Sickness absence fell to record levels during the recession but has since increased, with more than 600,000 workers taking time off in the last few months of 2010, new figures have shown.

The Office for National Statistics said the sickness absence rate was 2.1% in the first quarter of 2009, but was back to pre-recession levels by the end of 2010, with 2.5% of people having at least one day off sick in the week before they were surveyed.

Around 613,000 employees were absent from work sick between October and December last year, resulting in two million working days being lost, said the report.Sickness absence has fallen over the past decade, although it has remained higher in the public sector than in private firms.

Absence rates have been consistently higher among women, while there was also a difference between men and women in the reasons for being off work.Other than minor illnesses such as coughs and colds, the top reason for men to be off work was musculoskeletal problems, whereas the main reason for women was stress, depression and anxiety.

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