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How to tell when your employees are faking being sick

Gary Taylor


Much has been said about the impact of sick leave, the cost of this leave and how frequently it’s abused. However, far too much of the conversation revolves around anecdotal evidence, suspicion and sentiment.

The problem is that we don’t know enough about the actual level of sick leave abuse. And because of this, we can do even less about it.

There are some pretty good service providers with software ‘solutions’ which can help you drill down and understand a part of the problem of sick leave abuse. However, all too often you, the employer, are scared away from doing anything by the medical confidentiality issue.

Which are employees’ ‘favourite’ sick days?

When I worked for a medical aid organisation, we profiled which days of the week employees visited their family doctor – most and least.

Can you guess what days were busier than others?

Assuming that there is no clinical reason why anyone should be sicker on one day over another, the probability of your employees being sick should in theory average 14% for any day of the week.

In reality, the busiest day is Monday, coming in at just under 30%, followed evenly by Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at around 18% each, and slumping to 10% on Friday.

 But the question is: Why is this?

  • Well, GP availability is a big factor. As most GPs are not available over the weekend, the number of visits peaks on a Monday peak because of untreated weekend illnesses;

  • The more sceptical reader will cite the babalas factor for Mondays; and

Can we say for sure?

The press stories of fraudulent sick notes also point to some sinister practices which we hope the medical aids and doctors would deal with more aggressively.

However, much of the employer’s experience of abuse revolves around the one or two days’ sick leave taken occasionally, without needing a sick note. It’s a mild irritation at the time for the line manager, and not much is done because:

-    The statutory limitation curtails sick leave to effectively less than one day per month;
-    You shouldn’t have genuinely sick people coming to work and spreading germs to all your other employees;
-    It feels too embarrassing to quiz people about their illnesses; and
-    Even probable sick leave abuse cases are not worth the hassle.

5 Common reasons why people call in sick   

Global company published a survey in 2012 showing that 30% of staff admit to having called in sick when they are not genuinely ill. Some reasons given by ‘fakers’ include:

1.    “I needed to relax” (29%);
2.     “I had a doctor’s appointment” (22%);
3.     “I wanted to catch up on sleep” (16%); and
4.    “I wanted to run some errands” (15%).

With just a small amount of effort (or some money to a service provider), you can profile when your people are taking their sick days. For example, you can find out if there is an upswing during school holidays when employees have to look after their own children or if there is a clustering before or after a weekend.

9 of the best ‘excuses’ recorded in 2012

On the lighter side, here is a collection of HR’s best excuses for 2012:

1.    I forgot I had been hired for the job;
2.    My dog was having a nervous breakdown;
3.    My dead grandmother was being exhumed for a police investigation;
4.    My toe was stuck in the tap;
5.    A bird bit me;
6.    I was upset after watching The Hunger Games;
7.    I got sick from reading too much;
8.    I was suffering from a broken heart; and
9.    My hair turned orange from dying it at home.


Author: Gary Taylor is a master HR practitioner and mentor with the SABPP. He qualified from UCT, did the IPM Diploma and then completed post graduate studies at the Stellenbosch University and Harvard business schools. He has been in HR for his entire career, and has been working at a multi-national university in Saudi Arabia since 2008. Gary has been endorsed for his expertise in leadership development.