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Checking up on sick workers: The 6 do’s and don’ts

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

You probably don’t check up on most employees who call in sick because they do it infrequently and most likely are being truthful. However, every organization has its share of workers who abuse sick-leave policies.

About one-third of U.S. employees (32%) called in sick when they really weren’t in 2009, according to CareerBuilder’s annual absenteeism survey of 4,700 workers.

Most employers take excuses at face value, but 29% of the 3,100 employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they’ve checked up on an employee who called in sick. The tactics among those who check: 70% require the employee to show a doctor’s note; 52% called the employee at home; 18% had another worker call the employee; and 17% drove by the employee’s house.

No state or federal laws regulate how employers can handle workers who call in sick. Organizations have wide discretion to determine that employees are telling the truth. Even some heavily unionized employers have aggressive policies for checking up on sick workers. 

But beware: Going too far to ferret out shirkers could invite discrimination and harassment claims, and unnecessarily damage morale.

Create a policy for checking on employees who call in ill. Here are six do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

1. DO require sick employees to check in with a manager or supervisor every day, but only during work hours. Or have supervisors call sick employees at home each day during work hours. Be consistent with all employees.

2. DO insist on speaking to employees. If someone else answers the phone and says the worker isn’t available to talk, request that the employee call in as soon as possible. Take the same approach if you receive calls from another person on behalf of the sick worker.

3. DO make a surprise visit to the employee’s home
if a worker doesn’t call in or won’t return calls within a reasonable period of time. If the employee isn’t home, you can later ask where the person was when you arrived. What if the worker claims to have visited the doctor or a drug store? Ask for a note, prescription receipt or other proof.

4. DON’T require sick workers to call supervisors upon leaving home and returning. Court decisions have ruled in favor of such a requirement but only in narrowly defined cases involving the FMLA. Applying the practice to all suspected sick-day abusers could tempt legal retaliation from employees, experts say.

5. DO know which absences are protected. Don’t check up on supposedly sick employees who you believe leave home to participate in protected activities such as voting or attending church.

6. DON’T have another employee call sick workers at home. Using peers in this manner can damage morale and the organization’s brand among potential employees.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen October 12, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Show up at my home? No way. If somebody doesn’t call in before a certain time, it would be appropriate the next time they’re back at work to inform them of the company policy to do so next time, and make it a warning. If you show up at my home to check up on me, I will NOT answer the door, and I don’t believe that’s appropriate under any circumstance because that’s an employee’s personal life and residence. If I’m sick and calling in, I don’t want to be seen by anyone, and I want to take the time to rest or visit a doctor if necessary. Instead of going to their home, that energy could be put towards keeping the workplace maintained.


Will August 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm

WORST ADVICE EVER! Under no circumstances should you distrust your employee and spy on them at home. That is harassment. PTO is part of their compensation package. If you can’t have people be sick, then pay them more and offer less sick time. You offered all that PTO time so you could pay them significantly less. You made your bed, now lie in it. You want to limit sick time usage? Stop micro-managing and stressing out your employees. Empower them to own their work and win–don’t be a slave driver. Nothing depletes morale quicker than a micro-manager.


DC February 11, 2017 at 4:33 am

Go to their home? Call them every day? Jesus christ, micro-manage much?



Honest guy June 24, 2016 at 2:22 am

My neighbor happens to be my senior manager. Our kids hang out but we don’t talk shop. Anyway on the weekend I broke a rib and couldn’t come to work for 4 days due to the hazardous nature of my job and being under the influence of pain killers. Day three his wife texts my wife and says she heard I was off, and was wondering what was wrong. I find this very awkward even though it may be kind hearted. This seems like a conflict being that the boss has been talking to his wife about my absences and then asking my wife questions without confronting me. Am I paranoid or is this warrented?


New Boss December 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I have an employee who was very angry with the companies policies on PTO time and the fact that she was not allowed to take her vacation by the end of the year. She appeared angry the whole day and it was obvious to me that she was looking for a way to find revenge. The following day she called in sick. She knew we would be short of staff and would have difficulty completing our work. After texting me that she had had a migraine and was not able to attend, I texted her back that is she was truly feeling bad, I wish she felt better but if she was acting out of anger, I hope she understands who’s lives would be influenced by her decision (we work in a hospital). I wonder if I was acting out of my guidelines as a boss. Can I imply that an employee may be not truthful? Can she saw me for my implication?


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