Calling In Sick: What To Do When Employees Lie

Poor Gloria. She had a horrible case of the flu and spent Friday and Monday in bed – or so she said when she called in sick. But, not according to her coworker John, who says he saw pictures on Facebook of Gloria with a group of women on Friday celebrating and preparing for a friend’s wedding.

What is an employer to do?

The most important thing is to not jump to conclusions. Gather the facts – not rumors or sneaky suspicions.

Start with your time-keeping records

Your time management report can show patterns of absenteeism. Does Gloria tend to take sick leave on Fridays, Mondays or days surrounding holidays?

If this is a pattern of behavior, it definitely needs to be addressed. But, even if it is a one-time occurrence, you still need to talk to the employee.

What does your absenteeism policy say?

Has Gloria followed notification procedures? Well-written policies will require employees to call their supervisor by a certain time of day. The policy should be clear about with whom, when and how to make contact. Is a text or email acceptable? Or does it have to be a phone call and speaking directly to the supervisor?

This policy also can include when or if a doctor’s note is required. Because the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires a doctor’s note after three consecutive days, many companies use the three-day guideline for sick days.

Check your paid time off policy

Has Gloria exhausted all of her paid time off and is looking for a way to attend her friend’s bachelorette party? Companies with PTO policies that separate sick time from vacation time may encourage the use of paid sick time when employees aren’t sick. There is a perception that they are “due” those days. If the policy allows 10 days, they expect to get 10 days, no matter what.

On the other hand, a general PTO policy that encompasses both sick time and vacation time rewards employees who don’t have frequent illnesses and discourages people from taking sick days off when they’re not sick.

However, you need to know your city and state laws governing paid sick time. Some cities have sick-leave requirements, where companies must provide a certain number of days of paid sick leave. Some states, such as California, allow employees to use half of their paid sick leave to care for a spouse, domestic partner, child or child of domestic partner. Other states say you must allow time to care for a sick child or even time to take your well child to a doctor for routine care such as vaccines. These requirements go beyond what the federal FMLA provides.

Take a look at the employee’s history

Have they been dishonest in other areas? Do they have other performance problems? Or is this the first time you’ve had to reprimand them? How you handle it will depend on your company’s discipline policy.

Review your company’s progressive discipline policy

This outlines how your organization handles these situations and the progression of discipline, typically starting with a verbal warning, moving on to a written warning, possibly to suspension and then termination. This should be part of your company handbook and is meant to give guidelines and help you be consistent.

It’s time for a chat

Part of gathering facts includes talking to the employee. You have to address the issue. By ignoring it, you are condoning the behavior. It also can impact team morale, work performance and productivity.

Other workers may see it as affecting how much work they have to absorb when someone is out or that they see the employee as “getting away” with not following company policy. Habitual absences may cause a company to fall below its production or performance goals. Share how an absence affects these pieces of the business.

Let the employee know you’ve noticed the absences. This is an opportunity to set attendance expectations. But, it also gives you a chance to ask questions.

“Is there anything I need to know about? Anything you need from me?” You can ask if they expect this to be an ongoing issue.

Maybe you’re not aware of an underlying condition. Maybe the employee needs a schedule adjustment or accommodation based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Don’t assume you know all the facts until you have talked with the employee.

In Gloria’s case, it might be awkward, but the conversation has to happen. Your opening line might be: “I want you to know that someone saw pictures on Facebook of you out with friends on Friday. You called in sick. What can you tell me about this?”

Explain the impact on the rest of the team: “Not being here affects the team in these ways ….”

If this is a one-time issue, it will likely end with a verbal counseling session, with the manager making note of the discussion. If it’s an ongoing issue, it may advance to a written warning. The key is to have a progressive discipline policy in place and be consistent.

Feeling overwhelmed? Become a more effective leader and develop a stronger company culture with the help of our free e-book, A practical guide to managing difficult employees.

T
Teacher

Being told not to come into work if you’re sick from your employer is no guarantee you won’t be fired later for absenteeism. It happens all the time. There is no protection if you don’t have paid sick leave and even then there is no protection from losing your job. Never trust anyone who says don’t come to work. It’s flat out lying. Especially, when other staff call in and don’t lose their jobs, don’t kid yourself, anyone can go instantly. If it’s not in writing then you take a major risk of losing your job. I just did as my boss was coughing the whole time I was being told by the way and it did not matter if I had doctors notes. Try to avoid missing work as much as possible. Not even if they are the nicest and most caring people about it, you are not safe. Just do whatever you can to protect your job. If they get sick maybe they will learn to.

M
Michael

Employers do not own their employees. Clearly the employer is a control freak if the employee feels the need to lie about taking a day off. Employers should control their families and spouses if they are desperate to be on power trips and leave employees alone – none of their business if they are sick or not. You do not own us – get a life and stay out of ours – you are nothing but bullys.

R
Ryan

while it is her time to take off, why should the employer have to scramble to fill the shift she bailed on. Like you said she was preparing for a wedding, so unless it was a shot gun wedding that was announced on Thursday night, she could have said I am using sick days next Friday and the following Monday.

A
Andy Mann

I disagree with this, and here’s why. When an employee has earned their sick time, idependent of any vacation, floating holidays, etc., it is their time use, period. Employers are not the deciders of who is sick amd who isn’t. Your employees are adults, not children. You are an employer, not their parents. Keep your nose out of sick day usage that is in the bank and they are able to use. THAT SAID, ANNUALLY, all employees should be reminded that paid sick time is a benefit, and it is their benefit that they must manage amd use wisely. That includes using it when they are sick, and using it when they have something that can be passed to other employees, like the flu, a sever cold, etc. Sometimes employees forget that sick time isn’t always about getting better (though 90% of the time it is) but its usage by them helps to keep their coworkers safe from coming down with something like a severe cold, or the flu. They should also be reminded that as their employer, you don’t want to see them in a position of becoming sick, or a major sick emergency, and not have the time available should they find themselves in the hospital, or down with the flu for a week. But whatever you do, you must apply that across the board, in an even fashion. And the policy should be retaed at the beginning of flu and cold season, which also coincides with Holiday season.

Insperity Blog

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andy.

O
Olena

I agree with both Jen and Domenic.

B
Baz

What if your goods are perishable and needs to be dealt with on a daily basis ??

Insperity Blog

Hi Baz – Good question. Companies that deal with perishable goods likely have a backup plan in place to handle their products when certain critical employees call in sick. It differs on an individual basis.

D
Domenic

Unfortunately Jen you’re very wrong. Companies hire employees because they need their services, and if an employee can’t come in for some reason they should request that time off rather than pretending to be sick last minute. Its rude and selfish to let your team scramble to fill your position when you could have just told them you have a wedding to attend two weeks ago.

J
Jen

I disagree with this post. Employees take so many hours out of their lives to support companies that make a big fuss about taking a day or two off. Lighten up. Its healthy to take some time away from work – and Gloria was preparing for a wedding.