Business Columns & Blogs

In the Workplace: Know this when you call in ‘sick’

Calling in sick because it’s a beautiful autumn day? You should know that about 1 in 3 employers said they check to see if their employees really are sick. They said they ask for doctors’ notes, call workers to verify they’re at home and monitor social media.

Take special note of social media. One-third of employers who responded to a CareerBuilder survey said they have discovered employee lies by reading their Facebook pages or other posts. Surprisingly, only 1 in 5 employers said they had fired employees for giving fake absence excuses.

On the employee side, according to the survey conducted by Harris Poll, 38 percent of workers admitted calling in sick when they really were well. That statistic doesn’t surprise me. The stress of many workplaces makes self-declared “mental health days” understandable. What causes notice, though, is that this year’s percentage rose 10 points from last year’s 28 percent.

Another interesting survey finding was that even when employees have paid-time-off plans – allowing them to take time off without labeling it as vacation or sick days – about one-fourth of the workers said they felt obligated to give an excuse.

The annual survey also revealed a flip-side problem: Workers are going to work when they should be staying home. About half of the 3,321 full-time workers surveyed said they couldn’t take a day off because work had to get done and it wouldn’t be done if they didn’t do it. About half said they couldn’t afford to miss a day of pay. Neither reason is good for them or for their co-workers.

According to the 2,326 hiring managers surveyed, they’re getting prepared for the three highest-absence months of the year. They said sick-day calls peak in December, followed by January and February.

It’s hard to draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable absences. Who’s making the call? Workers certainly need to take care of their health. Employers certainly need to expect conscientious attendance. Sometimes an unscheduled day off bends in favor of the worker. Sometimes managers have a right to be suspicious and peeved.

In most workplaces, co-workers have a pretty good idea who is faking. Karma says serial abusers will be caught and reformed or fired. Until then, we can amuse ourselves by digging into another part of the annual calling-in-sick survey. Without comment, here are some of the odd day-off excuses that managers shared.

Employees said they were:

▪ Poisoned by a grandmother’s ham.

▪ Stuck under a bed.

▪ Told by the universe to take a day off.

▪ Coping with a cat stuck inside the car’s dashboard.

▪ Without underwear because it all was in the washer.

▪ Disappointed in food cooked for a department potluck.

▪ Going to the beach because the doctor ordered more vitamin D.

▪ Retrieving belongings from the trash (where the spouse put them after discovering an affair).

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star: stafford@kcstar.com, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford, kansascity.com/workplace

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