While illness and car trouble tend to be among the most common explanations, its excuses like having to prepare for their pet’s birthday or needing to finish binge-watching their favorite television show that give employers pause.
Michael Reznik, CEO of TriFold, said the strangest excuse he ever received from an employee for why they weren’t making it to work was because they had lost faith in the legal system and needed to go “on the lam.”
While on the surface, the excuse seemed ridiculous, Reznik said after questioning the employee, he found out the staff member had previously testified against some men that resulted in them being sent to prison. The employee found out the men were getting out on early parole and was afraid of retribution.
“At first, I wasn’t sure how to handle it,” Reznik said. “It seemed a little far-fetched, but at the same time, I do care about my employees’ health and safety. I also had to consider other employees’ safety. If some ‘rough’ guys were going to come to our office looking for him, I really didn’t want him to be here.”
In the end, Reznik accepted the excuse and after a few days, the employee returned to work. However, a few months later the same excuse was given. The employee left but never returned to work.
A death in the family is a perfectly legitimate excuse for missing work. However, having the same family member die multiple times isn’t as plausible. Ola Wlodarczyk, an HR specialist at Zety, had an employee who called out of work on three different occasions by saying their grandmother had died.
“It was obvious the employee was not telling the truth, but we had to be strategic in our response,” Wlodarczyk said.
After the employee returned from their “bereavement” leave, they were brought into the HR office to be confronted with the situation. Wlodarczyk said they were very straightforward with the employee, showing them all of the previous requests and reasons, including the other grandmother death excuses, for calling out of work.
“The employee went completely white,” she said. “Still, we gave the employee a chance to tell us their side of the story. Of course, it’s possible someone misspoke, or even categorizes someone as a close family member in this way, so we gave them a chance to tell their side of the story before disciplining them.”
In the end, the employee admitted to not having any relatives who passed away. In addition, Wlodarczyk said they discovered a litany of other false excuses that the employee had made up for missing work.
“It was very eye-opening, but a learning experience,” Wlodarczyk said. “If we would have gone in and reprimanded the person off the bat, then we would have not uncovered these other lies. So, in the long run, keeping cool certainly helped us.”
In a situation that seems right out of The Office, Richard Pummell, human resources lead for DevelopIntelligence, had an employee call in sick because they had burned their feet. Although this didn’t occur on a George Foreman Grill, a la Michael Scott, it was cooking related.
When the employee returned to work the next day, Pummell said many of the theories he had devised about how exactly her accident occurred were dispelled.
“Unfortunately, the poor woman truly had been cooking dinner barefoot when a large pot of oil she was using for frying splashed hot oil onto her feet as she was moving it,” he said. “It had required a trip to the emergency room and the application of some bandages.”
Unfortunately, that was just the first of the food-related injuries to befall this employee.
“It wasn’t too long after that she called in sick on another Monday,” Pummell said. “She’d slipped on a banana peel and had a bad back,”
Too crazy to not be true
While some outrageous excuses are obviously made up, others are too ridiculous not be true. BJ Enoch, video president of enterprise accounts for SocialSEO, said on the morning of an important client meeting one of his team members texted that they weren’t going to be able to make it in that morning because they were stuck in traffic after someone hit a deer and their car had caught on fire.
“I’d never had a reason to doubt this team member before and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this was just a bit too much,” Enoch said.
Despite his doubts and wanting more answers, Enoch said he was in the middle of texting the employee to be safe when he received a follow message that included a picture of a car in the middle of the highway, on fire, with a deer on the side of the road.
“We chalked it up as uncontrollable and he made the hours up,” Enoch said.
Shawn Breyer, owner of Sell My House Fast Atlanta, said he had an employee take off for their dog’s birthday because they had to get the party ready.
“As weird as the idea was, they brought in pictures from the party,” Breyer said. “They had invited all of their friends and dogs over to the house and actually threw a party.”
Having a herd of goats traipsing through a house is an excuse most couldn’t even fathom giving. However, that’s one Kyle Birkemeier, had to give his employer while working abroad.
“I had goats and had to call off work when I came home to find that someone had let them into the house and they pooped on everything,” Birkemeier said. “My supervisors sure found it hilarious, and eventually I did as well.”
While you might be able to chalk up one outrageous excuse as an abnormality, it becomes more of a problem when it starts becoming a regular occurrence.
Jean Paldan, founder and CEO of Rare Form New Media, said she hired someone who was giving ridiculous excuses for missing work from the start of their employment. On what was supposed to be his first day, the new employee called saying his apartment flooded. The next day, his mother, who they were told had dementia, had supposedly wandered off and he had to find her. Over the next four weeks, the employee claimed he couldn’t make it to work because he couldn’t find his medication, he had norovirus, and he had to be with his pregnant girlfriend, even though it was later determined she wasn’t pregnant.
“We at first thought that he was just having a bad time of it with the flood and his mother, then catching the norovirus, and we were supportive,” Paldan said. “However, he started to flounder and forget which lie he had told and that’s when we realized he was a pathological liar. At that point, we decided to let him go.”
Needing to take a nap, having to participate in a peaceful Armenian revolution, not wanting to deal with “mean girl” co-workers and forgetting it was Monday were among some of the other uncommon excuses HR reps and bosses said they have received over the years.
How to handle outrageous excuses
When it comes to dealing with employees who provide crazy excuses for missing work, it is critical that managers address the situation, according to HR consultant Deborah Woolridge. In fact, it is important to address all the reasons for continuing to miss work, even legitimate ones.
Woolridge said having discussions with the employee gives employers a better understanding of what is going on. The employee could be having a personal issue or could be looking for another job. Wooldridge said confronting the situation lets the employee know that their absences aren’t going unnoticed.
When a crazy explanation is given, Woolridge said managers should document the situation.
“Managers should keep track by keeping notes with date and time and explanation,” she said. “In the past, when I have provided an absence report to employees, or lateness report, I found they were legitimately shocked by the frequency of the lateness.”
Not addressing the situation could leave a long-lasting impact on your entire organization.
“A company might quickly want to nip ongoing excuses in the bud, because if not addressed, it taints the workplace culture and creates issues with other employees who see this person as getting away with the excuse,” Woolridge said.
When it comes to punishment, companies will likely treat the situation differently. Some might discipline the employee, while others may terminate the employee if they are seeing a pattern of not-so-believable reasons for missing work. Having policies in place that address absences and tardiness can help employers navigate these situations, according to Woolridge.
“You should follow your policy, because if you do not, it is not worth having and [it] creates more issues,” Woolridge said.