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Lying About Illness to an Employer: Legal Risks

Lying About Illness to an Employer: Legal Risks

Why Employees Lie About Being Sick

There are a few common reasons why employees may lie about being ill when calling out of work:

  • They need a mental health day due to stress, anxiety, depression, or simply need a break.
  • They have an appointment or errand they want to run during work hours.
  • They want to extend a vacation or long weekend.
  • They simply don’t feel like going in to work that day.

While it’s understandable that employees occasionally need time off for reasons other than physical illness, lying to your employer about the reason can come with significant legal risks.

What the Law Says

There are a few key laws and legal principles that address employee sick leave and time off:

  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – This federal law provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off for serious medical conditions, either their own or a family member’s. FMLA leave can only be taken for legitimate illnesses.
  • State paid sick leave laws – Many states have laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. Lying about being ill to use paid sick leave may violate company policy or even state law.
  • Employment contracts – An employee’s contract may have attendance requirements, sick leave policies, etc. that lying would violate.
  • Fraud – Lying about illness may constitute fraud, opening the employee up to civil or criminal liability.

The bottom line is that in most cases, lying to your employer about being sick when you’re not is probably illegal, either under federal/state law or company policy. And it could potentially rise to the level of fraud.

What Happens If You Get Caught Lying?

Okay, so you know lying about being sick is risky. But what actually happens if your employer finds out you lied? Here are some potential consequences:

  • Loss of job – In many cases, lying about illness constitutes a fireable offense. Employers may terminate employees who are caught lying about being sick.
  • Loss of accrued sick leave – Employees who falsely call in sick may lose accrued sick time as a disciplinary measure.
  • Ineligibility for sick leave – Some employers may make lying employees ineligible for sick leave for a period of time (for example, a year).
  • Employment discipline – Lying can result in a formal reprimand, demotion, probation, or other disciplinary measures.
  • Loss of unemployment benefits – Getting fired for misconduct like lying can disqualify you from collecting unemployment.
  • Fraud charges – Falsely calling in sick repeatedly over time could potentially lead to civil or criminal fraud charges.

As you can see, the consequences for getting caught lying about being sick can be very serious. Before calling in sick when you aren’t actually ill, carefully consider whether it’s worth the risk.

What to Do Instead of Lying

Lying about being sick is an ethically dubious practice that can jeopardize your job. What are some better alternatives if you need time off for non-illness reasons? Consider these options:

  • Use allotted vacation or personal days – Most employers provide annual vacation/PTO days that can be used for any reason.
  • Request an unpaid leave of absence – Some employers will grant leaves of absence for personal reasons.
  • Ask for flex time or to work from home – Adjusting your schedule or location may help you accomplish needed tasks.
  • Be honest – Explain to your employer that you need a mental health day or time for a personal obligation. Some may be understanding.
  • Call in well – Take the day but be honest that you aren’t ill. This is still risky but slightly less dishonest.

While lying about being sick may seem like an easy way to get out of work, it isn’t worth the legal and career risks. With some planning and honest communication, time off can usually be arranged without resorting to deceit.

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