Absences from work of employed person

Status: This standard was approved as a departmental standard on July 15, 1998.


Absence from work and work interruption are used almost interchangeably to denote a period of not-working time preceded and followed by periods of paid employment (or working in one's own business). The key issue to be considered during the not-working time is whether one still has some attachment, claim or expectation of returning to a job or business. If the answer is "yes", then one is absent from a job and the situation is termed absence from work; if "no", then one has lost or left a job for some reason. In the latter case, if one subsequently resumes working, even if it is with the same employer, then the period of not working is a work interruption. An absence from work may be paid or unpaid, but a work interruption is always unpaid (pay being wages or salary from an employer).

Employed person refers to those who, during the reference period, had a labour force status of 'employed'. That is, those who, during the reference period:

(a) Did any work at all at a job or business, that is, paid work in the context of an employer-employee relationship, or self-employment. This also includes persons who did unpaid family work, which is defined as unpaid work contributing directly to the operation of a farm, business or professional practice owned and operated by a related member of the same household; or

(b) Had a job but were not at work due to factors such as their own illness or disability, personal or family responsibilities, vacation or a labour dispute. This category excludes persons not at work because they were on layoff or between casual jobs, and those who did not then have a job (even if they had a job to start at a future date).


Absence from work is often confused with work interruptions (see below). For example, the Absence from work survey, which has been conducted annually for more than 20 years, collects data for paid employees about absences of two weeks or more in the previous calendar year. But because no check is made whether the employer before the absence and the one after are the same, some of these absences may more accurately be considered as work interruptions. In fact, one of the first questions on the survey makes reference to "leav(ing) a job, or (being) absent from work for 2 or more consecutive weeks".

The concept of absence from work applies to paid employees who experienced a period of absence from their job, after which they returned to work with the same employer. While most persons work a regular five-day work week, others work flexible schedules. An absence from work is considered only when an employee fails to work on scheduled days. Employees who are on call would be considered absent if they were not called in or came in for less than their usual hours (based on an average over some period - commonly four weeks).

The concept also applies to self-employed individuals with an active business. The question of whether a business is active or not needs to be answered. If there are paid employees who continue to work while the owner is absent, then the business is still active. When there are no paid employees, then the respondent must resume the same activities upon reactivating the business. If these conditions are not met, then the period of not working becomes a work interruption rather than an absence from work. The key factor in distinguishing an absence from an interruption is the strength of the attachment to a job or business.

Two types of absence from work are defined: part-week - measured in hours lost compared with usual weekly hours; and extended - measured in continuous weeks (or months). Absences can of course last more than a year. For example, extended maternity leave, education leave or other special cases spelled out in contracts. Unless some over-riding factor is involved, the reference period for part-week absences from work should be restricted to a Labour Force Survey reference week, and for extended absences from work, to a calendar year(s) - the past x months is ambiguous and makes it difficult for users to integrate data from different sources. Asking the start and end dates of absences covers the case of absences that fall into different calendar years.

Due to methodological differences, some statistical programs are only able to identify work absences which are in progress. Other programs are able to identify both absences in progress and absences which have been completed. Programs should state clearly in either their definitions or their classifications (or both) whether the variable refers to an ongoing absence or a completed absence or ongoing and/or completed absences.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

There are no relevant internationally recognized standards.


  • 'Duration of extended absence from work' is expressed as individual weeks absent from 1 to 52 and 53 or more.

    Note: Duration of extended absence from work refers to the number of continuous weeks or months missed by a person who was absent from work during the reference period and returned, or expected to return, to the same job. July 15, 1998 to current
  • 'Duration of financial compensation received during absence from work' is expressed as individual weeks absent from 1 to 52.

    Note: Duration of financial compensation received during absence from work refers to the number of weeks or months in which any compensation was received during an extended absence of one week or more experienced by a person during the reference period. July 15, 1998 to current
  • 'Hours of absence from work (time lost)' is expressed as individual hours absent from 1 to 50 and greater than 50.
    Note: Hours of absence from work (time lost) refers to the number of hours missed by an employed person who was absent from work for part of the reference week (absences of less than one hour should not be included). Some sources may also provide average number of days absent. July 15, 1998 to current
  • Percentage March 16, 1998 to current


Additional information


Relation to previous version

  • Absences from work of employed person July 15, 1998 to current

    This is the current standard.

Report a problem on this page

Is something not working? Is there information outdated? Can't find what you're looking for?

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you.

Privacy notice

Date modified: