BACKGROUND: Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are a common cause of disability and absence from work. There is no consistent evidence in the literature regarding predictors for short- and long-term absences due to these disorders. AIMS: To investigate work-related factors influencing short- and long-term absences due to MSD in German-speaking countries. METHODS: The study is based on data from the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey. The study population included 2849 workers in German-speaking countries who participated in face-to-face interviews. Logistic regression models were used to determine the associations between possible risk factors and the occurrence of short- or long-term absence due to MSD. RESULTS: A tiring or painful working position was positively correlated with short- and long-term absenteeism due to MSD, whereas the freedom to decide when to take holidays was negatively associated with this phenomenon. Some psychosocial factors, such as the ability to apply one's own ideas at work, the ability to choose or change the speed or rate of work and the emotional demands of the job, had contradictory impacts on short- and long-term absenteeism due to MSD. CONCLUSIONS: The results of this investigation show that it is important to distinguish between predictors of short- and long-term absenteeism due to MSD.