Yeah, I can hardly talk. I think it’s laryngitis.

C.R. writes: If you Google “calling out sick” you get 41,000,000 results; “how to call out (or in) sick” gets you 191,000,000 results.

The entries run the gamut.

There’s an entry at Wikihow, which teaches you how to call in sick when “you just need a day off.” The Wikihow article doesn’t apologize for teaching you the basics of how to lie convincingly.

Other websites cite statistics on how calling out sick (when you aren’t) costs businesses millions of dollars a year. CNN refers to a survey which shows that one-third of workers call out sick when they aren’t sick, and they’re the “honest” ones—the ones who actually admitting to lying when asked.

There are even articles about presenteeism (the opposite of absenteeism), which is “coming to work when you are sick.”

According to several articles, presenteeism is “a sign of the times.” Because of the incredibly high unemployment rates of the past few years (the real unemployment rate, in nearly every state, especially among minorities*, is simply staggering), pundits say that people are afraid to call out sick, even when they’re really sick, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Of course, when sick people show up at work, they can (possibly) infect their colleagues. They also might not be able to “pull their weight” and have a negative impact on teamwork and productivity.

Meanwhile, I’ve observed a phenomenon: “Calling Out Mondays, Showing Up Sick.” This is the worst of both worlds.

Calling Out Mondays, Showing Up Sick is when you call in sick when you’re well, let’s say because you want to extend your weekend or vacation, you feel like hanging out, you want to party, you feel like sleeping in or so on. Consequently, your sick time gets used up when you don’t need it. You then have little choice but to show up when you actually are sick, exposing your self and your colleagues, to contagious illnesses as well as being present but performing your job poorly.

Many (perhaps most) businesses, especially union businesses, recognize that people want, even need, a day off, in addition to the weekends and holidays. At least once in a while. That’s why they offer employees personal days. Usually, for the average employee,  that amounts to two days a year. In essence you get paid for taking a break (in addition to your vacation time.) Personal time means you can call out just because you feel like it, even on a Monday.

I remember many years ago having a discussion with my then-boss about how much absenteeism was costing him. He had gone to buy some supplies during work hours, and there was a restaurant next to the office supply store. In a picture window he saw an employee who had called out sick earlier that day. He was having lunch, including cocktails, with a friend.

We talked about how dishonest it was for people to call out when they weren’t sick. He was a really good boss and he said it was actually hurtful to him that people lied to him.

Then he said something that really made me pause for thought: “I can’t believe that people I give jobs to, treat well, and care about, steal from me.”

At first, I didn’t get it. Then he explained: Calling out sick when you aren’t is actually stealing. You are stealing money you are not entitled to.

In the past few decades, (okay, maybe even before, maybe even for centuries), lying has become so common in some circumstances that people don’t even register it as dishonest. “Playing hooky, calling out sick, “calling out Monday”, and so on, while not necessarily approved of by everyone, is tolerated, even smiled about. Many human resource departments have an unwritten and often unspoken understanding: Employees are going to steal from us, so let’s try to minimize the damage.

Is it smart to assume the worst of everyone? Perhaps. Still, this is so depressing.

Many years after having the conversation with my former employer, I began studying the ancient scriptural labor laws I found that lying to an employer, not working to your best capacity, or not showing up were all not acceptable.

But obligation lies with both the employer and the employee. The employer has to pay you on time, not make you work outside legal working hours, and so on. He should provide decent working conditions. Today, many employers have fair policies about physical and mental illness and sick leave. Those that are required, also adhere to FAMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act. They offer vacation days and personal time. (And lunch).

I think frank discussions in the workplace, between employer and employee, would bring awareness to both business owners and their staff.


*According to Forbes.com: “Black adults ages 16 to 24 are faring the worst, with an unemployment rate of 28.2% in May, up from 24.9% in April…For Latinos in the same age group, the rate isn’t quite as bad, at 16.6% and it stayed flat since April. But the unemployment rate for young men ages 16 to 24 in May was a high 18%, up from 17.1% in April.”