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Do you call in sick when you are not?

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
sick days, job loss, excuses, CareerBuilder, Harris Interactive

If you called in sick from work in the past year, you are in good Pinocchio company. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder, 30% of workers called in sick over the past year. In addition, some of the excuses they gave outdo the one given by the kid who claimed his dog ate his homework.

The annual study was conducted online from August 13 to September 6, 2012 and included 2,494 hiring managers and human resource professionals as well as 3,976 workers across industries and company sizes. The poll also found that sick days, legitimate or otherwise, also become more frequent around the winter holidays, with nearly one-third of employers reporting more employees call in sick during the holiday season. It found that 29% of employers have checked up on an employee to verify that the illness is legitimate, usually by requiring a physician’s note or calling the employee later in the day. Some employers have had other employees call a suspected Pinocchio (18%) or even gone so far as to drive by the employee’s home (14%). The false claim has resulted in job loss; 17% of employers have fired employees for giving a fake excuse.

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As previously noted, sick days rise during winter holidays; 31% of employers reported an increase in sick days during this period. December was the most popular month to call in sick; 20% of employers reported that their employees called in sick during that month. July was the next most popular month for sick days, followed by January and February.

Not all sick days are spent in bed chugging down cold remedies and sneezing. Next to actually being sick, the most common reasons employees call in sick are because they just do not feel like going to work (34%), or because they felt like they needed to relax (29%). Others take the day off so they can make it to a doctor’s appointment (22%), catch up on sleep (16%), or run some errands (1%).

Some workers come up with creative excuses for their absence from work. When asked to share the most memorable excuses, employers reported the following real-life examples:

  • Employee’s sobriety tool wouldn't allow the car to start
  • Employee forgot he had been hired for the job
  • Employee said her dog was having a nervous breakdown
  • Employee’s dead grandmother was being exhumed for a police investigation
  • Employee’s toe was stuck in a faucet
  • Employee said a bird bit her
  • Employee was upset after watching “The Hunger Games”
  • Employee got sick from reading too much
  • Employee was suffering from a broken heart
  • Employee’s hair turned orange from dying her hair at home

Take home message:
Although an employee may rationalize taking a fake sick day based on reasons such as “I’m entitled to my sick days,” or “Everybody does it,” calling in sick may cause the employer to incur increased costs by hiring a temp or result in a slow-down of production. In these current tough economic times when many are unemployed, abusing sick days could result in loss of promotion or even loss of a job.