From doctor visits to vacations to self-care days, your employees will inevitably need to take time off occasionally. Whether due to a family matter or a personal obligation, accommodating employees’ time-off requests is part of being an understanding and supportive employer. However, when excuses for missing work go off the rails, you may wonder when and how to draw the line.
As an employer or manager, you’ve likely heard every reason in the book for taking an unplanned personal day. These are some of the most common reasons for workplace absenteeism:
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Attendance is a crucial employee performance metric. However, even the most steadfast employees may need time off occasionally. The following are some good reasons to miss work:
While illness and car trouble are typical excuses for missing work, some are a little off the wall. Here are some unusual excuses employers we interviewed have heard from their employees.
Michael Reznik, co-founder and former CEO of TriFold, said the strangest excuse he ever received from an employee for missing work was because the employee had lost faith in the legal system and needed to go “on the lam.”
While the excuse seemed ridiculous on the surface, Reznik said that upon further questioning, the employee revealed he’d previously testified against some men, which resulted in them being sent to prison. The employee learned the men were getting out on early parole and feared retribution.
“At first, I wasn’t sure how to handle it,” Reznik admitted. “It seemed a little far-fetched, but at the same time, I do care about my employees’ health and safety. I also had to consider other employees’ safety. If some ‘rough’ guys were going to come to our office looking for him, I really didn’t want him to be here.”
In the end, Reznik accepted the excuse and the employee returned to work after a few days. A few months later, the employee gave the same excuse, left and never returned.
A death in the family is a perfectly legitimate excuse for missing work. The same family member dying multiple times is a different story. Ola Wlodarczyk, a human resources (HR) specialist at Zety, once had an employee who called in on three different occasions with the excuse that their grandmother had died.
“It was obvious the employee was not telling the truth, but we had to be strategic in our response,” Wlodarczyk explained.
After the employee returned from their bereavement leave, they were brought into the HR office and confronted with the situation. Wlodarczyk said they were straightforward with the employee, showing them all previous requests and reasons, including the other grandmother-death excuses, for calling out of work.
“The employee went completely white,” Wlodarczyk recalled. “Still, we gave the employee a chance to tell us their side of the story. Of course, it’s possible someone misspoke or even categorizes someone as a close family member in this way, so we gave them a chance to tell their side of the story before disciplining them.”
Ultimately, the employee admitted that no relatives had recently passed away. In addition, Wlodarczyk said the HR team discovered a litany of other false excuses that the employee had made up for missing work.
“It was very eye-opening but a learning experience,” Wlodarczyk said. “If we would have gone in and reprimanded the person off the bat, then we would not have uncovered these other lies. So, in the long run, keeping cool certainly helped us.”
In a situation that seems right out of The Office, Richard Pummell, HR lead for DevelopIntelligence, had an employee call in sick because she burned her feet. Although this didn’t occur on a George Foreman Grill, a la Michael Scott, it was related to cooking.
When the employee returned to work the next day, Pummell said many of the theories he had devised about how exactly her accident occurred were dispelled.
“Unfortunately, the poor woman truly had been cooking dinner barefoot when a large pot of oil she was using for frying splashed hot oil onto her feet as she was moving it,” Pummell recalled. “It had required a trip to the emergency room and the application of some bandages.”
Unfortunately, that was only the first food-related injury to befall this employee.
“It wasn’t too long after that she called in sick on another Monday,” Pummell shared. “She’d slipped on a banana peel and had a bad back.”
Jean Paldan, founder and CEO of Rare Form New Media, hired someone who immediately started giving ridiculous excuses for missing work. On what was supposed to be his first day, the new employee called to say his apartment flooded. The next day, his mother, who he said had dementia, had supposedly wandered off and he had to find her. Over the next four weeks, the employee claimed he couldn’t make it to work because he couldn’t find his medication, had norovirus and had to be with his pregnant girlfriend, even though it was later determined she wasn’t pregnant.
“We at first thought that he was just having a bad time of it with the flood and his mother, then catching the norovirus and we were supportive,” Paldan recalled. “However, he started to flounder and forgot which lie he had told and that’s when we realized he was a pathological liar. At that point, we decided to let him go.”
While some outrageous excuses are made up, others are too ridiculous not to be true.
BJ Enoch, vice president of digital marketing for Career Certified, recalled that on the morning of an important client meeting, one of his team members texted that he couldn’t make it in that morning because he was stuck in traffic after someone hit a deer and their car caught on fire.
“I’d never had a reason to doubt this team member before and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this was just a bit too much,” Enoch explained.
Despite his doubts and wanting more answers, Enoch was in the middle of texting the employee to be safe when he received a follow-up message that included a picture of a car in the middle of the highway, on fire, with a deer on the side of the road.
“We chalked it up as uncontrollable and he made the hours up,” Enoch said.
Shawn Breyer, owner of Sell My House Fast Atlanta, once had an employee take a day off for their dog’s birthday because they had to get the party ready.
“As weird as the idea was, they brought in pictures from the party,” Breyer remembered. “They had invited all of their friends and dogs over to the house and actually threw a party.”
A herd of goats traipsing through a house is an excuse most couldn’t even fathom giving. However, that’s one Kyle Birkemeier had to give his employer while working abroad.
“I had goats and had to call off work when I came home to find that someone had let them into the house and they pooped on everything,” Birkemeier explained. “My supervisors sure found it hilarious and, eventually, I did as well.”
Needing to take a nap, participating in a peaceful Armenian revolution, not wanting to deal with “mean girl” co-workers and forgetting it was Monday are other uncommon excuses HR reps and bosses have reported.
If an employee continually gives implausible reasons for being absent, overlooking the situation can lead to more trouble for a business. Instead, take these actionable steps to handle the situation:
Set your employees up for success by following these best practices for tracking and managing attendance:
We’ve reviewed many of the best time and attendance software solutions and other platforms that simplify attendance tracking. We recommend the following solutions to small businesses: