To determine whether preceding absence episodes increase the risk of future sickness absence, we examined recurrence of short (1 to 3 days), intermediate (4 to 14 days), and long (>2 weeks) sickness-absence episodes.
Data from 6934 municipal employees of the City of Helsinki were analyzed using proportional hazards models.
Preceding sickness absence increased the risk of new sickness-absence episodes. The association was stronger for longer sickness absence spells and for men. Shorter absence spells also predicted longer absence spells. Working conditions and health behaviors did not modify the associations.
The risk of recurrent sickness absences is higher for longer sickness-absence spells, which are often recurrent in nature. In addition, short absence spells predict future longer spells, suggesting that short absences are not trivial for health.