HR Management, HR News & Trends

The Craziest Excuses Workers Use When Calling In Sick

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Every year, CareerBuilder enlists the researchers at Harris Interactive to survey hiring managers and HR professionals about the excuses they hear when employees call in sick.

This is stuff you can’t possibly make up.

As CareerBuilder is careful to point out, “In the past year, 30 percent of workers have called in sick when not actually ill, keeping on par with previous years. Sick days, legitimate or otherwise, also become more frequent around the winter holidays, with nearly one-third of employers reporting more employees call in sick during the holiday season.”

Some 29% check up on the excuses

The survey also found that a fair number of managers want verification whether the sick worker is actually sick or not. This was a big issue for me when I was a manager in Hawaii, in a union shop, and mysteriously had a number of the surfers on my staff call in sick when the surf was particularly large. I never caught any of them actually surfing when they should have been home in bed, but that was more because I didn’t have the time or resources to play cop and track all of them down.

CareerBuilder found that 29 percent of employers say they have checked up on an employee to verify that the illness is legitimate, usually by requiring a doctor’s note or calling the employee later in the day. In addition, another 18 percent of employers have had other employees call a suspected faker, and 14 percent have even gone so far as to drive by the employee’s home.

All in all, some 17 percent of employers say they have actually fired employees for giving a fake excuse about being sick.

Some other facts from CareerBuilder before we get to the excuses:

  • Some 31 percent of employers notice an uptick in sick days around the winter holidays;
  • December is the most popular month to call in sick, with 20 percent saying their employees call in the most during that month.
  • July is the next most popular month to skip out on work, followed by January and February.
  • Next to actually being sick, the most common reasons employees call in sick are because they just don’t feel like going to work (34 percent), or because they felt like they needed to relax (29 percent). Others take the day off so they can make it to a doctor’s appointment (22 percent), catch up on sleep (16 percent), or run some errands (15 percent).

Craziest excuses when calling in sick

All of that is interesting information, but what you really want to know is what kinds of crazy excuses are employees making out there? Take a look at this list that CareerBuilder has compiled from the survey, because you may have heard some of these yourself

When asked to share the most memorable excuses, employers reported the following real-life examples:

  • Employee’s sobriety tool wouldn’t allow the car to start.
  • Employee forgot he had been hired for the job.
  • Employee said her dog was having a nervous breakdown.
  • Employee’s dead grandmother was being exhumed for a police investigation.
  • Employee’s toe was stuck in a faucet.
  • Employee said a bird bit her.
  • Employee was upset after watching The Hunger Games.
  • Employee got sick from reading too much.
  • Employee was suffering from a broken heart.
  • Employee’s hair turned orange from dying her hair at home.

Yes, these are pretty kooky excuses, but my guess is that TLNT readers have a lot more (and better) ones of their own. Heck, I bet that Tim Sackett alone has about a dozen good ones he could recite off the top of his head.

If you have a good (by good, I mean crazy) excuse that an employee has made for being sick, please leave it in the comments below. I’d love to get enough to do a TLNT version of this and see who really has the better excuses once and for all.

The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,494 U.S. hiring managers and human resource professionals and 3,976 U.S. workers (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) ages 18 and over between August 13 and September 6, 2012 (percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions).

John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of TLNT.com, and the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices. Contact him at john@tlnt.com, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnhollon.
  • grannybunny

    We have a manager who is frequently out because he has repairmen at his home, notwithstanding the fact that he lives in an upscale suburb and has a stay-at-home wife.  He also is late a lot with morning appointments; a co-worker has seen his car parked outside a fitness facility during these so-called “appointments.”  In addition, he is an officer in the military reserves and frequently takes off on military duty, always of a duration of less than 30 days, so no documentation is required.  Judging from documents he carelessly leaves on the shared fax machines and printers, he performs a lot of his military duties at work, and is widely-suspected of double-dipping; that is, of being paid by the military and our office for the same work hours.

  • Gina

    At my previous company we had a call center agent ask for FMLA due to her cat dying.  Okay, I get needing maybe a couple of days off, but FMLA???

  • HRgranny

    An employee called in and said he needed a Monday evening off because he just returned from an out of town trip and everything in his home had been stolen. The next day he called and said he was expecting the insurance adjuster (after 5pm?). He works evenings so he had all day to take care of this. When his manager requested a police report suddenly there was no police report and he was called to basic training so he guessed he would have to quit. He would be leaving out as soon as he found storage for his TV and other personal things WHAT! Thought everything was stolen. He hung his head and left.

  • Tisaac

    Employee called in and said she could not come to work because she had pulled all of her eyelashes out in an eyelash curler malfunction.

  • DCP

    we had a woman call in and say she had lost her teeth in her waterbed during the night and could not come in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JayKersting Jay Kersting

    Manager called in to her employees to say she could NOT come to work because….”I am bleeding from my rectum.”  Exact words. They had to tell her manager what she said. And yes, they did relay the EXACT message.

  • Hps Training

    Employee called in sick telling “My grand mother died”. He had forgotten that he had used this excuse previously as well to call in sick.

    • Michelle

      you do get two grandmothers!

      • Arie Calamari

        Hahaha this guy should not be boss

  • http://twitter.com/HireMENA HireMENA

    We work in the Middle East. Possession by the Devil was the without a doubt the craziest excuse we have ever heard!

  • Allison

    I once called out because I’d gotten a death threat and had to leave the city for a little while and go into hiding. except oh wait, that wasn’t an excuse, that really happened. sometimes those “crazy excuses” are legitimate, does anyone ever get the benefit of the doubt these days?

  • http://twitter.com/AFischhaber Anne Fischhaber

    I once overheard a phone conversation where a lady was actually telling her manager that she could not make it to work because she had a bad stomach and had soiled herself on her way to work! She said she had to go back to her house to clean up and change, but still did not feel well and could not make it to work. The lady was having a haircut as she made the call!! I often wonder why employers cannot leave well alone so long as the staff has sick days or personal days to do whatever they need to do without suspicion and much detective work y the employer! In any case, if this is a big problem, then perhaps the employer has to re-evaluate what is actually going on in the firm to cause staff to lie just to stay away from work.

    On the other hand, it is difficult to plan sick off days as they would then not be considered as such – no one can plan to be sick unless it is a procedure that must be done at a particular time for which planning is necessary. If more employees call off during December months – around the holidays, could it be that most people are stressed out and perhaps a little burnt out by the year’s end?

  • Candice

    I ran a promotional company and the amount of ridiculous excuses people would give to not have to promote products at night clubs is outrageous! It is funny how everyone’s siblings turn 21 in summer, funerals happen on Friday’s and grieving is expected to last through the night, menstruation is fortnightly and migraines are rife among those in their early twenties!