Sunday, April 06, 2008


You've cleared your calendar so that you have nothing scheduled for the upcoming weekend. You plan to complete several projects around the house that you have been putting off. All goes according to plan until the weekend rolls around and you are felled by a miserable cold that has been going around but that you had avoided ... until now. You find yourself sneezy, congested, lightheaded and relegated to a weekend of tissues and bed rest. No home projects for you.

By the time Sunday night rolls around, you're feeling better -- certainly well enough to go to work the next day -- but that's no help with your home chores. How can you ever hope to get this work on your house done?

That's the scenario painted by a reader in California. His question: "Would it be ethical to call in sick on Monday to work on my house, instead of going to work, even though you're 100-percent healthy?"

It's not his fault that he couldn't enjoy his days off, he reasons, so would it be reasonable to call in sick on a workday to make up for the day he missed?

If my reader calls in sick when he's perfectly healthy, he'll have plenty of company. In a survey conducted last fall for, 32 percent of workers surveyed said that they had called in sick when they weren't sick at least once in the past year. Perhaps this is because 27 percent of workers said that sick days are equivalent to vacation days and can be used any way the worker sees fit.

Another study on health-care quality in the workplace pegged the cost to employers from absenteeism due to sickness at $74 billion -- a healthy portion of which is presumably due to fake sickness. There's even a fledgling industry booming around it: For $19.95 you can now buy software that generates fake absence notes from doctors.

Student interns have picked up the habit. When a student in one of my classes realized that she had forgotten to tell her employer that our class was scheduled to meet on a day when she regularly worked, another student's immediate response was to advise her to "call in sick."

Roughly one-third of all workers apparently see no harm in the practice, and employers are not likely to know if someone is fake sick or real sick. So, is my reader really all that wrong to consider bending the truth a tiny bit in the interest of fixing up his house?

Yes, he is. As wrong as you can get.

Calling in sick when you're not sick is unethical because, well, it's a lie. You can come up with all the justifications in the world -- an employer who gives too few sick days, a sunny Monday that would make a far better off day than a rainy Saturday -- but none of them change the fact that it's a lie, and lying is under most circumstances unethical by definition. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, but this isn't one.

That it could also backfire, if your employer finds out that you faked your sickness, might be a deterrent, but it shouldn't be the primary reason for a healthy person not to call in sick. Fake sick is real wrong, it's that simple.

It's not his fault that he got sick, but it's not his employer's fault either. The right thing for my reader to do is to take either a personal day or a vacation day to see to his home projects. If he's run out of those, he should be patient. There will be other weekends and holidays, times when he can get the tasks done without lying to do it.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with you 100% on the lying issue, I work for an employer where the policy on sick days is "use it or lose it". I believe this policy encourages employees to call in unnecessarily and and punishes you for being healty and having a good work ethic.

That being said, I can sympathize with his plight, but from a moral perspective, it would be wrong.