Genuine sickness or the excuse of a sick day?

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 5, 2014.

Whether you are sick at work, or just sick of work, two recent surveys reveal that American employees have a liberal interpretation of when it’s appropriate to take days off for illness.

In a February study by NSF International, an organization that sets global health and safety standards, more than half of American workers reported they had gone to work sick. Deadlines and fear of work piling up were the most commonly cited reasons, though many also said they couldn’t afford to miss a day or their bosses expected them to be there.

Men were nearly twice as likely as women to report going to work sick. Most respondents said they usually viewed employees who came to work sick as hardworking, rather than selfish for exposing others to their illness. But they took precautions, like using hand sanitizer or avoiding their ill co-workers.

On the flip side, a second survey revealed that nearly one-third of workers admitted to calling in sick when they actually weren’t. This 2013 research, from the employment website CareerBuilder, found that many employers take steps to verify that their workers really are sick, and a few have even fired people who were caught in a lie.

Here are the numbers:


The percentage of workers who said they always go to work sick. An additional 34 percent said they wait until they feel the full effects of their symptoms before staying home.


The percentage of respondents who said they considered their sick-on-the-job co-workers to be hardworking. Only 16 percent said they were selfish for exposing others.


The percentage of CareerBuilder respondents who said they’d called in sick when they were fine. The top reason – cited by a third of the workers – was that they didn’t feel like going to work. Twenty-eight percent said they needed a day to relax. Others said they needed to catch up on sleep, visit the doctor or run personal errands.


The percentage of respondents in the survey who said they did some work from home on days they called in sick.


The percentage of employers in the CareerBuilder research who said they checked up on workers who claimed to be sick. Nearly two-thirds of those required doctor’s notes, almost half called the employee, and a few even monitored the person’s social media posts or drove by their homes.