breathe so you can test-drive the system’s location management functionality alongside its many other features.

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Author: Laura Sands

Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.

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