Employers, Workers Reflect on Realities of Sick Day Usage

The recession has everyone a little more in need of mental health days than in years past. A new survey says employers and workers are both admitting they understand what is going on, though some of the excuses employers claim they have heard are pretty far-fetched.

Companies understand that you need a day or two off every now and then-but be careful what you say and how you handle it.
"Longer hours and heavier workloads are common in the current economic climate, and employers are becoming more flexible with their time-off policies," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a news release. "Sixty-three percent of companies we surveyed said they let their team members use sick days for mental health days. If you need time to recharge, your best bet is to be honest with your manager."
One-third of 4,700 workers admit they've called in sick once this year when they were just fine, says the recent CareerBuilder report. And nearly a third of 3,100 companies say they believe fake sick days being taken by employees are due to on-the-job burnout and stress.
That may be comforting for many workers, but be sure you understand your company's attendance and sick day policies as well as the culture you work in before you go making up stories. The last thing you need is to be caught up in a lie that could get you axed.
Companies have sick days because they want you to be productive and keep your germs away from affecting too many of your co-workers. They expect a certain amount of absenteeism, especially during flu and cold seasons. However, there are workers who come to work when they are actually sick or have a medical condition. This is known as something Harvard Business writer Paul Hemp calls "presenteeism"-an issue that is estimated to cost companies some $150 billion a year.
"Research in this emerging area of study focuses on such chronic or episodic ailments as seasonal allergies, asthma, headaches, depression, back pain, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders. The fact is, when people don't feel good, they simply don't perform at their best. Employees who suffer from depression may be fatigued and irritable-and, therefore, less able to work effectively with others. Those with migraine headaches who experience blurred vision and sensitivity to light, not to mention acute pain, probably have a hard time staring at a computer screen all day," writes Hemp.
But for the time being, the lies workers tell are occasionally outrageous. Some of the excuses people give are downright ludicrous. Look at this list of reasons for missing work:

  • I got sunburned at a nude beach and can't wear clothes.
  • I got caught selling an alligator.
  • I'm just not into it today.
  • I'm convinced my spouse is having an affair and I'm staying home to catch them.
  • I have a headache from eating hot peppers.

About 12 percent of workers said they missed work to avoid project work or a dreaded meeting they did not want to attend, while 32 percent said they just "did not feel like going to work that day."
The most surprising statistic of this comes from employers: 15 percent said they fired an employee over a bad or illegitimate excuse, including 17 percent who drove by a worker's house or apartment.
The survey was conducted between August and September 2009.