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Home > Blog: Work/Life > Will Your Sick Day Excuse Pass the BS Detector?

Will Your Sick Day Excuse Pass the BS Detector?

A universal truth among workers is that, once in awhile, everyone wakes up and – despite a complete lack of a diagnosable illness or injury – calls in sick.

Doing so repeatedly is known as abusing sick time, and it's the reason many companies have changed to a paid-time-off (PTO) system that doesn't distinguish between sick time and vacation time.

The thing is, employees have been faking sicknesses since before you or I were born. As a result, supervisors (like parents and teachers) have become skilled at recognizing when employees are legitimately ill, or just sick of work (or sick of their annoying coworkers)!

In fact, I bet every experienced manager has memorized something resembling this 5-point questionnaire, and uses it when an employee calls in sick:


INSTRUCTIONS: Answer each question with a YES or a NO. Score 5 points for each YES answer; 0 points for each NO answer. A total score of 15 or more probably indicates BS.

  1. Is today a Friday or a Monday?   YES / NO
    (The desire for a long weekend often produces a BS excuse.)

  2. Is the sickness one that can naturally resolve itself within 24 hours (e.g., food poisoning, stomach bug, headache, allergies)?   YES / NO
    (No one wants to have to fake a lingering cough or remember to limp when they go back to work, so BS excuses usually involve a one-day condition.)

  3. Is this a condition that – conveniently – has no visible or audible symptoms?   YES / NO
    (Bleeding wounds, broken bones, and acute laryngitis are hard to fake, and thus, rarely BS.)

  4. Is the condition sufficiently personal and/or gross to prevent further questioning?   YES / NO
    (BS claimants often count on their boss's squeamishness about all things gastro-intestinal, gynecological, or digestive.)

  5. Has the employee called in sick with other conditions that fit the above criteria in the past few months?   YES / NO
    (Frequent, random BS symptoms in an otherwise healthy individual typically point to "I hate my job" syndrome. Or hangovers. Or both.)

The thing that sucks is that all of these can be legitimate excuses, too. People really DO get food poisoning and 24-hour bugs and explosive cases of unspeakable nastiness. And sometimes they really do occur on a Monday or a Friday.

That's the beauty of the 5-point questionnaire. If you only get a YES on one or two of them, you can still be presumed innocent (er, sick).

Ironically, by the time you reach middle age and develop a repertoire of authentic aches, pains, maladies, growths, and so on, you've also developed the wisdom to skip the excuses and simply say, "I feel like crap. I'm not coming in today."

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