“I’m sick” is sometimes the grown-up version of “the dog ate my homework.” It’s nothing new. For years, employees have been feigning illness just because they want a day off. What is new is that employers have more ways to check up on employees’ truthfulness through social media.
According to a CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,200 HR professionals and 3,700 employees, 40 percent of employees called in sick to work even though they were perfectly well at least once in 2016, and 26 percent of employers fired someone for using a fake excuse.
But before you issue anyone’s walking papers, make sure to fully assess the situation. Take these considerations into account when deciding how to handle employees you believe are lying about why they missed work:
Look for a Pattern of Abuse
If the employee in question has a history of calling in sick – especially during the summer, around holidays or on Fridays and Mondays – it’s important to take action. Employees who repeatedly violate employer attendance policies can lower others’ productivity and morale.
Attendance-related laws and a clearly written leave or attendance policy should guide any disciplinary measures you take. Remember that federal, state and local paid sick and leave laws prohibit employers from taking adverse employment action against an employee for using time off they have earned or for otherwise exercising their legal rights.
When an employee has excessive absences due to sickness, a good first step is to have a conversation with the worker. He or she may have underlying health issues or stressful personal situations that are affecting the ability to work consistently. While the employee is under no obligation to disclose any of those things to you, a discussion might help to clarify the situation and may reveal ways your company can help solve whatever problems are causing the absences.
How to Respond
Always encourage employees to take sick leave when they really need it. In the case of an employee who is potentially abusing the system, compassionately explain how his or her days off are negatively affecting the rest of the team and express that reliable attendance at work is imperative to the overall success of the business.
Such conversations are particularly important if you discover employees have been dishonest about why they have had excessive sick days. Having this discussion upon their return to the office will alert them that you have noticed and will no longer tolerate such behavior.
Remind employees about your company’s attendance policy. When they repeatedly violate the requirements, point it out to them and discipline them according to measures detailed in the same policy. Typically, employers first issue a verbal warning, then a written warning and, in extreme cases, termination. To limit your legal exposure, document all disciplinary action and ensure they are based on legitimate business reasons.
Be consistent with how you have handled similar situations in the past. And, if you’re relying on evidence from Facebook or other social media channels to determine an employee lied about being sick, tread carefully, as social media is a murky area of employee privacy.