We all have those days when life and work collide. Sometimes the reasons for missing work are legitimate, not so much other times. Regardless, reasons vary from needing a “mental health” break to escape a punishing workload or a toxic office environment to household or health-related emergencies.

To determine how frequently employees called in sick when they weren’t, Harris Poll conducted a survey from August 16 to September 14, 2017, which CareerBuilder analyzed to discover that “40 percent of workers have called in sick in the last 12 months when they weren't, compared to 35 percent in 2016” and “43 percent have caught an employee lying about being sick by checking out their social media posts, up from 34 percent last year.” In addition, of those employers who checked on sick workers, 26 percent fired those workers for lying about their illness.

Stranger than fiction

“Sick leave” brings to mind images of sneezing, coughing, fever, and the general misery that keeps a body confined to bed; however, it encompasses doctor’s appointments, which CareerBuilder says account for 30 percent of sick leave excuses. Business management is (slowly) coming to realize that their employees do need time off to replenish mental and physical reserves. They call that “vacation.” Companies that track employee absences and the reasons for them note that while truth may be stranger than fiction, offering outlandish reasons for not coming in to work trigger warnings and suspicions of dishonesty.

The Balance recommends that honesty be the first and best resort for explaining why you call to miss work, if only because it’s easier to remember the truth than a lie. However, should you truly feel the need to take off work when you aren’t really ill, then Ranker offers a list of over 50 excuses to get out of work, with those near the bottom considered the least credible.

Be sensible, though. If you called off work to attend your mother’s funeral, then you can’t use that excuse a second time. If you tell your boss that there’s a bear in the front yard and you’re afraid of going to your car or that aliens abducted you the night before and you’re feeling woozy from the experiments and probes, then prepare for unpleasant consequences. A sane, sensible, common reason makes the best excuse; refutable, outrageous reasons don’t. Cleverism cautions, “Remember that your boss has access to Google and a phone – they can call to check if what you’re saying has actually happened.”

A privacy issue

Understand that everyone has access to social media. Posting pictures of your night of drunken revelry and then calling off work the next day will almost certainly result in the discovery of your dishonesty. If you call in sick and then boast in social media about how much fun you’re having at the amusement park or the ballgame, consider yourself busted.

Don’t complain of an invasion of privacy if you either posted such discrediting information for public viewing or if your boss is included in your social network. Many employee manuals state that employees have no expectation of privacy on company computers (to discourage such activities as watching movies, playing online games, or viewing pornography on company time and company-owned equipment). Anything posted online for public access is fair game and not considered private. 

While laws or policies might prohibit your boss from calling upon you to verify the truth of your reason for missing work, nothing prohibits management from scanning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or other platforms for evidence. Therein lies one good reason never to post anything on social media platforms that would embarrass your grandmother.

Consequences beyond yourself

Yielding to the temptation to call off work with a feigned excuse puts an undue burden on coworkers who must shoulder your workload. Colleagues who understand the necessity of missing work when you’re actually sick or taking pre-scheduled vacation time will resent the added workload if and when they discover you lied. Breaking your colleagues’ trust leads to a stressful workplace filled with suspicion, distrust, and micromanagement. Coworkers who did nothing to deserve that distrust will resent you for it.

Taking an unscheduled day off without a valid excuse may result in missed deadlines. Those clients, remember, have clients of their own and your failure to deliver may result in postponed delivery on their part. The disappointment cascades and you or the company for which you work may lose a client. If you freelance, heed this caution. Nothing prevents clients from checking up on you to verify your reason for missing work.

Best and worst excuses

The best excuses are irrefutable and based in real life. The worst strain credulity and point to dishonesty like a blinking neon sign. Some examples follow:

  • Menstrual cramps or complications of pregnancy. Women will empathize. Men will cringe and not press for details. Men, of course, cannot use this excuse.

  • Working from home. If your employer permits remote work, this ploy offers one way to show your productivity while finagling a shortened workday to do what you’d rather do, like take a nap.

  • Trapped car. If you park your car in a garage with a powered opener, you can still open the garage door. They come equipped with pull chains. Don’t use this excuse unless you can also show that a large tree also toppled over right in front of the garage door or that the ground and driveway around your house is flooded deep enough to prevent driving through the water.

  • Elections and other unrecognized holidays. Unlike some other countries, the USA does not consider election days holidays, so employers are not obligated to allow paid time off for voting. Other holidays for which workers should not expect time off include special recognition days, such as International Migratory Bird Day. If you want to take off work to celebrate a holiday your employer doesn’t recognize as a paid holiday, get permission in advance.

  • Weather. Remember Harvey, Maria, and Irma? For those individuals located in hurricane-prone areas, calling in to work to say you can’t make it because of the weather may indeed be valid. Residents of northern states might take advantage of blizzards and ice storms to call off work. However, many companies do not accept the excuse of a Level 3 snow emergency, which prohibits all but emergency vehicles from traversing roadways. If your boss can make it to the office or factory floor, then he will assume you can, too.

  • Major appliance failure. If your water heater explodes or your furnace dies, most bosses will accept that excuse, because replacement is a priority. Choose your appliance wisely. A broken television does not make a household emergency. Ruptured pipes also constitute a legitimate household emergency.

  • Death. Most people have only two parents and four grandparents. If your mother dies twice in the same year, your boss will notice. If you cite needing to serve as a pallbearer for your sister’s pet cat’s funeral, your boss won’t accept that, no matter how much your sister loved that cat.

  • Veterinary emergency. As much as we love them, the law does not consider companion animals part of our human family. Neither will your boss. If you must miss work to care for a sick or injured pet, then schedule the absence for credibility and don’t claim it under the Family Medical Leave Act. Veterinary emergencies do occur; be honest about them.

  • Client meeting. A lot of business takes place on the golf course, so claiming an off-site meeting with a client may work if your position encounters such obligations. Just be sure not to claim a client meeting when there is no such meeting, because your client won’t lie for you.

Following up

If your company requires a formal (read: written) excuse for an absence, The Balance recommends: “Keep the note brief and professional. In the letter, state what days you were off, why you were off, and, if sent ahead of your absence, if you have asked any coworkers to take over any tasks.” Resist the temptation to over-explain and go into detail and don’t apologize. If you have planned your absence in advance, be sure to share the information with coworkers so they can adjust their schedules and workloads accordingly. You may also wish to state that you will be periodically checking your email or leave your phone number in case an emergency at work needs your immediate attention.

Over a third of employers check up on employees who miss work. If you do get caught in a lie, your dishonesty may result in termination of employment. Even if your boss gives you a second (or third) chance, be aware that you have broken her trust. You may never fully regain that trust and your coworkers may suffer from an extension of that distrust. In such a circumstance, resolve and keep that resolution to maintain scrupulous honesty in all further interaction so that the next time you miss work, you can provide evidence of the truth of a valid excuse.