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17 days off a year: How much of a problem is sick leave in France?

The rate of absenteeism is rising in France where employees are off work sick for an average of 17 days each year and the French government wants to tackle the problem. Here's a look at how serious it is.

17 days off a year: How much of a problem is sick leave in France?
Photo: Elnur_//Depositphotos
Why is there so much talk about sick leave in France at the moment?
The rate of absenteeism is rising in France, according to a new study published by Le Figaro, with employees in the private sector averaging 17 days of sick leave during 2017. 
This marked a one day increase on the previous year's findings, with absenteeism in France costing the country's social security system a total of €10 billion.
The amount of sick leave being taken in the private sector has been on the rise for the past three years. In 2015, for example, an employee took 16.6 days off due to sickness per year, in 2016 that rose to 16.8 days and in 2017 it reached 17.2 days.
Why is it on the rise?
According to Fabien Piazzon, a consultant for Ayming, the firm which carried out the research,the reason for the rise in absenteeism is down to companies not understanding or accommodating for the needs of their employees as well as the issue of high levels of unemployment in certain regions.
See below for more details on the reasons behind absenteeism for different groups. 
Photo: baranq/Depositphotos
Where is it on the rise?
While 17 days of sick leave a year certainly sounds like a lot, the report showed that the average number of days of sick leave varies dramatically according to region. 
Brittany in the north west of France, Occitanie in the south west and Corsica were the worst for absenteeism in 2017, with the report revealing that employees were taking more sick days in regions where unemployment was high due to the fact that workers were more likely to stay in jobs that made them unhappy. 
Meanwhile workers in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France, Pays de la Loire in western France and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in the east were the most diligent, taking off the fewest days as a result of sickness.  
Who is taking the most sick leave?
Women took more sick leave than man which, according to a consultant for Ayming, the firm which carried out the research, this could be down to the kind of work they do. 
“Traditionally women are in jobs with many repetitive tasks which can result in swollen tendons (tendonitis) in the wrist, shoulder or elbow,” Fabien Piazzon told Franceinfo
The greater level of absenteeism among women has also been put down to the fact that are more likely to be single parents. 
Age was also a factor in the amount of sick leave people took, with young people tending to be absent more frequently than their older colleagues. 
Photo: kmiragaya/Depositphotos
However, when they did take sick leave, older workers tended to be absent for a longer periods of time. 
Older people are “more exposed to serious illnesses,” Piazzon said, adding that he believes the high level of absenteeism reflects the struggle on the part o companies to adapt to fundamental changes in the lives of their employees, who, as they grow older, may find themselves responsible for caring for other members of their family, something which puts a “huge burden” on their private lives. 
Meanwhile the issue for young people is that they “go through emotional burden that generates absenteeism”, according to  Piazzon. 
“They have extremely high expectations of work and when the work does not interest them enough, they struggle emotionally and that generates absenteeism and burn-out.” 
Which industries are most affected by absenteeism?
Health was the sector most affected by absenteeism in France in 2017.
In private clinics and hospitals, an average of 5.31 percent of employees were on sick leave each day.
This figure is slightly higher than those seen in businesses and the service sector. 
How does it compare with other countries?
The average number of days taken off for sick leave in France is far higher than those seen in Britain, which this year saw a record low in absenteeism in the workplace. 
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that employees took an average of 4.1 sick days in 2017, although this took into account public sector workers as well as those in the private sector. 
Meanwhile in the US, where there are currently no requirements for companies to pay employees for sick leave, absenteeism is notoriously low, with workers often going to the office when they are too ill to work. 
Solid figures for the average number of days off taken by workers are hard to come by although one study put the figure at 10 days per year in 2007 while a 2013 PWC study the figure at 4.9 days a year.
Germany, which used to be known for its low level of absenteeism, saw sick leave on the rise in 2016. However, the figures were still low compared to France, with Germans out of commission for an average of 7.9 days a year. 
What does the French government want to do about it? / How has the government reacted?
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe denounced the high level of sick leave in an interview with the Journal de Dimanche at the end of August.
“In three years, the average annual number of days off a year for sickness has increased by one day, as if our country had introduced an extra day off,” said the prime minister.
Philippe has already made it one of his missions to investigate the rise of the sick leave in order to find a way to reduce it. 
What are the rules for taking sick leave in France?
If you are in the private sector then different companies have different rules and different sectors also have different rules depending on the “convention collective” (collective labour agreement) they adhere too.
The basic legal cover means when workers off sick they have to go without pay for the first three days and you are generally required to have a doctor's note saying you are sick from day one. Although again certain companies will cover these three days.
After those initial three days the worker's salary will be covered by the social security up to a maximum of €44.34 a day.

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