Benefits, HR News & Trends

The Latest Outrageous Excuses Employees Give For Calling In Sick

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Every year, CareerBuilder does a survey of managers and HR pros asking for the most outrageous excuses workers give when calling in sick.

It’s always a lot of fun — mainly because the excuses are so ridiculous that you end up asking yourself, “what were they thinking?” — but the part of the survey that always grabs me are the more newsworthy findings that give you some insight into the mindset and motivation of today’s workforce.

20% call in sick but work from home anyway

In this year’s survey, for example:

  • Nearly one-third (32 percent) of workers have called in sick when they were not actually ill, up slightly from last year (30 percent).
  • On the flip side, 30 percent of employees say they’ve gone to work despite being sick in order to save their sick days for when they’re feeling well (Huh?).
  • Some 20 percent of workers say they called in sick but still ended up doing work from home throughout the day.
  • About a third (30 percent) of employers say they have noticed an increase in the number of sick days taken around the holidays, and 19 percent of employers say that December is the time of year that employees call in sick the most, followed by January (16 percent) and February (15 percent).
  • Some 30 percent of employers also say that they have checked on employees who called in sick to make sure the excuse was legitimate. Of those who verified employees’ excuses, 64 percent required a doctor’s note, 48 percent called the employee, 19 percent checked the employee’s social media posts, 17 percent had another employee call the sick employee, and 15 percent drove past the employee’s house (I’d like to know more about those managers who are out driving past employee homes during work hours).
  • While some employers may be flexible with how employees use their sick days, 16 percent say they’ve fired employees for calling in sick with a fake excuse.

That last finding — that some managers are firing employees who fake being sick — is a little surprising because it is my experience that it’s pretty hard to prove someone is faking if they’re motivated to deceive you. And, this finding doesn’t get into the proliferation of PTO policies that, in theory, should eliminate the need for fake sick excuses altogether.

Silliest excuses for being out sick

But, that’s not what’s fun about this particular CareerBuilder survey. No, the good part is the list of ridiculous excuses employees give that they think their managers are buying. See if you’ve heard any of your workers give you a reason for missing work along the lines of some of these:

  • Employee’s false teeth flew out the window while driving down the highway.
  • Employee’s favorite football team lost on Sunday so needed Monday to recover.
  • Employee was quitting smoking and was grouchy.
  • Employee said that someone glued her doors and windows shut so she couldn’t leave the house to come to work.
  • Employee bit her tongue and couldn’t talk.
  • Employee claimed a swarm of bees surrounded his vehicle and he couldn’t make it in.
  • Employee said the chemical in turkey made him fall asleep and he missed his shift.
  • Employee felt like he was so angry he was going to hurt someone if he came in.
  • Employee received a threatening phone call from the electric company and needed to report it to the FBI.
  • Employee needed to finish Christmas shopping.
  • Employee’s fake eye was falling out of its socket
  • Employee got lost and ended up in another state
  • Employee couldn’t decide what to wear

Why the need to lie to get a day off?

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,099 hiring managers and human resource professionals, and 3,484 U.S. workers (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) between Aug. 13 and Sept. 6, 2013 (percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions). With a pure probability sample of 2,099, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 2.14 and +/-1.66 percentage points.

I’m always surprised by these idiotic responses, because I’m always surprised that people would feel the need to fake being sick. But, the workplace is difficult to navigate even during the best of times, and these past five years or so haven’t exactly been a great period for working people trying to stay employed and earn a decent living.

So, I get it. People say silly things to cover the real reason why they need to stay home from work.

But really, what is going on in your workplace that make them feel they have to lie to get an extra day off? Maybe that’s the question we should all be asking after reading these crazy excuses.

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.
  • Alex

    It gets so bad that sometimes you feel guilty for actually being sick; one time I had a really bad strep throat and couldn’t move, but I would’ve contaminated the entire office had I come in

  • Allison

    for the second one, are they saving sick days or are they saving PTO? some companies lump sick days and vacation days into one accrued number of paid days off, and in those cases people will “suck it up” and go to work sick so they can use those days for actual vacations.

  • Crystal Spraggins

    Call me crazy, but some of these excuses sound so wild I could believe them. False teeth flying out of windows? Why not? Doors and windows glued shut? Do you watch the Investigation Discovery channel? Stalker-type obsessed lovers do all kinds of insane things. I’d buy it. At least the first time.

  • Jenna Carter

    I was just going to comment along the same lines as Crystal. All of those I would accept, at least the first time. They’re too far out there to be anything but brutally honest if you’re dealing with someone who isn’t a serial deceiver. If someone is so angry they feel violent, I don’t want them in the office. If they’re going to growl at everyone around them because they’re going through withdrawal, I don’t want them in the office. I know someone whose car was taken over by bees during the weekend and she wasn’t able to drive it on Monday. I would be a lot more inclined to believe any of these excuses above the old, “Yeah… I woke up with a sore throat… I mean, my stomach hurts… I mean, I didn’t sleep because I have a fever…”

    • Crystal Spraggins

      “I know someone whose car was taken over by bees during the weekend…” Lol. Sometimes you really can’t make this stuff up.

  • MM

    I think that being sick, but working from home shows great initiative. I did this once during the first month at a new job even though I should have been resting because I wanted to show initiative. Great to see that HR professionals view this a fake excuse, rather than a valiant effort.

    For all the other, truly fake excuses, management should look inward. Why do people need so much time off? Is your PTO policy less than 15 days? Just because it’s standard doesn’t make it right.

  • brianmmf

    There’s nothing silly about this one:
    Employee felt like he was so angry he was going to hurt someone if he came in.

    That comment warrants a serious conversation with the employee, to ensure that violence doesn’t enter the workplace. I’m surprised to see it on this list, as if there were humour in it.