For the past few months, it seems everyone’s been coughing and sniffling, prompting a wave of sick leave notices…both real and not so real. But did you know that faking an illness like COVID-19 could lead to termination and could even be a criminal offense?
Faking a sick day here and there is common. A study by Moneypenny reveals 50% of American workers admit to doing so. And get this: that number balloons to 64% among CEOs and business owners. So when does faking sick leave become a problem? Usually, it’s when there is a pattern of behavior or deceit or when a serious or damaging illness or extended sick leave turns out to be false. In fact, some of these areas can be downright illegal. Let’s take a closer look.
The Slow Burn
The occasional fake sick day, as we said, is quite common. However, avoid it if you can. Your manager and coworkers are more perceptive than you think, and showing a pattern of deception in this area can lead them to wonder just how trustworthy you are in general. Your employer may know the warning signs even if you don’t. For instance, employees that often take Friday and Monday sick days or take time off after objecting to a new assignment are often watched very closely, reports SHRM.
If you have paid time off (PTO) instead of designated sick days, there should be no reason to fake it. Or maybe you’re like 23% of those who fake sick days for family caretaking reasons like taking your sick child to the doctor. If that’s the case, check your employee handbook for acceptable reasons to take sick leave. Chances are, those reasons are permitted, so you shouldn’t have to lie.
Now, all that being said, culture does matter. Even if a handbook allows time off for certain reasons, that doesn’t mean your manager or team will see it that way. Isn’t it easier to just lie? Maybe. But, again, we’ve seen too many workers fired for faking sick leave when they really didn’t have to. U.S. News and World Report offers an interesting Guide to Calling in Sick that provides advice on taking occasional sick leave with your integrity (and, hopefully, your job) intact.
FLMA Sick Leave Stickiness
If your sick leave enters into Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) extended time off territory, the stakes get much higher for you and your employer. FMLA abuse can cost employers dearly, so you can expect them to be stringent with the rules. If your employer feels you’re not telling the truth about your FLMA-covered sick leave, they can do an investigation, require medical certification and recertification for your illness or injury, and even question your doctor. You wouldn’t believe some of the coverups employers have seen (or maybe you would). Some of our favorites:
- An employee out with a bad back was seen at church wearing seven-inch stiletto heels.
- An employee taking FMLA time off for leg pain on the days he spent in court and jail for a DUI.
- An employee taking FLMA leave for a sudden panic attack for the exact time period they were just denied a vacation.
- A male employee taking 12 weeks off for the birth of his child but discovered working at a competing agency during that time.
- An employee who posted Facebook photos drinking and dancing at a bar while on FLMA leave for a bad back. (Although that employee won!)
FMLA is a valuable benefit and might even be used intermittently, like for occasional flares of depression, anxiety, or autoimmune issues. But, as with extended sick leave, it’s essential to follow the rules and document your reasons with a reputable doctor. Proven FMLA abuse is certainly grounds for dismissal.
When Sick Leave Becomes Criminal
Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve seen it all. That includes criminal fraud charges stemming from faking a sick day. Let’s set the stage: Back in March 2020, as CNN reports, “an employee working for an unidentified ‘critical manufacturing company’ told their bosses they had tested positive for Covid-19 and submitted what appeared to be documentation from a medical facility.”
The company shut down the facility to disinfect the location, which stopped production and delivery of necessary materials while coworkers of the individual were sent home to self-quarantine. Supervisors became suspicious of the medical documentation and uncovered that it was fabricated. The FBI concluded that the individual cost the company over $175,000.
Similar cases popped up, particularly in the early months of the pandemic, resulting in arrests and charges.
While the chances of damages like these due to fake illnesses are very slim, who’s to say what reactions the next outbreak will bring? Think twice before faking a contagious illness just for sick leave. You may “get out of work” permanently (and you might not like where you’re forced to spend your “leave”).