Calling in sick because of high gas prices?

Managing employees is often like running an adult daycare center, which is one of the many reasons why I stopped hiring employees and instead work alone. Imagine this discussion between human resources employees: What do we do when employees call in sick toward the end of the pay period because they can't afford gas to come to work?

If you did a "huh?" at that suggestion, you're not alone. I'm asking myself if this could really happen. Could employees abuse sick leave under the ruse of not being able to afford gas? Apparently, yes.

Why do I call this a ruse? Because the rising price of gas is nothing more than an excuse for a person who doesn't want to come to work. And sadly, many people will buy into the excuse and pretend that the behavior is okay. But it's not okay. Employees make a commitment to their employer, and they are obligated to show up and work, not lie and stay home.
You might be thinking that the cost of gas might make it impossible for some people to get to work. The math proves you wrong. It's estimated that the average commute to work is 30 miles round trip. I'll suggest that the lower the salary for the job, the shorter a distance an employee is willing to commute. The high gas prices really would only have a significant impact on lower wage workers, so I'll assume for these price-sensitive workers, the average commute is 20 miles round trip.

I'll estimate that the average car gets 15 miles to the gallon, a more than fair estimate. When gas was around $2.00 per gallon, there weren't a ton of complaints. Now at about $4.00, the whining is in full gear. So we'll assume $2 per gallon is the increased price workers are paying for their gas.

Using the above figures, I estimate that an employee who commutes to work in a car 5 times per week is now spending about $13 a week more on gas than they did when gas was $2 a gallon. This is an extra $2.60 a day to get to work, certainly not a reason for anyone to call in sick because they "can't pay for gas."

I realize that for some people an added cost of $13 a week is a burden. I'm not trying to minimize that. However, that cost is all relative. We're talking about an extra one to three hours of work each week to pay for the increased cost of gas. And frankly, if your finances are so tight that $13 a week is going to put you under, you need to get a second job.

And the idea that employees can't make it to work because of increased gas prices assumes that there are absolutely no other steps that employees can take to help. Of course, they can consider removing some "extras" from their spending habits. They can also look for solutions to their problems like carpooling, bike riding, and public transportation. If all else fails, they might consider looking for a job closer to home to cut down on commuting costs.

We need to stop viewing consumers as victims. No one enjoys paying higher prices for things they need. But it's time to look for solutions instead of more excuses... like calling in sick when you're really not.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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