Managing employees is always challenging, and if there is one thing I have learned over many years as a manager, it's this: No one benefits when people come to work sick.
I'll admit that I used to be guilty of this myself, but at some point early in my management career I figured out that when people come to work sick, all they do is slow their time to recovery and pass whatever they have to all sorts of people who work around them.
So count me as someone who believes that it is the job of a leader and manager to encourage sick employees to stay home when they are sick.
Calling in sick when they're not sick
But there is also another group of workers who call in sick, and it's those people who aren't sick but say they are so they can do something else besides work. I found this out when I was editor of a newspaper in Honolulu and had a mysteriously large number of people call in "sick" whenever we had large swells and big surf.
I knew what was happening. I chose not to play cop and track down the "sick" employees who were too ill to work but not so ill that they couldn't jump on a board and test the big waves.
That's why CareerBuilder's annual list of the year's most outrageous excuses for calling in sick is a favorite of mine, because not unlike my Hawaii staffers who suddenly caught the surfing "flu," the people who crafted these excuses are more concerned with whatever else they need to do than coming up with a plausible reason for being sick.
By the way, the CareerBuilder survey also found that more than a third of workers this past year (35 percent) said they have called in to work sick when they were feeling just fine, down from 38 percent last year. I'm not sure why the numbers improved slightly, but maybe it has something to say about the state of the economy.
When asked why they called in sick when they were feeling well, employees had these reasons:
- 28 percent said they just didn’t feel like going in to work;
- 27 percent took the day off to attend a doctor’s appointment.
- Another 24 percent said they needed to just relax;
- 18 percent needed to catch up on sleep; and,
- 11 percent took the day off to run personal errands.
Craziest excuses for calling in sick
When asked to share the most dubious excuses employees have given for calling in sick, employers reported hearing the following real-life examples:
- Employee said the ozone in the air flattened his tires.
- Employee’s pressure cooker had exploded and scared her sister, so she had to stay home.
- Employee had to attend the funeral of his wife’s cousin’s pet because he was an uncle and pallbearer.
- Employee was blocked in by police raiding her home.
- Employee had to testify against a drug dealer and the dealer’s friend mugged him.
- Employee said her roots were showing and she had to keep her hair appointment because she looked like a mess.
- Employee ate cat food instead of tuna and was deathly ill.
- Employee said she wasn’t sick but her llama was.
- Employee had used a hair remover under her arms and had chemical burns as a result. She couldn’t put her arms down by her sides due to that.
- Employee was bowling the game of his life and couldn’t make it to work.
- Employee was experiencing traumatic stress from a large spider found in her home. She had to stay home to deal with the spider.
- Employee said he had better things to do.
- Employee ate too much birthday cake.
- Employee was bitten by a duck.
Caught in the act
According to the CareerBuilder survey, although the majority of employers (67 percent) give their employees the benefit of the doubt, 33 percent say they have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth in one way or another, on par with last year.
Among employers who have checked up on an employee who called in sick, asking to see a doctor’s note was the most popular way to find out if the absence was legit (68 percent), followed by calling the employee (43 percent). As many as 18 percent of employers went the extra mile and drove past the employee’s house.
More than 1 in 5 employers (22 percent) say they have fired an employee for calling in sick with a fake excuse, on par with last year.
The survey also found that, according to employers, employees most often call in sick during the month of December (21 percent) followed by July (16 percent) and January (14 percent). The most popular day of the week to call in sick is Monday (48 percent) followed by Friday (26 percent).
Despite higher absentee rates during the holiday season, only 8 percent of employees say they have ever faked being sick during this time. Of those who have, most did it to spend time with family and friends (76 percent), while others wanted to holiday shop (12 percent) or decorate for the season (9 percent).
Avoid this by hiring the right people
My take: It's a huge waste of time and energy for manager's to try to find out if employees are really sick. Even getting a doctor's note doesn't work in many cases, because people with flu or a bad cold may never even visit the doctor and just need time and bed rest to get well.
When I worked in Honolulu, I always let people know that I would fire anyone who was found surfing if they had called in sick, but it would have taken me driving all around the island of Oahu to try to track them down, and that's a lot of real estate to cover. Even if I did catch one in the act, the union rules would have made it damn near impossible for me to fire anyone and make it stick as a first-time offender. So, I groused and let people know it was unacceptable behavior, but there was little I could do about it.
Of course, people who call in with these excuses listed above are just asking to be called on the carpet for their behavior, but the bottom line is this -- are these the kind of people you want working for you?
If you hire the right kind of people, treat them like adults, and let them know you want them to stay home sick when they truly are sick, you'll have better luck avoiding the games people play when they feel compelled to call in sick when they really aren't
These surveys were conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,587 hiring and human resource managers ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed; including 2,379 in the private sector) and 3,133 employees ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) between Aug. 11 and Sept. 7, 2016. Percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions.
Editor's note: Want to hire the right kind of people who won't give you lame excuses and fake being sick? Checkster has great tools -- like the Reference Checkup and Interview Checkup -- that automates and improves your hiring process, helping you to get the data you need to hire the very best people for your staff.