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Faking It: Why Employees Call in 'Sick'

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

More than one third of workers say they have called in to work sick when they were feeling just fine.

  • More employees admit they are lying when they call in sick to work.
  • Employers are cracking down, with some even firing the dishonest employees.
  • Many workers also admit they come to work when they're sick and shouldn't.

During flu season, employers gear up for an increase in sick calls from employees – but, it turns out, some of those calls might not be truthful.

A 2017 study by CareerBuilder found that the problem of workers calling in sick when they aren't has only gotten worse over time. In fact, the study found that 2 in 5 employees who called in sick weren't really sick. More than 1 in 4 said they felt it was necessary to make up an excuse for missing work even when they were already allowed to take time off for personal reasons.

Another change noted in the study is that more employers are feeling mistrustful of those who call in sick: 38% of the employers surveyed said they had checked up on employees who had called in sick – about twice as many as in an earlier CareerBuilder study.

Can you be fired for calling in sick?

Yes, you can be fired for calling in sick – that is, if you lied about it. Twenty-six percent of the employers in the survey said they had fired someone who had lied when calling in sick – which also represents an increase from earlier studies.

Clearly, the consequences of lying to an employer can be very serious, yet the problem only seems to get worse. Moreover, the percentage of employees who got caught lying because of their own social media posts went up to to 43%.

An earlier CareerBuilder study found that 35% of employees called in sick when they were feeling just fine. December is the most popular month for employee sick days, followed by July and January. Not surprisingly, Mondays and Fridays are when workers most frequently take sick time.

Employees should keep in mind that getting caught for calling in sick when they feel fine can have grave consequences. The study found that 22% of employers have fired someone for lying about being ill, up from 18% in 2014.

Can an employer ask why you are calling in sick?

While employees have a right to privacy about medical matters, employers have a right to know if their employees are sick. There are usually rules and regulations in an employee handbook, besides the local and federal laws, that can give each employee guidance about how to handle sick days if necessary.

Even though many workers have paid-time-off plans that lump vacation and sick time together, nearly 30% still feel the need to make up an excuse to take the day off. Employees pretend to be ill for a variety of reasons, and the research revealed the two most popular: One, workers just don't feel like being at work that day, and two, they need time off to attend a doctor's appointment.

Other common reasons are that employees want time to relax, they need to catch up on their sleep or they need time to run personal errands.

Why do employees lie about being sick?

Employees may lie about being sick because they feel guilty about taking time off when others are depending on them, and they may be worried about being judged for taking time off. Regardless, it makes more sense for employees to tell the truth, if for no other reason than to have a good relationship with their co-workers and supervisors.

While most employers give employees the benefit of the doubt when they take sick days, some bosses are a little more skeptical. One-third of the employers surveyed in the earlier study said they had checked in to see if an employee was telling the truth. 

When investigating whether an employee really was ill, most employers said they either ask for a doctor's note or call employees at home to make sure they are there and resting. Some, however, take things a bit further: Nearly 20% of the employers who have checked up on an employee have driven past the worker's house to make sure the person was there.

Many workers have only themselves to blame for getting caught in such a lie. More than one-third of employees in the earlier study got busted because they posted something on social media that gave away that they weren't ill. Of the employers who have used social media to catch someone faking an illness, 27% of the bosses fired those employees. Many employers, however, were a little more forgiving, with 55% simply reprimanding the employee.

Why do employees go to work when they are sick?

The one bright spot in the newer study was that a smaller percentage of people said they were coming to work when sick and possibly contagious. In the later study, only about 1 in 3 employees said they go to work when they are sick. 

Of the employees who go to work when they are sick, half said it's because they can't afford to miss a day of pay, and 60% said it's because they're worried the work won't get done, according to the earlier study.

The earlier study was based on surveys of 3,100 full-time workers and more than 2,500 full-time hiring and human resources managers.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
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