What to do when an employee calls in sick but is caught doing fine?

Awe, poor Bruce. He had quite a bad fever this week and was out of work on Friday – or so he said when he called in sick. But according to Bruce’s Facebook, his coworker Lacey saw that he was baking cookies with a big group of friends last Friday evening.

What do you do?

Check Yourself at The Door

One thing to do before taking any action is this, check yourself at the door – check your motivation and feelings about the situation. Are you mad? Are you assuming they lied to you? If so, that is a problem with you, not them.

Now ask yourself some basic humanity questions:
“Has there ever been a time in your life where you just needed a day off?”
“Have I ever woken up feeling bad, but as the day worn on, I felt better?” “Have you ever thought you might be coming down with something, went to the doctor, had to stop by the pharmacy at Wal-Mart on the way home, and ran into everyone from the office, you know?” If it hasn’t happened to you, then you have been fortunate and are in fairly good health – Congratulations! However, there are many reasons why an employee may call in sick but may seem fine a little later. Not all of them are for underhanded, rule-breaking, bad employee things.

What if the Employee is a Repeat Offender of Absenteeism or Tardiness?

The thing to watch for is not a one-time instance but to look at habitual absences or patterns of absences. Why, you ask? Because this could be a sign of an underlying problem within your organization. It could even be a sign of an employee struggling with a personal situation or may not be disciplined enough to work and adhere to a full-time schedule. If you see a pattern of someone falling off work every time their supervisor is scheduled to visit their location, ask the employee why. You may discover that they are nervous about meeting people in authority because they lack business-appropriate social skills. If it’s a specific person, they avoid meeting with ask them if they have an issue meeting with this person. You may uncover a supervisor who has a management style that is too strong and critical for that particular employee.

If an employee has a Friday or Monday pattern of absences, let the employee know that you have become aware of a pattern of absences. Follow up by asking that they explain any struggles they are having with the work schedule. If there is part-time work or a schedule change available, think about it. If you are the one who ran into the employee in public and they seem to be okay, walk up to them, tell them you are glad to see they are feeling better. Sometimes tired and stress comes in many forms. When employees feel sick enough to call off work, they may not be 100% themselves. Just knowing that you care goes a long way. By doing this, you may create an atmosphere where the employee will feel more comfortable asking for a day off now and then telling you what is going on.

Document and Discuss

In summary, the short answer to the question is nothing. Of course, as an employer, manager, and supervisor, you have a specific job that needs to be filled. Having established criteria that employees must meet is invaluable. If any part of a situation is a violation of your attendance policy or standards of conduct, please document and discuss the employee’s situation. Keep in mind – if you do not document the case, it did not happen.


Written by: Bethany Gaboury

Scroll to Top