Bosses Tell All: How I Busted My Employee Playing Hooky

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CareerBuilder.com writer

Let's get one thing straight: Though you shouldn't, everyone plays hooky. But come on, people -- be smart about it! Or at the very least, don't get caught twice.

Donna Flagg, workplace expert and president of The Krysalis Group, caught the same employee playing hooky not once, but twice. The first time, Flagg saw her on the evening news the same day she claimed to be on her deathbed. Another time, she saw the employee at a party where she saw her ducking behind a group of guys and mouthing unprintable obscenities about seeing her boss.

To avoid situations where you have to run and hide, our first advice is to not skip work in the first place; if you are, stay out of public places. Secondly, whether you want to sleep off a hangover, go to the beach or head to the Cubs home opener, if you decide to take the day off, be honest about it.

"If a person needs time away from work for legitimate reasons, they should talk with their boss," says Franklin Riga, author of "Global Collusion: The Cover Up." "If they want time off on a whim and play hooky, they shouldn't go the Ferris Bueller route, as exciting as it seems."

Honesty doesn't seem to be the best policy for most employees: 33 percent of them admitted to playing hooky this year rather than telling their bosses the truth, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com.

People often feel the need to lie due to the lack of control they feel they have over their lives and work, says J.T. O'Donnell, a career strategist and workplace consultant.

"Most companies are getting a lot better about offering personal days as a way to take an unexpected day off without explanation," O'Donnell says. "It's OK to need a day off. There's really no need to create an elaborate excuse."

Web of lies

Jenn Hoffman, founder of Get Some Media, is no stranger to elaborate excuses. While she was the editor-in-chief of a Phoenix-based magazine, her editorial assistant called to say that while she was visiting her family in Michigan over the weekend, she had gotten so sick with the flu that she couldn't travel and would be out all week.

"I told her no problem and to get better. I felt really bad for her because she was a college student and this was during her winter break," Hoffman remembers.

When Hoffman logged into MySpace, however, she saw a series of bulletins from her employee with such subjects as "Back from Michigan. Called in sick to work ALL WEEK. Who wants to party???!!!" and "Winter break, b****s. Pussycat Lounge Tonight?" The next day, she posted pictures of her partying adventures.

"If she just told me she needed a day off, I might have been sympathetic. I knew she was a young, full-time college student, working long hours and doing an internship," Hoffman says. "Instead, not only did she lose her job, she ruined her chances to ever get a positive recommendation from me or anyone at our organization."

More true tales

"A young temp worker was exceptional. One Friday, he shows up messy, smelling like alcohol and can't do one thing right. The manager sends him to the staffing company at lunchtime to show them what a mess he is. He takes two hours to get there, but shows up just fine, his old self again. After some questioning, he breaks down and admits he was on an interview for a full-time job, and thus, sent his TWIN BROTHER in to work for him that morning!" - J.T. O'Donnell, Careerealsim.com

"A young man called in sick on the first sunny, hot day of the year. The next day, the boss called him in the office and let him go. When he asked why, the boss just gave him the state's leading newspaper and said, 'Next time, don't get photographed.' There he was, sitting on a couch that he and his buddies had dragged to the beach, in his sunglasses and swim shorts with a big grin - ON THE FRONT PAGE!" - J.T. O'Donnell, Careerealsim.com

"I was senior manager for a pharmaceutical company. Around Thanksgiving, I received a 'death bed' call from an employee. She was feeling so bad that she couldn't possibly come into work. (This was the same lady who scheduled surgeries around her grandchildren's birth and summer vacations.) One of my other employees called me that afternoon after having seen the sick employee at the casino boat. She had won about $3,000 and had told her co-worker, thinking that she wouldn't tell me. She did." - Kristin Peoples, author of "The Complete Bankruptcy Guide for Consumers and Small Businesses"

"Earlier this year, when I was senior vice president at my previous employer, two employees were having an interoffice romance. Their attempts to cover it up were ham-fisted at best. One afternoon, both employees were conspicuously missing from the office for an extended period of time. I was suspicious and began asking employees about their whereabouts. Suddenly, my mobile phone rang and a fellow co-worker reported them departing hand-in-hand from a cheap hotel (with no lobby or restaurant) two blocks from the office. We couldn't wait for them to get back." - Kevin A. Mercuri

President, Propheta Communications

"I took over a fraud detection department due to downsizing; I found that one of the fraud analysts had convinced the previous manager that he had a medical condition that forced him to stay home, where he supposedly was working on building a fraud detection database. I became suspicious and asked him to bring a note in from his doctor. He did, and I became even more suspicious of the note. I ended up calling the doctor's office and faxed the note to him. His nurse called back and told me it was a forgery. When confronted, the analyst said his friend had forged the note and he had spent the last months at home playing video games on the company's dime." Diane Ness, ENI Security Solutions

"I was the manager of retail advertising for a newspaper in Pennsylvania; I had a sales rep named Xavier. One particular morning, Xavier, or X has he preferred, called in sick. He had a terrible cold, didn't want to infect the staff, yada, yada. The publisher of the newspaper had a business lunch to attend that day and I was going with her. We arrived at the event, socialized and later got in the buffet line for our food. When I got to the carving station, the chef asked, "What can I get for you?" Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be my very sick employee, X. The look on his face was priceless. I almost said, 'I'd like a resignation please,' but it didn't seem the appropriate moment." Janet Gillis, Tampa, Florida

"I was a show director for a trade show company. One of our vendors gave Red Sox home day opener tickets to one of my sales reps, who invited me to go with him. I let my staff know I was taking an unplanned vacation day but I didn't tell them I was going to the Red Sox opener with this sales rep. While we were there , I ran into an old college pal who was a news photographer for the Portland, Maine NBC affiliate. He was with a reporter to find people to interview for the 6:00 news. The reporter he asked me specifically, 'Did you call in sick to be here?' and I said 'No, that wouldn't be a very good career move.' Later that day, after many beers, my sales rep fessed up and said, 'I did call in sick.' Moral of the story: Don't become too chummy with your direct reports. Somewhere down the line, it'll blow up in your face." - Jane Bogue, Wells, Maine

Copyright 2009 CareerBuilder.com.

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