Ah, the Sick Day. A siren song calling you back to bed, out to a sunny beach with friends or to any one of a number of magical places that aren’t the doctor’s office. But what happens when an employee’s excuse to miss work crosses the line from a little white lie to something, well, sick? The answer: this insane list of unbelievable, often shameful, and sometimes wildly creative excuses employees used to miss work.
1. The Spy Who Defrauded Me
Beale. John, Beale. That’s the name of a real-life would-be Bond who defrauded his employers at the EPA out of $900,000 in salary and expenses by telling them, over the course of several years, that he was a spy working for the CIA. His lawyer later admitted that Beale was doing “absolutely no work” while claiming to be covertly stationed at Langley or in Pakistan. At one point, he went so far as to say he was urgently needed overseas where Taliban operatives were torturing his CIA replacement.
2. Federal Court Fib
“The mail must go through,” it’s been said. Someone should have mentioned that to Joseph Winstead, a US Postal Service worker who in 2004 lied about serving jury duty to skip out on work for an astonishing 144 days. Winstead was in fact selected for duty, but after being dismissed during the proceedings, he falsely claimed to serve for another four months, collecting $31,000 in fraudulent salary. Ironically, Winstead pled guilty to defrauding his employer in the same federal courthouse where he had originally carried out the scam.
3. Certificate of Deception
Desperate to extend her Spring Break vacation in Costa Rica, Joan Barnett, a Manhattan city school employee, resorted to faking her own daughter’s death by sending a forged document to employers claiming her daughter had suffered a fatal accident during the trip. Barnett got the extra week off, but was met with a pink slip and fraud charges upon her return. City investigators had double-checked the death certificate with Costa Rican officials and found it actually belonged not only to a man but one who had been dead for more than five years.
4. Funeral Forger
Asked to describe the most despicable display of employee misconduct he’s ever seen, Kris Dunn, an HR veteran and blogger, wrote of one customer service rep who came under investigation for an especially poor attendance record due to a large number family funerals.
Writing in the Fistful of Talent blog, Dunn recalled the employee had consistently provided his bosses with funeral programs as proof of the funerals. But, upon further investigation, managers found the rep in question was using a friend at the local funeral home to mock up new programs for each fake funeral, “complete with funeral home logo and pictures of the deceased.” Termination was the outcome, Dunn said, plus an “uneasiness for the future of the human race.”
5. Hit-And-Run Hooky
Sorry Kris, it gets slightly worse. Derek McGlone, a 42-year-old schoolteacher in Scotland, made false claims to administrators in 2012 that he had run over a little girl with his car in order to miss work one day. At hearings addressing the incident, McGlone, who ultimately received a one-year suspension from teaching, admitted to making up the hit-and-run and also lying about earlier claims to the school that he had missed work because he was stuck in a volcanic ash cloud in Iceland.
These are extreme examples, but when absenteeism becomes a problem, the reality is you may be facing an even bigger issue of weakening employee engagement. Get tips on how to improve employee performance and other key business topics from the Business Owner’s Playbook.
You’re not alone in feeling the temptation to call in sick: a whopping 34% of employees who call in sick “just don’t feel like going to work,” according to a 2012 Career Builder study. And while some employers are prone to suspicion or outright detective work (28% reported checking in on a “sick” employee, and 16% of managers went as far as driving by their house), many are actually in favor of restorative mental health days.