Workzone: Workers say the craziest things when calling in sick

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OK, Pittsburghers, which one of you called in this excuse to the boss? "Employee's favorite football team lost on Sunday so needed Monday to recover."

The annual CareerBuilder survey on issues related to sick days -- how they're used, how bosses and employees interact over them, when people take them -- found that 32 percent of workers have called in sick when they weren't, up from 30 percent last year but 30 percent of workers go to work when they're sick.

There's something dysfunctional in this relationship, as documented in the polling done for the Chicago employment services firm. To collect the data for CareerBuilder, research firm Harris Interactive did an online survey that sampled more than 3,000 workers and about 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals between Aug. 13 and Sept. 6.

Some workers -- 20 percent -- said they've called in sick past this year but worked anyway due to the magic of technology allowing them to get things done from home.

Employers seemed to get the win on that one, but maybe not so much in the case of the 33 percent of workers who took a sick day because they just didn't feel like working or the 28 percent who needed to relax. The survey found 19 percent used sick days to catch up on sleep and 14 percent ran personal errands.

Maybe those people's jobs are stressful, not flexible or otherwise uninspiring -- but watch out; 30 percent of employers said they checked in on employees by either requiring a doctor's note, calling the employee or checking social media posts on services like Facebook and Twitter.

Employees might want to lay low if they think their boss was among the 15 percent who actually drove past the employee's house.

The voice of reason on the subject comes from Matt Tarpey, career adviser with CareerBuilder, who says open and honest communication between workers and their bosses will help. "In general, it's good practice to be up front about why you need to take a day off," he said in an email.

Some of the problem may come from the complications involved in having to justify these kinds of decisions to another adult, generally an authority figure with power over pay and job. In response to a question, he also said people who are legitimately sick shouldn't risk exposing their co-workers. As for working at home while sick, he leaves it up to the employee to decide if he or she can get better without extra rest.

Still, the highlight of the annual CareerBuilder survey tends to be the list of excuses that employers report they've heard in the past year.

The discouraging football team that sucked the can-do out of a fan was among those. Others included: the worker who was quitting smoking and felt grouchy and the employee who got lost and ended up in another state.

One employee couldn't decide what to wear.

A look at the last four years of survey results finds certain themes in the lists of "outrageous" reasons to miss work. Body parts can be a problem, with one toe caught in vent cover, another stuck in a faucet, a foot caught in a garbage disposal and a finger stuck in a bowling ball.

Animals and other creatures may also be a threat. This year's list included a report from one employee that a swarm of bees surrounded his vehicle so he couldn't make it in.

The 2012 list included a dog having a nervous breakdown and a bird-biting incident (the worker was bitten, not the bird). In 2011, one employee had bats in her hair, another got a cold from a puppy and a third reported that a deer bit him during hunting season. Like the football fan, that sounds like it could have come from Western Pennsylvania.

Speaking of this part of the country, the 2010 CareerBuilder list of excuses featured an employee who was "in a boat on Lake Erie and ran out of gas and the Coast Guard towed him to the Canadian side."

Mr. Tarpey said there could be a way to avoid the creative excuses. "It is not uncommon for employers to offer vacation time and sick days rolled into one category of paid time off, eliminating the need for employees to give a reason for using their time off."

Teresa F. Lindeman: or 412-263-2018.

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