Sick-Day Excuses: Grandma Poisoned Me, the Doctor Prescribed the Beach

By Dana Wilkie Oct 19, 2015
Ever take a sick day from work because your doctor said the beach would be good for your vitamin D deficiency? Or because you had no clean underwear?

Those are among the excuses that workers gave their managers for taking sick time, according to a new survey commissioned by CareerBuilder.

Some of the excuses “may have been true,” said Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s chief human resources officer. “We highlight [the] shocking ones because they’re wacky and unique. What stands out is that most of them don’t warrant missing any or a full day of work, but the employee chose to divulge the information and request the time off.”

Winter Blues and Flus

The online survey by Harris Poll—which first canvassed 2,326 U.S. hiring and human resource managers and then 3,321 U.S. employees from Aug. 12 to Sept. 2, 2015—has a sampling error of about +/- 2 percentage points.

More than one-third of employees—38 percent—said they called in sick in 2015, even though they felt well, up from 28 percent in 2014. Of those employees, about 1 in 4 said they had a doctor’s appointment, just didn’t feel like working or needed to relax. About 1 in 5 said they needed to catch up on sleep, and just over 1 in 10 blamed bad weather.

In fact, the winter “blues” seem to encourage workers to stay home. The most popular months for employees to call in sick, according to the survey, are December (20 percent), January (15 percent) and February (14 percent).

“It’s flu season, so employees likely are sick more often and, if not, feel more at ease when faking because it’s more of a possibility than usual,” Haefner said.

The holidays also seem to encourage people to call in sick. Respondents who faked being sick during the holidays said they did so to spend time with family and friends (68 percent), shop for the holidays (21 percent) or decorate for the season (9 percent).

Weird Excuses

The survey found that some of the stranger excuses for staying home included:
• Employee claimed his grandmother poisoned him with ham.
• Employee was stuck under the bed.
• Employee broke his arm while grabbing a falling sandwich.
• Employee said the universe was telling him to take a day off.
• Employee had to retrieve his belongings from a dumpster after his wife learned he’d been unfaithful.
• Employee poked herself in the eye while combing her hair.
• Employee said his wife put all his underwear in the washer.
• Employee said the meal he cooked for a department potluck didn’t turn out well.
• Employee was going to the beach because the doctor said she needed more vitamin D.
• Employee said her cat was stuck inside the dashboard of her car.
• Employee chugged a bottle of mouthwash thinking it was a power drink and got sick.
• Employee was kicked by a llama and suffered a broken leg.
• Employee said his girlfriend threw a pan of hot grits in his face.
• Employee’s parakeet had the flu and needed some TLC.

One third of employers said they’d caught an employee lying about being sick by checking social media.

Other ways that employers checked up on employees was by asking to see a doctor’s note and calling the employee. More than 1 in 5 employers (22 percent) said they’d fired a worker for calling in sick with a fake excuse, an increase from 18 percent in 2014.

More than half of the workers surveyed had paid time off programs that allowed them to take time off for any reason, yet 27 percent of these employees said they still felt obligated to make up an excuse—often by pretending to be sick—when they took a day off. Many of those who felt this pressure—32 percent—were ages 18 to 34, compared with 20 percent of those who were 55 or older.

“Inflexible scheduling may put an employee in the position of having to fake a cold and take an entire day off when he or she only needed a few hours to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment,” Haefner said.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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