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Worst sick-day excuses: Spider scare, excess cake

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Americans can’t be blamed for having a love-hate relationship with sick days. Employers have a scattered approach to policies about calling in sick as some bosses frown on it and others refuse to pay for sick days. 

With sick days sometimes framed as a luxury rather than a needed benefit, it might prompt some workers to get baroque when explaining why they’re unable to come in, pointing fingers at everything from trauma after seeing a spider to eating too much cake, according to a new survey by Harris Poll for hiring site CareerBuilder.

No surprise that those pretenses might raise suspicions: The survey found one-third of employers have checked in to see if the worker was telling the truth.

The good news is that fewer workers are coming to work despite feeling sick, CareerBuilder found. While that might be correlated with a stronger economy, state lawmakers have also been pushing to pass paid sick-day laws, such as Vermont’s new law covering workers putting in at least 18 hours a week. At the same time, labor activists have been pressuring corporations to offer paid sick days.

About 47 percent of workers said they show up at work despite an illness because they can’t afford to miss the pay or don’t trust the work to get done in their absence. That’s down from 54 percent last year. Interestingly, women are more likely than men to say those issues motivate them to show up while sick.

Then there’s the the flip side: The healthy people who plead sick. 

About 35 percent of workers said they’ve called in sick when they were feeling fine, compared with 38 percent a year earlier. Asked why, more than one-quarter said they simply didn’t feel like working. Another quarter said they needed time to unwind, and 27 percent said they had to go to a doctor’s appointment. The rest said they wanted to get some sleep or run personal errands.

Health experts are increasingly focusing on the working-while-sick phenomenon, since people who show up with the flu or a cold are likely to spread it to their cubicle neighbors. Paid sick days can make a difference: Cities that adopted such measures found that flu cases declined by 5 percent after the paid sick-day measures went into effect.

About 3 million U.S. workers show up to work while sick each week, according to a study published earlier this year. It’s more likely to occur with women, low-wage workers and younger workers, the research found.

As for workers who make up phony excuses, your boss may be onto you. About one-third of employers check up on a worker’s excuse, such as by calling their doctor to verify a note or calling the employee at home. Social media is also a frequent tip-off because bosses can check up on a worker’s social media accounts to see what they’re posting on their sick day.

The consequence of lying about being sick can be severe: About 22 percent of employees said they fired a worker for calling in sick with a bogus excuse.

Here are some of the more creative excuses that CareerBuilder uncovered its survey:

·       The ozone in the air flattened the employee’s tires.
·       A pressure cooker exploded and scared the employee’s sister, so she had to stay home.
·       An employee said he had to be the pallbearer at the funeral of his wife’s cousin’s pet.
·       Police raided the employee’s home and blocked them in.
·       Employee had to testify against a drug dealer and the dealer’s friend mugged him.
·       Because an employee’s roots were showing, she had to keep her hair appointment.
·       Eating cat food instead of tuna made the employee deathly ill.
·       While she wasn’t sick, her llama was.
·       Using hair remover under her arms gave the employee chemical burns.
·       Unable to get to work because the employee said he was bowling the game of his life.
·      Traumatic stress from a large spider found in the employee’s home. She had to stay home to deal with the spider.
·       Employee said he had better things to do.
·       Employee ate too much birthday cake.
·       Employee was bitten by a duck.

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