Slightly more than a third of workers (35 percent) said they called in sick over the last 12 months when they were feeling just fine, according to a new CareerBuilder survey.

That’s perhaps not the best news for employers, but, the good news is that it’s an improvement from last year, when 38 percent of survey respondents called in sick without really being sick.

The nationwide survey of more than 3,100 full-time workers and 2,500 full-time hiring and human resource managers was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder.

Survey respondents gave a variety of answers when asked why they called in sick when they were feeling well:

  • 28 percent said they just didn’t feel like going in to work;
  • 27 percent took the day off to attend a doctor’s appointment;
  • 24 percent said they needed to just relax;
  • 18 percent needed to catch up on sleep; and
  • 11 percent took the day off to run personal errands.

The Craziest Excuses for Calling in Sick

The survey also asked employers to share the most dubious excuses employees gave when calling in sick and, boy, did some people get creative:

  • Employee said the ozone in the air flattened his tires.
  • Employee’s pressure cooker had exploded and scared her sister, so she had to stay home.
  • Employee had to attend the funeral of his wife’s cousin’s pet because he was an uncle and pallbearer.
  • Employee was blocked in by police raiding her home.
  • Employee had to testify against a drug dealer and the dealer’s friend mugged him.
  • Employee said her roots were showing and she had to keep her hair appointment because she looked like a mess.
  • Employee ate cat food instead of tuna and was deathly ill.
  • Employee said she wasn’t sick but her llama was.
  • Employee had used a hair remover under her arms and had chemical burns as a result. She couldn’t put her arms down by her sides due to that.
  • Employee was bowling the game of his life and couldn’t make it to work.
  • Employee was experiencing traumatic stress from a large spider found in her home. She had to stay home to deal with the spider.
  • Employee said he had better things to do.
  • Employee ate too much birthday cake.
  • Employee was bit by a duck.

Caught!

A majority of employers (67 percent) said they give their employees the benefit of the doubt, but 33 percent said they checked, in one way or another, to see if an employee was telling the truth.

The most-used method by these employers was to ask for a doctor’s note (68 percent), followed by calling the employee (43 percent). But 18 percent of employers said they took the time to drive past the employee’s house.

On a more serious note, 22 percent of employers said they fired an employee for calling in sick with a fake excuse.

California employers take note: If an employee calls in sick, California law does not say whether you can require the employee to bring you a doctor’s note for being sick. The law simply says that the employee must provide reasonable advance notification if the need for leave is foreseeable, but if it is not, then as soon as practicable.

The Labor Commissioner has stated that denying leave because an employee failed to provide a doctor’s note or other details about the leave may lead to a claim against the employer for violating state law.

Posting Error

Some workers didn’t think before they posted that cute picture to a social media site and wound up incriminating themselves. More than a third of employers (34 percent) reported that they caught an employee lying about being sick by checking social media. Of those employers, 27 percent said they fired the employee and 55 percent said they only reprimanded the employee for the lie.

Not a Laughing Matter

People get sick, and it’s better that they stay home so they don’t pass the illness around the office. Chronic absenteeism is something altogether different, and it can cause real problems for employers.

Many companies adopt objective absenteeism standards that clearly state the number of acceptable days and incidents permissible in a given time period. But employers must apply attendance policies consistently, and must be aware of protected absences.

Shane Peterson, Senior Editor

CalChamber members can learn more on the HR Library’s Absenteeism and Tardiness page. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.