Strangest excuses for calling in sick revealed by managers, study

Employee abuse of sick leave is on the rise

Posted October 20, 2015

Whether it’s to finish binge-watching their latest Netflix obsession, take care of personal errands, or simply needing a day off, many workers aren’t above taking a sick day despite having a clean bill of health.

According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 38 percent of employees have called in to work sick in the past year even though they were feeling well, up from 28 percent last year. But some employees take their excuses to the next level: From claiming their grandmother poisoned them, to saying they have to spend the day dumpster diving, employers named the most absurd excuses employees have given for calling in sick.

Of the employees who have called in sick when feeling well in the past year, 27 percent said they had a doctor’s appointment, the same proportion said they just didn’t feel like going to work, 26 percent said they needed to relax, 21 percent said they needed to catch up on sleep, and 12 percent blamed bad weather.

The cost of a sick day

Of the 52 percent of employees who have a Paid Time Off (PTO) program that allows them to use their time off however they choose, 27 percent say they still feel obligated to make up an excuse for taking a day off (compared to 23 percent last year), and many of them are relatively new to the workforce. Of these employees who have a PTO program, 32 percent of those ages18-34 say they still feel obligated to make up an excuse, compared to 20 percent of those 55 and older.

On the other hand, some feel they can’t afford to use a sick day, even when they’re ill. More than half of employees (54 percent) say they have gone into work when sick because they felt the work wouldn’t get done otherwise. Further, nearly half (48 percent) say they can’t afford to miss a day of pay, up from 38 percent last year, and this varies greatly by age:

  • Age 18-24: 71 percent
  • Age 25-34: 63 percent
  • Age 35-44: 44 percent
  • Age 45-54: 40 percent
  • Age 55+: 32 percent

Sorry, I can’t make it in…

When asked to share the most memorable excuses for workplace absences they’ve heard, employers reported the following real-life examples:

  1. Employee claimed his grandmother poisoned him with ham.
  2. Employee was stuck under the bed.
  3. Employee broke his arm reaching to grab a falling sandwich.
  4. Employee said the universe was telling him to take a day off.
  5. Employee’s wife found out he was cheating. He had to spend the day retrieving his belongings from the dumpster.
  6. Employee poked herself in the eye while combing her hair.
  7. Employee said his wife put all his underwear in the washer.
  8. Employee said the meal he cooked for a department potluck didn’t turn out well.
  9. Employee was going to the beach because the doctor said she needed more vitamin D.
  10. Employee said her cat was stuck inside the dashboard of her car.

Bluffing to fight the winter blues

The most popular months for employees to call in sick continue to be December (20 percent), January (15 percent) and February (14 percent), on par with last year’s survey results. And while less than 1 in 10 employees (9 percent) say they have ever faked being sick during the holidays, those that do most often say it’s to spend time with family and friends (68 percent), while others wanted to holiday shop (21 percent) or decorate for the season (9 percent).

Faking? Busted

While most employers claim to trust their employees, one in three employers (33 percent) have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth after calling in sick this year, compared to 31 percent last year. Of these employers, asking to see a doctor’s note was the most popular way to find out if the absence was based in truth (67 percent), followed by calling the employee (49 percent) and checking the employee’s social media posts (32 percent).

More than 1 in 5 employers (22 percent) has fired an employee for calling in sick with a fake excuse, an increase from last year (18 percent).

To keep an eye on questionable behavior, employers are going online. Thirty-three percent of all employers have caught an employee lying about being sick by checking their social media accounts, and of those, 26 percent have fired the employee.


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