March 2, 2023

Managing employee attendance is vital to maintaining a productive workplace. Employees calling in sick can disrupt workflow and create additional work for other team members. 

And if you have certain staff members regularly using sick leave, you might become suspicious—sometimes rightly so. In a 2020 Zippia survey of 2,000 American workers, 52% admitted lying about being sick to get out of work. 

How is this affecting companies? According to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation, productivity losses related to absenteeism cost U.S. employers a whopping $225.8 billion annually ($1,685 per employee).

On the other hand, employers must approach these situations with empathy and understanding, as employees may legitimately need time off to recover from illness. They could also be dealing with personal matters like mental health or caring for a family member.

Below, we’re sharing some tips for identifying when employees may be lying about their illnesses, preventing people from falsely calling out sick, and how to handle those who call out often.

Signs that an Employee is Lying About Being Sick

Trusting your employees and believing them when calling in sick is important. However, there may be situations where you suspect an employee is lying about their illness. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Inconsistencies in the story: If an employee’s story about their illness changes or doesn’t add up, it could be a sign they are lying.
  • Emerging patterns: An employee who is often absent will likely run out of good excuses for calling in sick, resorting to the common “stomach bug,” “headache,” or other vague illness.
  • Social media posts: Did they post pictures on social media of themselves out and about? Probably a safe bet they’re not really sick.
  • Excessive absences: A team member who frequently calls out sick could be abusing your sick leave policy.
  • “Funny” timing: Workers often call out sick right after a holiday (1 in 3 do!) or when their vacation leave requests are denied.

Tips for Preventing Employees from Falsely Calling in Sick

Preventing employees from falsely calling in sick can be challenging, but there are some steps employers can take to reduce the likelihood of this happening:

Have a Clear Sick Leave Policy

Communicate your company’s sick leave policy and what is expected of them when they call out sick. Practice consistent and fair enforcement of the policy company-wide. It should answer: 

  • How should they notify their manager? 
  • Do they need to address specific projects or tasks? 
  • What happens if they use up their sick leave?

Work closely with your HR department to ensure your policy is compliant, as these laws vary by state. If you have an employee calling out sick frequently, but they have a legitimate reason, remind them of their right to unpaid sick leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Require a Doctor’s Note

You might require a doctor’s note as part of your organization’s sick leave policy or request one from an employee calling in sick frequently. While the note does not have to contain specifics about the individual’s medical condition, it will verify their illness. This can deter employees from abusing sick days.

And if they refuse to provide a doctor’s note, it’s typically a good indicator that your suspicions were correct. Which means it’s time to address the issue (keep reading for how to have that conversation).

Provide One PTO Policy

Another option is to merge all leave—sick days, vacation time, and personal days—under one paid time off policy. This will force employees to rethink calling out “sick” because it would use up their potential vacation days.

Using a blanket PTO policy benefits both your business and employees by:

  • Avoiding the need to track reasons and types of paid leave
  • Providing team members with more flexibility
  • Allowing for a simpler policy for companies with employees in multiple jurisdictions

Encourage a Healthy Work Environment

Provide resources for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as nutritious snacks and an on-site gym or yoga classes. These wellness-focused perks will help people stay physically and mentally fit, reducing the need to call out sick for illnesses or mental health days. 

Plus, your staff will know you care about their well-being, boosting morale. When you have a positive workplace culture, your team won’t want to lie about being sick!

Be Flexible

Consider offering flexible work arrangements, such as working from home or flexible schedules, to make it easier for employees to manage their responsibilities without calling in sick. The beauty of either option is that there are many variations of remote work and alternative schedules, which means flexibility for you, too!

Not to mention, these are the types of benefits workers are demanding today—and they work! Just check out the stats:

  • 39% of workers said being more productive is a benefit of flexible work. (Workable)
  • 56% of employees report fewer absences, while 50% report using fewer sick days. (Zippia
  • 75% of employees state they have a better work-life balance working remotely. (Zippia)

Being flexible also means giving employees other options if you deny their vacation time due to scheduling needs. Instead of simply declining, work with them to take different days off.

What to Do with an Employee Who Constantly Calls Out Sick

If an employee frequently calls out sick, address the issue promptly and appropriately. Here are some steps you can take:

Have a Conversation

Speak with the employee to understand why they call out sick so often. Follow these steps for a productive discussion about their absences: 

  1. Schedule a private meeting: Request a private meeting with the employee to discuss their attendance as soon as you recognize an issue. Ensure that the meeting is scheduled in a location where both of you can have a conversation without distractions.
  2. Approach with empathy: Begin the conversation by acknowledging the employee’s contributions to the organization and expressing concern for their well-being.
  3. Discuss their attendance records: Share the employee’s attendance record and highlight the frequency of their absences. You can also provide a copy of the attendance policy to the employee.
  4. Ask for clarification: Ask the employee if anything specific is causing their frequent absences. They may have an underlying health issue or personal matter that they haven’t discussed with you. While they are not legally required to discuss health details with you, conveying compassion could help get to the heart of the issue.
  5. Reiterate expectations: Remind the employee of the attendance policy and the impact that their absences have on the team and organization. Reinforce the importance of being present at work.
  6. Follow up: Schedule a follow-up meeting to check the employee’s attendance and provide any necessary support.

Provide Support

If the employee is experiencing a medical condition or another personal matter causing them to call in sick frequently, provide them with resources and support to help them manage their health. This might include:

  • Referring them to your employee assistance program (EAP)
  • Referring them to healthcare professionals or resources
  • Offering a flexible work schedule or remote work option
  • Adjusting their workload

Depending on the employee’s situation, your company may need to provide accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or FMLA. Or, you can help them apply for leave if necessary.

Providing support is not only the right thing to do, but it can also positively impact the employee’s well-being and engagement at work. By offering resources, you can help the employee feel valued and supported, which can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and improve overall performance.

Take Disciplinary Action

If an employee continues calling out “sick” after you’ve addressed the issue and provided support, it’s time to start the disciplinary process by:

  1. Giving a warning: Make it clear that their behavior is unacceptable. Be sure to document the conversation and warning and provide the employee with a copy.
  2. Establishing a plan: Work with the employee to develop a plan to improve their attendance. This could include setting clear expectations and establishing consequences for future absences. You might also put them on a performance improvement plan if the issue is serious enough or if there are other behavioral concerns.
  3. Monitor progress: Regularly monitor the employee’s attendance and behavior to ensure they meet the expectations set out in the plan. Provide feedback and support as needed.
  4. Take further action if necessary: If the employee’s behavior does not improve, consider taking further disciplinary action, which could, unfortunately, include termination.

Managing sick leave can be challenging for employers, but with clear policies and open communication, it’s possible to maintain a productive workplace while supporting employees’ health needs. You can create a supportive and productive work environment by identifying signs of lying about illness, taking steps to prevent false sick leave, and working with employees who have frequent absences.

Do you need help developing or updating your sick leave policy and processes? Discover how our outsourced HR team can help you navigate those sticky situations by contacting us at or 603-818-4131 today!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.