calling in sick

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?

First, answer the question: Why should we care?

You have to address the issue. By ignoring it you are condoning the behavior.

The fact is, your organization may not depend upon one employee’s day-to-day attendance. For example, the IT department can probably still operate if Gloria calls in sick. But if Gloria works on a manufacturing line and her coworker can’t leave until she clocks in, then her absence impacts productivity and team morale immediately.

Of course, this assumes that Gloria’s absenteeism is not a larger pattern of behavior. The most important thing is to not jump to conclusions. Gather the facts – not rumors or sneaking suspicions.

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Start with your time-keeping records

Your time management report can show patterns of absenteeism or poor attendance. Does Gloria tend to take sick time 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 direct conversation with the supervisor?

This policy can also include when or if a doctor’s note is required. Many companies use the three-day guideline for sick days, but be sure you don’t run afoul of any mandatory sick leave law that your company may be subject to. We’ll discuss more about that below.

… 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.

Check your leave policies

Has Gloria exhausted all of her allotted vacation time? Is she looking for a way to attend her friend’s bachelorette party? Companies with time off policies that separate sick time from vacation time may encourage the use of paid sick time when employees aren’t sick. There may be a perception that they are “due” those days. If the policy allows 10 days, some employees may 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.

Don’t forget state and local laws

As more cities and states enact their own sick leave laws, it’s harder than ever to keep up with all the requirements governing paid sick time, particularly if your company operates in multiple jurisdictions.

For instance, California, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and several other cities and counties have sick-leave laws that require companies provide a certain number of hours of paid sick leave each year.

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 a domestic partner. Other states, like New Jersey, require employers to let sick time be used for reasons related to school events and/or conferences.

Certain city laws also have specific coverage. Emeryville, Calif., requires that mandatory sick time be available to care for your service dog, and Minneapolis and St. Paul both require that the time be available for use due to inclement weather.

As more cities and states enact their own sick leave laws, it’s harder than ever to keep up with all the requirements.

A majority of these laws also set parameters around when a note can be requested, and some prohibit employers from penalizing workers by “counting” absences covered under the sick law against an employee’s attendance. These requirements go beyond what the federal FMLA provides.

Complicating matters, these sick leave requirements may run counter to a company’s PTO policy that lumps all types of leave together. For instance, Santa Monica, Calif. requires employers to have a stand-alone sick time policy, specifically precluding PTO or other combination-type plans from meeting the requirements of the law.

Take a look at the employee’s history

Has the person been dishonest in other areas? Does the employee have other performance problems? Or is this the first time you’ve had to reprimand them? How you handle it will depend on both your company’s discipline policy and its leave policies.

Social media: Proceed with caution

It’s one thing if Gloria’s bachelorette party is so wild it makes the front page of the newspaper. In that case, the information is public, and you can use the news story during your chat. However, social media remains a murky area of employee privacy.

If Gloria’s Facebook settings are open and everyone can see her pictures from the bachelorette party, it’s probably okay to print out the pictures for use during your talk. However, you should proceed with caution if you can’t personally access her page. You should not ask another employee with access to her social media accounts to print out pictures for you or otherwise verify what’s on Gloria’s accounts.

Review your company’s progressive discipline policy

This outlines how your organization handles these situations, such as poor employee attendance and the progression of discipline. A typical course of action starts 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.

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

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 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 chronic health 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 may end with a verbal counseling session and 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.

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17 responses to “Calling in sick: What to do when employees lie


You don’t own your employees. If they call off sick and you approve the day off, then that’s the beginning and end of it. Afterwards what they do with their time or if they were even really sick is out of your hands. They still own their own lives and if they’re choosing not to be paid for that time or if they’re choosing to use up a PTO day, then so be it. You aren’t in control of what they do when they’re not being paid.


Honestly, how often does this happen? I can only remember one workplace in my career where there was an employee notorious for abusing the sick leave policy.

Funny, just the other day I was reading an article on LinkedIN about sick shaming: Shaming people who come in sick to work for sharing germs and exposing others. There are some industries where I really would prefer people call in sick — grocery stores, restaurants and people handling your food, for example. Sadly, many of those businesses don’t have paid sick days and so people are afraid to take time off.


If they want to push the issue, it is actually a crime – theft through deception. And if any part of it is funded through an insurance pool, then then you have insurance fraud.


Honestly who cares if you work hard and never or barely called off and have pto; I don’t see the problem. My supervisor wouldn’t give me a Saturday off unless I have the whole week off with pto. Everybody else gets two Saturdays off in a row. It’s unjust. Employers can be very controlling. I do not side with them at all. They ask for a lot and give very little. Then we retire and then have around 15 years to ourselves and then pass away.


“They as for a lot and give very little”? Maybe you should go into business for yourself. Sounds like you don’t like your employer’s rules or policies. It’s as simple as quitting and moving on to better pastures.Rather than complaining about it, don’t work there. The problem these days lies on people expecting too much out of employers and giving very little in return. Majority of employees with good work ethic get discouraged by those abusing the system with frequent call outs or flying under the radar while on the clock. Good people leave and we are left with the problem. If you don’t like the policies, move on! Simple as that. You are wasting your time and your company’s time. I guarantee you that when people call in sick (unnecessarily), not only are you paying them, you are also potentially paying their replacement’s salary for the day and in most cases, overtime to get the work done. Every business depends on productivity to strive and continued growth. The organization loses money left and right when staff abuses the sick benefit. If everyone thought like you, in your comment, business wouldn’t run. It is not control, those are policies we have to live by, rules that apply to all. Not to mention, they drain their benefit and when they really need it, we have to be “understanding” and allow extra time. Happens everyday. My suggestion: retire earlier and you would have more time to enjoy your life. There is no text book answer as to the exact age to retire, but I bet that is not an option for you, like most of us. Sorry to be so crude Vin, but I see day in and day out how people take advantage of systems and ruin it for the hard working crew. Sets a really bad example to allow it as a boss.

Small Business Owner (15-30 people)


I just go in sick and spread the love. I’m not paying money or spending time to sit in a clinic office to have a doctor’s note like some child in grade school. Sorry folks.


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.


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.


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.

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.


I agree with both Jen and Domenic.


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.


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.


Further to this, those of us with chronic health conditions or disabilities find ourselves dealing with not only their health, but also lifelong suspicion and “guilty until proven innocent” treatment from our employers because of those people who would rather fake a sick call-in than just request the time off in advance. It is also selfish to put people with legitimate needs in this position just to attend a wedding.


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.

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