Sick leave cost British industry £1.75bn last year but days lost through sickness fell to the lowest level for 15 years, according to a new report.
The absentee rates were the lowest since 1987
Many companies believe up to 15% of absence is not genuine, according to the survey by the CBI and AXA PPP healthcare.
Firms paid an average of £476 per employee to cover salaries of absent workers.
But the number of working days lost last year fell by more than 5% from 176 million to 166 million or an average of 6.8 days per worker.
There are too many people who will happily spend the day off work at the expense of their employers and their hard working colleagues
John Cridland, CBI's deputy director general
This was the lowest figure since the survey began in 1987.
Rising labour costs explain why the cost of absence remained high, said the CBI.
Absence was lowest in Greater London (5.4 days per employee per year) and highest in Yorkshire and Humberside and West Midlands (7.8 days each).
Absences fell most in firms where senior managers were responsible for dealing with it, the research of 550 organisations found.
The gap between days off in the public sector and private firms was "worryingly large" at 8.9 days lost a year compared with 6.5 days.
Manufacturing firms reported higher absence levels than the service sector.
The deputy director general of the CBI, John Cridland, said: "There are serious concerns about the number of staff throwing sickies.
"There are too many people who will happily spend the day off work at the expense of their employers and their hard working colleagues."
Almost 19 million fewer days would be lost every year if firms with the worst absence rates could raise performance to average levels, he said.
Firms also had to prove efficient health services so staff could recover quickly, he said.
Manual workers had higher absence rates than non-manual employees.
And larger companies reported higher absence levels than smaller ones.
The director of occupational health services at AXA PPP, Dr Mark Simpson, said the lack of progress in reducing long term absence was "deeply disturbing".
It accounts for as much as one third of time off sick.
"Yet only half of people responsible for managing absence have ever been shown how to do it," he said.
Absence rates have been falling since the survey began as firms find ways to cut absenteeism and limit the financial impact, said the CBI.